Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

Lewis on Politics and Natural Law

C. S. Lewis on Natural Law

Today at Power Line blog, Steven Hayward writes about C.S. Lewis and a new book on Lewis and politics. He mentions having wondered in the past whether Lewis and Leo Strauss, whose thought he considers highly compatible, were aware of each other. Although he still doesn’t know that Lewis had ever heard of Strauss, he now has evidence that Strauss knew (and admired) Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.

He plugs a new book, C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law, by Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson. No reason why we shouldn’t get in on that business too.

No One Can Set Up a Theocracy

“It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic, and what not,” Lewis wrote. “But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.”

Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center shares some good thoughts from C. S. Lewis about Christians in the political world, but I think I may have strong disagreements.

Certainly, to create a specifically Christian political party could cause problems, because while the Bible has many applications to civil society, it does not give us a platform for twenty-first century governing. Wehner says Lewis “believed that theocracy was the worst form of government and detested the idea of a ‘Christian party,’ which risked blaspheming the name of Christ.”

I can see that danger, but who among us is even capable of establishing a theocracy? If God were to descend on Washington D.C. and declare his regulations from the Lincoln Memorial, if he were to charge his followers with discipling those who refuse to obey him and blessing them with divine gifts for carrying out his will, then we would have a theocracy. What are the Lord’s trade and immigration policies? How does the Lord want us to handle our crime-ridden cities? Let’s ask him directly.

No. We can’t get there from here. We could set up a “Christian” party. I’m pretty sure we have. And we have several Christian candidates for various offices, but none of them can reconstruct our government to submit to the direct decrees of God. What Wehner and Lewis, I suppose, are criticizing is a government ruled by priests who claim to speak for the Almighty–the Holy American Empire, in other words.  Continue reading No One Can Set Up a Theocracy

C.S. Lewis Did Not Say That

William O’Flaherty runs the Essential C.S. Lewis website and has a first Saturday monthly feature on words misattributed to the great Jack Lewis. Yesterday he highlighted a quote that is actually from Lewis, but in isolation it reads contrary to its intended meaning in the story.

Make your choice, adventurous Stranger.

Seize the day, as it were. Take that hill. Do the thing.

O’Flaherty explains where these words are found in The Magician’s Nephew and what they mean. He has a long list of questionable quotations. See his list of the top five from 2015 here, including two that were spoken by Anthony Hopkins while playing Lewis, which doesn’t make them Lewis quotations.

Hope for Susan Pevensie

Joshua Rogers describes how his view of Susan in The Chronicles of Narnia changed when we realized the impact of something Aslan says.

For the first time, it dawned on me that Susan’s story wasn’t over—not at all. It couldn’t be. One day, Susan was obsessing over “lipstick and nylons and invitations,” and the next, someone would telephone her to tell her that her mother, father, sister, two brothers, a cousin, and three old friends were dead.

Also, photos of the rare white stag, which is the animal the Narnian royalty sought when they returned to our world at the end of the first book.

‘A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War,’ by Joseph Loconte

I’m not sure C. S. Lewis would have approved of this book. He maintained, on numerous occasions, that an author’s biography should be of no interest to the reader. Studying the lives of Milton or of Spenser, he insisted, would provide no insight into the meanings of their works beyond what an intelligent reader can gather from reading the plain texts.

Still, I think Joseph Loconte’s A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War serves a useful purpose. Amidst the tremendous popularity of the works of Tolkien and Lewis all these decades after their deaths, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about their artistic motivations (particularly in Tolkien’s case. I’m pretty sure a lot of fans of the movies think the books are about environmentalism). Loconte follows the two men’s lives, concentrating especially on their experiences in the First World War, and explains how the experience of battle (Lewis remembered thinking, “This is war. This is what Homer wrote about”) impressed itself on their memories and their imaginations. In the midst of the great disillusionment that swept Europe after the armistice, Tolkien kept his bearings, because he’d never fallen for over-optimistic enthusiasms like eugenics but had put his faith in eternal things. And in time he was able to help his friend Jack Lewis to understand as well.

For fans unfamiliar with the lives and the thought behind the books of these two men, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War may be very illuminating. It’s well written and well researched. I recommend it.

‘Joy,’ by Abigail Santamaria

J. R. R. Tolkien never warmed to Joy Davidman, the woman his friend C. S. Lewis fell in love with and married. Looking at it from his point of view, it’s not hard to see why.

For decades, he’d watched “Jack” Lewis live almost a slavish life, working long hours as an instructor at Oxford, then going home to wait hand and foot on a selfish, small-minded old woman, Mrs. Moore, whom he’d promised a friend, her son, he’d take care of in case of his death in World War I.

But now, in the late 1950s, Jack’s indenture was over. The old woman had died. Tolkien had improved the situation by calling in personal favors to get Jack offered the chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge, a position that would give him three times the salary, and half the work, of his old job at Oxford. Tolkien was confident that with all this new freedom, the pent-up energy of all those years of servitude would gush forth in a flood of scholarship and creativity. Jack would finally get the recognition he truly deserved.

Instead, like an earthquake, Joy Davidman happened. She brought with her complicated domestic troubles, financial woes, two nice but active young boys, and a hint of scandal. Then, to cap it all, she brought cancer, the disease that had already scarred Jack as a young boy, when he lost his beloved mother. Continue reading ‘Joy,’ by Abigail Santamaria

“It Made Less of Narnia For Me”

Author Neil Gaiman describes how he felt about seeing the allegory in The Chronicles of Narnia.

My upset was, I think, that it made less of Narnia for me, it made it less interesting a thing, less interesting a place. Still, the lessons of Narnia sank deep. Aslan telling the Tash worshippers that the prayers he had given to Tash were actually prayers to Him was something I believed then, and ultimately still believe.

Not a spy, but a cool story

There was big news in the world of C. S. Lewis studies today. Christianity Today released an article by Harry Lee Poe about the discovery of a previously unknown recording of a radio talk by C. S. Lewis. Not a talk for the BBC, but for Iceland, on Her Majesty’s Secret Service, so to speak:

Until now, the general public and the world of scholarship had no idea that C. S. Lewis began his wartime service by undertaking a mission for MI6. Long before James Bond, Lewis rendered service to this clandestine branch of British Intelligence, which was so secret for so long that few people knew of its existence, and few of those knew its actual name. Alternatively known as Military Intelligence, the Secret Service, and MI6, its actual name may be the Secret Intelligence Service. Ian Fleming gave the head of this spy network the code name of M, but in real life he is simply known as the Chief. When Lewis came on board at the beginning of World War II, it was still a fledgling group of amateurs desperately working to save their island home from disaster.

The story is interesting, not only for the revelation of Lewis’ work for British Intelligence, but because it involves one of his all too rare explications of his passion for Norse literature and myth.

I think the title’s a bit misleading, since Jack Lewis was nothing like a spy, but the story’s a big deal nonetheless. Kudos to Harry Lee Poe for his discovery.

Did Lewis Write Screwtape in a Larger Fictional Context?

Do you view C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters as a standalone work? A Pilgrim in Narnia has discovered something that may indicate Lewis intended his collection of demonic letters to be part of a larger fictional context.

The Screwtape Letters begins with a letter of its own. “I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands. There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.” Your copy of this work attributes this letter to Lewis himself, but one early edition attributes it to someone else, a character from another of Lewis’s works. Brenton Dickieson spells out more details here.

The Nightmare of Tolkien’s Success

Who is the more enduringly important of the two? Tolkien wrote the greatest work, as evidenced by Germaine Greer’s backhanded compliment: “It has been my nightmare,” she snarled, “that Tolkien would turn out to be the most influential writer of the 20th century. The bad dream has materialized.” Lewis’s claims are broader. A half-century after his death, does any other writer turn up on so many shelves of good bookstores and libraries?

Michael Nelson reviews another one of those books about the Inklings. (via A&L Daily)

The Fellowship of the Inklings

The Eagle and Child

“In general, the all-male group shared a longing for that half-imaginary time before man’s alienation from God, nature and self, the time before the chaos and materialism of the post-industrial era had displaced the elegantly organized cosmos of the Middle Ages. In their ­various ways, each hoped to spearhead a rehabilitation, a re-enchantment of our fallen world.” Michael Dirda reflects on The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. He says the book focuses largely on the men’s religious lives and thoughts.

The Fellowship looks to be a great, detailed introduction to Barfield and Williams, two men close to Lewis and Tolkien but unfamiliar to most of their fans.

Do We Need Another C.S. Lewis?

People have often suggested a popular Christian fantasy author is the next C.S. Lewis. I don’t think that’s an appropriate question. Few people strikes us as the same as another person only better, so why should we look for a living author to replace a dead one? That would make the dead one mostly obsolete, wouldn’t it?

Steve Harrell doesn’t think so. He says we need a new Lewis. “When we try to insert Lewis’ cultural observations into our culture today,” he writes, “we become like Indiana Jones—still fighting the Nazis through the 1980s. The Modernist war between reason and theology is over…. We live in a postmodern, post-secular age that doesn’t respond well to the intellectual arm-twisting and large-scale historical criticism that Lewis excelled at.”

Joel Miller argues Harrell is missing the point. “A vibrant intellectual life includes thoughts that span millennia. They’re not so foreign as some insist, and their differences might just keep us from going off the rails.”

Rowan Williams, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, notes Lewis’s blessing to us is “in what you might call pastoral theology: as an interpreter of people’s moral and spiritual crises; as somebody who is a brilliant diagnostician of self-deception; and somebody who, in his own book on bereavement after his wife’s death, really pushes the envelope – giving permission, I suppose, to people to articulate their anger and resentment about a God who apparently takes your loved ones away from you.”

In related a post, Jeremy Lott notes the angst many have had over Susan’s absence from The Last Battle. Many readers think Lewis condemns her life choices by appearing to keep her out of Narnia when everything comes falling down, but Lott quotes from Lewis’ letters to show that the author simply believed Susan’s story was longer and more adult than the one he wanted to tell. “Why not try it yourself?” Lewis asked a reader, to which Lott replies, “Who has tried to tell Susan’s story?” He hopes someone will attempt to pick up the life of Susan Pevensie and finish at least part of her story.

“Men must endure their going hence…”

In their way, these last weeks were not unhappy. Joy had left us, and once again—as in the earliest days—we could turn for comfort only to each other. The wheel had come full circle: once again we were together in the little end room at home, shutting out from our talk the ever-present knowledge that the holidays were ending, that a new term fraught with unknown possibilities awaited us both.

(Warren Lewis, on the last days of his brother C. S. Lewis, from his Memoir published in The Letters of C. S. Lewis [1966].)

Every year at this time I note the anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis in 1963. There’s been a lot of speculation in recent years as to exactly when it was that Western Civilization began to collapse. Some choose the year 1968, the year the Counterculture came into its own in America, but others fix the date in 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated. I tend to go with 1963, but because that was the year we lost Lewis, not Kennedy.

One way or the other, it’s been downhill ever since.

From the University of Notre Dame, this article on recent scientific findings that indicate there’s a genuine physiological reason why we so often forget what we’ve come for, when we go from one room to another.

New research from psychology Professor Gabriel Radvansky suggests that passing through doorways is the cause of these memory lapses.

“Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” Radvansky explains.

“Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.”

I expect passing through Wardrobes has a similar effect.

Allegory and Why Narnia Is Not One

Jared has the goods on how allegory is defined and why Narnia really isn’t one despite what you may have heard.

How then does he define Allegory? Perhaps the clearest definition in the most common language comes via a letter to Mrs. Hook (found in Letters of C.S. Lewis, 12/29/58):

By an allegory I mean a composition (whether pictorial or literary) in which immaterial realities are represented by feigned physical objects, e.g. a pictured Cupid allegorically represents erotic love (which in reality is an experience, not an object occupying a given area of space) or, Bunyan, a giant represents Despair.