Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

Sci-Fi and Man’s Abolition

I don’t remember when I read Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, but I remember agreeing with all of it.

Sam Edgin reviews the book’s influence on sci-fi film and literature in the essay collection Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man

The backbone of much of the science fiction we love are the questions Lewis asked: What do we do when technology gives us such powers that we are no longer able to identify that which is human? Or, even worse, at what point do we begin actively denying humanity around us for our own comfort or gain?

‘Bandersnatch,’ by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Bandersnatch

Lewis’s writing process was quite different from Tolkien’s. While Tolkien wrote things out in order to discover what he wanted to say, Lewis tended to mull things over before committing anything to paper.

According to a well-known anecdote, C. S. Lewis never read newspapers. “If anything really important happens,” he said, “someone is bound to tell you about it.”

I have a similar attitude to books about C. S. Lewis and the Inklings. I’ve read several, but far from all of them, and I feel no obligation to. If someone writes a new book with fresh information, somebody is pretty likely to tell me about it, in a discussion group or in a review in the Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society.

So I didn’t learn a lot of new things from Diana Pavlac Glyer’s Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings. But this book wasn’t really intended to convey biographical information (though it’s as good an introduction as any for the curious). Its purpose is to analyze the ways in which the Inklings group, which lasted 17 years (quite an achievement for any writers’ group) served as a catalyst for its members’ creativity. She follows the Inklings’ history from its beginning when Tolkien – very shyly and with trepidation – showed a poem to his new friend Jack, taking a chance that he’d be the kind of person who’d appreciate it. Jack Lewis did – with great enthusiasm – and gradually they gathered about them a small community of fellow writers of like mind. They read their work to each other and boldly critiqued it, in a cloud of tobacco smoke in Lewis’ shabby rooms at Magdalen College, Oxford (the famous Tuesday meetings at the Eagle and Child pub were purely social, and guests were permitted, which was not true of the Thursday nights at Magdalen. I was amused to read that Tolkien made the mistake of bringing along the historian Gwyn Jones [a famous name to Viking buffs] one evening, and it got a little awkward, though Jones proved acceptable).

Author Glyer has done a tremendous job going carefully through old manuscripts and notes in various collections, looking for evidences of revision, and correlating them with reports of the Inklings meetings. It was a gargantuan task, and the result is a book that will be valuable to everyone interested in artistic mutual support groups – not just to writers, but to anyone who creates art. I recommend Bandersnatch.

In memory yet Green

Roger Lancelyn Green
Roger Lancelyn Green

My friend Dale Nelson recently sent me a couple old articles on Tolkien he thought might be of interest. One of them was from Amon Hen, the journal of the Tolkien Society, #44, May 1980. It was a piece by Roger Lancelyn Green, in which he reminisced on his friendship with the professor. Green has sometimes been identified as a member of the Inklings, but he does not claim that honor (or honour). His article includes the following delightful paragraph:

I never saw The Lord of the Rings before it was published, but heard a good deal about it from Lewis, who kept saying that if only Tolkien would finish it, it would be one of the great books of the century – “But Tollers just won’t finish it! Every time he gives himself a month’s holiday to do so, he begins by reading over what he has already written, and sees how he can better that, and spends most of his month on revising!”

‘The Fellowship,’ by Philip and Carol Zaleski

The Fellowship

Though surpassed in poetry and prose style by the very modernists they failed to appreciate, though surpassed in technical sophistication by any number of distinguished academic philosophers and theologians, the Inklings fulfilled what many find to be a more urgent need: not simply to restore the discarded image, but to refresh it and bring it to life for the present and future.

Last night I was complaining about the length of this book, but it turned out as I speculated – about 35% of its body is end notes. Still, it’s a big book. But it’s well worth reading, if you’re interested in the social and intellectual matrix that produced some of the 20th Century’s most influential Christian writing.

The Inklings began as an Oxford student literary group in 1932, but when the students had graduated and moved on, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other friends who had been invited to join carried it on as a sort of cross between a writers’ criticism group and a social club. They met once a week in Lewis’ rooms at Magdelen College for the writing phase, and again at the Eagle and Child pub for the more social part. They carried on, with some changes in membership, until the 1960s.

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip and Carol Zaleski, concentrates on the lives of the four best-known Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Much of the material covered will already be familiar to fans, but Williams’ and Barfield’s lives are far less known, and there’s plenty of material that will be new to most readers (there certainly was for me). I did not know, for instance, the Tolkien had suffered an injury to his tongue in his youth, which caused him to mumble when speaking (this impediment disappeared when he was “performing,” as in his famous LOTR readings recorded by George Sayer). I didn’t know that Owen Barfield was baptized as an adult into the Anglican Church (though he continued to believe in reincarnation and other Anthroposophist doctrines). Remarkably, there’s even some movie trivia – one discovers connections between the Inklings and David Lean, Julie Christie, and Ava Gardner. Continue reading ‘The Fellowship,’ by Philip and Carol Zaleski

Lucy of Narnia, the Valiant

Yesterday, November 16, was, as Stephen Bullivant puts it, “the actual feast day of the actual Blessed Lucy of Narnia.” He notes that Lucy was the one who observed in The Last Battle, “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

So, if you want to visit the ancient, hillside city that gave Lewis’s magical country its name, you’ll have to go to Italy’s Umbria region and find the place presently called Narni.

‘Dresses’ in ‘That Hideous Strength’

That Hideous Strength

The esteemed Dr. Bruce Charlton at Tolkien’s The Notion Club Papers re-posts a review of That Hideous Strength. This post, from the Toast blog, is by a woman named Felix Kent. I found it delightful, for two reasons. First, I’ve come to assume that all modern women will hate THS (which remains one of my favorite novels). Secondly, Ms. Kent gets it precisely right.

“Don’t read That Hideous Strength,” my mother said. My mother is a great C.S. Lewis fan, also a believer, in the religious sense. One of my best sources for what to read. And a woman who grew up in the Fifties and became an academic. Became, like Ransom, the trilogy’s main character, a philologist.

“Why not?” I said.

I don’t think my mother used the word “yucky” in her reply, but that was more or less what she meant. I went ahead and read the book anyway.

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