Lewis, C(live) S(taples) 1898–1963
Born in Ireland, Lewis was an English novelist, essayist, critic, author of children's books, poet, and autobiographer. Although a distinguished medieval scholar, Lewis is known predominantly as a writer of fantasy literature. His conversion to Catholicism was perhaps the most important influence on his work, for Christian humanism informs both his literary and critical output. The conflicts presented in his fiction are easily discernible as allegories of good and evil, and in his literary criticism he is concerned with the religious and moral content of a work of literature. Lewis was a traditionalist in his approach to both literature and life. He opposed the modern schools of literary interpretation in favor of explication free of biographical or psychological connotations. He also published under the pseudonyms of Clive Hamilton and Nat Whilk. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)
Mr. C. S. Lewis [in The Allegory of Love] was moved to attack the personal heresy in modern criticism. The first essay in the elegant small book is his spirited, and to some extent salutary, denunciation of contemporary critics and readers who regard poetry as a means of contact with the poet's personality. So shocking does this seem to Mr. Lewis, that he has boldly taken up the extreme negative position: "… when we read poetry as poetry should be read, we have before us no representation which claims to be the poet, and frequently no representation of a man, a character, or a personality at all." (p. 596)
No doubt a corrective was needed for the psychological-biographical school which, not content with using the biography to illuminate the work, rather lays the work under contribution to complete the portrait of the man, and makes the poet rather than his very title to consideration—his poetry—the proper end of enjoyment. But reduction of the poet to mere linguistic interpreter of the natural world to man could not, of course, go unchallenged. Mr. Lewis was fortunate enough to provoke a distinguished adversary, Dr. E.M.W. Tillyard … whose study of Milton he had cited as exemplifying the personal heresy. From this point the discussion becomes a controversy in due form [resulting in a collection of essays published jointly by Lewis and Tillyard entitled The Personal Heresy]. (pp. 596-97)
One follows [Mr. Lewis] with more confidence when he is attacking vulgar errors in the understanding of the function of poetry than when he is faced with the uncongenial necessity of...
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Not many writers nowadays are on such terms of cordial insult with His Infernal Majesty as the ruddy Ulster-born … Mr. Clive Staples Lewis has shown himself to be in what is by now the most phenomenally popular household book of applied religion of the twentieth century, The Screwtape Letters. Not since another Oxford don chose to divest himself of his academic robes and slip down a rabbit-hole with Alice and the White Rabbit has the reading world been given such a divertissement by a race of spectacled savants….
For himself, [Mr. Lewis] has preferred to treat of [the devil] in these latter stages of degeneracy, when, like a certain Scottish thane, the forsworn recreant to a greater lord than Duncan has indeed grown old in evil and underneath the sinister mask the ravaged face begins to look faintly comic; but the button slips off both foils at times, as when, in Perelandra, Our Father Below decides to take a hand in the game; then Screwtape draws back, and the wrestling with Principalities and Powers begins. (p. 213)
[When] John left Puritania in Mr. Lewis' spiritual autobiography, The Pilgrim's Regress, he left John Calvin behind forever—more irrevocably, in fact, than many Catholic Irishmen manage to do; and the book then carries us to a Paradiso as well as to an Inferno. Mr. Lewis' fantasy or, if you prefer, vision of Paradise, here and in The Problem of Pain, is, in one fashion, like the Irish myth of Tir-n-an-Og, the Land of Youth and, in another, like some Platonic archetype of English hearth and nursery, a blend, almost, of Sunday's house in The Man Who Was Thursday and Barrie's nursery under the nightlights, where dog Nana keeps guard over the sleeping children. (pp. 213-14)
Mr. Lewis' teleology does not invoke the dour Calvinistic dogma of "you can't take it with you," but rather the exactly opposite doctrine of that sweet Scottish mystic, George Macdonald, his and Chesterton's "owne maister deere," who used to preach in sermon, poem and fantastic novel that you really can take it with you in the last analysis—all that counts, anyway, wife and child and candlelight and old cat purring on the hearth; toy theater and tavern; for man will remain man….
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The popular reputation of C. S. Lewis depends to a large extent upon his prominence as a modern day "apostle to the skeptics." His theological writings are designed for and directed toward skeptical laymen who have been, in Lewis's opinion, unduly influenced by nineteenth-century liberalism and scientism and so have left the Church for the greener pastures of "humane science." Lewis's theological writings are thus designed to woo mankind away from the laboratories and the secular reform movements back into the arms of the Church. In books such as Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles, Lewis is a propagandist; his cause is orthodoxy in religion and in morality; his methods are those of his enemies. At all times, he views the world from the vantage-point of the church steps.
Yet in order to provide a suitable literary vehicle for orthodox ideas, Lewis creates his own cosmic myth. Science fiction provides him with a method and a plot, the theology of the Church with a theme…. In Lewis's three novels—Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength—the earth becomes "Thulcandra," the "silent planet," cut off from the rest of the cosmos by the rebellion of Satan, the "Bent Eldil" (angel), and the subsequent fall of man. In the first novel, Elwin Ransom, the philologisthero of Lewis's cycle, is kidnaped by Edward Weston, a physicist, and so is accidentally involved in a trip to Mars. There he learns that the universe, apart from Earth, exists in harmony and peace, having a common language and a common interplanetary religion and government. In describing this theocratic arrangement Lewis seeks to translate the usual Christian terms into some sort of pseudo-scientific and mythical terms, without at the same time losing or distorting the basic Christian concepts with which he is working. Thus the two sets of terms involved can only approximate each other; the Martians, inhabiting as they do an unfallen world, cannot view Christianity from the same point of view as do fallen earth men. (p. 401)
Lewis's main aim in the creation of his silent planet myth is thus to create and maintain a metaphor which will serve to carry in fictional form the basic tenets of Christianity and present them from a non-Christian point of view without reference to the usual Christian symbols. This general method is graphically illustrated in Perelandra, the second novel of the trilogy. Ransom, summoned by Maleldil through the Oyarsa (tutelary eldil) of Mars, journeys to Perelandra (Venus). There he finds a young world, a Paradise. He meets the queen of that world, who tells him that Maleldil has forbidden that she and her husband sleep on a certain fixed island (most of Venus's islands are floating). Weston, the physicist, again appears, but it is immediately apparent that Satan has taken possession of Weston's body in an attempt to induce the queen to sleep on the forbidden island in order to bring about another Fall. The novel from this point on settles down into argumentation—Ransom, the emissary of Maleldil, seeks to preserve the queen's innocence; Weston, the devil incarnate, attempts to confound her with arguments glorifying the knowledge of evil.
It is apparent that Lewis is here expounding, from the point of view of his own cosmic myth, the doctrine of the fall of man. The theological problem, as Lewis sees it, centers upon the validity of that interpretation which sees the Fall as fortunate…. Lewis's conclusion would thus seem to be that the Fall on Earth was fortunate in that God, almost by definition, brings good out of evil. Yet had the Fall not occurred, some equally great good, forever lost to man, would have been revealed.
The main point to be made concerning the first two books of the trilogy is this: Lewis, using the literary methodology of the science-fiction writer, is attempting, as in his tracts dealing with Christian apologetics, to justify the ways of God to skeptical man by presenting the core of the Faith. He must, however, describe and define the theological tenets with which he is dealing from a point of view which, of necessity, cannot make use of the normal vocabulary of the Church. This is, of course, both a strength and a weakness. The old terms have the advantage of producing stock responses, which is one of the great advantages of literary allusion to known and accepted myth. Yet this calling forth of stock responses may have serious disadvantages in that it may repel the very people whom Lewis is trying hardest to attract. Thus it is that Lewis's seemingly...
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The driving motif of Till We Have Faces is the development of the soul, a motif explored allegorically in one of Lewis' earliest works, The Pilgrim's Regress. Here Lewis has recast the familiar myth of Cupid and Psyche, possibly attracted initially to the enchanting symbolism of the butterfly frequently associated with Psyche. Transformed from a creature of the earth to a creature of the air, from a creature that gropes in the darkness to a creature that flutters in the light, the butterfly seems to encapsulate the glory of the resurrection in which fallen man is transformed from a creature of dust to a spirit received in God's radiant glory. (p. 498)
The novel is a tale of transition...
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In the orderly cosmos of his Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet , Perelandra , That Hideous Strength ), Lewis repeatedly presents his characters (both terrestrial and celestial) speaking and acting in accordance with a system of propriety which literary theorists label decorum…. [Lewis uses various] examples of generic variety and propriety to demonstrate both the plenitude of being that fills Maleldil's (Christ's) fertile universe and the cosmic harmony by which this proliferation is ordered. Several times in the trilogy he presents pageants in which countless exotic animals, different races of hnau (rational beings), and eldila (angels) arrange themselves...
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