Lewis, C(live) S(taples) (Vol. 27)
C(live) S(taples) Lewis 1898–1963
(Also wrote under pseudonyms of Clive Hamilton, Nat Whilk, and N. W. Clerk) English novelist, essayist, critic, autobiographer, poet, and short story writer.
Lewis is considered one of the foremost Christian authors of the twentieth century. Indebted principally to the works of George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, and Charles Williams, and to ancient Norse myths, he is regarded as a formidable logician and Christian polemicist, a perceptive literary critic, and—most highly—as a writer of fantasy literature. Among the imaginative works for which he is best known are The Screwtape Letters (1942), the series of children's books collectively called The Chronicles of Narnia, and the science-fiction trilogy comprising Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). The conflicts presented in Lewis's fiction evoke the cosmic struggle between good and evil, and evidence the Christian vision which informs his literary and critical works.
An acknowledged authority on medieval and Renaissance literature, Lewis taught at Oxford and Cambridge. A traditionalist in his approach to life and art, he opposed the modern movement in literary criticism toward biographical and psychological interpretation. Instead, Lewis practiced and propounded a theory of criticism which stresses the importance of the author's intent, rather than the reader's presuppositions and prejudices. In his Christian polemics, notably Mere Christianity (1952), The Abolition of Man (1943), and The World's Last Night and Other Essays (1960), Lewis's renowned wit and reason serve to defend the faith he embraced in 1931 and to attack the modern social/religious trend which equates change—no matter how foolish or destructive—with progress. Ever popular, Lewis's books continue to attract a growing readership and are the subject of increasing critical study.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 14; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84; and Something about the Author, Vol. 13.)
The Times Literary Supplement
[An anonymous critic provided the only review of Lewis's first book, a collection of traditional poetry written under the pseudonym "Clive Hamilton" and titled Spirits in Bondage.]
These lyrics are always graceful and polished, and their varied themes are chosen from those which naturally attract poets—the Autumn Morning, Oxford, Lullaby, The Witch, Milton Read Again, and so on. The thought, when closed with, is found rather often not to rise above the commonplace. The piece which most arrested us was "The Satyr."
A review of "Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1919; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 897, March 27, 1919, p. 167.
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The Times Literary Supplement
[The long narrative poem "Dymer," written by C. S. Lewis under the pseudonym of Clive Hamilton] is notable because it is in the epic tradition and yet is modern in idiom, and reflects a profoundly personal intuition…. [Doubtless] the prejudice which exists against the epic as a modern art form is due to a belief that in civilized hands it must prove an impure form, a form in which substance and idea are not necessarily related.
Mr. Hamilton has disproved that belief by showing that, in the modern epic, the spiritual may be translated into terms of the physical as inevitably as, in the primitive epic, the physical was translated into terms of the imaginative. He has shown this more convincingly than Mr. Masefield in "Dauber," with which his poem may be usefully compared, because Dymer's experience is throughout metaphysical. His ordeal is not on the high seas but in the swamps and arid places of his own soul-making. To embody such an experience in action is very difficult. For realism is unequal to its complexity, while fantasy easily tempts into regions picturesque but remote from reality. It demands, in fact, a symbolism in which adventures, essentially abstract, are made concrete and physically convincing. And it is such a symbolism which Mr. Hamilton has achieved, not by occult brooding but in response to immediate and commanding intuitions. Consequently the adventures of his hero, though fantastic, are entirely real. They are...
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Albert Guerard, Jr.
Too frequently the professional historian is not a good scholar because he wholly ignores esthetic considerations. Mr. C. S. Lewis, in his study of allegory and courtly love ["The Allegory of Love"], shows himself to be even more a man of letters than a literary historian. But as a literary historian he suffers from the defect of his qualities. Time and again he deserts his real subject, the history of allegory as a form and courtly love as a sentiment, for long excursions into pure esthetic criticism. He feels it incumbent upon him to indicate all the scattered felicities in even such a poet as William Nevill. Mr. Lewis has tried to rescue something from the dust of each of the long allegories he examines.
Thus "The Allegory of Love" is in reality two books—both excellent, but each vitiating the other. The purely historical study of the growth and decline of allegory and courtly love is a careful piece of scholarship, and the first and second chapters are excellent essays in comparative literature. With the third chapter, however, it is evident that the author has become more interested in individual poets than in historical tendencies, and at this point the thread of the "story" is lost….
The incidental merits of this book, while detracting from its value as scholarship, are very great. I suspect that Mr. Lewis is more interested in literary theory than in history: an abstract of his preliminary analysis and...
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[Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, was one of the "Inklings," a group of friends who met weekly in Lewis's rooms to discuss literature and to read works-in-progress to each other. During the few years of its existence, the group included Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, W. H. Lewis, and several other noteworthy regulars. Tolkien, a man of strict and very conservative literary standards, frequently disliked Lewis's imaginative works. But in the following letter to his publisher, Stanley Unwin, Tolkien defended his friend's novel Out of the Silent Planet. On 2 March 1938, Unwin had sent Tolkien an excerpt from a reader's report, which had disparaged as "bunk" the inhabitants of Lewis's planet Malacandra. Unwin asked Tolkien for his thoughts on Lewis's book.]
Lewis is a great friend of mine, and we are in close sympathy (witness his two reviews of my Hobbit): this may make for understanding, but it may also cast an unduly rosy light. Since you ask for my opinion, here it is.
I read [Out of the Silent Planet] in the original MS. and was so enthralled that I could do nothing else until I had finished it. My first criticism was simply that it was too short. I still think that criticism holds, for both practical and artistic reasons. Other criticisms, concerning narrative style (Lewis is always apt to have rather creaking stiff-jointed passages),...
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There must be profound reasons why wars spawn so many quack religions and Messiahs, but to discover them would require an exhaustive psychological study of the relations of war and peace to personal insecurity. On a lower level, we may wonder at the alarming vogue of Mr. C. S. Lewis, whose harmless fantasies about the kingdoms of Good and Evil ("Out of the Silent Planet," "The Screwtape Letters" and now "Perelandra") have had a modest literary success, while multitudes of readers, and in Britain radio listeners, succumb to the charm of his more direct treatises on Christian conduct.
It may be that a war in which our own shining ideology is so blurred by political trickery, cowardice and double-talk, puts a desperate premium on believers from 'way back, so that we gain confidence from hearing them preach as gospel what we have heard ourselves saying faintly since September, 1939…. It must be the same impulse that has pitchforked Mr. Lewis into the limelight, for in doubting times completely unremarkable minor prophets are pressed into making a career of reassurance.
In the days before radio, Mr. Lewis' little volume ["Christian Behavior"] would have been reviewed politely in the well bred magazines and no harm would have been done. But the chief danger of these homilies on behavior is their assumption of modesty. They are talks given over the radio by an Oxford don fairly recently converted to Christianity. From the...
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W. H. Auden
The pedagogic purpose of "The Great Divorce" is to correct a misunderstanding of a misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine of Hell, to clarify what Dante saw written over the gates of the Inferno: "Justice moved my High Maker: Divine Power made me Wisdom Supreme, and Primal Love." The original misunderstanding was to think of the Law of God in terms of the laws of men, that is, as something He imposes on individuals, with or without their consent, and for breaking which He imposes, without their consent, an eternal penalty. If this were true, it would really imply that there were two Gods, an imminent God the Creator, and a transcendent God the Judge, and against such a dualism liberal theology very properly reacted—Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" is one of the great polemics in this reaction. In adopting in its stead a doctrine of inevitable progress, however, liberalism denied freedom in another way, for, if the Love of God is omnipotent in the sense that sooner or later I shall be compelled to recognize it, then my present freedom to refuse is only apparent, and when my sins get me into trouble I may reasonably complain that it was very unkind of God not to exercise his omnipotence earlier. If I am not eternally free, I am not free at all….
Like an increasing number of modern works of art, "The Great Divorce" revives the medieval literary device of the dream and, since Mr. Lewis is a distinguished medieval scholar,...
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This author is of course well known as a controversialist—indeed my view is that the death of George Orwell left Mr. Lewis standing alone as our major controversial author—and while controversialists are common enough in the world of letters, they do not usually get asked to contribute to a 'safe' academic series like the Oxford History of English Literature. So it is important to begin by saying that the controversial nature of the book [English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama, volume III of The Oxford History of English Literature] does not make it any the less helpful as a literary history. The chief functions of a literary history are fulfilled: the names are strung together, the historical and biographical information is given, and the bibliography shows us how to set about more detailed study. What is more, the book is a very pleasurable one to read. Mr. Lewis is today the only major critic of English literature who makes a principle of telling us which authors he thinks we shall enjoy: this may not sound much, but most dons have moved a long way from any recognition that literature is something that people used to read for fun. Mr. Lewis, now as always, writes as if inviting us to a feast: not in the take-it-or-leave-it Saintsbury way, but always giving his reasons, and frequently warning us to stay away from this or that boring writer who is only included because the Oxford History can't leave...
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Kathryn Ann Lindskoog
[C. S. Lewis's] Narnian series hinges upon the acceptance of supernatural phenomena…. (p. 33)
There are, of course, skeptics in these books. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the children did not accept Lucy's tale about discovering Narnia when they first heard it. They consulted the wise old professor about her strange story. They complained that when they looked in the wardrobe there was nothing there, asserting that if things are real they're there all the time. "Are they?" the Professor said. The time element also bothered the children. During less than one minute, Lucy claimed to have spent several hours in Narnia. "That is the very thing that makes her story so likely to be true," said the Professor. He explained that if there really was a door in his house that led to some other world, it would be very likely that the other world had a separate time of its own so that however long one stayed there it would never take up any time on earth. (pp. 33-4)
When the children had had actual experiences with the supernatural, the concept of other worlds was much easier to accept. Once they had been out of their own world, they could conceive of many others with comparative facility. The idea came to Digory in The Magician's Nephew: "Why, if we can get back to our own world by jumping into this pool, mightn't we get somewhere else by jumping into one of the others? Supposing there was a world...
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[While serving as a professor at Cambridge, Lewis wrote An Experiment in Criticism in response to the increasingly popular critical theories of his fellow Cambridge don, F. R. Leavis. Lewis believed that Leavis wrongly placed critical emphasis on the subjective extraction of meaning from literary texts, rather than on simply receiving and evaluating them according to the authors' own purposes. Kermode, himself a distinguished critic, saw much to Lewis's approach.]
Modern criticism, perhaps because it is multitudinous and arcane, is often thought, by modern critics especially, to be very valuable. Now Professor Lewis does not think so; he has an air of strenuous disinterest, but one comes to see that the cause of his book [An Experiment in Criticism] is disquiet at the possible fate of literature when it falls into the wrong hands. Not until the end does he, with much art, reveal that he has had in his sights a particular school of critics, and even then—shrinking a little, it may be, from their 'insular ferocity'—he refrains from naming them.
The main argument is that one can best sort out books by sorting out readers. Broadly, there are the Many who use, and the Few who receive, works of art. This is not to say that the Many are vulgar or immoral or immature compared with the Few, but only that they want very little from art: pictures of something, music with tunes, books with...
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It is not hard to enumerate the assets that Lewis brought with him when he set out to be a writer. First of all, intelligence. His mind, sharpened by lifelong training, was formidable in its power and precision. One can disagree with him to the point of fury, but not condescend. Coupled with the superb mind was solid erudition. He was master of classical, medieval, and Renaissance literature, so much at home in it that he could make use of its symbols and themes with unconscious ease and grace. Greek and Roman mythology and the legends of the Celts and Germanic peoples were as much a part of his literary frame of reference as the Bible. His books grew out of the collective memory of Western mankind.
Lewis brought to traditional mythology as much as he took from it. His vivid imagination could transport his mind to the floating islands of a distant planet, and from there he would evolve the story of Paradise Retained. This absolute clarity of visual imagination is one of the main appeals of his more fantastic books. Anyone reading, say, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is given so distinct a picture of Aslan's death that he could reproduce the scene on canvas with photographic detail.
Lewis's intelligence and his imagination, taken together, are more than equal to the sum of the parts. In his fantasies one always senses barely beneath the surface a powerful mind controlling the movement of events. In the...
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Lewis talks about male and female so often that it is hard to know where to begin, or indeed what to leave out [of an essay on his view of the subject]…. Why does this theme appear so often, and in so many different guises—as poetry, essay, fiction and myth? For Lewis, the reason is simple. Masculine and feminine are not merely curious facts about biological existence; they reflect the very structure of the universe. To understand the enigma of masculine and feminine is to have approached the mystery at the heart of creation where symbol and reality are one….
In the preface to That Hideous Strength—which he calls a "modern fairy tale for grownups"—Lewis notes that his story follows the method of the traditional fairy tale. All fairy tales begin, he says, not with the proverbial witches and ogres, but with "humdrum scenes and persons". In the same way, Lewis begins his profound meditation on masculine and feminine by asking us first to look closely at what we already know—real men and women….
To many readers, it will seem [at the outset of the novel] that Lewis has presented [in Jane Studdock] a rather biased portrait of a woman who has neither the ability nor the enthusiasm for a career, but stubbornly refuses to devote herself to her duties as wife and mother. But before we pass judgment, let us remember Jane's husband. Mark is a young Fellow in Sociology at Bracton College who is on his way up:...
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