Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The collective title of Lewis’ three books, The Human Age, identifies their common theme. Although Lewis was drawn to Christianity only late in his life, he always believed that there must be values that transcend the relativistic human world. This position was a philosophical one that at most would assert the existence of eternal principles or a divine mind and not a personal God. Thus, in the first book of the sequence, The Childermass, Lewis satirizes both the relativistic liberalism of the Bailiff and the merely human authoritarianism of Hyperides. Divine authority is necessary, and so Pullman is wrong to help the Bailiff and Sammael challenge that authority. Witnessing the political rally in Monstre Gai, Pullman, addressing himself, admits to himself that “the role which had been yours on earth was essentially diabolic.” When alive, Pullman believed that his life expressed a disinterested love of art; in the afterlife, he learns that he had deceived himself. Pullman reflects to himself that in this strange afterlife, “as in my own case, you would find yourself involved with a powerful demon, whereas on Earth he would merely be dear old so-and-so, a rich patron of the arts, or a go-ahead publisher.”

Pullman dimly understands his guilt in Third City, but he is truly remorseful only when he finds himself in a plot to attack the Divine by establishing a Human Age. Pullman now learns something about himself. Although the pessimistic and satiric works Pullman once wrote may have been great art, the man who wrote them led a coldly intellectual, selfish life that after death aligns him with the diabolical. Can he nevertheless be saved? A personal sense of God’s reality, and not merely a philosophical or theological conviction, enters the work when Pullman comes to believe that, despite man’s wickedness, “God values man” and that he can still pray for salvation. The is sue of whether he deserves redemption would presumably have been the subject of a fourth volume that Lewis had barely begun at his death, “The Trial of Man.”