Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

The Human Age was highly praised on publication for its ambitious range and themes and was compared to the satire of Jonathan Swift. Yet the work contains many inconsistencies. For example, Lewis’ characterization of his angels, some treated comically and some with reverence, suggests that Lewis was merely toying with...

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The Human Age was highly praised on publication for its ambitious range and themes and was compared to the satire of Jonathan Swift. Yet the work contains many inconsistencies. For example, Lewis’ characterization of his angels, some treated comically and some with reverence, suggests that Lewis was merely toying with a theological system that needs the intellectual commitment of a John Milton to present convincingly. The relationship of God to the world that the work presents is especially weak. The reader learns that Satan is lying when he claims that he is God’s equal. If he was lying, however, and if as Pullman concludes “God values Man,” why did God tolerate Satan’s sadistic treatment of man? The basic problem here, and the one from which all the others spring, is that although Lewis uses a Christian framework (embellished with Gnostic doctrines), and was even drawn to the Christian religion late in his life, the spirit of his work is far from Christian. Satan is condemned for trying to do exactly what Christians believe Christ has done: join the divine with the human. It is doubtful that Lewis could have solved such problems in the proposed fourth book. In the existing manuscript pages (at Cornell University), God is introduced as a character: a kindly, intellectual gentleman who makes polite conversation. It was difficult enough to take the Devil seriously when he was presented by Lewis as a witty, urbane politician, but introducing God as a character is an artistic error, and one might well imagine that Lewis abandoned the manuscript for that reason.

Despite its structural and thematic weaknesses, The Human Age, especially the second and third books, ranks high in the Lewis canon for its creation of what is perhaps his most memorable character after Rene Harding of Self Condemned (1954). Lewis also ranks high among authors of dystopian fiction for the vividness of his imaginary world and the satiric sharpness of the way it comments on the reader’s own world. Lewis indeed surpasses many writers of dystopias by avoiding the essaylike expositions employed by writers even as skillful as Aldous Huxley and instead introducing the reader to his fictional world by stages as the main character learns about it himself. For the depth of characterization of its protagonist and the descriptive brilliance of many of its scenes, it is one of the finest satiric fictions of the post-World War II era.

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