Of Other Worlds, C.S. Lewis

You know how you complain about your family members sometimes, when you’re in a bad mood with them?  And you’re all, My father’s this, my sister’s that, when you’re talking to your friends?  And it’s okay for your friend to say things like “That does sound frustrating” or “She’s being unreasonable”, but if your friend ever says “Wow, your sister’s a bitch”, you get really really angry and tell your friend to mind her own damn business?

That’s my exact relationship with C.S. Lewis.  I can say bad things about him, but you had better not.  Or if you do, you had better start off by saying how much you love C.S. Lewis, so that it is clear to me that your relationship with him is similar to mine.  I can continue to like Neil Gaiman, but I am permanently angry with Philip Pullman.  Sorry, Philip Pullman.  This isn’t your fault.  You never had a chance.

Because at heart, and probably forever, I’m devoted to C.S. Lewis.  I encountered his books at an uncritical age (three), and I didn’t learn anything to his discredit until I was much older and it was far too late.  In the meantime I had discovered that I wanted to be a writer, and I had started writing dozens of stories that were, essentially, Narnia done over again.  So much too late to decide that actually I didn’t like C.S. Lewis after all.

Of Other Worlds was a collection of C.S. Lewis’s essays on, you know, other worlds, writing for children and all that, and when I read it, I wanted to travel back in time and give him a hug.  He defends children’s stories and fantasy/sci-fi stories very staunchly – bless him for that.  I just never get over how much I love C.S. Lewis’s style of writing.  I’m sure this is partly because it is the first style of writing I can remember, and it makes me feel safe and at home; but partly, the man just writes elegantly.  His sentences are often long, but they never ever seem convoluted, and he uses commas to excellent effect.  He’s like – he’s like Cicero with commas and semicolons.  Cicero with semicolons!  WHAT COULD EVER BE BAD ABOUT THAT?

Here are some things I am glad he said:

Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology, and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them.  This is all pure moonshine.  I couldn’t write that way at all.  Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion.  At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord…

The Lion began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.  This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen.  Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’  At first I had very little idea how the story would go.  But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it.  I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time.  Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came.  But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.

Quite right too.  (I love Mr. Tumnus.)  Say what you will about C.S. Lewis, the man is not afraid of a semicolon.  I love semicolons.

I’ve heard of so many people who say feel cheated when they discover that there are parallels between these stories and Christianity, and I find the whole thing bizarre.  Authors write about issues that interest them, and C.S. Lewis was interested in Christianity, so – hey, big surprise! – Christian themes inform his books.  I can see not liking that, because maybe you aren’t interested in Christianity, at least Lewis’s version of it, but this betrayed feeling is weird to me.  The books have themes that inform the entire story, just like every good book ever.

To be honest, the whole business strikes me as rather akin to people who say that things like Angels in America are trying to “advance a gay agenda”.  They aren’t; they’re just written by people who hold a certain set of beliefs, and those beliefs come through in the play or book or whatever.  The Narnia books aren’t sneakily advancing a Christian agenda for propaganda purposes.  They’re written by a Christian person.

And, actually, I think it’s sweet how C.S. Lewis always seems to have such a crush on the Lord.  His religious views sometimes annoy the hell out of me, but he seems to have really, really, really liked God, and to have had a powerful sense of the immediacy of God, and to want to communicate that if he could.  So if you do not think it’s nice how much he loves God, I guess that could be annoying.  I always think it’s nice when people love things tremendously.

  • I like this post so much. You make so many excellent points. Unfortunately I could never get into Lewis, and I blame it on the fact that I got to him too late. I think I was 19 or 20 when I picked up my first Narnia book. And it’s not that I think it’s ever too late for fantasy or children’s books, but I just couldn’t keep my brain from scrutinizing them for faults. I couldn’t focus on the story. And it made me sad. Anyway, even though I can’t feel the same I really like what you said here. And I always think it’s nice when people love things that much too.

  • Wonderful post. I know exactly what you mean!

  • Enjoyed your post. Like you, I was enthralled with Lewis’ Narnia books at a very young age. I didn’t even notice the Christian parallels until someone pointed them out to me when I was a teenager, up until then I just thought they were great stories! And I still do.

  • jennysbooks

    Nymeth – I know this is silly, but it seems weird to me that anybody didn’t grow up with the Narnia books. I think it’s just that thing of assuming your own childhood is the norm. But I know what you mean about coming to things late – I hate it when I read a book or see a movie that I know I’d have loved if I had read/seen it as a kid. Like Labyrinth. All my friends loved Labyrinth as kids, but when I watched it a few years ago I was bored to death.

    annie – I saw your review of The Magician’s Book a little while ago – sounds like we have a similar relationship to Lewis. 🙂

    Jeane – I don’t actually remember when I figured out that the books were full of Christian themes. I think I minded a little bit that Eustace was Saul (Paul), because I didn’t like Paul, but I don’t think I even paid a tiny bit of attention to the rest.

  • Kim

    This is a really lovely post. I haven’t read much C.S. Lewis, but now I would like to grab some of his essays. Your point about Christianity in his books is a good one!

  • jennysbooks

    Thank you! As a warning, not all of his essays are as sweet and endearing as the excerpts I quoted. In particular, when he writes about Christianity, he is depressingly apt to say things like “Women must obey their husbands and that is God’s will”. I like him much better when he is just talking about God.

  • I want to comment on all your posts. But I cant. So I’ll just say this:

    “I can say bad things about him, but you had better not. Or if you do, you had better start off by saying how much you love C.S. Lewis, so that it is clear to me that your relationship with him is similar to mine.”

    OMG HOW DID YOU READ MY MIND????? Thats exactly how I feel!!!!!!!!!
    I was in my English lecture today, and we were covering VDT, and they lecturer brought up some (valid )criticisms of the Narnia books and I was all “Oh NO you didnt!” But I didnt say anything to her cuz she had previously mentioned what a huge fan she was of Lewis 🙂 Crazy how well a stranger articulated my deepest thoughts!

    Two main problems I had with her views was her flippant backhanded mention of Susan getting left behind, and (shock*gasp*horror) accusing his Secondary World to be inconsistant. I know! Narnia is nothing if not consistant! I emailed her with a link to your article on The problem with Susan, and Andrew Rilestone’s (to correct her ignorance on the issue). http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2005/11/lipstick-on-my-scholar.html

    At least she agreed on my views on the reading order. You can view it here if you want a heated debate haha…
    http://keepthecoffee.blogspot.com/2011/03/part-2-correct-reading-order-for.html

    Omg ok this is really long so im gonna go.
    But keep writing! your amazing! and i hate Pullman too but love his Dark Materials 😛

    x

    But a

    • Aw, you’re so sweet. 🙂 Narnia is a bit inconsistent — though I wouldn’t have thought of that on my own, having grown up with it — but I totally totally agree with you about the reading order, when reading for the first time. Thereafter I think it is okay to read chronologically. If I’m doing a Big Narnia Reread, I do them in order from the beginning. 🙂

  • One of the first things I did when converting to the Catholic faith was trying to win plenary indulgences for Tolkien – not so much, I reckoned he did not need it – but two men who died outside the Church: CSL and my grandfather.

    • There are also about two Protestants well known of 20C that I reckon on meeting in Heaven (did Mother Basilea Schlink convert before dying, or is she still alive?):

      – Cassie Bernall, who did not have time to read up on Apostolic Succession between returning from apostasy and dying as a martyr,
      – CSL, who, on returning from atheism had the misfortune to favour the communion which offered in the words of Charles Gore to ackomodate some of his modernist prejudices (which about all atheists have), and later when more close to Catholicism (Letters to Malcolm) had the option of either Rome or Moscow/ROCOR (I do not know whether his Orthodox friends were one or other), and that at a time when Rome seemed to change for the worse.

      CSL forgave Chesterton some of his issues with him due to Belloc being (supposedly) a bad influence, I cast Charles Gore in that role.