Session 24: March 24th, 2010 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chps 7-10

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Session #24 was held on Wednesday, March 24th, [Correction] 3-5 pm. We  heard summaries of chapters 7-10 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and discused them. We began reading chapter 11, and heard a brief report about another C.S. Lewis book, Till We Have Faces.

Update: Today we discussed the following topics:

  1. dragons as archetypes
  2. when the children hear the name “Aslan“, “everyone felt quite different… At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.” Have you ever had such an experience?
  3. in single file 1列縦隊で
  4. “Safe? … Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
  5. Lilith, Adam’s first wife, according to legend. I see that, according to Wikipedia, there is only one possible place in the Hebrew bible which might be referring to Lilith.
  6. When the children discover that Edmund is missing, their first instinct is to look for him, but Mr. Beaver says no: “‘Don’t you see that the only chance of saving either him or yourselves is to keep away from her [the Witch]’…. ‘Oh, can no one help us?’ wailed Lucy.  ‘Only Aslan,’ said Mr. Beaver, ‘ we must go on and meet him. That’s our only chance now.'” Here Lewis introduces the idea that one’s first instincts may not be always the best thing to do: the children have to learn that there is a higher value, something more important, than simply finding Edmund: what needs to happen is to save him. Imagine if the children did look for Edmund and did find him, what then? Perhaps he would have refused to come with them, because he preferred to be with the White Witch (hoping that she would make him a Prince and give him more Turkish Delight).
  7. (Chapter 9). Edmund was not 100% bad:
    1. he did not actually want “his brother and sisters to be turned into stone.” He pretended he believed that she wouldn’t do anything very bad to them.
    2. “At least, that was the excuse he made in his own mind for what he was doing. It wasn’t a very good excuse, however, for deep down inside him he really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel.”

    We discussed “sin”, and the Christian idea that you must first accept that you are a sinner before you can become a Christian (i.e. accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master). When I was a high school student, some of my friends became Christians, and they were always telling me about this; this feeling of sin was something I did not feel at all, and I could not accept it. C.S. Lewis wrote “The [second] greatest barrier I have met [in presenting the Christian Faith to modern unbelievers] is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin. . . . The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, Metuentes or Pagans, a sense of guilt. . . . Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.” [from Lewis, “Difficulties in Presenting the Christian Faith to Modern Unbelievers,” Lumen Vitae, 3 (1948); reprinted as “God in the Dock,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 243-44 (in Britain, Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper [London: Geoffrey Bles, 1971], p. 200)]

  8. (Chapter 10). Mrs. Beaver refuses to panic, and remains practical. I cannot think of specific examples now, but this kind of character may be considered typically British. Although I’m sure such characters exist in other cultures, the combination of stoicism (link to Japanese Wikipedia) with good humour is a character trait traditionally highly valued in British culture.
  9. How can there be a Father “Christmas” if it is “always winter and never Christmas” in Narnia? asked a participant. Quite right! Probably children who read this book will not question this, though. Also, of course, how can there be a Father “Christmas” in another world into which Jesus Christ has not been born? Perhaps Lewis was appealing to a basic human sense that “always winter” and never any fun or celebration, is somehow wrong; that there should be some happiness and joy, even in the middle of winter.
  10. The children receive 3 gifts from Father Christmas: a sword and shield for Peter, a bow and arrows and a horn for Susan, and a dagger and a vial of healing cordial for Lucy. It is part of the convention of fairy tales for the hero to receive  magical gifts. In addition, the gifts are not purely personal toys, but are given to the children for the purpose of helping them to help others. What if Edmund had been there? Would he have received a gift? What would he have received? Would Father Christmas have given him Turkish Delight?
  11. (Chapter 11). Slowly, Edmund realizes that the Witch never “intended to make him a King.”
  12. The White Witch is not only cruel, but she is a puritan: she gets angry at the gifts Father Christmas gave to the squirrel family: “What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?”

We also heard a brief summary of C.S. Lewis’ novel Till We Have Faces (thank you, Okabayashi-san!). Someone asked the meaning of the title. The title comes from a single line in the book, near the end, when the main character, Orual, asks “How can the gods meet us face to face till we have faces?” In a letter to Dorothy Conybeare, Lewis explained ‘the idea behind the title was that a human being must become real before it can expect to receive any message from divine beings; “that is, it must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask, veil, or persona.“‘ [Constance Babington Smith, Letters to a Sister from Rose Macaulay, 1964, 261; also at Hooper, Companion (see IX) 252, quoted in Wikipedia.]

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The meaning of “shadowlands”

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Shadowlands is the title of a book and the movie made from the book, about C. S. Lewis‘ marriage. In the movie, C.S. Lewis mentions the word “shadowlands”: he explains that it was the title of a story he wrote. “Shadowlands” referred to a place in shadow – the sun shone somewhere else, but not here.

An alert reader pointed out that the same word, “shadowlands”, appears in the last Narnian story, “The Last Battle” and helpfully found the quotation for me on the Internet:

‘There was a real railway accident,’ said Aslan softly. ‘Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is over: this is the morning.’

After reading this, I wrote,

That suggests that this reality, this planet Earth, is the “Shadowland”, i.e. a preparation for the reality which comes in another world. That fits with the idea in “The Great Divorce”, where Heaven is the real reality: what was experienced before Heaven was only half real. Hell, or purgatory, is a kind of “shadowland”: everything is grey and cloudy and dull. Not exactly night, but not exactly bright day either.

The conversation continues here, if you are interested.

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Aristotle’s Poetics

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In the movie Shadowlands, there are a couple of scenes showing C.S. Lewis, professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature, teaching some tutorials. (The movie shows Lewis teaching in Oxford; he was first a professor at Oxford, then moved to Cambridge University, which is where he was teaching when he met Joy Gresham, although he continued to live in Oxford until the end of his life.)

In the first tutorial scene, Lewis is talking about the Romance of the Rose. He then notices one of his students is asleep, and, perhaps like the viewer and the other students, he wonders why. This reminds him of Aristotle’s theories on literature, especially theatre or drama, because Aristotle would have said that the question to ask, as a writer of literature, is not “why is the student sleeping?” but “what will he do next?” In other words, he is using the occasion to teach.

One of our participants (thank you, Katsuyo!) kindly found a summary in Japanese of Aristotle’s Poetics, which help explain what Lewis was talking about:






I think the Japanese summary which refers to Aristotle’s ideas mentioned in the Shadowlands movie is this part (scroll down to Section 6):



I don’t think these ideas are all that important to the movie, however. The scene is just an example of an Oxford professor teaching a tutorial. Also, it shows Mr. Whistler sleeping. Mr. Whistler is a small sub-plot in the story. What is the purpose of this little sub-story, do you think?

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Till We Have Faces

I just finished reading C.S. Lewis‘ story Till We Have Faces. I found it very enjoyable.

I had thought it would be an allegory like The Pilgrim’s Regress, with lots of literary and classical allusions and references. I thought I would need to at least know the original story of Cupid and Psyche. However, I found that was not necessary. The best part was when Orual meets her sister Psyche once more, beyond all hope, in a secret valley; she can see Psyche, but she cannot see the palace she lives in. Why not? She does not want to. She sees that Psyche is happy, happier than she has ever been, but Orual does not allow herself to accept Psyche’s happiness. All she wants to know is, “Does Psyche still love me?” In other words, she is self-centred.

The most significant thing about Psyche, as far as the world is concerned, is her physical beauty. However, it is also mentioned that she was a happy person, without malice. When Orual meets Psyche in the secret valley, Psyche’s happiness and the power of that happiness, rather than her physical beauty, become clear to the reader. It also becomes clear that Orual is an unreliable narrator.

I found these lines particularly poignant:

I was too busy… What did I not do? … I did and I did and I did – and what does it matter what I did? I cared for all these things only as a man cares for a hunt or a game, which fills the mind and seems of some moment while it lasts, but then the beast’s killed or the king’s mated, and now who cares? It was so with me almost every evening of my life; one little stairway led me from feast or council, all the bustle and skill and glory of queenship, to my own chamber to be alone with myself – that is, with a nothingness. Going to bed and waking in the morning… were bad times – so many hundreds of evenings and mornings. Sometimes I wondered who or what sends us this senseless repetition of days and nights and seasons and years; is it not like hearing a stupid boy whistle the same tune over and over, till you wonder how he can bear it himself? (the end of chapter 20.)

Work can be a distraction from what is truly important. Does Orual busy herself with mundane tasks in order to avoid facing the truth? Is what she is busy doing the most important thing? If not, why does she keep doing them? What should she be making her top priority? The more one busies oneself with mundane tasks, the more important they seem; and the more difficult it becomes to stop doing them.

The Greek tutor perhaps represents rational thinking, human intelligence. He despises the pagan religion, the superstitious worship of the goddess Ungit, and the uncritical belief in Ungit by the common people of that land, and as he is made tutor of the King’s daughters, he teaches them his philosophy. He manages to make Orual hate the native, pagan religion, but is not able to persuade her that the religion is powerless or meaningless.

In one memorable scene, we see the Fox (the Greek tutor) pitted against the Head Priest of the Temple of Ungit, in the presence of the King and Orual. The Priest has come to tell the King that the drought, the famine, lions, and now some mysterious horror called “the Brute”, are because Ungit is angry, and must be propitiated

“Those who have seen [the Brute] closest can least say what it is like, King… Your own chief shepherd on the Grey Mountain saw it the night the first lion came. He fell upon the lion with a burning torch. And in the light of the torch he saw the Brute – behind the lion – very black and big, a terrible shape….”

“By the King’s permission,” said the Fox, “the shepherd’s tale is very questionable. If the man had a torch, of necessity the lion would have a big black shadow behind it. The man was scared and new waked from sleep. He took a shadow for a monster.”

“That is the wisdom of the Greeks,” said the Priest…. “We are hearing much Greek wisdom this morning, King… and I have heard most of it before. … It is very subtle. But it brings no rain and grows no corn; sacrifice does both. It does not even give them the boldness to die. That Greek there is your slave because in some battle he threw down his arms and let them bind his hands and lead him away and sell him, rather than take a spear-thrust in his heart. Much less does it give them understanding of holy things. They demand to see such things clearly, as if the gods were no more than letters written in a book… nothing that is said clearly can be said truly about [the gods]. Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.”

Later in the same scene, the angry King “had the point of the dagger through the Priest’s robes and into his skin. I have never… seen anything more wonderful than the Priest’s stillness… The Fox had taught me to think… of the Priest as of a mere schemer and a politic man who put into the mouth of Ungit whatever might most increase his own power and lands or most harm his enemies. I saw it was not so… The room was full of spirits, and the horror of holiness.”

Later, Psyche, who is to be sacrificed to Ungit, tells her sister Orual,“The Priest has been with me. I never knew him before. He is not what the Fox thinks. Do you know, Sister, I have come to feel more and more that the Fox hasn’t the whole truth. Oh, he has much of it. It’d be dark as a dungeon within me but for hist teaching. And yet… He calls the whole world a city. But what’s a city built on? There’s earth beneath. And outside the wall? Doesn’t all the food come from there as well as all the dangers? … things growing and rotting, strengthening and poisoning, things shining wet… in one way (I don’t know which way) more like, yes, even more like the House of [Ungit].”

Orual slowly becomes convinced that the Fox indeed does not know everything, wise though he is, and that the Priest knows of a deeper, stronger power. She believes that power is evil, “He thought there were no gods, or else (the fool!) that they were better than men. It never entered his mind – he was too good – to believe that the gods are real, and viler than the vilest men”; but Psyche is not so sure: “Or else thy are real gods but don’t really do these things. Or even – mightn’t it be – they do these things and the things are not what they seem to be. How if I am indeed to wed a god?” “Wed the god” is how Psyche’s sacrifice is called, although everyone believes this means in fact she will die, perhaps by being eaten by “the Brute”. In fact, Psyche is correct: the reality is more wonderful than anyone imagines, of a wonder that most people, including Orual, cannot conceive of or accept.

This story contains several themes that recur in many of C.S. Lewis’ stories:

  1. true joy comes from God
  2. human beings, as they are, are not ready to actually see God directly, or to experience the true joy
  3. God, in his kindness and wisdom, gives human beings chances to taste a little of the true joy, for example through art, or through friendship, or family love or romantic love
  4. the reality of God cannot be understood solely by intellect
  5. although human beings are not gods and are separated from God, nevertheless it is possible for them to see God or experience God
  6. most people are self-centred; they are thinking of themselves only; to see God or come closer to God, to experience true joy, one must stop thinking of oneself and think of others; this is not easy for anyone;
  7. however, in order to see God or experience God, they must first go through a transformation, as Psyche does and as, eventually, Orual does, too
  8. this transformation involves letting go of everything they hold dear, including their own life itself – they must trust God completely and not try to rely on their own efforts to obtain their own happiness
  9. that life itself offers us from time to time clues to the source of true joy
  10. that life itself offers opportunities for the transformation, for letting go completely and hence knowing (seeing, experiencing) God.

One of the key points of the Psyche and Cupid story is that Cupid fell in love with Psyche and built a palace for her, but he forbade her to see his face. This fits in with Lewis’ understanding of God, as expressed in points #2 and #6 above. We can now understand why Lewis changed the original story (by Apuleius): “The central alteration  in my own version consists in making Psyche’s palace invisible to normal, mortal eyes – if ‘making’ is not the wrong word for something which forced itself upon me, almost at my first reading of the story, as the way the things must have been.” (Note, hardback edition, Harcourt, Brace & Company, New York, 1956.) 

Related to the idea that Orual is not ready, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, to see the god’s palace, is the idea of face. Orual is so ugly that she wears a veil over her face most of the time. When she meets Psyche in the secret valley the second time, she describes her as “so young, so brightface.”  “Brightface” is not a native English word. It is a made-up word, probably a literal translation of a Greek word or phrase. Much later in the story, Orual understands how she, and humans generally, use words believing that they are getting closer to the truth, but in fact they are often only building a wall, or repeating the same nonsensical things over and over. Orual herself kept in her heart for years her hatred, her complaint, her bitterness, and finally expressed it to the gods. However, her complaint had no end: if the gods had not told her shut up, she would have continued forever. Perhaps she felt that to express her complaint would bring her relief, but it did not, and never could. What she was looking for was relief, was true joy, but in order to experience that true relief and joy she would have to let go of her hurt, or her resentment, of her complaint, and also let go of her self and her self-centredness. When she meets Psyche again in the secret valley, she is more interested in whether Psyche still loves her than in finding out the source of Psyche’s happiness. In the second part of the book, she is forced to think about other people more than she has done before: about Bardia and Bardia’s wife; about her sister Redival; about her own father. She is accustomed to thinking of other people only in how they affect herself, but little by little she discovers how little she knew about those people. At one point, the Fox, her old tutor and advisor, tells her that the King is actually a little afraid of priests and women, and this astonishes Orual: she had never considered that possibility; in fact, she had never really considered the King, her father’s, real needs or feelings at all; she was only concerned with protecting herself against him. She is actually in his room where he lies dying, looking for a helmet to protect herself in her coming duel, when the King dies!

Lewis felt that myth was a vehicle for truth, a way to tell the truth in a way that people could understand more easily, more directly perhaps, than by simple straightforward exposition or explanation.

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Session 23: March 10th, 2010 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chps 3-6

Arthur Rackham, illustration to Hansel and Gretel
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Today, we summarized chapters 3-6 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

We discussed archetypes – the witch is an archetype. This character exists in many different cultures. Does it not also exist in Japan? Some people thought not. Later, I got this comment from a participant:

today’s talk on the archetype and the witch made me rethink about the difference between Western and Japanese culture. And it also reminded me of my childhood when I was always wondering if there are any witches in Japan. It might be difficult to find an exact image of “witch” in Japan, but “yamanba” may be the closest.

I have to correct what I have said when you have mentioned about “noh” masks. There is a “hannya,” who turns into an “oni” due to her jealousy, but perhaps you were suggesting “yamanba” instead? (In Japanese here).

Update: It might be interesting to compare Lewis’ White Witch with the Japanese character “Yuki-Onna“. Or perhaps also with Andersen’s Snow Queen. That would make a good essay for students, don’t you think?

What interests me in the idea of archetype is that there are similar types that exist in the minds and cultures of human beings who live in very different places. Dragons, for instance, are found in the myths and legends of China and Japan. This is understandable, as the two countries are close geographically and culturally. Perhaps the notion of dragon came to Japan from China. However, dragons also appear in Norse, Celtic and Indian myths.

A New York Times article (2003) about dragon is titled From Many Imaginations, One Fearsome Creature. It suggests that the origin of the dragon idea was the bones of dinosaurs, particularly of pterodactyls. However, dragons exist in Inuit mythology, yet no dinosaur fossils have ever been found where the Inuit live:

For thousands of years, cultures across the globe have feared different versions of overgrown reptiles. GREEK MYTHOLOGY — Perseus fought to spare Andromeda from a sea dragon, perhaps inspired by sightings of oarfish (right), which grow up to 30 feet long. THROUGHOUT EUROPE — Roman accounts of dragons spawned many legends; biblical dragons gave them credibility. THE INUIT — They had visions of dragons in a region where no reptiles exist. This one, confronting a caribou, was carved in bone. MT. PILATUS, SWITZERLAND — Pterodactyl fossils (below) are plentiful in this area. CHINA — Flying dragons could be harnessed for transportation. THE AZTECS — Their serpent god Quetzalcoatl had various guises and was seen as a protector usually.

Peter Schaker writes of the White Witch,

She is, of course, the evil force in the traditional fairy-tale separation of good from evil… She is simply the archetypal figure of the temptress witch, whom we respond to quite directly as “bad.” And that is how Lewis himself viewed her: “The Witch,” he wrote in a letter, “is of course Circe, . . . because she is . . . the same Archetype we find in so many fairy tales. No good asking where any individual author got that. We are born knowing the Witch, aren’t we?” [In a letter to a friend, 1954.]  Circe, in the Odyssey, tempted men with magical food and turned them into animals. The Witch, by her affinities with Circe, fits the same pattern, or archetype, as the witch who caught Hansel and Gretel, the old witch in Grimm’s “Sweetheart Roland,” and the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz: each tempts its prey, hates human beings, and epitomizes selfishness, cruelty, and desire for control. Each suggests to children the nature of evil..

Lewis seemed to believe that the witch was an archetype, in other words, a universally recognized figure.  However, if the witch archetype, for example, does not exist in Japanese culture, that would suggest that the witch archetype is not universal. Perhaps some archetypes are universal and some are not? What are some Japanese archetypes?

Finally, the differences between Japanese and Western culture are obvious and easily explained – geographical distance, and historical isolation. What, to my mind, are more surprising than the differences are the similarities. Dragons, for example, are part of both Japanese AND Western cultures. Isn’t this odd!

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Cover of "Shadowlands"
Cover of Shadowlands

Shadowlands is a movie based on the friendship, marriage and love (in that order) of British author and Cambridge professor C.S. Lewis and American writer and divorcee, Joy Gresham. The Japanese title is 永遠の愛に生きて。It stars Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis and Debrah Winger as Joy Gresham. (It also stars Edward Hardwicke as Lewis’ brother Warnie; Hardwicke played Dr. Watson to Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes.)

Although it’s a well made movie, at some point I stopped believing that Hopkins was Lewis. His eyes look too shifty, and he did not seem able to portray sincerity and honesty. Also, after reading Kathryn Lindskoog‘s account of her meeting C.S. Lewis, I wonder if in fact he was the shy, difficult-to-reach character that the playwright William Nicholson portrayed him as.

Update: I’ve now seen the whole movie, and I take back what I said about Hopkins looking shifty. It was clearly a device Hopkins used to show a growth or change in the character. The Debrah Winger character mentions it later: now he can look her in the eyes.

The movie does a good job of showing that Lewis’ Christian faith all but crumbled under the experience of watching his wife suffer excruciating pain and then dying after an apparent reprieve (the cancer inexplicably went into remission for a few months). We see Lewis lecturing on pain a couple of times before his marriage. The effect is to make Lewis sound like an intellectual who had not really experienced pain. However, I wonder if that is true: he had, after all, been a soldier in World War I and injured.

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Fantasy and science fiction

My daughter borrowed the video of Miyazaki’s movie ゲド戦記.  I have seen this movie before. I found it intriguing, but rather unsatisfying. There were many themes or echoes of earlier Miyazaki movies, like the witch who held the heart of the main character – an idea found also in Howl’s Moving Castle (itself, based on a British novel).

When I was a teenager, I read a great deal of science fiction, and tho I read less of that genre now, I still enjoy science-fiction movies such as I, Robot, Blade Runner, and Avatar. The Miyazaki movie is based on a series of books by the American science fiction writer, Ursula Le Guin. Wikipedia tells us that

In the past, Le Guin had rejected Hayao Miyazaki’s offer to create a film based on the series, but due to her love of his films, Le Guin granted Studio Ghibli the rights. The story is based mainly on elements of the third and fourth novels of Earthsea; however, Le Guin has stated that she found this rendition of her work “disappointing” and untrue to the spirit of Earthsea.

Le Guin was very critical of The Dark Tower, a science-fiction story supposedly written by C.S. Lewis:she thought it embarrassingly bad. Later, Le Guin read a book  disputing that The Dark Tower had in fact been written by Lewis. The book was by Kathryn Lindskoog and was called The C.S. Lewis Hoax. After reading it, Le Guin changed her mind about Lewis:

I finished it liking Lewis, as man and artist, better than I had ever done before.

Kathryn Lindskoog was a fan of C.S. Lewis and wrote her thesis about his work. She went to England to meet C.S. Lewis and met him in Oxford in 1956. She wrote about her meeting him here.

Allegory, myths, fairytales and fantasies

The Chronicles of Narnia
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In session #22, we discussed allegory. Perhaps I gave the impression that I think the Narnia stories are allegories.  However, after reading chapter 1 of Reading with the Heart: the Way into Narnia by Peter J. Schakel, I have changed  my mind.

Lewis himself called them [the Narnia Chronicles] fairy tales and, more specifically, the type of fairy tales known as fantasies.

What are fairy tales?

Fairy tales, by definition, are short stories, involving supernatural events and characters such as elves, fairy godmothers, and witches, set in whole or in part in a never-never land. Lewis’s friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, whose ideas influenced Lewis greatly, defines a “fairy-story” as “one which touches on or uses Faërie, whatever its own main purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy.” “Faërie itself,” Tolkien goes on to say, “may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power,” the power of Enchantment.

As fairy tales, then, the Chronicles, will be characterized by strangeness and wonder, usually produced by magic, but at the same time, as fantasies, they must be believable and have internal consistency. Such believability is attained, in fairy tales which are also fantasies, by creation of a separate, “enchanted” world into which characters and readers are taken.

What is a fantasy?

A fantasy, in literary terms, is “a work which takes place in a non-existent and unreal world, such as fairy-land.” [Holman, A Handbook to Literature, p. 219] A fantasy world should be independent of our world and self-sufficient: all the information needed to understand actions and meanings should be available within that world. It is an imaginary world and may have natural laws different from those of our world, but once those laws are established, they must be adhered to—if they are ignored or violated, the magic spell of the story will be broken. Tolkien again provides a useful explanation: “What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful ‘subcreator.’ He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside.” [Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” p. 60]

What is myth? Perhaps the common idea of myth is “fictitious story, or unscientific account, theory, belief, etc.” However, Lewis had a more precise idea:

A myth, according to Lewis, is a narrative with a simple, satisfactory and inevitable shape which imparts to its readers’ imaginations a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth. A myth, in other words, is a story, a narrative; it depends for effect upon its shape, upon what happens to whom for what reasons, not upon the particular words or style in which it is told; it must communicate imaginatively, not intellectually; and at its heart must be a truth of universal significance or applicability… “When allegory is at its best, it approaches myth, which must be grasped with the imagination, not with the intellect.” [Preface to The Pilgrim’s Regress, 3rd ed. (London: Bles, 1943), p. 13.]

Schakel believes that the Narnia stories are not allegory, and should not be read as such. To support his view, he quotes Lewis himself.

He tried to set matters straight in his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be 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 . . . drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all” (Of Other Worlds, p. 36). Elsewhere he cites the use of a secondary world as evidence that Aslan is not to be taken as an allegorical figure:

In reality . . . he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, “What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” This is not allegory at all. . . . The Incarnation of Christ in another world is mere supposal; but granted the  supposition, He would really have been a physical object in that world as He was in Palestine. ( Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. W. H. Lewis (London: Bles, 1966), p. 283.)

Lewis expected his readers to enter his supposed world fully, to accept it as real and self-contained, and not to be asking what details in Narnia stand for in our world or looking for meanings that can be abstracted from the story through allegory. Their primary appeal, he expected, would be to the heart, not the head.

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On jumping to conclusions

Lewis at the locus
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Another commenter wrote that she felt that Lewis was saying that everyone should be Christian.

Is this a feeling, or a thought? Where does this feeling (or thought) come from?

Perhaps Lewis did feel this. How can we prove whether this speculation is correct or not? We cannot go back in the past and look into Lewis’ heart or head to check whether our guess is right or not. What can we do? We have only Lewis’ writing to help us. Does he say this in Chapter 2 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? We must look here to find evidence to prove or disprove our theory. Or perhaps Lewis wrote this in some other book or lecture? If we can find such evidence, we can prove our theory. Without such evidence, our theory is not even a theory, it is a guess, based not on evidence but on our imagination, or our preconception.

Studying literature, as opposed to reading for private pleasure, involves the discipline of training our minds. It assumes an objective reality against which we can check our ideas or guesses or intuitions. In the case of literature, the “objective reality” is the author’s writing. Everything without evidence must be classified as “speculation”.

What does “gentleman” mean? Perhaps we assume that a gentleman is a gentle man. Without evidence, however, this is just speculation, although a reasonable one. Let us check our guess or “feeling” against objective reality. In fact, “gentle” originally meant “highborn, noble”. (Apparently, this is not only a Western idea.)

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