Tag Archives: C.S.Lewis

Session #33: November 24th, 2010

Autumn Stones
Autumn stones


Thank you very much to all of you who attended yesterday’s session. It was a very interesting discussion! We decided to have one more session on “Perelandra”, then we will read a new book, Wind, Sand and Stars (click the link to buy or to see the details of the book on Amazon Japan) by the French pilot and poet, Antoine de St Exupery. The Japanese translation is 人間の土地 (新潮文庫). (Click the link to buy or to see the details of the book on Amazon Japan.)

The December session will be on Dec. 8th at the usual time and place.

Here is a list of questions on “Perelandra” to focus on for the December session:

  1. What wound remains with Ransom even when the rest of his body has healed? How does Ransom finally kill the Un-man/Weston?
    1. Read Genesis 3:14 and 15. This passage is usually taken to mean the first promise of a saviour who will defeat sin and Satan and redeem humanity.
    2. List the similarities between the Genesis passage and C.S. Lewis’ story.
  2. The long and somewhat confusing dialogue at the end of the novel about the Great Dance might be summed up like this: “All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for.”
    1. Read Job 38, Isaiah 40:12-31, 55:8-11. What do these passages say about God’s plan? Do you think Lewis was thinking of these passages when he wrote about the Great Dance?
  3. Read Genesis 2:4 – 3:7.
    1. List the similarities between the tempting of Eve and the tempting of the Green Lady.
    2. What differences are there?
  4. Science fiction is sometimes divided into two types: utopian and dystopian.
    1. Can you give examples of utopian and dystopian science fiction?
    2. Which category does “Perelandra” fit?
  5. Ransom (and presumably C.S. Lewis) believes it is sometimes necessary and justifiable to face evil physically with violence. Do you agree?  Give reasons for your answer.

Why not  make use of your knowledge of Perelandra, and write a review of the book on Amazon Japan?

Here are some reviews of Perelandra (Space Trilogy) by other readers. These reviews are mostly written by ordinary people, not by professional writers.

At the moment, there are only two reviews of the English version of Perelandra (Space Trilogy).  There are just 3 reviews of the Japanese translation ヴィーナスへの旅―ペレランドラ 金星編 (別世界物語).
Why not write your own review? I strongly recommend it! You don’t have to write a positive review. In fact, sometimes the negative reviews, if they are well written,  are more interesting and useful than the positive ones. When you write a review, try to keep in mind that you are writing for a reader. What information does a reader want? Why do people read the reviews on Amazon? Because they are thinking of buying the book, and they want to know what the book is about, and if they will enjoy reading it.  Here are my examples of badly written reviews. First a positive one, then a negative one. Try not to write a review  like these!

  1. This is a great book! You will enjoy it! It has many marvellous descriptions. The writer is a famous author. Once I started reading, I could not stop. Some parts were difficult, but it is worth reading.
  2. This is a terrible book! Don’t buy this book! It is a waste of time. The author is a very bad writer. I stopped reading this book after 50 pages. It is boring. The story is completely unbelievable! We know that Venus is nothing like how it is described in the book. Venus is full of poisonous gasses, therefore this story could never happen. Also, how Ransom gets to Venus is also completely nonsensical. Don’t waste your money on this book.

Session #32: October 20th, 2010

Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent at the ent...
Image via Wikipedia

New Update:

Another theme we discussed in this session was that “reality” is not real! To be more specific, our everyday reality masks or hides a different reality which is hiding behind it.

The part of Perelandra which expresses this idea is in Chapter 2 where the character Lewis talks about the price we pay for our comfortable reality.

At the sesion, I mentioned a quotation from Lewis (the author) where he expressed a similar idea. It is from Lewis’ foreword to a fairy tale byGeorge MacDonald:

The quality that had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real university, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live.

In this session we discussed the first few chapters of  C.S. Lewis‘ novel “Perelandra“, the second book in his science-fiction trilogy. Please write any comments about Perelandra after this blog entry. Comments are welcome in Japanese or in English.

At first, we discussed the details of the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man, as described in the Book of Genesis and in  Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (Penguin Classics). We recalled most of the details, but we were not sure exactly why Satan and the other angels rebelled against God: some of us thought it was a power struggle, others thought it was because Satan and the rebel angels wanted more freedom.

Then we began to discuss the book itself, starting with the Study Guide questions. However, the Study Guide questions were quite difficult, and we ended up discussing other topics. We did not get very far in the book or in the Study Guide!

One topic we discussed was about “being drawn in”: Lewis, at the beginning of the story, is afraid of being drawn in to something he will not like. He is afraid that already he is too much involved to retreat. One member asked how we can prevent ourselves from being drawn in to dangerous or unpleasant groups or activities. I suggested an essay by Lewis entitled “The Inner Ring”. I’m sure there exists a Japanese translation. Can you help me find it? Here is how one man, a Christian and a historian, describes this essay by Lewis:

Here is what C.S. Lewis wrote many decades ago. Take it to heart… This lecture, “The Inner Ring,” was the Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London, in 1944. By the time he gave it, he was famous. The inner rings wanted to get him in, so as to increase their prestige. He demurred.

He had the group he needed. His circle of friends — the Inklings — included authors J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. The “grunt” member, his brother Warnie, as an amateur historian eventually dwarfed them all in academia with his book on Louis XIV.

It was the high quality of the men in the group that served as a screening factor for their writings. They read their stories to each other. Their stories got better.

This opens up a very interesting possible path for future discussion:

  1. the meaning of temptation
  2. how to resist temptation

In fact, the Christian historian who wrote the paragraph about Lewis above,  has written a “curriculum” for young people to teach them how to resist temptation. He calls it “Providing your children with the will to resist”. It is a 10-week course. Week 3 is to read and discuss Lewis’s science fiction story That Hideous Strength.

Another way to say “being drawn in” might be “being tempted”. In his speech “The Inner Ring”, Lewis describes how this temptation will come. It is similar to the temptation of Eve in Paradise Lost, and of The Lady in Perelandra. A very subtle temptation, very difficult to protect oneself against. Only strong principles and a deep understanding of your own heart (it’s strengths and weaknesses) can help you:

And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still–just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig–the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”–and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure–something “we always do.”

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face–that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face–turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

Perhaps the story of Adam and Eve is not a story about something that happened a long time ago, but a story that is very relevant to us today.

We also discussed the character of Lewis in the novel. Lewis wrote the novel, but he also placed himself in it! Why? Why not just keep Ransom as the main character and narrator?

A possible answer is that Ransome, especially in book 2, becomes a rather special, even super, human being. It might be difficult for readers to relate to or identify with Ransome. So Lewis created an “ordinary person”  and called him “Lewis”! This person thinks, feels and acts very like ordinary people, like people who might read this novel. This makes it easier to read and to understand what is happening. Perhaps some people would not be afraid of meeting a real ghost or a real angel, but most people would be, just like Lewis.

It was a very interesting and wide-ranging discussion, and we all felt rather tired by the end of it.

Finally, we agreed to hold our next session on the last Wednesday in November, November 24th. In that session, we will continue our discussion of Perelandra. I don’t know whether we will finish it or not, but please try and finish reading the whole book by next session.

As well as reading the book itself, in both English and Japanese, I recommend that you read the relevant parts of the Book of Genesis, and a summary of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Session #27: June 9th, 2010

Soviet stamp, part of a 1967 series depicting ...
Image via Wikipedia

First of all, a very big thank you to all of you who attended today. I know some members have suffered personal bereavements, and for that reason some were unable to attend today. My thoughts go to them.

Today, we read almost all of chapter 1 of C.S. Lewis‘ science-fiction story Out of the Silent Planet. It is a more challenging story than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is aimed at adults. However, I hope for these reasons it will also prove to be a more satisfying read.

The homework is to finish reading chapter 1, and also read chapters 2 and 3 before the next session, June 23rd. I would prefer not to spend much time actually reading the text in future sessions, and instead to spend more time talking about questions that you have and discussing the themes of the story.  The questions and difficulties that you have about the text always surprise me. That is one reason I enjoy our sessions together.

Feel free to write comments here about chapter 1-3 even before next session.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Session #28: June 23rd, 2010

This is the cover to the January 1953 issue of...
Image via Wikipedia

We had a good turnout today, despite the heavy rain in the morning. A big thank-you to all of you who attended today.

First, we discussed about the definition of science fiction, and the difference between science fiction and fantasy. We also talked about Lewis’ own ideas on science fiction. You can read more about his ideas in the essay “On Science Fiction” in “Of Other Worlds“. (I also recommend the first essay, “On Stories”.)

Then we discussed chapters 1-3.

  1. What do we learn about Ransom’s character?
  2. What do we learn about Devine and Weston?
  3. What is “social Darwinism“?
  4. What does Weston think of Harry and why?
  5. Why does Ransom ignore Weston’s “barefaced lie”?
  6. Why does C.S. Lewis put Ransom out in space?

The next session will be July 14th, and that will be our last session before the summer. There will be no sessions in August. We will meet again in September.

Finally, here’s C.S.  Lewis writing about fairy tales, but I think what he says is also relevant to science fiction ( I posted this earlier, too):

“It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and “possessed joys not promised to our birth.”  It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake that we are for most of our lives.”

Enhanced by Zemanta

Session #26 (May 26th) report. Sessions 27 and 28

Yesterday’s session (#26) was the last one on C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. At the end of the session, I proposed our next book: C.S. Lewis’ science fiction story for adults, “Out of the Silent Planet”. This is not a long book, but it is more challenging.

At the end of yesterday’s session, we received a visit from a number of interested people. Perhaps some of them will join us for the next session.

If you did not attend recent sessions of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, you are warmly welcome to re-join us for the new book (if this book does not interest you, why not send me an email with your requests). It is quite ok to “drop out” when we are reading a book you are not interested in, and to “drop back in” later.

There is no homework for the next session. We will begin reading the book in the next session. After that, I will follow the same pattern as before: homework will be reading a few chapters, and in the sessions we will discuss the meaning, ask questions, and talk about what interests us about the book.

The next sessions in June will be:

June 9th,

June 23rd.

We had an interesting discussion about fairy-stories compared with myths and traditional tales. Thank you very much to all of you who attended.

I mentioned a seminal essay by Lewis’ close friend and fellow-Oxford don, J.R.R. Tolkien, titled On Fairy Stories. Yoko Okuda told me the Japanese title, and using Google I found this Japanese article about it. If you are interested and have time to read it, please give me your opinion. I’m looking for online resources related to C.S. Lewis and fairy-tales to suggest to my students as secondary reading materials. Is this suitable/interesting/useful for university students (English majors), do you think?

(It includes several links for further reading, all in Japanese)

Here is Lewis talking about the fairy-tale. He is writing about some fairy-tales that he had read (written by George MacDonald), but I think he is also describing an effect he wished to create in the readers of his own stories:

“It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and “possessed joys not promised to our birth.”  It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake that we are for most of our lives.”

Now that you have finished the book, how about taking an online quiz, to test your knowledge!

Here is a quiz I found:


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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

A 6th century mosaic of Jesus at Church San Ap...
Image via Wikipedia

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 http://hope.edu/academic/english/schakel/tillwehavefaces/chapter12.html 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.]

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The meaning of “shadowlands”

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Aristotle’s Poetics

Miniature from a manuscript of the Roman de la...
Image via Wikipedia

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?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]