Tag Archives: Shadowlands

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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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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