The Allegory of Love (C.S. Lewis)

One must approach any criticism of Lewis’s style with fear and trembling.  In terms of literary grace, he is the master and we are the mere peons.  With that said, this book sometimes suffers from organization.  He begins with a fascinating suggestion that courtly love poetry was a celebration of adultery.  Perhaps it was.  From there he moves to a persuasive, if not entirely related, discussion of the fall of the gods.  This fall is important, for it allowed later thinkers to speak of a universe that was neither pagan nor ordinary.  In any case, the point was not to glorify paganism.  The pagan gods were a heuristic device.

Similar to the decline of the old gods, there is a  parallel of the movement of mythology to allegory.  There is a reverse movement from deity to hypostasis to decoration (Lewis 94). In other words, as he later says, the gods have “died into allegory” (98).

With the rise of allegory, and before the rise of Thomism’s Aristotle, the medievals had to find a place for “Natura.” Rather than an opposition between nature and grace, Lewis notes, “Nature appears, not to be corrected by grace, but as the goddess and vicaria of God, herself correcting the unnatural” (111). Whatever its undeniable explanatory power may have been, Platonism always had a dangerous relationship with paganism.

Lewis has written one of the most important chapters of criticism on The Romance of the Rose.  We, however, will not explore it.  The Romance is not as familiar to us as it was to Lewis, and we are probably better served by his chapters on Chaucer and Spenser. We speak of the Chaucer of Troilus and not of the Canterbury Tales. This is a magnificent essay, but I am going to disagree with some of Lewis’s main conclusions, which we will see below.

Even though Troilus is a Trojan hero at war with the Greeks, for all practical purposes he is a Christian knight, “a new Launcelot” (220). Chaucer’s readers would have seen London in his description of Troy.

I agree with Lewis that Cryseide is neither very good nor very wicked.  I just do not think she was that bad.  She was a victim of fortune.  Did she betray Troilus?  Not really.  True, she left him, but that was not her choice.  And if Troilus did have a claim on her, he should have married her.  If he was too scared to do that, it is hard to see why we should feel sorry for him.

We end with Edmund Spenser, the most underrated, yet easily one of the best poets. Like other critics of Spenser, Lewis notes where Spenser copied the Italians.  Unlike these critics, though, Lewis does not fault Spenser for it.  The problem is not that the Italians are good and Spenser is mediocre.  Rather, they are strong in different ways.  The Italians tell a better story, yet Spenser is a deeper and more profound writer.

One of the reasons Spenser is such a great thinker (and this is also one of the reasons people enjoy C. S. Lewis) is his ability to make strange situations seem all too familiar. You are already familiar with “that type of love” or “that type of betrayal.”  Indeed, in Lewis’s memorable description, Spenser’s first readers would have been like that “nervous child [who] heard tales of a panel slid back at twilight in a seeming innocent manor house to reveal the pale face and thin, black body of a Jesuit” (388). Speaking of influences, the previous quote suggests, not the Platonic academies, but the rustic country chapel.  Spenser’s power is his ability to use “the popular symbols he found ready made to his hand” (390). Lewis rounds this chapter out with a careful discussion of certain motifs in Spenser.

Conclusion

This is not Lewis’s greatest work.  Many of his references are unknown even to readers of British literature.  Moreover, his thesis is not that clear at times.  But for the serious student of Lewis, it is worth reading.  Every page or so provides lucid commentary and instruction.

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The Medieval Mind of CS Lewis

One’s normal reaction to a new book about C.S. Lewis is probably the same as a new book on John Calvin or the Five Points of Calvinism: “Not another one.”  Jason Baxter’s book, however, has new material. Beginning with Michael Ward’s book on the planets and Narnia, theologians have realized that Lewis’s understanding of the heavenly spheres was more than just metaphorical.  He had the exact same outlook as the medieval writers.  We thank Jason Baxter for that insight.

Baxter sees Lewis as “Becoming Boethius.”  Like the early medieval figure, Lewis bridged the gap between the Christian medieval world, especially prior to Aquinas, and our own time. But if Lewis is going to be Boethius, and if we are going to see what such a mind looks like, we have to see how the medieval mind viewed the planets. The planets provided man with a “harmony of the spheres.”  The world and the planets were arranged in a musical interval.  Here Baxter does an extended analysis of scenes in Lewis’s The Discarded Image.[1] It looks like this:

God

Primum Mobile, which causes the stellatum to move. The stellatum then move Saturn.

Saturn, for Dante at least, is the heaven of contemplatives. More commonly, though, he is Father Time.

Jupiter is the king.

Mars is iron-like.

Sol, or Sun.

Venus

Mercury

In the Christian era, these heavens were associated with angels.  However, Lewis points out that the danger to monotheism “clearly came not from a cult of angels but from the cult of the Saints. Men when they prayed were not usually thinking of hierarchies and intelligences.”[2]

This extended detour serves to illustrate a point Baxter makes later. With the current talk about a disenchanted universe, one might be surprised to hear the disenchantment in the heavens.  No longer could the heavens be seen as a harmonic prove of Platonic solids.  That probably does not bother us like it would earlier ages.

Breathing Narnian Air

This was a fun chapter. Why do people resonate with Lewis’s works so much?  They do because Lewis enables them to experience what “an idea felt like.”  You feel the idea of Goodness. You can probably think back to a book where you had this experience.  For me it would have been Spenser’s Faerie Queene or the scene with Mr. Valiant-for-Truth in Pilgrim’s Progress.  In other words, you can “breathe the atmosphere of a story.”

There is a deeper philosophical issue at play as well.  For it we again turn to Boethius.  Humans normally know something via ratio, or discursive judgment. Every now and then, though, when hit with a powerful idea, we know via intellectus, or through actual intelligence.  This is more intuitive.  This is what Lewis meant in his famous essay about “looking along a beam of light.” When you look alongside a beam of light in a dark shed, your eyes are directed towards the opening and then you see much, much more.

Conclusion

I recommend this work to more advanced students of Lewis.  Baxter also deals with Till We Have Faces and mysticism, both good and bad, so Lewis argues, in Letters to Malcom.


[1] C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 102ff.

[2] Lewis, Ibid, 120.

Notes on Some Narnia Novels

These are not reviews but old notes I found. They are pointers for rereadings.

The Magician’s Nephew

Narnia’s creation story. Lewis does a fine job with it. His strong Platonism comes through at times. Never entirely sure how Lewis squares creation theology with Platonism.

*the hall of images in Charn, suggesting a less real reality. Probably ties in with evil as a privation of good.
* the horse compares his existence in Earth as a shadowy one compared with Narnia.

And of course, Aslan’s creation is speech-act. He speaks and things happen. 

The Last Battle

This is one of those books you aren’t allowed to “Review” and “Criticize.” You simply sing its praises.

In some ways it is the hardest of the Narnia books to read. Not because of any density or ambiguity, but because so many themes echo one another and Lewis is utilizing advanced Platonic metaphysics. In this book we see Lewis in his fully Platonic self. The last chapter is simply a running explanation of Archetype and Image.

In many ways this could explain the problem of Emeth. Is Lewis saying that unbelievers who simply “Try hard” get into heaven? I don’t think it is that simple. We become what we worship. Aslan tells Emeth there was a disjunct between Emeth’s offering noble worship to “Tash” when the character of that demon couldn’t except that worship.

Should we adopt this into our theology? Probably not, but it does explain Romans 1 and the Psalms. All the gods of the heathens are demons. We become like we worship. Emeth, however, was not becoming like Tash. Therefore, Emeth wasn’t worshiping Tash.

In terms of style the prose is glorified and exalted. Towards the end Lewis’s descriptions made the glories of heaven real.

And in terms of sheer greatness, few characters in literature match King Tirian. And while we are speaking of “kings:” There is a not so subtle connection between the abandoning of Aslan and the rejection of monarchy.

My favorite passage in all of Lewis’s literature:

But immediately, from behind Tash, strong and calm as the summer sea, a voice said:

“Begone, Monster, and take your lawful prey to your own place: in the name of Aslan and Aslan’s great Father, the Emperor-over-sea.”

The hideous creature vanished, with the Tarkaan still under its arm. And Tirian turned to see who had spoken. And what he saw then set his heart beating as it had never beaten in any fight.

Seven Kings and Queens stood before him, all with crowns on their heads and all in glittering clothes, but the Kings wore fine mail as well and had their swords drawn in their hands…

CS Lewis and the Art of Writing

Image result for c s lewis and the art of writing

The book itself is uneventful.  It’s a summary of writing tips from his Letters and Surprised by Joy.  Mind you, those tips are quite good.   Only towards the end, though, do we get anything in terms of a mechanical “how did Lewis use tip to write.”  See Richard Weaver for more writing tips.

Exercises to be a Good writer

1) Think of one idea or image from your childhood that awakened your imagination. Spend 30 minutes free-writing what it meant (and means) to you.
2) Write 750-1000 about a truth or idea that has shaped your life.  Be specific. Tell a story.
3) In 300 words write about the ways good literature sponsors good writing.
4) What are some good examples of beautiful writing?  What makes them so? In 500 words write about the most beautiful passage you’ve read.
5) In 1000 words write a work of imaginative fiction.  Create characters, plot, and story arc.
6) Consider the virtues that go into literary criticism.  How would you review a (fiction) book based on the following criteria: ability to stir the imagination, clarity of its writing, and ability to communicate timeless truth?
7) In 300 words write a one act play. Once you are finished, write a 300 word story using the same characters and plot of the play. Finally, write a 300 word history of the story’s world.
8) Take your favorite book and write your own adventure piece based on the book’s style, syntax, structure, etc.  How “forced” or “fake” does it feel?
9) For an extended period of time, write 300 words today about a topic, fiction or nonfiction. Do this every day.  Practice, practice, practice.
10) Identify a fault in your writing style–passive voice verbs, unnecessarily complex sentences, etc.–and then try to write 300 words on one topic while avoiding that fault.
11) In 350-400 words write about your style.Where did I learn it?  What elements do I insist on? Which do I neglect.
12) Select something you’ve already written.  Find instances of “abstract” or “ambiguous” language and make them more concrete.

Nota bene:

* Good writers are good readers because good readers keep their ears attuned to language.
* Fancy is a mere mechanical operation of the mind, the accumulation of data.  Imagination is something that has an “almost power” to it.

* Index the book by topics.  I’ve always done my own index but there was no order to it.  

* Create your own system for analyzing the book.  Be careful, though. An overly systematic take can blind you to elements in the book.

* Make the abstract concrete.  A book’s logos (content) will never escape its form.

* Don’t use words that are “too big” for the subject.  Say “very old,” not “extremely old.”
* Never use an adjective or an adverb as a cloak for appealing to the reader to get him to feel as you want him to feel.  Never say a “battle was exciting.” Make the reader feel the excitement.

* Muscles of language: hold on to your finite transitive verb, your concrete nouns, and the muscles of language (but, though, for, because, etc.).  You need finite “verbs with clear subject and object, specific nouns, and sentence elements like functional conjunctions.”

* Sum up a complex paragraph with a punchy short sentence.

Criticisms

The author says things like “he might have been the most literate man who ever lived.”  At best this is impossible to prove, and it is probably false.  

That Hideous Strength (CS Lewis)

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Very few novels can claim to be perfect at every level.  This is one of them.

Grammar Stage Inquiry: The What

On the surface level, a Deep State governmental agency takes control of England and they are resisted by a small group of classical scholars. This book must be read on multiple levels. The first one is the Deep State takeover.  The second level is the reduction of man to a material machine. The third level, the most important one, takes place on cosmic plane: the macrobes (fallen beney ha-elohim) vs. the eldils.

What is the most important event in the book, in which the character(s) change?

Mark has several “changes.”  The first for evil, when he agrees to write a false news report.  While that’s evil, and Lewis plays the evil quite seriously, it’s basically Journalism 101 today.  His second change is when he realized that his secular materialism won’t save him in the end. Jane changes when she gives up her radical egalitarianism and accepts the reality of hierarchy.

  1. Logic Stage Inquiry [The Why and How]

Is this novel fable or chronicle? It is a fairy-tale for grown ups, or at least it was Lewis first wrote it.  It’s probably more like a fulfilled prophecy today. If anything, Lewis understated the danger. The villains in this story engage in occult channeling, astral projection, and the like.  This stuff really didn’t get going in the West until about a decade after Lewis wrote. There is even a scene of what was later to be “MK-ULTRA.” Lewis was decades ahead of secularists on seeing this, which means he was at least a half-century ahead of Evangelical do-gooders.

What does the central character(s) want? Mark wants to be “accepted” by the “inner circle.”  Mark is stupid. Jane is more complex. She wants the romance that hierarchy and monarchy bring, but she refuses to surrender her radical feminism.

What strategies does the character(s) use to overcome their difficulties? Jane needs to “giver herself over” to a reality that is hierarchical.  That language is deliberate, for she chafes at any attack on her autonomy.  Mark had to realize that his secular education and upbringing failed him. Even classical paganism would have been superior, for at least it hadn’t cut out man’s heart.  The social sciences, falsely so-called, did. Lewis illustrates the problem in one golden passage:

“It must be remembered that in Mark’s mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical — merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him” (Lewis 168).

 What is the logical exhaustion, which demonstrates a philosophy about human nature? This is the narrative version of The Abolition of Man.  In the nonfiction, Lewis decried the reducing of man to a functional machine.  In this version, Lewis shows what man would be like as a machine.

III.  Rhetorical Stage of Inquiry [The So What?]

Do you sympathize with the characters?  Which one(s), and why? Jane is more likable than Mark.  Mark is a complete idiot. Even on evil principles, he doesn’t understand the game enough to just shut up and work the system. He is, quite simply, stupid.

Lewis’s description of Mark’s cowardice, and the fact that cowardice stems from his worldview, is nothing less than perfect.  The phrase “and Mark found that his change was complete” recurs throughout the novel, leading the reader to suspect that Mark changes an awful lot, which suggests a shallow character.

Dimble’s complete dismantling of Mark is one of the high points of Western literature.  This is the essence of “manly dialogue,” of which I must quote in full:

“Suddenly the immobility of Dimble’s face changed, and he spoke in a new voice. “Have you the means to bring her to book?” he said. “Are you already as near the centre of Belbury as that? If so, then you have consented to the murder of Hingest, the murder of Compton. If so, it was by your orders that Mary Prescott was raped and battered to death in the sheds behind the station. It is with your approval that criminals — honest criminals whose hands you are unfit to touch — are being taken from the jails to which British judges sent them on the conviction of British juries and packed off to Belbury to undergo for an indefinite period, out of reach of the law, whatever tortures and assaults on personal identity you call Remedial Treatment. It is you who have driven two thousand families from their homes to die of exposure in every ditch from here to Birmingham or Worcester. It is you who can tell us why Place and Rowley and Cunningham (at eighty years of age) have been arrested, and where they are. And if you are as deeply in it as that, not only will I not deliver Jane into your hands, but I would not deliver my dog” (Lewis 202).

I’ll give Mark this much credit (or at least, Lewis’s skill in describing him), he is willing to work through his worldview by the end of the book.

Did the writer’s times affect him? Yes.  This is when the Deep State and New World Order were suddenly blooming.

Do you agree?  Is this work true about the human experience? This book is a mirror of human nature.  It needs to be studied as a textbook.

And some passages in this book demonstrate Lewis’s near-perfect command of the English language:

“All day the wind had been rising and they found themselves looking out on a sky swept almost clear. The air was intensely cold, the stars severe and bright High above the last rags of scurrying clouds hung the Moon in all her wildness — not the voluptuous Moon of a thousand southern love-songs, but the huntress, the untameable virgin, the spear-head of madness. If that cold satellite had just then joined our planet for the first time, it could hardly have looked more like an omen. The wildness crept into Jane’s blood.”

and great syllables of words that sounded like castles came out of his mouth. Jane felt her heart leap and quiver at them. Everything else in the room seemed to have been intensely quiet; even the bird, and the bear, and the cat, were still, staring at the speaker. The voice did not sound like Dimble’s own: it was as if the words spoke themselves through him from some strong place at a distance — or as if they were not words at all but present operations of God, the planets, and the Pendragon. For this was the language spoken before the Fall and beyond the Moon and the meanings were not given to the syllables by chance, or skill, or long tradition, but truly inherent in them as the shape of the great Sun is inherent in the little waterdrop. This was Language herself” (2019).

****

“ It seemed to each that the room was filled with kings and queens, that the wildness of their dance expressed heroic energy and its quieter movements had seized the very spirit behind all noble ceremonies…. Before the other angels a man might sink: before this he might die, but if he lived at all, he would laugh. If you had caught one breath of the air that came from him, you would have felt yourself taller than before. Though you were a cripple, your walk would have became stately: though a beggar, you would have worn your rags magnanimously. Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. The pealing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading out of banners, are means used on earth to make a faint symbol of his quality” (302).

Conclusion

This is my favorite novel of all time.  I have read it five or six times. The characters are perfectly developed.  Even the bad guys are remarkably well-done. It is the mark of a good writer that can create a likable bad guy without sacrificing anything.  Lewis does this in Feverstone, who is almost funny at times.

 

 

The Inklings (Humphrey Carpenter)

Humphrey Carpenter tells the story of the group of Christian literati who worked in the university setting in pre-World War II England.  It isn’t simply a snapshot of different inklings (e.g., Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, Barfield). The chapters form a relatively continuous narrative with Lewis at the center.

Carpenter isn’t afraid to explore some ambiguous and sometimes troubling aspects of their personal lives.  Unfortunately, as I will show below, he either ignores some evidence and overcooks other lines of evidence.  Nonetheless, the book is a real “page-turner.”

Charles Williams

Williams is the most bizarre of the Inklings.  He was probably the closest thing to a true genius or savant.  He had a photographic memory of pretty much every key quote in English literature–and he chanted them during lectures. Williams considered himself a Christian–of a sorts.  That points to the problem. I think Williams was more interested in the “initiatory” aspects of Christianity than the faith itself. That could explain why Williams was drawn towards cults like the Golden Dawn.  

How do you explain away Williams’ involvement in Crowley’s cult?  I don’t think you really can. To be fair, Williams left Crowley and disavowed the sex magick in Crowley’s religion.  Still, anyone who was involved with Crowleyism needs several good exorcisms, just for safe measure.

Carpenter fails to mention one thing, though.  In his book Witchcraft Williams called it a “perversion of the soul,” which suggests a stronger stand against it than Carpenter allows. 

“We are the Companions of the Co-inherence.” Williams took a key aspect of Trinitarianism and Christology and applied it to anthropology.  To risk oversimplification, the two natures of Christ coinhere (perichoresis, circumcessio) with each other while retaining their properties.  Can humans do something similar? Obviously, they cannot on the DNA level, and the marital act is probably the only thing similar on the physical level.  Can they do so on the “soul” or “spirit” level? Maybe. It might work something like this:


1) We must first reject all horrors of nominalism (that vomit of hell) and atomistic ontologies.
2) The human “self” is a series of concentric circles, with the “will” or the “heart” at the center and the “soul” as encompassing all within (though never reduced to any single aspect, pace the false teaching of Christian physicalism).
3) Ergo, the Soul has a social dimension.  It is porous. This porousness allows an interpenetration on the spiritual level.

I think Williams took it much farther and in a more dangerous way.  Williams took St Paul’s admonition to “bear one another’s burdens” as taking someone else’s pain and physically bearing it.  Besides the obvious, I don’t know what else to say. I don’t think it works that way. And it’s just weird.

The Women of the Inklings

CS Lewis (pre-conversion) made some uncomfortable by his boarding with “Ms Moore” when he was a young student. I don’t think there was anything sexual about it, though. Moore had her own young children and she needed help around the house.  In any case, the servants never gossipped, which they would have had there been anything going on. Ms Moore, by all accounts, had the intellect and personality of a stump. The pictures of her present her (at best) of being quite matronly.  

Most of Charles Williams’ problems with women were entirely of his own making.  He waited nine years to marry his fiancee. Sometimes there are good reasons for so long a wait.  I can’t think of any that would apply here. Williams also had an intellectual infatuation with one of his students.  There is no evidence it went beyond the mental, and the sexual aspect doesn’t seem to be foremost in Williams’ mind. It was still unhealthy and sinful and created more problems for him.  Williams also had this unhealthy tendency to collect female followers. That couldn’t have helped his his family life, though.

Tasting the Allegory

Lewis’s savage rejection of T.S. Eliot’s poetry struck a chord with me.  I always wanted to like Eliot because he seemed to stand for Tradition and Culture.  His poetry was just….grating. All Modernist poetry is bad. Lewis goes so far to say, “What I am attacking in ‘Neo-Angular’ is a set of people who seem to me to be trying to make of Christianity itself one more high-brow….bourgeois-bating fad.  T. S. Eliot is the single man who sums up the thing I am fighting against” (quoted in Carpenter 49).

What does a text of literature mean? Lewis counters by noting that might not always be the best question. Take one of Lewis’s own works, That Hideous Strength. It is a perfect novel. It is perfect in every respect. While there are deep truths in it, the key issue is not “what does it mean,” but can you taste the truth and beauty in it?

CS Lewis: Image and Imagination

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The more astute reader of CS Lewis knows he was a professor first, a lay theologian second.  Where then to find him in his element but in book reviews about literature? The book is more exciting than that sentences makes it out to be.  The reviews and observations are quite instructive. They run the gamut between English pedagogy, his Inkling friends, medieval studies, and English literature in general. 

Lewis indirectly gives us a pattern for doing good book reviews.

  1. Broadest survey of the author’s scope
  2. Hints at agreement (or disagreement), to be developed later.
  3. Addresses possible inaccuracies.
  4. Analyzes the main theme.

The Idea of an English School

Main idea: are the origins of English literature to be found in the classics? Lewis, rather, suggests they are found in Old French literature.

Our English Syllabus

We educate to produce “the good man.”  For Aristotle and Milton, this meant the man of “good feeling” and “good taste.”

On Tolkien: These books are “like lightning from a clear sky.” “Nothing quite like it was ever done before.”  “The names alone are a feast;” they can be Hobbit-like or kingly.

Tolkien and the Dethronement of Power: The Two Towers. Tolkien rejects relativism and holds to absolutes.  Of course. Not all of the characters are strictly black and white. Boromir was an obvious example. Even “Heroic Rohan and imperial Gondor are partly diseased.”

On Charles Williams: 

Review: Talesin through Logres

* The Fall: to know good and evil is, among other things, to know all unrealized possibilities, including evil ones. The danger here is that man’s knowledge is partly by experience, so to know some of these unrealized possibilities seems to imply an experience of them.

Some of the essays towards the end get quite technical concerning Middle English poetry.  I will leave them to the specialist.

CS Lewis: Selected Literary Essays

Lewis, C. S. Selected Literary Essays.  Cambridge University Press, reprint 2018.

Before all else Lewis was a literary critic.  Here we see him in his element. He covers the area between early English poetry (and these are his most technical essays) to the 19th century novel. Throughout we are treated to his devastating wit.

Even in his most technical essays (usually concerning how a meter in some obscure medieval poem should be read), we still get his wisdom.  He notes, contrary to many “rad trad” Catholics today who paint the Reformation as a parasite upon a “happy medievalism,” that such a view never existed.  “[Sir Thomas] More would not have understood the idea, sometimes found in modern writers, that he and his friends were defending a ‘Merry’ Catholic England against sour precisions” (Lewis 116).

On Jane Austen.  Lewis points out that Austen writes with the same manly style as Samuel Johnson.  Indeed, she has a “firmness,” using the “great abstract nouns of the classical English moralists…. ‘Good sense, courage, contentment, fortitude” (178).  Lewis concludes, “Contrasted with the world of modern fiction, Jane Austen’s is at once less soft and less cruel” (179).

On Poverty of Style: Lewis notes that bad style isn’t failure to conform to a priori rules.  In fact, listing what makes “good style” is often hard to state. The reader can intuit it, nonetheless.  An example of bad style is when something like strong emotions are called for yet the author “is content with a vague approximation of emotion,” so that the “banality is spread all around” (269).

Bad style is insensitivity to language.

The Literary Impact of the Authourised Version

We know the King James translation had an impact of English literature.  Lewis suggests that the real influence might not be where you think it is.  Its style is exalted by today’s standards. It was not always so. The concepts, especially the historical form, were often embarrassing for ancient writers.  Tyndale, by contrast, has a much healthier approach. He loves the Bible for “its grossness. ‘God is a Spirit,’ he writes, ‘And all his words are spiritual. His literal sense is spiritual’” (quoted in Lewis 131).

The greatest English prose writer of the age, Tyndale’s enemy, Thomas Moore, agreed with Tyndale, ironically, but came to a different conclusion: it’s not good prose (by the then current standards). Writers of high English prose in the 18 century agreed. Edward Harwood wrote a more pristine translation of the English Bible.  Why would he have needed to do that if the King James style was always considered exalted?

Lewis’s argument is that the Romantic movement saw that the King James style fit neatly with key motifs that were found both in the Bible and in the Romantic imagination: shepherds, shepherd-kings, etc.

The Vision of John Bunyan

Bunyan’s chief point of greatness is his mastery “of perfect naturalness in the mimesis of ordinary conversation” (146).  Of course, given that Bunyan wrote in allegories, Lewis explains to us how to read and not read allegory in Bunyan (or Spenser). If we see a green valley, “We ought not to be thinking ‘This green valley represents humility;’ we ought to be discovering , as we read, that humility is like that green valley’” (149). We move into the book from concept to image.

It’s best to read this as a guidebook rather than cover-to-cover.  This text contains hard-to-find essays and gives the reader some insights to Lewis’s social vision (e.g., see his essay on William Morris’s socialism).

On How to Read Samuel Johnson

I picked up a copy of his Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics) last spring.  I’ve read bits and pieces of it but never had much time to invest in it.  I’ve taught passages from Johnson before and students, even if they didn’t like him, at least followed along.

(For a good intro, see the essay on Johnson in this book Reading the Classics with CS Lewis)
While I recommend getting his Major Works, I am not sure reading it straight through is the best bet.  Here is how I approach him, with perhaps some questions.18119045_1042335419232498_4289689497078929134_n

“London”

Johnson’s early foray into the scene.  Magnificent patriotic poem.

Selections from the Rambler

CS Lewis read “The Rambler” before bed most nights.  Here is where Johnson can challenge us.  In no. 114 he criticizes capital punishment.  For those of us with a biblical view of justice, and given that Johnson was such a manly patriot, how do we square this?  (Hint: it has to do with the English justice system; cf. “London,” lines 247-254).

The Idler and The Rambler should constitute the bulk of the early reading of Johnson.  The essays demonstrate admirable prose.  They are to the point.

The English Dictionary

This can present something of a challenge to the reviewer.  Even the abridged versions are long, and most don’t read dictionaries straight through.  However, it makes good reading when you don’t have long to read.  And his not-so-subtle jabs at the French are funny.  And he also goes on thot patrol a few times.

 

Letters to Malcolm (Lewis)

Lewis, C. S. Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer.

This book serves several functions. In it Lewis goes a bit deeper in theology than what you find in Mere Christianity and he also touches on explosive issues in mid-century Anglican theology.

He covers basic issues as man-made prayers, bodily posture, distractions and the problem of having non-images in the head while praying. He notes the dangers and possible value in some of these.

Some of the real theological gems are at the end. Should we pray to God for the saints? Like a good Anglican, Lewis doesn’t tell you what you *should* do. But he has some interesting points: most of the people I love are already dead? Am I forbidden to mention them to God because they are dead? And while it is true that we can’t pray others into heaven from hell, because it is already fixed, Lewis points out that if we apply that same reason to prayer because of predestination, we are in the same bind. Why pray, since it is already fixed in eternity?

Lewis rejects the crude literal version of purgatory and where earlier Romish divines like More went astray. While I agree with Lewis that there are post-death moments which aren’t quite heaven or hell, I don’t think his reasons for Purgatory–however he defines it–are compelling.

He ends on an outstanding discussion of the Resurrection of the body and the nature of matter and sensory experience.