Advice to my 13 Year Old Niece Madison on Reading “Pride and Prejudice” for the First Time

austen pride-and-prejudice1946Dear Madison,

Since you are going to be reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time, I was hoping to read it with you so that we could talk about interesting or difficult parts. You, however, are a very quick reader, able to gobble up books in greedy bites. I am old and slow, with weary eyes scarcely able to pass across the dull print on the page.

This presents a problem. You can either:

  1. Read very slowly, like you are a turtle racing toward a piece of cabbage three inches away; or
  2. Let me get started ahead of you.

Let’s do #2.

pride_prejudice_allen_thomson_coverSo I have begun, and I am a couple of chapters in. Even though you have awesome parents and a good education and a very excellent uncle, you will still find Jane Austen’s brilliant Pride and Prejudice to be difficult at parts. So I thought that there were some things you should know (in no particular order).

  1. The hero is Lizzie, also called Liz, Elizabeth, Miss Elizabeth, Eliza, Miss Eliza, the Bennett’s second oldest daughter, Miss Bennett, and, occasionally, Hey, Girl. They had a lot of names back then. Or maybe it’s that Jane Austen is trying to show us that Lizzie’s character is hard to pin down.
  2. It is a funny book, but you won’t get all the jokes. That’s okay. Nobody ever gets my jokes anyway (see below for a funny Jane Austen example).
  3. Mr. Bennett’s chief joy is teasing is poor, silly wife. Watch for that. If you take him seriously the whole book will be just plain weird.
  4. Mrs. Bennett is often “nervous.” This isn’t just nervous like before a date, or at the dentist’s office when there is someone screaming in the next room. This is a “nervous disorder,” like anxiety attacks. The question is, does she really have problems with her nerves as she thinks? We will see!
  5. Penquin Pride and PrejudiceBack then, women couldn’t always own property. So when Mr. Bennett dies, according to his estate’s rules, everyone will become poor. It sucks, I know. Now women can own property and keep their own money. Unfortunately, we are all much poorer than the Bennetts.
  6. Even thought the Bennetts are wealthy, Darcy and Charles Bingley are SUPER wealthy. They are in a different class.
  7. Darcy is an even higher, royal class. So he can marry or be friends with the SUPER wealthy (like Bingley or his sister). But he can’t marry Lizzy.
  8. Lizzy can marry whoever she likes, but she never likes anyone!
  9. You will encounter some words you don’t know, like “Supercilious.” I just assumed it meant “super silly.” That’s worked so far, but I decided to look it up:

behaving or looking as though one thinks one is superior to others.
example: “a supercilious lady’s maid”

So, I was wrong. But I like “super silly” better. I would encourage you, if you come to a word you don’t know, just to make it up.

pride and prejudice Keira Knightley reading a book10. One of the great jokes of the book comes in the first few chapters when Jane is ill at the Bingley mansion, and Lizzie is there to help her become well. In the evening she goes to the sitting room where people talk, play games, write letters, read, and drink tea or wine. In this scene (I put the video below), there is a discussion of what an “accomplished” woman is like. She is a kind of superstar, the “accomplished” woman.

Yet, yet, is Jane Austen “accomplished” in a way that people would admire? She would not be considered so. Like Lizzie she does not fit expectations well. Jane Austen wrote in the sitting room, but would hide her novels when the servants came in.

11. Look at the first sentence of the novel:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Is this true? Did Jane Austen think it was true? Did Darcy or Lizzy or Mrs. Bennett think it was true? And does it turn out to be true? That’s the great mind-blowing, super wonderful, definitely not supercilious question for this great book.

I hope you enjoy. I’m racing off to read more to try to stay ahead of you.

Uncle B

An Example of Something Funny in Pride and Prejudice

“Would not conversation be much more rational than dancing?” said Jane Austen’s Miss Bingley. ‘Much more rational,’ replied Mr Bingley, ‘but much less like a ball.'”

Hard to disagree!

What was Jane Austen’s World Like?

C.S. Lewis said that it was quite different:

Between Jane Austen and us, but not between her and Shakespeare, Chaucer, Alfred, Virgil, Homer, or the Pharaohs, comes the birth of the machines” (“A Note on Jane Austen”).

Are we Childish (Arrested Development) If We Like Kids Books?

They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? I now like hock, which I am sure I should not have liked as a child. But I still like lemon-squash. I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two.

But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change. I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth: if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed. A tree grows because it adds rings: a train doesn’t grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next. In reality, the case is stronger and more complicated than this. I think my growth is just as apparent when I now read the fairy tales as when I read the novelists, for I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood: being now able to put more in, of course I get more out (“3 Ways of Writing For Children“).

Oh… and #12: Dear Madison, see Jubilare’s great comment below. She is a trustworthy digital friend–even though I prefer the Keira Knightley version to the one she linked. One of the great treats in finishing the book is look at those two great films. And when you do so, you will be the expert.

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“How to Handle the Hallows” video by Sørina Higgins

Brenton Dickieson:

Layout 1Editor Sørina Higgins has recently released The Chapel of the Thorn, a 1912 narrative poem by Charles Williams. I had the distinct privilege of reading this text when I made a research visit to the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, IL.

It is a stunning story, evocative of older poetry, yet told with a diverse eye that previous generations could never have imagined. Though it is one of Williams’ earliest book-length poems, I don’t sense a hesitant hand. It is bold, evocative, and–not surprising for Williams–open ended.

Nearly lost in time, or left only to the pilgrims who make their way to the Wade, Sørina’s edition gives us the poem for the first time in print. Not only that, but a weighty introduction and the inclusion of early thoughts on the poem by prophetic scholars means that The Chapel of the Thorn is both fireside reading and an academic resource.

In this video, captured by some kind soul at MythMoot III in January, Sørina presents a framework for understanding “the Hallows”–holy objects–in Charles Williams’ stories. It also includes a reading from the text by The Tolkien Professor and a couple of chaps I don’t know.

Enjoy the video, and make sure to order The Chapel of the Thorn on Amazon or through your local bookstore.

Originally posted on The Oddest Inkling:

Here’s the recording of my talk at Mythgard’s conference, MythMoot III, thanks to Dr. Ed Powell.

View original

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Podcast Discussion on the Hobbit Film at All About Jack

the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-official-posterI was thrilled to recently record a podcast on The Hobbit film trilogy. William O’Flaherty is producer and host of All About Jack, as well as the energy behind Essential C.S. Lewis, and a guest blogger here on A Pilgrim in Narnia. Here’s the link to the 1st podcast:

And here’s the 2nd, just released yesterday:

Check it out, and feel free to agree–or more likely, disagree–in the comments below. I came out as someone who enjoyed the films, and there is some lively debate between myself, Crystal Hurd, and Charlie Starr.  I suspect some of you will disagree vehemently. Feel free also to include your reviews in the comments below.

Since we are here, I thought I would use this as a blogroll to capture the Tolkien blogs from from the last the last three years.

the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-posterThe Battle of Five (or Six, or Seven) Armies/Blogs

With the release of the third Hobbit film, The Battle of Five Armies, I instigated a Battle of 5 Blogs. Just as we are unclear exactly how many armies were actually fighting in Peter Jackson’s adaptation–even the book was a bit unclear–our 5 Blogger Battle became a 6-way fight. I blame Peter Jackson.

My own entry was “The Hobbit as a Living Text,” a blog I still like and an idea I have been building on since. Here is a list of the other five bloggers. You’ll be amazed to see the great range of discussion that erupts out of this throw down. Pretty cool:

James Moffett of A Tolkienist’s Perspective
Matthew Rettino at The Vinciolo Journal
Sørina Higgins of The Oddest Inkling
Crystal Hurd of
Kat Sas of Raving Sanity

Other Film Reviews

When the teaser trailer of the third film, The Battle of Five Armies, was released, I wrote “Faint Hope for The Hobbit.” I said above, in a sort of confession, that I quite liked the way the trilogy wrapped up. The huge comment section in the original blog shows not everyone agrees.

My review of An Unexpected Journey captures the tug back and forth I feel about the films. I called it, “Not All Adventures Begin Well,” and it is a much more positive review than many of the hardcore Tolkien fans or academics. And it gives this cool dwarf picture:

What Have We Done?” are the words breathed in the dying moments of the second installation of The Hobbit adaptation, The Desolation of Smaug. In this review I think about what it means to do film adaptations. While I do not hate this Hobbit trilogy, I think that Peter Jackson just got lost a bit.

Book Reviews

There was no greater friend of The Hobbit in the early days than C.S. Lewis. In “The Unpayable Debt of Writing Friends,” I talk about how, if it wasn’t for Lewis, Tolkien may never have finished The Hobbit, and the entire Lord of the Rings legendarium would be in an Oxford archive somewhere. Lewis not only encouraged the book to completion, but reviewed The Hobbit a few times. Here is C.S. Lewis’ original review in The Times Literary Supplement.

Lewis is not the only significant reviewer of The Hobbit. When he was 8, my son Nicolas published his review, just as the first film was coming to the end of its run. When I was posting Nicolas’ review, I came across another young fellow–the son of Stanley Unwin, the first publisher to receive the remarkable manuscript of The Hobbit. Unsure how children would respond, he paid his son, Rayner, to write a response to the book. You can read about it here: “The Youngest Reviewers Get it Right, or The Hobbit in the Hands of Young Men.”

I realize as I do this survey that I haven’t written a review of the book! That’s okay: C.S. Lewis and my son are better sources anyway.

The Read-Aloud Hobbit

One of my first digital exchanges was participating in The Hobbit Read Along–you can still see the great collection of posts online. Great posts never die; they only cease to fit in the Google algorithm.

As I was doing this shared project, I was reading The Hobbit to my 7 3/4-year-old son. It was a great experience, but I made the great good mistake of doing accents to distinguish characters early on in the book. That’s fine when you’ve got oafish trolls or prim little hobbits. But a baker’s dozen of dwarfs stretched my abilities! You can read about my reading aloud adventures here.

In reading aloud I was really struck by the theme of providence in The Hobbit. I’m sure others have talked about it, but “Accidental Riddles in the Invisible Dark (Chapter 5)” is a great example of that hand of guidance behind the scenes. It is one of things that Peter Jackson struggles to accomplish most in his films. He simply doesn’t understand Tolkien’s worldview. I talk about this a bit in the podcast.

Hobbit and Art

I am fascinated by Tolkien’s own artwork. In some of the Tolkien letters we find out how his humble drawings came to be published with the children’s tale. I decided, though, that I wanted to explore it a little more, and so I wrote, “Drawing the Hobbit.”

There have been many other illustrators since–including Peter Jackson. One of my favourites was captered in this reblog, “Russian Medievalist Tolkien“–a gorgeous collection of Sergey Yuhimov’s interpretation of The Hobbit.

With the great new editions of unpublished Tolkien by his son, we also get to see some of Tolkien’s original art. I continue to be fascinated by this dragon drawing. What an evocation of the Würme in medieval literature!

Ideas from the Lord of the Rings Legendarium

Tolkien’s work is rich with reflection on the world. I would encourage you to read Jubilare’s reblog of the Khazâd reflection. It’s just the first of a great series, but shows you a bit of the depth of Tolkien’s world behind the world. Just the other day I took that legendarium a little further. In reading up on the Wizards of Middle Earth–the Brown, the White, the Grey, and the two Blues–it struck me how relevant Radagast the Brown is to us today. Do you agree or disagree? I’d love your comments.

I’ve written other Tolkien Ideas reflections, like “Let Folly Be Our Cloak: Power in the Lord of the Rings” or “Affirming Creation in LOTR,” but this idea of providence is the most powerful to me (see above). We also talk about greed in the podcast (part 2, I think–next week!), and I suggest that Jackson’s films as a whole and Tolkien’s Hobbit are an important parable on addiction.

And Just For Fun….

Because I can, and because some things are entirely meaningless, I will leave you with a quiz: What Character in the Hobbit Are You? You will not be surprised that I am Thorin Oakenshield!

Enjoy! Discuss! Rebuke and share!

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Why is Merlin in That Hideous Strength?

King Arthur old            I am writing a paper on C.S. Lewis and the Arthurian tradition for Sørina Higgins’ collection, The Inklings and King Arthur. As I trawl through the materials one common theme keeps coming back: How do we explain the sudden appearance of Merlin in That Hideous Strength (1945)?

Part of the ultimate answer is this: “Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien.” Williams and Tolkien, both writers struggling with Arthurian stories and both close friends of Lewis—they are the reason that Merlin appears. They influence the way that Lewis shaped his science fiction writing during WWII.

This claim won’t shock readers of the Inklings or C.S. Lewis scholars; it was from Sørina that I first heard That Hideous Strength (THS) called “The Charles Williams novel by C.S. Lewis.” While the first Ransom book, Out of the Silent Planet (1938), was an H.G. Wells space fantasy—what he and Tolkien called a Romance—and Perelandra (1943) became a new myth like what Milton did in Paradise Lost. THS really sets itself apart from the other books as a supernatural thriller. It is dark, eerie, peculiar, a clear precursor to Orwell’s 1984 (1948), and for some reason includes the great wizard Merlin. It is certainly in the stream of Charles William’s work. Read Williams’ Descent Into Hell (1937) and some of his Arthuriana, then read That Hideous Strength. You’ll see what I mean. My chapter in the book is going to work out that link (if I am successful!).

But Williams and Tolkien are not Lewis’ only influence. One hint that is often missed is the subtitle to That Hideous Strength: “A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups.” That Lewis has to include a preface defending the subtitle makes the reader wonder why he even bothered. THS doesn’t feel like a fairy tale; it’s missing all the things we would expect, including evil stepmothers, wrinkled crones, knights in shining armour, breadcrumb pathways, woodcutter cottages, and, well…, it’s missing fairies. There are no fairies in That Hideous Strength.

that hideous strength CS Lewis Panbooks 1950sWhile that last statement isn’t exactly true, as we’ll see, the average reader who ignored the subtitle would feel about the same as I did: This Merlin thing doesn’t fit. I think, though, that Lewis’ little paratextual clue, “A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups,” sets the reader up in a key way to expect the kind of book that Lewis has written. In this case, the subtitle takes us back—as so many other things in Lewis’ writing do—to George MacDonald.

While George MacDonald is a relatively famous father of the faërie tradition and a well-loved children’s author in the day before children were a market, MacDonald was also tremendously influential to C.S. Lewis. As I explain in my article, “Be Careful What You Read,” it was George MacDonald’s first prose book, Phantastes (1858), that Lewis encountered by accident one day at the train station. It erupted into his mental life, “baptizing his imagination” and preparing the way for his life as both author and Christian.

George MacDonald wrote a whole host of books that explored all aspects of faërie. But here’s the link to That Hideous Strength. Depending on your edition, you may not have noticed the subtitle to Phantastes. It’s easy to miss, especially for those of us using a digital copy. But the subtitle is significant. The full title of this 19th century classic is Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women. Sounds a lot like Lewis’ subtitle:

Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women
That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups

The echo is pretty clear.

What is the link, then, that Lewis was trying to make? He connects the Ransom world of THS with Tolkien’s and Williams’ fictional worlds with overt references. But he connects THS to George MacDonald’s Fairy Land through this subtle paratextual hint, the subtitle that rhymes with MacDonald’s own subtitle.

Phantastes by George MacDonald cover           When I first read Phantastes, I was extremely confused by the character of Sir Percivale, the Arthurian knight and seeker of the Holy Grail wandering through George MacDonald’s Fairy Land. What I had missed early in Phantastes was George MacDonald’s preparation for the Arthurian thread in his faërie garment. Early in the book, in a cabin on the threshold at the edge of the fairy wood, the protagonist Anodos reads from a great book. Here is what he reads:

“Here it chanced, that upon their quest, Sir Galahad and Sir Percivale rencountered in the depths of a great forest. Now, Sir Galahad was dight all in harness of silver, clear and shining; the which is a delight to look upon, but full hasty to tarnish, and withouten the labour of a ready squire, uneath to be kept fair and clean. And yet withouten squire or page, Sir Galahad’s armour shone like the moon. And he rode a great white mare, whose bases and other housings were black, but all besprent with fair lilys of silver sheen. Whereas Sir Percivale bestrode a red horse, with a tawny mane and tail; whose trappings were all to-smirched with mud and mire; and his armour was wondrous rosty to behold, ne could he by any art furbish it again; so that as the sun in his going down shone twixt the bare trunks of the trees, full upon the knights twain, the one did seem all shining with light, and the other all to glow with ruddy fire….”

It is a fairly significant clue; if Anodos had kept reading, he would have heard his own tale. Even this I missed when I first read Phantastes, though once you work it out, it has a way of sticking. Given that Lewis is echoing MacDonald, is there something similar at play in That Hideous Strength? I went back to THS to see if I had missed the same kind of hint.

Monty Python King ArthurAs it turns out, it begins almost immediately.

There is an Arthurian conversation between Jane, the protagonist and wife of Mark, and Dr. Dimble, her professor and a kind of mentor figure. Jane is a scholar of poetry and so knows England’s literary heritage well. Dimble starts exploring whether the Arthurian world sits in the pagan, Druidic side of Britain, or the Roman, Christian side. In Dimble’s view, Arthur draws them both together. But Merlin is an ambivalent character:

“Yes . . . [Merlin]’s the really interesting figure. Did the whole thing fail because he died so soon? Has it ever struck you what an odd creation Merlin is? He’s not evil: yet he’s a magician. He is obviously a druid: yet he knows all about the Grail. He’s ‘the devil’s son’, but then Layamon goes out of his way to tell you that the kind of being who fathered Merlin needn’t have been bad after all. You remember: ‘There dwell in the sky many kinds of wights. Some of them are good, and some work evil.’”

Here Dr. Dimble draws together all the elements of the story: the Christian history, magic, the Grail legend, good and evil as sides, and even faërie (sky-wights). The conversation swiftly moves from this reflective speech to the question of Bragdon Wood, the property behind their Bracton College that has been purchased by a nefarious conspiracy group for development. Merlin still sleeps there, Dr. Dimble reminds them. Who knows what will happens when his grave is dug up?

space trilogy covers cs lewis            If this conversation in ch. 1, section V is not enough to prime readers for the Arthurian incursion, or if they miss the names in the book—Arthur Denniston, Fairy Hardcastle, Mr. Fisher King, the Pendragon—they should have been prepared for Merlin in ch. 1, section III. What makes this section remarkable is the third word: “I”. In Out of the Silent Planet (OSP) and Perelandra, as well as in the Dark Tower fragment of a Ransom story, Lewis is a first person narrator. The first person voice grows throughout OSP to climax in a letter between “Lewis” and Ransom; in Perelandra it does the opposite, beginning with Lewis, who disappears as Ransom tells his tale. It is commonly acknowledged that the first person narrator disappears in That Hideous Strength. Through most of the book, there are no personal notes from the narrator. There is one important exception, however: ch. 1, section III. Here is how it begins:

“The only time I was a guest at Bracton [College] I persuaded my host to let … me into the Wood and leave me there alone for an hour. He apologised for locking me in….
“Very few people were allowed into Bragdon Wood. The gate was by Inigo Jones [17th century architect] and was the only entry: a high wall enclosed the Wood….

Lewis—presumably Lewis the character in the other Ransom books—is the storyteller here, like Anodos in Phantastes. Anodos transitions from his bedroom to Fairy Land almost seamlessly. You should read the whole of ch. 2, but here is an example of that seamless transition:

My dressing-table was an old-fashioned piece of furniture of black oak, with drawers all down the front. These were elaborately carved in foliage, of which ivy formed the chief part. The nearer end of this table remained just as it had been, but on the further end a singular change had commenced. I happened to fix my eye on a little cluster of ivy-leaves. The first of these was evidently the work of the carver; the next looked curious; the third was unmistakable ivy; and just beyond it a tendril of clematis had twined itself about the gilt handle of one of the drawers.

that hideous strength first trilogy edition lewisThis happens in THS as well. Lewis also has a slow, incremental transition. The transition, though, is through an Oxford-style quad (you can see these in the Golden Compass film) into Bracton Wood, where Merlin rests. Here is a bit of that slide across the threshold:

“… the sense of gradual penetration into a holy of holies was very strong. First you went through the Newton quadrangle which is dry and gravelly; florid, but beautiful, Georgian buildings look down upon it. Next you must enter a cool tunnel-like passage, nearly dark at midday unless either the door into Hall should be open on your right or the buttery hatch on your left, giving you a glimpse of indoor daylight falling on panels, and a whiff of the smell of fresh bread. When you emerged from this tunnel you would find yourself in the medieval college: in the cloister of the much smaller quadrangle called Republic. The grass here looks very green after the aridity of Newton and the very stone of the buttresses that rise from it gives the impression of being soft and alive. Chapel is not far off: the hoarse, heavy noise of the works of a great and old clock comes to you from somewhere overhead.
You went along this cloister, past slabs and urns and busts that commemorate dead Bractonians, and then down shallow steps into the full daylight of the quadrangle called Lady Alice. The buildings to your left and right were seventeenth-century work: humble, almost domestic in character, with dormer windows, mossy and grey-tiled. You were in a sweet, Protestant world. You found yourself, perhaps, thinking of Bunyan or of Walton’s Lives. There were no buildings straight ahead on the fourth side of Lady Alice: only a row of elms and a wall; and here first one became aware of the sound of running water and the cooing of wood pigeons. The street was so far off by now that there were no other noises.
In the wall there was a door. It led you into a covered gallery pierced with narrow windows on either side. Looking out through these you discovered that you were crossing a bridge and the dark brown dimpled Wynd was flowing under you. Now you were very near your goal. A wicket at the far end of the bridge brought you out on the Fellows’ bowling-green, and across that you saw the high wall of the Wood and through the Inigo Jones gate you caught a glimpse of sunlit green and deep shadows.”

Anodos’ motion is like Lewis’, though Anodos is walking into the faërie forest land where humans are in some danger, and Lewis is moving back through time in an enchanted forest where most of the fay have fled (or otherwise disappeared). Anodos travels on the tracks of space and perspective, Lewis on the tracks of space and time. Both make their way from the “real” world of bedrooms and kitchen tables to the world of fairy land.

that hideous strength cs lewis different covers            Lewis travels a half mile into the wood, but the pilgrimmage feels much longer. The walled-in nature of the Wood gave it a “peculiar quality,” but his real object was the Well at the centre of the Wood. Merlin’s Well, where legend supported by some archaeology and bulky tradition said Merlin lay until that day. As Lewis thinks about the history of Merlin’s Well, the story of Bracton Wood, and how the Bragdon College fellows were debating with Kings and Queens, he falls asleep, only to be “wakened by my friend hallowing to me from a long way off.”

Who is this Merlin?

In Lewis’ faërie lecture that he used to give at Oxford and that became the chapter “The Longævi” in The Discarded Image, he defines Merlin as almost in the category of “High Fairies”:

The Fairy Damsels are ‘ met in forest wide’. Met is the important word. The encounter is not accidental. They have come to find us, and their intentions are usually (not always) amorous. They are the fées of French romance, the fays of our own, the fate of the Italians. Launfal’s mistress, the lady who carried off Thomas the Rymer, the fairies in Orfeo, Bercilak in Gawain (who is called ‘ an alvish man’ at line 681), are of this kind. Morgan le Fay in Malory has been humanised; her Italian equivalent Fata Morgana is a full Fairy. Merlin—only half human by blood and never shown practising magic as an art—almost belongs to this order. They are usually of at least fully human stature. The exception is Oberon in Huon of Bordeaux who is dwarfish, but in virtue of his beauty, gravity, and almost numinous character, must be classified among (let us call them) the High Fairies (130).

While That Hideous Strength is a very un-fairylike book at first blush, Lewis does not accidentally or carelessly place it within the MacDonald stream. For MacDonald, the inclusion of the Arthurian legend within the speculative Fairy Land is not a significant stretch. The Arthurian legend has always sat on the threshold of faërie with hybrid characters like Merlin and Morgana le Fey (fey=fairy). It is a hybrid world, as Dr. Dimble explains, combining the Druidic and the Christian, the Magic and the Moral. Some texts blend the two, so that Arthurian knights contend not just with giants and dragons, but with the ambivalent world of faërie (such as the “Sir Orfeo” poem translated by J.R.R. Tolkien, or the Welsh tradition). As Anodos wanders through Fairy Land—like Christian wandered through the wide world in Pilgrim’s Progress before him—Sir Percivale is available in the imaginarium (the imagination bank) as a character to encounter.

that hideous strength cs lewis HeadC.S. Lewis’ fairy tale is more complex in that he intends a contemporary re-imagining of the fairy tale setting. Here is his rationale in the preface to That Hideous Strength:

If you ask why—intending to write about magicians, devils, pantomime animals, and planetary angels, I nevertheless begin with such humdrum scenes and persons—reply that I am following the traditional fairy-tale. We do not always notice its method because the cottages, castles, woodcutters, and petty kings with which a fairy-tale opens have become to us as remote as the witches and ogres to which it proceeds. But they were not remote at all to the men who made and first enjoyed the stories.

The contemporary re-imagining of faërie will be familiar to those of us for whom urban fantasy is common fare (Holly Black’s work, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once Upon a Time, etc.). But Lewis only had Edith Nesbitt’s Bastable Children tramping around London and Charles Williams’ supernatural thrillers for models. Lewis exchanges woodcutter cottages and impenetrable castles for college dining halls and institutional bureaucracies. So we can see how the frameworks of faërie would differ from MacDonald’s in the key symbols of the faërie world.

But the storyline is quite different too. MacDonald’s Anodos is a precursor to new adult fantasy, a young man coming into his heritage who finds that he is discovering self in the midst of self-denying adventure. Although the protagonists Mark and Jane of THS are also new adults on a journey of self-discovery and self-denial, the context is not adventure but apocalypse. Anodos will, like Bunyan’s Christian or Homer’s Odysseus, face temptations, trials, and his own final test of strength. Mark and Jane’s context is totalitarian conspiracy—the threat of a Brave New World. Their own angst, their personal limitations, and their lack of direction is washed over by geopolitical forces that consider them merely cogs in the inevitable machine of progress.

Unlike Anodos, neither Mark nor Jane ever draw a sword—or even the pacifistic version of a sword. They merely remain steadfast in the onslaught before them. Yet they are not weaponless. A dim echo of the Round Table has been re-formed with the re-emergence of the Pendragon, and Merlin stands in the balance between anthropocide, a nation collapsed into the collective mind of a nihilistic totalitarian übermensch, and the restoration of true Britain.

That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis 1970s coolThe “why” of Merlin has complex answers, including the influence of Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the Arthur reborn myth in England and the apocalyptic mists of WWII. If Tolkien supplied energy for imaginative world-building possibilities, and Williams extended Lewis’ choice in shaping the atmosphere of the novel, MacDonald provided the generic framework. Tolkien and Williams extend Lewis’ mythopoeic vocabulary; MacDonald provides the grammar.

So, why does Merlin appear in That Hideous Strength? One aspect of the full answer is the simple reply, “Because he can.” When Lewis adopted a fairy tale form, Merlin became one of the available characters. It may have worked the other way around for Lewis. When he discovered that Ransom was truly Arthur reborn and the Fisher King, he only had three options for generic framework: Epic Prose (as in Tolkien’s “New Hobbit,” which became Lord of the Rings), Epic Poetry (as in Williams’ Arthuriad), or Fairy Tale. Having tried and failed at both the other two forms, Lewis chose fairy tale. Viewed from this angle, Lewis’ move from WWII-era fiction to Narnia is not that great a leap.

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Guest Blog: C.S. Lewis Goes to Heaven: William O’Flaherty’s Interview with David Clark

William O'Flaherty Photo courtesy of Lancia Smith

William O’Flaherty
Photo courtesy of Lancia Smith

William O’Flaherty is the intrepid host of the “All About Jack” podcast and the Essential C.S. Lewis website. He interviewed Dr. David Clark, and includes that transcript here as part of our ongoing series on The Great Divorce. Dr. Clark is  Professor Emeritus of Vanguard University and former senior editor of The Lamp-Post. I am a past and future guest of All About Jack, and am pleased to provide the links to this unique resource.


The following is a transcript of an interview recorded in early 2012 with Dr. David Clark for my All About Jack: A C.S. Lewis Podcast show. I had given him the questions in advance and he likewise prepared his answers ahead of time. He was then kind enough to give me a copy of what he wrote and permission to share it. The following is a mildly edited version of what was first shared when I posted the podcast at You can listen to the interview at this direct link.

O’FLAHERTY: Your book came out in 2012, but I’m curious as to when you became interested in The Great Divorce.

David ClarkCLARK: Funny, but now that you ask, I can’t remember! I returned to California as I finished my degree program at the University of Notre Dame and began teaching at Southern California College, the college I graduated from, now Vanguard University, in 1974. As I settled in, I began thinking about a course that would let me pursue my interest in Lewis. I had a hunch many students would enjoy such a course. I asked other faculty during my second year if they were planning to teach a Lewis course and no one was. So I offered one during a three-week, intensive summer session at the end of my second year. It went well and so I regularly offered it over the next 33 years as my New Testament and Greek schedule allowed. But I can’t recall how I came to choose The Great Divorce, except that I always put it at the end of the course. Students found it the most challenging, so I wanted them to get as much Lewis as possible before tackling that book. Then we ended the course with a potluck, in honor of Screwtape’s attendance at the Tempter’s Training College banquet. Maybe that’s why the course was so successful! Sometimes when students brought a lot of food we went out and grabbed students just walking by, and many times even the Dean dropped in! There was a prohibition about food in the classroom, but after he dropped his full plate on the carpet one time, I knew he wouldn’t report us!

O’FLAHERTY: What lead to your deciding to write about The Great Divorce and about how long did it take you?

CLARK: I think it started with all the questions the students had about this book. They began to see the difference between justification and sanctification and that was important. Forgiveness is one thing, but the soul must be cleansed of all sin and Lewis really came down hard on that point. To even hold on to one sin and not let God remove it was to eventually choose Hell.

CS Lewis Goes to HeavenAnd that leads to the next point: Lewis emphasized that people choose Heaven or Hell. No matter who you are or when and where you lived, there will come a time when the ultimate choice must be made. There is no escape. And since Lewis believed that the spirit world was not limited by time or space as we are in the natural world, all of humanity was somehow present when Jesus descended into Hades after the crucifixion and before his resurrection.

The students went crazy at this point; many jumped up and gave each other high fives when they “got it,” while others got a head ache from thinking so hard. And often when alumni of the class hadn’t yet graduated, they would join us at the end of the semester just to sit through the Divorce discussion again. That sure didn’t happen in my other courses! And many who had deceased loved ones who didn’t know Christ found great relief knowing that they would hear the gospel as Peter wrote in his first epistle (4:6). Others were justifiably concerned about the millions who lived before Christ- would they go to Hell just because they lived at the wrong time? The course showed them how Lewis removed this huge stumbling block to Christianity and vindicated both the justice and mercy of God.

So after writing my first Lewis book at the request of Blackwell (Oxford) and touching upon these issues, I knew it was time to tackle Divorce. I had the benefit of so many discussions at the Sunday school, college, university and seminary levels, and I had come to see just how important this neglected book of Lewis was and is.

great divorceO’FLAHERTY: Look specifically at the book, it’s divided into three parts…explain why you took this approach.

CLARK: This approach emerged from class discussions. The students didn’t have any problem grasping that people needed to own up to their sins and let God sanctify them. But they wondered why Lewis depicted Hell (or was it Purgatory?) as a drizzly, gray town of huge proportions. And yet at the end of the book, it was incredibly small! And what about the bottomless chasm between Hell and Heaven? And why does it hurt to walk on the grass in Heaven (or it is Purgatory?) So there were many “geography” questions; just think of it–the ghosts were more comfortable in Hell than in Heaven!

Clearly, Lewis was using landscapes for theological purposes, and my expertise as a PhD in Biblical Studies gave me the background for bringing all these things to light. In fact, my book has four tables showing the Biblical passages Lewis quoted, alluded to, paraphrased or was somehow influenced by.

Naturally, we needed to discuss the wonderful variety of people Lewis observed on his journey so we could identify the sin that was keeping them from enjoying Heaven. The cynical Ghost was a challenge for many; is skepticism of the motives of others a sin? But the “sociology” of the book brought a surprise; only when researching this book did I go deep enough to realize that Lewis had secretly “sent” two contemporaries to Hell who were even more famous in their time than he! And another Ghost, a young poet who preferred to live in Hell, was modeled after his pre-conversion self! Yet other research convinced me that his first visit to Oxford when he went the wrong way from the train station gave him the idea for describing Hell as he did.

great-divorce5Wrapping up with an explanation of Lewis’ theology, and providing Biblical support for it, gave me the three divisions of the book. These three approaches also worked well when I gave a week-long workshop on Divorce at St. Andrews monastery for the So. Calif. Lewis Society.

O’FLAHERTY: Picking just one of those segments, give us more details about what the reader will find.

CLARK: In the sociology section, Lewis displays one of his skills that often is referred to by the phrase “mere Christianity.” Many have commented on his use of metaphor, his wit and humor, his terse and clear writing skills, but he also has the ability to get down to the nub of the issue. People are quite complex, but the ghosts we meet each have just one sin keeping them out of Heaven and making Hell their preferred environment. We should be so blessed to have only one thing between us and God!

By focusing upon just one sin, Lewis keeps the interactions between the ghosts and the spirits who come to meet them simple enough for anyone to grasp. The principle that emerges is just this: every sin must go, God wants to remove it, but we must give Him permission to do so. This is “mere” sanctification, and obviously Lewis believed it would for most people continue after the death of the body. This would be “mere” Purgatory. And it must continue to completion if Heaven is to be bearable.

O’FLAHERTY: Besides those major divisions, you provide other elements, both at the beginning as well as three appendices. Tell us briefly about them as well as why you include them in your book.

CLARK: I supplied a brief list of definitions for theological terms to help people follow the discussions but I kept these at a minimum. I had two reasons for doing so: many lay Christians aren’t clear on the meaning of these terms, and even denominations don’t always agree. I also gave a brief chart of the various ghosts and how much space Lewis devoted to them so their relative importance could be seen. I’ve already mentioned the four-part list of Biblical sources.

The largest appendix by far (40 pages) is an alphabetical list of the people, places, concepts, and sources Lewis referred to. This got to be quite a project but I did my best to track them all down. No doubt I missed some details, but there’s quite a lot of information that will interest most readers. By putting all these into an appendix, the main discussion moves along more smoothly.

cs lewis the great divorce awesome coverO’FLAHERTY: This isn’t your only book about Lewis, while the title of the other one (C.S. Lewis: A Guide to His Theology) gives a good indication about its focus, how would you summarize it to help the listener know why they would want to get a copy?

CLARK: The scope of my first book is much wider (as the title implies) than my treatment of Divorce. From most of Lewis’ works I organized his beliefs, theology and “what if’s” (his more controversial theological speculations) into a number of areas. These include the place of humanity in God’s creation: namely, between the angels above and the animals below. We have much in common with both groups, and this is a fascinating area of Lewis that is often overlooked. He cared so much for animals, and found much mystery in them.

I also discuss at some length how Lewis took on the role of evangelist. Some of his writings are overtly Christian while others, especially the science fiction trilogy, are more covert. But they all serve to point people to Christ. Often Lewis also explains and defends the faith at the same time. So the reader will find helpful discussions on the various roles Lewis played in his life: as an apologist, theologian, evangelist, and even prophet. My students were invariably amazed that what they were reading that was written decades ago seemed to be speaking to their own times.

Next I focus particularly on Till We Have Faces and show how Lewis changed the myth so that the palace in which Psyche lived was invisible to Orual, except for a brief instant. Here I argue Lewis is showing how important it is for us to walk by faith and not demand proof from God. Once Orual persuaded Psyche to look upon her husband’s face, she was driven out and given impossible tasks to perform. How could Lewis resist adapting such a story for Christian purposes?

Tthe great divorce cs lewis signaturehen I conclude by explaining how Lewis described God’s redemptive plan for us. First comes the chapter (the largest chapter) treating the soul: sanctification, the seven principles of Purgatory, the descent of Christ, and various questions such as “will all be saved,” is there a “second chance,” beyond space and time, and so forth. This chapter in particular provided the impetus for my second book.

The next chapter completes the study of God’s redemptive plan for us by focusing on our bodies. But what comes after the resurrection? The Scriptures, and Lewis, had some interesting things to say about God’s plan to restore the whole universe, and our part in that once we are completely sanctified and resplendent in our resurrection bodies. Exciting stuff!

So it’s a very helpful summary, even though Blackwell put a limit on the number of words. Maybe that was a good thing, since there’s always more to be said in a book like this. I guess it’s true that a writer never really finishes a book; we just have to abandon them. This book will save the reader about thirty years of study and discussion of Lewis’ theological works!

O’FLAHERTY: Taking a step back, tell us more about your journey with the works of C.S. Lewis and how he has influenced your thinking.

CLARK: Each time I taught my Lewis courses (about 50 times, I suppose, Part I and II), I expanded my reading of him, including some of his contributions to his own field of English language and literature. I’ve also read a fair amount of secondary material about him by a variety of authors. But my chief interest has been the theological side of his output, and I’m content to leave the many details of his life to the biographers.

What I’ve come to appreciate about Lewis is his insights into the Bible. His stepson Douglas emphasized at a workshop I attended at St. Andrews how Lewis read the Bible “every day” and I believe it! There is hardly an obscure “corner” of the Bible that his keen mind hasn’t visited and reflected on. I’m a professional Bible scholar and he an admitted novice in Biblical studies, but he sure got much farther along in his insights into the text than most!

He was an Anglican and so recited the creed every week. The doctrines in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds are the basic beliefs of the historic church which believers must accept. But there are many other Biblical subjects that aren’t included, and I’ve come to believe by much experience that his poetry and fictional works were the venues he used to speculate about what the Bible meant; especially in the area of eschatology. The ending of The Last Battle strikes many chords with the Revelation of John, and That Hideous Strength does also, to give just two examples.

the great divorce usI think the circles Lewis usually moved in weren’t as conservative as he, so fiction gave him a great way to “suggest” what the Bible in his opinion probably meant on a wide variety of subjects that were somewhat controversial and at the same time, disguise his opinions from all but a few who really know the Bible.

And this is where I came in, if I may be so bold. Most Bible scholars have their hands full with all the areas of Biblical studies, theology, church history, and so forth. Adding Lewis to the mix is overwhelming. And most Lewis scholars have a lot of ground to cover, so getting into Biblical studies very far is a lot to ask of them. This probably explains the astonishing fact that Divorce has been so neglected for 66 years. But I have a lot of drive, read very quickly, and have good stamina, curiosity, etc. and I was able to combine them both. But it still took me more than 35 years to get around to this book!

O’FLAHERTY: Any closing thoughts about your book, or about Lewis you’d like to share before we end?

CLARK: Lewis was able to settle on what was most important: our relationship with God. That, in turn, is key to our relationship with our fellow human beings and even the environment. He had quite a heart for animals, you know, and his passion for them really comes through forcefully in his essay “Vivisection.” The Biblical perspective, for him, was the most important world view a person could have. When he finally gave into that perspective, it was like the rising of the sun, he said, because by it he could see (understand) everything else.

And for Lewis, that relationship centered upon Christ. Everyone must choose or reject him; there will be no escape. Lewis was bold enough to stand for this truth at a time when he complained that so many of his fellow Britons seemed to have no sense of sin, and therefore no conviction that they needed to repent of anything or that they needed salvation. I don’t think things have improved very much since his time! It’s a real privilege for me to be able to write about him, and I hope that now many more than just my students will see what a wonderful legacy he left for us in The Great Divorce. He would want us to know what he wrote and meant, because he was pointing us to Christ, his Lord and Savior.

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The 7 Least Popular Posts (That I Still Think Were Pretty Good)

It’s fun to make “Best of” lists, like my “7 Super Awesome Posts of 2014.” The poison ivy of the WordPress statistics forest, however, is that you also know what posts were almost completely ignored. Some of these least viewed posts are probably worth letting slip into the digital undergrowth. In the tradition of last year’s survey of forgotten posts, “The Forgotten Posts: Blogs that I Liked But Apparently No One Else Did, or An Encouraging Read During a Difficult Writing Period, or, Longest. Title. Ever,” I thought I would highlight some of the posts that I thought were worth reading but are off the beaten path.

As I went through the stats, I noticed that whenever I post on Tolkien, I typically get about double the readers. So I included a missed Hobbit post that I thought was cool. On the flip side, when I post on more obscure writers, or on the writing process, stats go down. That’s okay. I write them anyway, and they make good candidates for this very special “Worst of” edition!

#7. “Leuven to Chester in 12 Hours (Live Tweeting Adventure).” This is a fun little post that got picked up by The Cadre but didn’t get a tonne of other readers. This is my European journey–a full day of train and bus travel, including an accidental viewing of Beowulf and the Beatles’ handwritten lyrics of “Yesterday”–all in Tweet language.

#6. “Affirming Creation in the Lord of the Rings.” Perhaps it isn’t that surprising that J.R.R. Tolkien’s books are so environmentally sensitive. Like Samwise, Tolkien loved things that grow. He loved walks–long walks beyond his garden through English towns and villages and vast, untouched countrysides. His Middle Earth writings are layered with a rich and expansive architecture of nature….

#5. “Touching Noses, A Marriage Proposal.” Clearly I was more struck by John Crowley’s Little Big than my readers were. A strange, difficult, longish, weird fairy adventure. However, there were lovely moments. “Touching Noses” is, I think, an elegant and childlike look at love. I would also encourage people to read “The Meadow Mouse Story.

#4. “The Writer’s Spidey Sense.” I did a Writers Wednesday series in the Spring of 2014. While it was popular among bloggers, it seemed to leave some of the readerish readers behind. Still, this post, and “The Sea a Sham Born of Uniformity: On Subverting the Normal with Gene Wolfe,” are worth a second try.

#3. “On the Death of a Friend.” It’s probably not the most cheery title, but May 15th, 1945 was the day Charles Williams passed away. I celebrated it last year by posting a transcription of a handwritten copy of the poem from the archive. It has some slight differences from the final published version, and shows the importance of this friendship.

#2. “Art as a Battle, and a Dozen Other Things.” While Virginia Woolf is certainly not a forgotten writer, her novel To the Lighthouse is not her most popular. This little clip from that piece, though, elegantly shows us the difficult task of nailing down what writers or builders or painters do with the imaginative landscapes before them.

#1. “The Banality of Evil: A Thought by Terry Pratchett.” True, the title is probably a deterrent for this little post. I was evoking work by Hannah Arendt, where she demonstrates that it was normal people who perpetrated the holocaust, not just evil geniuses. As a lover of Discworld, I show here a little part where Pratchett’s great mind shows us deep things, as he so often does.

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The 7 Super Awesome Posts of 2014 (According to the Stats Squirrels)

2014 was a great year here at A Pilgrim in Narnia! More than 70,000 visitors viewed more than 300 posts. I wrote more than 100 posts in 2014, including a few guest blogs. Based on the digital foot traffic this year, here are the 7 Top Posts from 2014. They all occur in the first half of the year. Actually, the top 20 all occurred before Jun 30th, and some of the more popular older blogs continue to be viewed a lot. This is the “staying power” the Stats Squirrels referred to in my 2014 Year in Review. Since 50 Shades of Grey will come out on film this year, my most popular blog ever–50 Shades of Bad Writing–will probably remain at the top.

Feel free to enjoy these well-enjoyed blogs and restart the conversation! And, again, thanks for visiting. I am especially grateful to all who shared on facebook and twitter.

discworld a'tuin from film#7. “Turtles All the Way Down: Discworld Conversations About The Origins of the Universe.” To say that I’m a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is an understatement. Among the humorous fantasy writers, Terry Pratchett has pride of place. At his right and left hand are Douglas Adams in sheer satiric glory, and Neil Gaiman, whose humour shades into great darkness….

madeleine lengle books#6. “Different Kinds of Reading, Different Kinds of Books.” A couple of weeks ago I tweeted that I was reading 10 books simultaneously. I started looking at my reading notes, and this seems to be a habit for me. I can sit down, read one book all the way through, and then move on. But looking at the different books I am reading right now teaches me something about different kinds of readings we do….

hr_The_LEGO_Movie_5 space guy#5. “You’re Not Special, Despite What The Lego Movie Tells You.” It’s become a bit of a running joke among the youth and young adults I work with. Before speaking once, I was introduced like this: “This is Brenton Dickieson, and he’s going to tell us all why we aren’t special.” Talk about a buzz kill! But I really think this is one of the most important messages to the current crop of our best young minds….

#4. “What If He Is Actually Evil? Thoughts on the Moncton Murderer.” In Eastern Canada we have been holding our breath as the RCMP (our national police force) scoured the city of Moncton, New Brunswick for an armed killer on the loose. Witnesses say Justin Bourque ambushed police officers, killing three and wounding two others. Anyone who knows how very far from the epicentre of Canada’s power cities we are will understand how surprising and upsetting this is. The city of Moncton was under lockdown last night until an effective search cornered the murderer and brought him into custody unarmed….

Sometimes Fairy Stories NYT 1956#3. “‘Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said’ by C.S. Lewis.” Perhaps no one would be more surprised than C.S. Lewis himself at the success of his classic children’s stories, The Chronicles of Narnia. Hundreds of millions of copies of the Narnian tales have been sold, and they are read and reread by children and adults everywhere. It won’t be surprising that C.S. Lewis’ Christian worldview emerges in Narnia, though some (like a character in one of Neil Gaiman’s stories) can feel betrayed by this emergence. For some, the Christian ideas break into a world and destroy the art and beauty. For others, they assume that Lewis began with a Christian message and squeezed a story around it. And there are some that read Narnia only for that message. But for Lewis, it was a much more complex and organic project….

mere christianity#2. “A Clash of Faith: What Happens When Punk Rocker Terry Chimes Reads Mere Christianity.” It’s hard not to love The Clash, though they started filling the stage with noise when I was still in diapers. That’s okay, since Clash headman Mick Jones said in his last performance, “This here set of music is now dedicated to making sure that those people in the crowd that have children, there is something left here later for them in the centuries….”

audiobooks#1. “6 Surprising Celebrity Audiobook Narrators.” I first discovered audiobooks while taking graduate courses by distance in Japan. I received these world-class lecture packages in the mail, pulled the cassette out of its cellophane wrapper (yes, a tape!), and then popped it into my car’s tape player. These lectures filled my commutes in Japan, from the rice paddies of Asashina-mura with old farmer wives knee-deep in water, crooked backs bending to plant tender shoots of grain, through the Miyota river valley filled with its onion fields and cherry blossoms and Coca Cola vending machines, to the mountaintop tourist village of Karuizawa–a hidden paradise of pine trees and ancient roads and large families of monkeys that wandered across your path….


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