A Toy Left on the Lawn: C.S. Lewis and the Controversy of The Four Loves

Four Loves 1st edTonight I am teaching on C.S. Lewis’ classic treatment, The Four Loves. I read this early in my adult encounter with Lewis (see my old review here), and again this spring when preparing for the course. The Four Loves is probably the most influential C.S. Lewis book that most people have never read. Sharp, quick, quotable from every page, it is certainly worth the reading. Instead, we tend to encounter it in bits and pieces in 140 characters on Twitter or in 22 minutes in church. It is occasionally difficult to tell which of two is the deeper treatment.

This past week I once again listened to the lecture series. With The Four Loves we have a unique experience. Mere Christianity, A Preface to Paradise Lost, The Discarded Image, Studies in Words,  The Weight of Glory, Fern-seed and Elephants, The Abolition of Man, Spenser‘s Images of Life, and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century are each in some way based upon a series of lectures or talks. Even Miracles and a number of essays scattered throughout his books are tested in front of an audience first.

Excepting his epistolary books (like The Screwtape LettersLetters to MalcolmThe Great Divorce and his non-Narnian fiction), and only two books were not tested in early stages before an audience: The Problem of Pain and Reflections on the Psalms. Of these, the former was read aloud chapter by chapter to the Inklings, and the latter was likely beta-tested in a household of critics (an authoress for a wife and an author for a brother). Surprised by Joy is notably private, and bursts into the world after long fermentation and to more than a few raised eyebrows among friends and faculty.

four loves 90sWhat makes The Four Loves unique is that we have both the audio lectures Lewis gave in 1958, and the book that followed not long after.  Except for a few bits of early BBC recordings (see here) and a few bits here and there, we have none of these early lectures and very few of the papers that later became books. With The Four Loves we have that rich, Oxonian voice–with a tiny hint of Irish brogue–in a series of four lectures, and then a rigorously expanded treatment which we can now pick up in paperback or eBook.

The journey of The Four Loves did not begin well. Commissioned by the Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation in the US to record a series of talks, Lewis showed up at a London studio for the recording. Abigail Santamaria captures the moment in her Joy, showing how Lewis began with director Caroline Rakestraw.

“Today I want to discuss . .  .” Jack began.
“Professor Lewis,” interrupted Rakestraw, “couldn’t you say instead ‘Let us think together, you and I about . .  . ’?”
Jack replied that no, he could not.
“But we want you to give the feeling of embracing them.”
Jack said that “if they wanted an embracer they had the wrong man.” At one point she asked him to “sit absolutely silent before the microphone for a minute and a half ‘so they could feel his living presence’”  (Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis, 330).

four_loves_cd lecturesWhat happened next is a minor Lewis legend. Despite the fact that it was clear that sexual love would be part of the curriculum, the Episcopalian ministry found the content far too spicy to publish in the late 1950s.

Granted, his chapter on sex (eros) is provocative. He talks about rough play in sex, inverts the ideas of innocence and guilt,, and mocks the “ludicrous … solemnization” of “the whole business.”

Certainly, though, Lewis knew he was being provocative. He uses “bitch” for a dog-mama, and refers to smoking, drinking, and cards throughout the talks. “One doesn’t keep the packet after one has smoked the cigarettes,” Lewis says–a metaphor that grips twice, as it stands in for the person who uses another simply for sexual release. There is potty talk. And family love and affection (storge) are like gin. Gin works on its own, but makes a nice base for other drinks: so too with storge. And what, possibly, could Lewis have thought Americans would have made of this phrase:

… a man would have to be a coxcomb, why, a very turkey coxcomb, and a blasphemer, if he arrogated to himself as the mere person he is the sort of sovereignty to which Venus momentarily raises him.

After years of corresponding with Americans I can hardly think that Lewis would be surprised that Americans found these images to be provocative.

Eventually, in the 1970s I think, the Episcopal Media Centre released the tapes to the public. Today, I suppose, the talks would be no less controversial, except that the problem is that they are presented only from the male’s point of view, and has a pretty glib innocence about the rich intellectual culture out of which it emerged. Still, Word publishing and the Episcopal ministry felt they had to clean things up a bit. Evangelical prison ministry leader Chuck Colson warms the audience up, and they have photoshopped the cigarette out of Lewis’ hand for the front cover. For good measure this version adds “Featuring the vintage BBC recordings of C.S. Lewis”–which, of course, they are not.

fourloves newControversy and the political correctness patrol aside, these are pretty wonderful talks. Someone gave me the CDs in 2012 and I found myself gasping for more at the end of them. Even if the book is a bit difficult at parts, the lectures are far too brief. Almost every line is quotable, and The Four Loves may be Lewis most misquoted book online.

Because of a time crunch, I cannot include all my favourite quotes in class tonight. But I thought I would include for you a delightful section from the first lecture, with a link to some of the audio below. Listen to and read this simultaneously, allowing the crackle of the recording and the distance of the voice to enhance the sensual layering of the language. It is all here: texture, taste, smell, sight, and sound.  Soak it in.

I’d love for you to share your favourite quote (from either the book or the lectures), and links to your own blogs or reflections on The Four Loves.

cs Lewis The Four Loves 2Almost anyone, it seems, can be loved with storge:  the ugly, the stupid, even the exasperating can be its objects. There need be no apparent fitness between those whom it unites. It ignores even the barriers between species. We see it not only between dog and man but, more surprisingly, between dog and cat. What’s common to all the objects of storge is that they are familiar. We can often identify the very day and hour when a friendship began or when we fell in love. But we never catch storge at the moment of its beginning. To become aware of it is to become aware that it’s already been going on for some time.

In our storge we’re rather like the dogs, who wag their tails at familiar people even if they’ve never done them any kindness, and bark at strangers even if they’ve never done them any harm. This apparently indiscriminate character in storge and its dependence on familiarity point to its animal and biological origins.

cs Lewis The Four LovesMy Greek lexicon defines storge as “affection,” especially of parents to offspring. And that, I’ve no doubt, is the original form of the thing, as well as the central meaning of the word. We understand the later, more remote ramifications of it if we start with the right basic image: a mother nursing a baby, a bitch or a cat with a basket full of puppies or kittens, all in a squealing nuzzling heap together, continuously moving yet somehow at rest, a warm animal smell, and all the noises.

But while the original form of storge is thus seen in the nursery or the basket, it branches out in all directions.

But however far storge travels from its source, it still retains from it a strong flavour. It’s usually the humblest of the loves; it gives itself no airs.  Storge is modest–even furtive and shame-faced. Storge has a very homely face; so have many of those for whom we feel it. It is no proof of your cleverness or perceptiveness or refinement that you love them, nor that they love you. To have to produce storge in public is like getting your household furniture out for a move. It was all right in its native place, but it looks tawdry out of doors.

And the feeling of storge is so nearly organic, so gradual, so unemphatic, that you could no more pride yourself on it than on getting sleepy towards bedtime. It lives with humble un-dress, private things: the thump of a drowsy dog’s tail on the kitchen floor, the sound of a sewing machine, easy laughter and easy tears on some shrewd and wrinkled old face, a toy left on the lawn. It’s the most comfortable and the least ecstatic of loves. It is to our emotions what soft slippers and an easy, almost-worn-out chair and old clothes are to our bodies. It wraps you round like a blanket, almost like sleep; at its best gives you the pleasures, the ease and relaxation of solitude without solitude itself.

csl four lovesIf we were talking about drinks, our section on gin would certainly have to note the fact that besides being a drink in its own right, gin is an excellent base or medium for several mixed drinks. Storge is similarly a base or medium for other loves. Being the oldest, most spontaneous form in which we go out of our self towards others, it is naturally taken up–both into friendship and into Eros. One might say it clothes them.

In the end, all those things about your friends–which had nothing to do with the friendship originally–become dear because they become familiar. As for Eros, I can think of few things more distressing than to experience it for more than a very short time without storge. Every good marriage, even every courtship, makes for its Eros, so to speak, a nest of storge, like the nest of rice you build for your helping of curry.

There are some Four Loves resources out there that readers might find interesting. Allacin Morimizu “The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis—Additional Gems from His Audio Recordings.” She has also done an “Illustrated Summary of The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.” It is a difficult book to outline well, so this summary may help some readers.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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45 Responses to A Toy Left on the Lawn: C.S. Lewis and the Controversy of The Four Loves

  1. L.A. Smith says:

    Great post, thanks! It is a wonderful book, full of the rich insights that are so typical of Lewis. I love the picture of him at the recording studio – “if they wanted an embracer they have the wrong man.” Hah!! I’m so glad Lewis came along when he did, when he could publish these works without having some zealous Christian-y editor try to fit them into the box of “Christian” literature, even though it looks like he was facing some of that even then from what you say here. Definitely one of his books I need to read again, it’s been quite some time since I first read it.


    • Thanks. I was a slow win to this book, but I’m glad that I took the time to learn it. I was completely beaten up this week, though, by the depth in what seems a pretty surface level book. Too much to cover in too little time.
      Yes, his timing is good. In some ways his work was outdated even then, and in some ways hyper-progressive. But over all he draws us into a deeper, longer, timeless story.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Callum Beck says:

    For me this has always been in the second tier of Lewis’s works, good but not great. I am not sure that he even accurately defines philia, which I understand to be more like his definition of storge. I think he co-opted the term philia to fill his idea of the friendship he was experiencing with the Inklings and other male friends. I would define philia as natural affections of which friendship is but one expression. Also eros is not restricted to sexual love but is more accurately “love of the beautiful” being primarily used by the Greeks for love of their gods.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Though this seems not to have been delivered as a little lecture series first, and then audio-recorded, and finally, written up in more detail, I wonder if we might regard it as something of the sort – a sketch or outline for the audience, an ‘essay’ in the sense of ‘one way of putting it’, distilling a lot of reading and thought, but for all its sort of systematic lucidity, meant as more of a starting point for further discussion – but I need to reread it to test that suggestion on myself!

      Liked by 1 person

      • David, it isn’t terribly systematic, but “essai” is a good word. It is Chestertonian and lyrical and quotable. I find it very hard to outline.


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          My memory of my first reading is that the firm distinctions of four loves confidently expounded struck me as systematic, though I am not sure the details of the exposition did so, to the same extent… I like your comment about them being heuristic, but that is not how it (and, for that matter, a lot of Lewis’s non-fiction prose) first struck me, and it has taken a while, and more experience, to appreciate that.


          • The approach is systematic, the thesis clear. The way from A-Z is quite a journey through path and forest.
            That is not to say there is no connection of Eros to romantic love or Agape to divine love, etc. There is fluidity in Greek, as in English. Moreover, the Greeks of Homer, Aristotle, Paul, and the Eastern Church is different: it moves and changes and evolves.
            Lewis is quite good at generalizations, and uses them well (as they can be abused). But they are often just that: a way of grabbing an idea for a moment to keep it in focus, where it would want to wander.


    • Yes, you are right about how he uses the 4 loves: they are heuristic, an opportunity to shape talk about four kinds of loving by using the general semantic meaning of the four loves. In my lecture tonight I talked about how the words drift more in the Greek, and the Socratic idea of Eros–love of what is good.
      Have you heard the lectures? They are pretty fun, and problematic in many ways. Yet rich too.


  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Excellent post – I look forward to sampling the audio!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. robstroud says:

    Here’s one of his insights into Eros. As a pastor, I’ve seen the consequences of the destructive side passion all too often.

    The pair can say to one another in an almost sacrificial spirit, “It is for love’s sake that I have neglected my parents— left my children— cheated my partner— failed my friend at his greatest need.” These reasons in love’s law have passed for good. The votaries may even come to feel a particular merit in such sacrifices; what costlier offering can be laid on love’s altar than one’s conscience? And all the time the grim joke is that this Eros whose voice seems to speak from the eternal realm is not himself necessarily even permanent. He is notoriously the most mortal of our loves. The world rings with complaints of his fickleness.


    • This is a poignant point. Of course, Lewis views passion as sort of neutral–even good in a Screwtapian way. It is when we misplace the passion for beloved/hobby/country/friend/ideology for our passion for God, the idolatry finds its way in and corrupts the love.


  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Not having reread The Four Loves (or even given it a good browse) in a fair while, I can’t remember whether he pays any explicit attention to Anders Nygren, whose Wikipedia article (and its links) tell me Den kristna kärlekstanken genom tiderna: Eros och Agape had its first part translated into English in a slightly abridged version in 1932 as Agape and Eros, its second part, in two volumes in1938-39, and the whole, unabridged (by the translator of the second part) in 1953, while Fr. Martin D’Arcy had discussed it at length in The Mind And Heart Of Love: Lion And Unicorn, A Study In Eros And Agape, published in 1945. Neither of which (ahem) I have yet read…

    But it is interesting that Lewis at least publicly complicated the picture by adding Storge and Philia to make it four! (This, in turn, may pave the way to our at least wondering just what’s going on, if we work from the uniform ‘love’ of St. John 21:15-17 in the King James Version, to the two-fold ‘agapas me’ and final ‘phileis me’ of the questions and constant ‘philo se’ of the answers in the Greek.)

    I seem remember a sort of conscious word of update and correction alluding to The Allegory of Love – and wonder in how far The Discarded Image in fact complements The Four Loves, for example, with respect to the old metaphorical way of projecting “upon the universe our strivings and desires” in a way that “continually suggests a sort of continuity between merely physical events and our most spiritual aspirations” (p. 94), “this Model where God is much less the lover than the beloved” without “absolute logical contradiction” though with “a profound disharmony of atmospheres” between this Model and “the Christian picture” (p. 120).


    • I can’t give you a full answer, but you can in fact see the conversation with Nygren in the 4 loves. In a sense, Lewis spent 24 years writing this book–from the time he first found the Nygren book until he “essayed” it himself.
      You can find Jason Lepojärvi’s thesis free here, “God is love, but love is not God: Studies on C. S. Lewis’s Theology of Love” https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/155676. There is a more detailed dialogue there.
      I kind of think the agape-phileo love in John is a semantic slur–not two distinct loves. But others disagree with me.
      Interesting question on Discarded Image. I haven’t allowed that mental dialogue. I don’t know. The “worldview” framework (he uses model) in the epilogue is helpful. And the Courtly Love discussion of Allegory of Love in the background.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I had not heard of Jason Lepojärvi’s work before, but it sounds very good, on the basis of reading his abstract – thank you for telling us about it, and linking it! (And thanks to him and them for making it so freely available!) Thanks, too, for adding the note and links to Allacin Morimizu’s posts (also new to me, and interesting)!

        “I kind of think the agape-phileo love in John is a semantic slur–not two distinct loves. But others disagree with me.” I heard an interesting sermon by a friend of George Grant’s, visiting in the Netherlands, not so long ago, accenting distinctions…! (It is fascinating for us ‘lay-folk’ to try to get glimpses of what’s going on in the Greek, and of different learned folk working on that.)

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you, Brenton. I too have a particular love for the audio version of The Four Loves, which was my first introduction to Lewis’s summation of decades of learning about love. (Strangely, it avoids some of the more dated material mentioned in a comment above that we read in the book.) I devoted a post to comparing the audio vs. book versions here: https://allacin.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-four-loves-by-cs-lewisadditional.html At the end of that post is a link to an illustrated summary of all four loves with what I think are some of CSL’s meatiest and most fascinating quotes. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Alacin, your blog is a rich resource on the 4 Loves. I have added you to the blog post for others to experience what you have done.
      I would still love to see an elegant outline of the book has anyone done that?


  7. jubilare says:

    It is a great book, but I’ve never listened to the recordings. I will have to add that to my list of things to do. ^_^


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