The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up: Jollification, Uglification, and the Miserific Vision

We all know C.S. Lewis as the Narnian, but behind the children’s work was his experience as a teacher of English literature, a writer about the history of literary movements, and a tinker in other forms of fiction. In that tinkering, and in his letters and essays, he would sometimes create new turns of phrase when it was needed. This is the fourth in the series on words that C.S. Lewis coined. 

Children’s book are unpassupable opportunities to smuggle words into kids’ imaginations. A.A. Milne, J.K. Rowling, E.B. White, Lemony Snicket, and Roald Dahl are all brilliant wordsmiths, sometimes drawing gems from the great English word-hoard, sometimes taking bits to the anvil to make something new.

When readers think of new words in Narnia, the ones that first come to mind may be “jollification” in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and “uglification” in The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderJollification is clearly a Lewisian translation of Bacchanalia, and probably a good sidestep away from the ancient festival of Bacchus, god of wine and fertility, in a children’s book. What can be a better word, though, than “Jollification” when evil has finally been defeated and Narnia’s long winter has ended?

Famously, “uglification” is the miserable state of the Dufflepuds as they are discovered in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Their uglification is caused by an uglifying spell–or at least that’s what those who were uglified claim. When we first meet these monopods, they have made themselves invisible to cover the damage their tyrannical mage-dictator has caused upon their handsome visages. When Prince Caspian’s crew arrives, they attempt a kidnapping of Queen Lucy, and the adventure leads to the discovery that these duffers have done everything they could to resist help from the kind and patient steward of their fate. Their uglification is, for most, interesting and beautiful and even a chance to do new and interesting things. The Dufflepuds, however, just can’t see it that way.

These delightful words, though, each have usage in the 19th century. And even if they didn’t have their roots in the past, and if Lewis hadn’t invented them, someone would have. It is probably the case that Lewis discovered them in his dip pen rather than his bookshelf, but we don’t know. Perhaps these unusual words were on an Oxonian curriculum list at some time or another.

These two words, though, show that Lewis’ inversions of language have rich religious connotations. The “miserific vision” of Screwtape’s lowerarchichal world is a dim echo of the beatific vision, and the opposite of uglification may be beatification. While “prettification” might come first to mind as the oppositive of the Dufflepod’s spell, a mature view of their uglification shows that the spell is meant for their own good. “Beatification” seems like the perfect fulfillment of the uglifying spell.

Likewise, the shocking appearance of Bacchus in Prince Caspian is prefigured in the The Lion: in the days when Christmas broke the back of winter and sent the world toward spring, “the streams would run with wine instead of water and the whole forest would give itself up to jollification for weeks on end.” Setting the Dionysian shock aside, I can see no better translation of Isaiah 40 for children in all of literature.

The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up

  • Part 1 and Introduction: Bulverism
  • Part 2: Charientocracy
  • Part 3: Rebunker
  • Part 4: Jollification, Uglification, and the Miserific Vision
  • Part 5: Grailologist
  • Part 6: Viricidal

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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21 Responses to The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up: Jollification, Uglification, and the Miserific Vision

  1. nancyleek says:

    Hi Brenton–
    I’m pretty sure Lewis knew jollification and uglification from Sir Walter Scott and Lewis Carroll. They were familiar authors to a man who remembered everything he read. Always enjoy your posts though.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      For what it is worth, the 1929 ed. 2 COD has ‘uglify’, but no ‘uglification’, and ‘jollify’, “Make merry, esp. tipple; make jolly. Hence jollification”! Uh, oh – especially, ‘tipple’: Bacchanalia, indeed…?

      But my take on Bacchus in Narnia, is that he is much as the planetary intelligences in That Hideous Strength – this is Bacchus as he really is, not a corrupt earthly misrepresentation. And, similarly with respect to the fauns and satyrs and Silenus – pace Tolkien and his reported “‘The Love-life of a Faun’. Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about?” I think he knew exactly what he was talking about!

      When would young humans (or talking animals?) in Narnia drink wine, and how much and how? – craftily qualified with water, as seems to have been done by various ages throughout history? – or mulled warm enough that the flavour remains though the alcohol evaporates?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just a note to say that I concur entirely with David Llewellyn Dodds in his take on Bacchus in Prince Caspian. I look forward to all the jollification that lies ahead in the revelation of the Kingdom.


        • Yes, I agree with both of you, and although I would prefer to have beer in the kingdom, hoppy as it can be, I do appreciate the sentiment of the wine-flow.
          I partly want to bring up this and leave it unresolved because of the way that Sam Joeckel tackled it in his excellent book, The C.S. Lewis Phenomenon. In ch. 8, the section “The Mythic Archetype of Fertility,” Joeckel brings all the references together in a pretty uncomfortable way. I should write about this in response (plus I’d like more people to see this ignored book).

          Liked by 1 person

    • joviator says:

      “I never heard of ‘uglification’,” Alice ventured to say.
      The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I knew these two were pre-attested, but I hadn’t found a link. Part of that is a gaffe–I should have known my Alice better.
      But what about Scott? Where did he use this term?
      I honestly didn’t think of the verb forms enough and could have looked them up. My reflection was more about how Lewis took pretty normal words (jolly, ugly, or the forms) and filled them with religious meaning)


  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    As I remember it, reading some book by the late Peter Geach (I cannot recall which), I encountered him getting seriously fussed about Lewis’s coining and imagining a ‘miserific vision’. I should reread Screwtape carefully to see exactly what-all is said about it – is it a consequence and somehow hideous instance of worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know Geach but would love to hear his complaint if anyone knows it.
      I think–but would like to think more–that miserific vision is a punnish upside-down of God’s self-revelation in the beatific vision, without pinning down what that vision might be. Perhaps it is the vision of self, or the vision of the deitic other in Satan. Perhaps it is just a bureaucratic word for the plan of hell.
      I am curious, however, whether “miserific” is meant to capture the older use of “miserable” as in the Book of Common Prayer, where “miserable” is someone in need of grace. That might add a layer of meaning to Screwtape.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thanks for this! I had a vague feeling in something of this direction about the word and related words (e.g., Psalm 51 (Masoretic)/50 (Septuagint & Vulgate), which in the Book of Common Prayer Psalter is headed with the Vulgate first words, “Miserere mei, Deus”), but could not think how to try to say anything. My Vulgate concordance has pages of entries with related keywords – miser, miserabilis, miseratio, miserator, misereor, miseror, miseria, misericordia (5 columns!), misericors (and their various forms in Bible verses) – but neither it, nor the online Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary (in a quick overview), seem to have any forms with ‘-ifica’ or suchlike.

        It also suddenly occurs to me to wonder, what word or phrase did Ransom translate in this way (given the Ransom-cycle Preface)?!


        • This is where bad Latin isn’t helpful. I could use a prayer like “Miserere mei, Deus”.
          In Ransom, it would have to be capitalized if “miserere” has the sense of God’s grace tucked inside the word, I think.


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