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 Treader. Jollification 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