We discovered on Monday that Lewis mocked his best friend for comparing works that are as different as the Old English epic with the late Middle English romance by Malory. He then went on to do this very thing: set side-by-side the Beowulf poet not only with Malory, but also Austen, Morris, Shakespeare, and Brontë. Lewis’ mythic imagination is broad enough to draw from all these storytellers, but he deeply loved the legends rooted in the early dark ages as they find their way into the Beowulf poem and the grand Arthuriad. Conceived as a loose series, we are pleased to tug at the edges of Inklings-related Arthuriana with this arboreal piece as it intersects with pop culture and Lewis’ lifelong love of myth that began in the North before Malory’s romance entered his world.
David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor
Imagine a film version of one of your favorite stories—a Narnia Chronicle say—and imagine that while the characters’ names have been retained, their relationships have been altered and major plot lines have been changed. There are love interests where there weren’t any before, villains turning up in the wrong place, and pivotal moments of character development omitted completely. Hard to imagine right?
Even if the movie worked well as a movie, and perhaps you even enjoyed it, you would wish there hadn’t been such license taken with the parts of the original that you really liked. Why couldn’t they have done justice to the story you loved? Or if they had to make the film they made, why didn’t they simply change the characters’ names and cut ties with the original piece? I think this would have been C.S. Lewis’s response to the last blockbuster Marvel film, Thor: Ragnarok, which made over $850 million worldwide and has just been released on DVD and streaming.
Lewis was a huge Norse mythology nerd. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he writes about how he saved up his money as a child to buy an illustrated version of the Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods and how his lifelong friendship with Arthur Greeves started when Lewis discovered a copy of Myths of the Norsemen on Greeves’s bedside.
“Next moment the book was in our hands, our heads were bent close together, we were pointing, quoting, talking—soon almost shouting—discovering in a torrent of questions that we liked not only the same thing, but the same parts of it and in the same way.”
Helen Cooper, Emeritus Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge (Lewis’s old chair), observes that Lewis was introduced to medieval literature through Norse mythology rather than the Arthuriad and that his passion for the Norse preceded his love for Malory by at least three years. She observes,
“The roots of Lewis’s [medieval] interests were…Norse myths…They gave him, in fact, a very different kind of experience from how most schoolboys of his generation first encountered the medieval. That was much more likely to be grounded in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur…He did not find Malory until he was sixteen.”
“If Christianity is only a mythology, then I find the mythology I believe in is not the one I like best. I like Greek mythology much better, Irish better still, Norse best of all.”
What was it Lewis enjoyed about the Norse myths? He talks about two things that really capture his imagination in Norse mythology: Northernness and tragedy.
Northernness was the strongest evoker of joy for C.S. Lewis, and it primarily came through Norse mythology. He describes his reaction to first confronting Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods:
“Pure ‘Northernness’ engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of a Northern summer, remoteness, severity…”
His previous experiences with joy had come from a vernal toy garden his brother Warnie had made in a biscuit-tin lid and an autumnal vision from reading Squirrel Nutkin. But the wintry Northerness is what would return to him time and again, leading to what he described as a “Renaissance” of imagination in his later teen years. Lewis can’t exactly explain what it is he gets from Northernness. He writes,
“I desired with almost sickening intensity something that is never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote).”
For all of Lewis’s famed joviality, he seems to have had a saturnine streak in his soul.
Thor: Ragnarok is not a film featuring “Northernness.” But for one infamously green-screen scene of a Norwegian fiord, the Thor movie is filled with summery color pallets, brightly colored spaceships, and climates that allow for short sleeves and exposed shoulders. The fight scenes in Asgard don’t exactly align with the accompanying Led Zeppelin lyrics “We come from the land of the ice and snow, From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow.” The movie is more psychedelic than pale and characters jump through space so fast we never get a real sense of remoteness.
Lewis’s saturnine streak continued in his love of tragedy. In the same talk on “Is Theology Poetry?” Lewis describes one of the poetical failures of Christianity, “worst of all, the whole cosmic story, though full of tragic elements, yet fails of being a tragedy.” In contrast he says, “Odin, fighting against enemies who are not his own creatures and who will in fact defeat him in the end, has a heroic appeal which the God of Christians cannot have.” Lewis appreciates the specifically Norse take on tragedy because the fighting against insurmountable odds puts right and wrong into stark relief. The good side knows that they will lose, but they fight anyway. They fight out of fealty to something greater than personal success.
The Marvel Ragnarok is not this kind of tragedy. It has graver consequences than most Marvel films but the characters are never forced to ask whether it is worth fighting if they know they are going to lose. Because Marvel can’t stand unambiguous authority figures, there are no gods in the Marvel universe worth laying down your life for. The highest motives Thor and his allies can muster is the defense of civilian life which, while certainly not a bad motive, is hardly the paradigm of sacrificial allegiance to the good.
So how would Lewis have responded to Thor: Ragnarok? He would have liked that the film finally captured Thor’s humorous side; Lewis once described Thor as “something of a Yorkshireman.” But overall Lewis would probably have responded to Marvel’s adaptation of Ragnarok the same way he responded to the 1937 film adaptation of a novel he particularly liked, King Solomon’s Mines:
“Perhaps…the original was not ‘cinematic’ and the [director] was right, by the canons of his own art, in altering it. But it would have been much better not to have chosen in the first place a story which could be adapted to the screen only by being ruined.” 
He adds a caveat that is comforting for those of us who admire Lewis and yet enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, “Ruined, at least, for me.”
This blog is an adaptation of “C.S. Lewis on Thor: Ragnarok” published in the January/February issue of CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society, http://www.nycslsociety.com/back-issues.html
 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, (New York: Harcourt Inc., 1995), 75-67.
 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, (New York: Harcourt Inc., 1995), 130.
 Helen Cooper, “C.S. Lewis as Medievalist,” C.S. Lewis at Poet’s Corner (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), 146-7.
 C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” The Weight of Glory, (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1980) 119.
 Lewis, Joy, 87.
 Ibid, “Renaissance.”
 Ibid., 19.
 Alex Leadbeater, “Thor: Ragnarok’s Removed Trailer Scenes and Reshoots Explained,” ScreenRant.com, 11 March 2017, accessed 13 February 2018. https://screenrant.com/thor-ragnarok-trailer-changes-not-in-movie-reshoots/
 Lewis, “Poetry,” 118.
 C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” God in the Dock, (Grand Rapids: WM. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), 279.
 C.S. Lewis, “On Stories,” On Stories, (New York: Harper One, 2017), 5.
He is pursuing his MA in Cultural Apologetics through Houston Baptist University.