Adam Mattern on C.S. Lewis’ Science Fiction (Announcement)

Join us tomorrow, Thursday, March 14, at 6pm ET for a Thesis Theater with recent Signum University MA graduate Adam Mattern, who will present his thesis titled “An Image of the Discarded: C. S. Lewis’s Use of the Medieval Model in His Planetary Fiction.” The conversation will be facilitated by Brenton Dickieson (that’s me), and special guest Lewis scholar, Dr. David Downing, director of the Wade Center at Wheaton College, will join to interview Adam.

Sometime in late 1936 or early 1937, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien agreed to write science fiction stories, since what was being published at the time included too little of what they enjoyed. Within Lewis’s science fiction series, he incorporated the Medieval Model (as described in his The Discarded Image) to construct the cosmos of his trilogy and populate his extraterrestrial worlds of Malacandra and Perelandra. With an eye on Lewis’s history with the genre and his approach to writing fiction, this paper explores why Lewis patterned his cosmos after the Medieval Model and how he used medieval literature to inspire a feeling of Sehnsucht or Joy, a critical component of his fiction. His personal experiences with Sehnsucht informed Lewis’s approach to creating a sense of Other by drawing on spiritual elements, which he believed to be an analog of the type of alien worlds that science fiction readers longed to visit. It was through the Medieval Model and the experience of other worlds that Lewis’s series critiqued and subverted what he saw as the growing misapplication of specific scientific principles to ethics, which had become popular in other science fiction stories of the time.

Adam Mattern works for Cisco Talos as a team lead for a group that conducts web traffic analysis for a web filtering product. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with his wife as she completes her Ph.D. in Medical Anthropology. He started with Signum University with the Tolkien and the Epic class and discovered Medieval Literature through reading about Tolkien and Lewis’s friendship and their fiction. Now finished with his M.A., he plans to get back into woodworking, writing, and attempting to surmount a reading list that has only been bolstered by his time at Signum.

To register, click here: https://signumuniversity.org/event/thesis-theater-adam-mattern/.

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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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18 Responses to Adam Mattern on C.S. Lewis’ Science Fiction (Announcement)

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Sounds very interesting! (And, congratulations with the Master’s Degree to Adam Mattern!) I wonder if he’s glanced toward extrapolating it to Narnia, Charn, etc. (the other ‘Wood-accessible’ Worlds)?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yewtree says:

    Errrmmmm there’s a serious problem here. Sehnsucht doesn’t mean joy at all.

    Lewis used Sehnsucht to mean the yearning to pierce the veil between us and the inner reality, the world of the Platonic forms. He references it to Novalis’ quest for the Blue Flower.

    Translations of Sehnsucht

    longing
    Sehnsucht, Verlangen, Begierde

    yearning
    Sehnsucht, Verlangen, Drang, Begierde, Hunger

    desire
    Wunsch, Verlangen, Lust, Sehnsucht, Begierde, Bedürfnis

    nostalgia
    Nostalgie, Sehnsucht, Heimweh, Wehmut

    hankering
    Verlangen, Sehnsucht, Gelüste

    Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I suspect it’s a very compressed summary, here, of the interplay of Sehnsucht and the experiences of Joy – if that’s a possible way of putting it…

      I really need to read more Novalis – I heard wonderful lectures on him by S.S. Prawer, back in the day, and bought a pretty complete one-volume works when I visited Germany – and still have not read Heinrich von Ofterdingen, in German, or English or Dutch translations I’ve encountered (!) There’s an interesting, if brief, discussion of it between Lewis and Josef Pieper with reference to the possibility of substituting a quotation from it for one in The Problem of Pain, when Pieper and his wife were translating it into German.

      Speaking of whom, have you ever happened to hear Alphons Diepenbrock’s Novalis settings, Hymne an die Nacht I: Gehoben ist der Stein (1899), Hymne an die Nacht II: Muss immer der Morgen wiederkommen (1899)? I can imagine they might have been to Lewis’s taste, but don’t know if he would ever have gotten the chance to hear them. (Happily, we have YouTube… 😉 )

      Liked by 1 person

      • I totally need to get the Novalis thing and haven’t done so. It is important for MacDonald too. It’s on my list. That long list!
        I have Corbitt’s “Bright Shadow of REality” on my read list. We’ll see if that helps.

        Like

    • But Lewis does unite the terms. Adam addresses your question in the discussion, which should be up next week! Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Tangentially, I have just been reading a very enjoyable novel on the train – up to a third of the way through, which interestingly intermixes mediaeval and modern in treating Grail matter in a contemporary setting, Catherine Fisher’s Corbenic (London: ‘Random House Childrens’ Books’, 2007). Without it being too much of a ‘spoiler’, I can note that, with this post and comments in mind, this part of a sentence leapt out at me: “had anyone else seen the strange cup or the bleeding lance, or felt that terrible, devastating longing, that pure joy?”

    Like

  4. Hannah says:

    “….. this paper explores why Lewis patterned the cosmos in his Planetary Fiction after the Medieval Model and how he used medieval literature to inspire …” sounds very interesting – is any material from his thesis somehow available? There seems nothing on the net accept for this announcement.

    Like

    • Send me an email and I’ll hook you up! The video should be up Friday.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hannah says:

        Will you be posting his thesis presentation, held on the 14th? that would be great!
        Did he go into any difference in Joy/ Sehnsucht between medieval and current literature in line with this Lewis quote from Abolition of Man (p22): the old ways of conforming the soul to reality [God centered] versus modern ways of subduing reality [and experiences] to the wishes of men [man centered] ?
        “There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique …..”

        Like

        • Hannah says:

          Eg courtly love of medieval knights for the ‘unattainable’ lady of the castle, as image of devotional love/longing for God?

          Like

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I’d say, yes, but also the danger of the ‘attainable’ adulterous (etc.) relationship – the ‘problematic’ side of Courtly Love to which Lewis also attends in The Allegory of Love. Inviting to think how Lewis does or doesn’t work with various aspects in Narnia – e.g., Edmund and the White Witch, Caspian and the daughter of Ramandu in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, their son, Rilian and the Lady of the Green Kirtle in The Silver Chair, the courtliness of Reepicheep throughout…

            Like

            • hannahdemiranda3 says:

              Well, those are good examples, but they miss the ‘spiritual striving’ in Courtly love … and the very different view on ‘Joy’ .. in the Middle Ages from now.
              Might this be a good example of that? John’s search in “The Pilgrim’s Regress” for the source of his desire for the island-vision … eventually realizing that it is an image sent to him from a divine source, and having to return all the way he had come to find it (Colin Manlove pp 259, 266 in “Word & Story”)

              Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Yes, indeed! This ties in with Williams’s Outlines of Romantic Theology (written, but never published in the 1920s) where he (very strongly!) accents the Courtly Love aspect but also attends to the wide range of ‘Romantic’ experience in this sense – such as the late-`18th-early-19th ‘Romantic’ attention to experience of ‘Nature’ including landscape – various communications of Joy and moving to Sehnsucht through creatures. (The interrelation of such things with (Christian) Platonism is something Lewis takes up in various works, not least The Allegory of Love, and not least there and elsewhere in relation to Edmund Spenser.)

                Like

              • Hannah says:

                What I meant was that John seemed to have learned through his searches how to “conform his soul to reality” (1st part of the Abolition quote).
                This in contrast to a lot of ‘Sehnsucht’ nowadays, being self-centered, wanting to sense god in order to have a good feeling. This started a.o. with “the late-18th century ‘Romantic’ attention to experience of ‘Nature’” (2nd part of the quote), instead of enjoying the beauty of Creation, and praising God for it.

                Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Perhaps with part of it, but other parts were distinctly involved with instances of ‘conforming one’s soul to reality’ – and, I suppose, have been, ever since. (Cf. what Lewis says in the new, 1943 preface to Pilgrim’s Regress about his “childhood and adolescence” and “inanimate nature”.)

                That kind of strange twist to part of the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (so to put it) – “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” – which you accent as characteristic of “a lot of ‘Sehnsucht’ nowadays”, deserves thinking more about!

                Like

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