“Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said” by C.S. Lewis (Throwback Thursday)

Last year I introduced an occasional feature I call “Throwback Thursday.” This is where I find a blog post from the past–raiding either my own blog-hoard or someone else’s–and throw it back out into the digital world. This might be an idea or book that is now relevant again, or a concept I’d like to think about more, or even “an oldie but a goodie” that I think needs a bit of spin time.

In this case, I want to repost Lewis’ classic piece, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said.” It is, of course, such an important piece for understanding Lewis’ approach to writing. I posted this piece a few years ago, with a screenshot of the full article, hoping that it would be a resource for readers and writers. Over time, it has proved to be the 6th most popular C.S. Lewis post on A Pilgrim in Narnia. As I noticed that newer and, in my estimation, less important pieces were starting to take its place, I decided to throw it back out into the world. And as I did, I also noticed some things that intrigue me in the article.

First, Lewis links the vocation of the “poet” with that of “all imaginative writers”–an approach that I think needs recovery. Second, there is a kind of mystical or erotic pain that is involved in writing that is worth thinking about in C.S. Lewis’ biography. And yet, this poet’s tension is not like the utter dislocating angst of the poetic school that would soon appear on the scene, as the poet in Lewis’ view is not subject to a totalizing force like “inspiration” or “poetry.” Third, Lewis thinks that good writing requires a goodness or synchronicity of morality or meaning beyond its literary quality. I think that is a feature that is re-emerging today, and it is worth thinking more about.

And, of course, there are eminently quotable moments in this piece. I hope you enjoy.

Lion Witch Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Perhaps no one would be more surprised than C.S. Lewis himself at the success of his classic children’s stories, The Chronicles of Narnia. Hundreds of millions of copies of the Narnian tales have been sold in more than forty languages, and they are read and reread by children and adults everywhere. It won’t be surprising that C.S. Lewis’ Christian worldview emerges in Narnia, though some (like a character in one of Neil Gaiman‘s stories) can feel betrayed by this emergence. For some, the Christian ideas break into a world and destroy the artfulness and beauty of the series. For others, they assume that Lewis began with a Christian message and squeezed a story around it.

And, of course, there are some that read Narnia only for that message, as if the Narnian adventures were a substitute for flannelgraph nativity scenes in church basements.

But for Lewis, it was a much more complex and organic project. He speaks a bit about it in “On 3 Ways of Writing for Children” now in the essay collection, Of Other Worlds. Any reader of Lewis will need to know J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy Tales.” But Lewis also shares some of his process of writing in a short article in The New York Times. Here is the bulk of what he said, copied from Of Other Worlds, with the full article attached below.

“Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said”
C.S. Lewis, The New York Times, Nov 18, 1956

In the sixteenth century when everyone was saying that poets (by which they meant all imaginative writers) ought to please and instruct, Tasso made a valuable distinction. He said that the poet, as poet, was concerned solely with pleasing. But then every poet
was also a man and a citizen in that capacity he ought to, and would wish to, make his work edifying as well as pleasing.

Now I do not want to stick very close to the renaissance ideas of ‘pleasing’ and ‘instructing’.  Before I could accept either term it might need so much redefining that what was left of it at the end would not be worth retaining. All I want to use is the distinction between the author as author and the author as man, citizen, or Christian. What this comes to for me is that there are usually two reasons for writing an imaginative work,  which may be called Author’s reason and the Man’s. If only one of these is present, then, so far as I am concerned, the book will not be written. If the first is lacking, it can’t; if the second is lacking, it shouldn’t.

In the Author’s mind there bubbles up every now and then the material for a story. For me it invariably begins with mental pictures. This ferment leads to nothing unless it is accompanied with the longing for a Form: verse or prose, short story, novel, play or what not. When these two things click you have the Author’s impulse complete. It is now a thing inside him pawing to get out. He longs to see that bubbling stuff pouring into that Form as the housewife longs to see the new jam pouring into the clean jam jar. This nags him all day long and gets in the way of his work and his sleep and his meals. It’s like being in love.

While the Author is in this state, the Man will of course have to criticise the proposed book from quite a different point of view. He will ask how the gratification of this impulse will fit in with all the other things he wants, and ought to do or be. Perhaps the whole thing is too frivolous and trivial (from the Man’s point of view, not the Author’s) to justify the time and pains it would involve. Perhaps it would be unedifying when it was done. Or else perhaps (at this point the Author cheers up) it looks like being ‘good’, not in a merely literary sense, but ‘good’ all around.

Susan Narnia bow_battle Anna PopplewellThis may sound rather complicated but it is really very like what happens about other things. You are attracted by a girl; but is she the sort of girl you’d be wise, or right, to marry? You would like to have lobster for lunch; but does it agree with you and is it wicked to spend that amount of money on a meal? The Author’s impulse is a desire (it is very like an itch) and of course, like every other desire, needs to be criticised by the whole Man.

Let me now apply this to my own fairy tales. Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’  to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella,  a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.

Then came the Form. As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e., became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale. And the moment I thought of that I fell in love with the Form itself: its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism,  its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and ‘gas’. I was now enamoured of it. Its very limitations of vocabulary became an attraction; as the hardness of the stone pleases the sculptor or the difficulty of the sonnet delights the sonneteer.

Tumnus & Lucy with Christmas packagesOn that side (as Author) I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say. Then of course the Man in me began to have his turn. I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm.  The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical.  But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could. That was the Man’s motive. But of course he could have done nothing if the Author had not been on the boil first.

You will notice that I have throughout spoken of Fairy Tales, not ‘children’s stories’. Professor J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings has shown that the connection between fairy tales and children is not nearly so close as publishers and educationalists think. Many children don’t like them and many adults do. The truth is, as he says, that they are now associated with children because they are out of fashion with adults; have in fact retired to the nursery as old furniture used to retire there,  not because the children had begun to like it but because their elders had ceased to like it. I was therefore writing ‘for children’ only in the sense that I excluded what I thought they would not like or understand; not in the sense of writing what I intended to be below adult attention. I may of course have been deceived, but the principle at least saves one from being patronising. I never wrote down to anyone;  and whether the opinion condemns or acquits my own work, it certainly is my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then. The inhibitions which I hoped my stories would overcome in a child’s mind may exist in a grown-up’s mind too, and may perhaps be overcome by the same means.

The Fantastic or Mythical is a Mode available at all ages for some readers; for others, at none. At all ages, if it is well used by the author and meets the right reader,  it has the same power: to generalise while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not
concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life’,  can add to it. I am speaking, of course, about the thing itself, not my own attempts at it.  ‘Juveniles’;  indeed!  Am I to patronise sleep because children sleep sound? Or honey because children like it?

Sometimes Fairy Stories NYT 1956

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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54 Responses to “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said” by C.S. Lewis (Throwback Thursday)

  1. reggieweems says:

    In which Gaiman story does a character feel betrayed by the Christianity of The Chronicles?

    Like

    • Well there is the Problem with Susan story. But in either Smoke & Mirrors or Fragile Things, there is a story about a boy at public school, and how older boys talk about sex. One of his mental wanderings is a thought about Narnia and a feeling of betrayal. But Ursula Vernon and Laura Miller have talked about it in the same kind of way.

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  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Hurrah! Always fine to see the original publication (and have an ‘easy-reading’ transcription, too!). Intriguing that (whoever at) the NYT chose a Keiko Minami (1911-2004) etching as illustration. (Assuming Lewis didn’t suggest it – though, given his poem, ‘On a Picture by Chirico’, who knows? Minami is not an artist I know anything about – but her Wikipedia article has got me interested! While she “studied the art of children’s stories under the Japanese novelist and poet Sakae Tsuboi” and later “moved to Tokyo to create children’s books”, a quick check suggests that Japanese editions of Narnia reproduced Pauline Baynes’ illustrations till fairly recently.)

    Also, a hoot that the bio byline talks of his “allegorical tales for children”!

    Do ‘we’ know to what work of Tasso he’s referring? The ‘classic’ we read in my student days was Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy/Apology for Poetry.

    The wonderful expanded edition of Tolkien’s On Fairy-stories together with the lecture-note selections – and his ‘Sellic Spell’ – in the Beowulf volume make me wonder how much Lewis and Tolkien and Warnie (and other Inklings) talked about such things in detail, on and off, over a period of many years.

    Can’t remember if ‘we’ know if Lewis helped with jam-making at The Kilns, but a reference of Willams’s to helping ‘top and tail’ gooseberries while lodging at the Spaldings springs to mind (though not if it was specifically in aid of jam- rather than, say, crumble-making).

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    • Leave it to you to find something original to say! I never thought of that.
      You are right on Tasso: I thought he did crusade writings. Other than that, I”m completely ignorant. But yes, the Sidney defense is the one that’s clear on those points and could be a good background for readers (and free online).
      What didn’t the Inklings talk about? Certainly, they talked about what poetry was…. How to make jam though?
      The word “allegory” appears in a lot of material from this ages!

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      • Hannah says:

        I was also intrigued by the Lewis quote “In the 16th century, when everyone was saying that poets (by which they meant all imaginative writers) ought to please and instruct …”. Especially the “all imaginative writers” made me search for more info and that just gave me a new angle of thinking about it all.
        In the past I have heard Prof HR Rookmaaker talking a lot about the changing role of the artist, from craftsmen to prophet, … : “Medieval man considered art a craft.
        Not until the 15th century did the painting’s status rise to the high position long held by poetry. Not until the 18th century was the artist considered “to be a genius, one of the great leaders of humanity, a seer, a prophet, a high priest of culture”.
        Art with a capital A even came to challenge the place of religion, itself becoming a new religion in a secularized world. Also, the term ‘culture’ took on a new meaning, separate from the natural sciences, economics, and technology. “ (H.R. Rookmaaker. The Creative Gift, op. cit., pp. 109-110 & http://www.artway.eu/artway.php?id=688&lang=en&action=show&type=current)
        I now realise that I incorrectly assumed the poet’s role also changing through the centuries along with the artist’s, hence, the new angle …

        Liked by 1 person

        • hannahdemiranda3 says:

          Questions after posting: How did the role of the poet (and the imaginative writer) change? Was it really very different from the artist’s?

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I think a lot of that applies to the poet/imaginative writer (in verse or prose), too, from the Renaissance on. Was this already changing with Dante and Petrarch? On the other hand, where does the great Late-Antique and Mediaeval respect for Greek and Latin verse authors like Homer and Virgil as ‘auctores’ – in some sense ‘authoritative’ writers – fit into all this?

            The House of Fame by that Christian, late-mediaeval, humorous court verse writer, Chaucer, is interesting in this context. And, it will be interesting to see what-all Tolkien has to say about Chaucer when John M. Bowers’ Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer comes out this autumn – with “160 pages of commentary” produced by Tolkien, in working on his never-completed Selections from Chaucer’s Poetry in the 1920s for an OUP series that went on being reprinted for decades – including a volume on Alexander Pope by Hugo Dyson. See:

            https://seriesofseries.owu.edu/clarendon-series-of-english-literature/

            and

            https://global.oup.com/academic/product/tolkiens-lost-chaucer-9780198842675?cc=us&lang=en&

            Liked by 2 people

          • David will bring a depth I haven’t got, and I may be missing your question. I think Lewis equates poet and maker of art, and then sets that making apart from the moral world of the maker.
            Today, things are different. We as a generation of makers aren’t concerned with the knowledge in the piece of art, but the experience of the person who is receiving the art. I think the roles have changed in the postmodern era.
            I wonder if they are changing back. It is a very moralistic generation, right now. I think of Margaret Atwood, writing a sequel to A Handmaid’s Tale a generation later in the midst of a #METOO moment of resisting violence against women. I have tickets for a talk she is giving this fall, and I’m curious about how she would see her role as “poet” and “man”–as maker and moral being. I suspect she sees them as intertwined, inseparable, whereas Lewis saw them in conversation.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Hannah says:

              That talk will be interesting! Will you be writing a post on it afterwards?

              Your “not the knowledge in the piece of art, but the experience of the person …..” is also why I asked below “May not only “Fairy Stories Say Best What’s to be Said.”, but also other kind of stories, films …. instead of theories, in our post-modern times?”

              Liked by 1 person

              • Probably! It is a few months away, and I’m struggling to remember to buy milk!
                Ultimately, your question is the right one for my work, but I don’t have an answer yet. I think that C.S. Lewis helps anticipate the postmodern world by critiquing modernism and its assumptions, by moving his literary theory toward the reader’s experience, and by writing in modes that anticipate the many-voices and personal perspectives of postmodern literature. But he also resists postmodernism by recovering premodern thought, by rooting reading in the knowledge of words and history, by rooting his thought in Christian Platonism, and by writing in traditional modes (though innovatively).
                A postmodern technique is to turn to story in the failure of theory, so maybe Lewis works that way too. I don’t know just yet. But “story” has not become a foundation for ethics like I thought it would. Instead, “identity” is the foundation for ethics, so that one’s politics, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, health, or just “me-ness” are a new foundation for moral good and evil. It is a new moment, I think, but a recovery of modernism rather than a post-postmodernism that is entirely new. We see this in public political figures. PM Trudeau is what is called a “liberal,” but believes in restricting human freedom because of his ethics founded on gender and sexuality. President Trump says he is conservative, but rejects a foundation of his ideas in conservative thought and makes his own body–the way he feels about things–the ultimate moral compass and the adjudicator of what is true or false. It is intriguing to have two leaders do a similar re-founding of ideas in the modern mold, both saying “it’s true because I say so”, and yet so politically and culturally distant.
                I would have hoped that story would have helped us have a better critique of postmodernism, but I haven’t seen it. But there is a lot beautiful about our new moral moment, things I have been hoping for (like care for God’s creation, an understanding of indigenous people’s rights, an openness for people with disabilities, and hopefully more safety for women, girls, and boys against sexual predators of both the casual and serial kind).

                Liked by 1 person

              • Hannah says:

                Will you be able to take some break on Nova Scotia after your conference talk there? It sounds like you really need it and it looks beautiful there (even with puffins and seals! (I just looked it up)

                You packed in loads to think about!
                Would Lewis also be able to help in the many ways, you describe so well, because of some kind of timelessness (can’t find a better word just now) in his understanding/wisdom and writing, as he would alternately be reading old and recent books?
                And I also think that “Identity” has become the key issue in the postmodern era (polarising US politics a.o.), after the fading of “isms”.
                Re stories, maybe it also depends on where one’s talents are? With Lewis they seemed to come natural, ‘bubbling up’, starting with images. But someone who is better at theorising, should maybe stick to apologetics (if possible with lots of images)?
                Anyway, I hope you will find your way in all of it, and some rest!

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              • Yes, I don’t know where this will go. We all have our strengths and heresies in every age. Because Lewis isn’t in my age, he can help me see, I think. His limitations, though, are different than mine, so I see them too.
                No break this time, unfortunately! Anon.

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Re. ‘-isms’, I see that whatever exactly the new configuration of what used to be oxforddictionaries.com (and is now succeeded by “Lexico Powered by Oxford”) is, it includes the word ‘identitarianism’ with the direction “See identitarian” which has no note on word history, but includes, as adjective, “Relating to or supporting the political interests of a particular racial, ethnic, or national group” and as noun, “A supporter or advocate of” followed by the rest of the same phrase. I don’t know why the groups whose identities involved are limited here to “racial, ethnic, or national” and are not noted as including things like “one’s politics, religion, gender, sexuality, […] health, or just ‘me-ness'” as well.

                Lots of specific ‘-isms’ seem to be going strong, among people who self-identify as respective sorts of ‘-ists’.

                I recently encountered interesting discussions of various (so to say) ‘classic’ -‘isms’ and of group-identity in terms of ‘nominalism’. (Coincidentally, in the context of rereading Williams’s The Place of the Lion, in which Peter Abelard features prominently, I’ve been trying to read up more about Abelard’s thought and its proper or best description, and to see whether Williams is quietly but significantly working with distinctions in that Abelard discussion.)

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              • I guess this is an identititistic age! Or identitarianistic. (but word check let “identitistic” go by). It could be time for me me to reread Place of the Lion.

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                I’m not the greatest rereader (unlike Lewis), but I admire and enjoy The Place of the Lion more and more every time – which inclines me to read it again… (I wonder how much Lewis saw there at once, that is taking me years to catch up on…)

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Just ran into this:

                https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/05/30/2019-11300/department-of-state-commission-on-unalienable-rights

                The post where it was linked began with this interesting quotation from Leo Strauss, from the first page of his Natural Right and History (1953):

                “Does this nation in its maturity still cherish the faith in which it was conceived and raised? Does it still hold those ‘truths to be self-evident’? About a generation ago, an American diplomat could still say that ‘the natural and the divine foundation of the rights of man . . . is self-evident to all Americans.'”

                Liked by 1 person

              • Hannah says:

                This seems to muddle the discussion, as the real shift from 20th centuries “isms” to postmodern “identities” is from belief in some kind of theory/system (eg communism), to a focus on finding an identity, with a ‘me’-focus, and of ‘happiness’ – within churches in faith groups with focus on, to put it bluntly, ‘navel-gazing’ feelings/experiences.

                An issue not yet mentioned, is the loss of touch with real reality, drowned in a flood of superficiality, and in a dichotomy between either rationalistic scientific or emotive, experiential thinking ….
                How to show what real reality is like in a way that it will come across “passing the watchful dragons”? Lewis was really good at that!!

                Like

              • hannahdemiranda3 says:

                An exception might be ‘terrorism’, as e.g. ISIS groups do fight for a ‘better’ world, although the reason for joining them often will be a search for identity, instead of the ideology, just like with the rise of ‘fascism’?
                There is, though, a deep disillusionment with political parties/systems, enabling the rise of someone like Trump …

                Like

              • Hannah says:

                E.g. showing real reality through attention for your “But there is a lot beautiful about our new moral moment, things I have been hoping for …” … with reality asserting itself in line with Lewis’s Tao?

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              • These are all interesting analyses. I don’t know exactly where all the problems in culture lay. I would say a couple of things. Lewis says in Allegory of Love that cultural movement is like a train as some people get on and off at each stop. So we take with us bits of the previous cultural moment that we never leave behind.
                Meanwhile, Charles Taylor talks about the “super nova” effect–not just that new things are coming, but the come exponentially and move out in all directions. It makes lines of connection hard to draw, and prediction even harder.
                So you are right on “ideology,” but Fukiyama said it was “the end of history” in that liberal democracy is the new norm after the fall of the USSR, and Huntington said that great ideologies are no longer the reasons for war, rather smaller cultural conflicts along “faultlines.” Both have a truth of the moment to them, but both forget Lewis’ and Taylor’s lesson.
                So that’s why I think our current moment is a bit of a return to modernism. It is encouraging as morality is returning as a focal point. But what’s the foundation of morality? We don’t seem to agree on that.

                Like

              • Hannah says:

                Charles Tayler with his huge book “A Secular Age” and the concept of Super-Nova is new to me, and Canadian at that … ;-))
                Puzzling is what you would mean by any disagreement on the foundation of morality … What I meant by “reality asserting itself in line with Lewis’s Tao”, is the reassurance that true morals are baked into the fabric of creation, whatever man might think up.
                But it sure is important to follow the developments of those ideas, so, thanks for all these thoughts! I did get a bit carried away with mine.

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                I still have not gotten properly acquainted with Charles Taylor, despite Brenton’s encouragement in earlier posts and further help, but I just ran into a reference interesting in this context (by Stephen Greydanus in the apocalyptic movie post I linked in a comment to the first Bird Box post): “For Taylor, the secularity of our age isn’t simply a matter of declining religious belief, but of a cultural world bereft of fixed points — of any defining set of traditions, symbols or standards — offering access to anything deeper and more solid than the will of the individual person.

                “Instead of finding meaning in a shared social and cultural context in which we are embedded as ‘porous selves,’ we must each create our own meaning as free-floating, ‘buffered selves.'”

                If “fixed points” are really ‘there’ in a Lewis ‘Tao’ sense (and are part of many people’s lives), they are also, variously, widely unknown, unrecognized, ignored, misperceived, resisted, and so on.

                I’d like to think more about the range and variety of use of ‘-ism’… (e.g., I’ve heard of ‘Trumpism’ and even of ‘Trumpism without Trump’, and there is a lot of more and less interesting discussion of the influence of the ‘Frankfurt School’, in relation to, and distinction from, 19th-20th-c. ideological ‘-isms’…).

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              • Hannah says:

                Re David’s “If “fixed points” are really ‘there’ in a Lewis ‘Tao’ sense …… they are also widely unknown, unrecognized, ignored, misperceived, resisted, and so on”

                it may be good to add this Lewis quote from Bluspels and Flalansferes, p265:
                “If those original equations, between good and light, or evil and dark, between breath and soul and all the others, were from the beginning arbitrary and fanciful – if there is not, in fact, a kind of psycho-physical parallelism (or more) in the universe, then all our thinking is nonsensical. But we cannot, without contradiction, believe it to be nonsensical.”

                Liked by 1 person

              • The word “cannot” in the quote is interest. Today, we seem pretty comfortable living in contradiction. This isn’t just the “what I feel is right, is right” crowd, but in a number of areas. Intriguing quote, thank you.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Hannah says:

                Yes! As example of how far-out 20th century theories have entered into mainstream thinking, David’s sentence in the same comment: “Instead of finding meaning in …., we must each create our own meaning as free-floating, ‘buffered selves.’” – its origin existentialistic despair and too heavy to bear?

                Liked by 1 person

              • Yes, I don’t know the answer to this. I do know that we can’t seem to get away from epistemology, how we know things. Perhaps we can never get away from what it means to be a person.

                Like

              • Hannah says:

                Someone compared Postmodernism with “Sitting penniless at the wishing well”
                -> how to show that there really is meaning inherent in creation … your blog gives many examples of that!

                Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Just turning from topping and tailing our gooseberries, I encountered a fascinating reference to “early modern books of sermons” and “a bit in Songs 7:13 that says, ‘Within our gates are all the fruits. I have saved the old and the new for you, my beloved.’

        “In Hebrew and Latin back then, there was no punctuation, or very little. So a fair number of Scripture scholars (Bede, for example) quote this verse as ‘All the fruits, old and new, I have saved for you, my beloved.’ (“Omnia poma nova et vetera servavi vobis, dilecte mi.”) This could be taken as referring to making fruit into preserves, so sometimes the preachers talked a little about home cooking at this point” – !

        It’s in a post about Easter eggs, with lots of interesting discussion of ancient and mediaeval poultry farming in the comments:

        https://suburbanbanshee.wordpress.com/2018/12/26/possibly-the-weirdest-easter-egg-scripture-reference/

        The Kilns was, in its degree, a poultry farm…

        Like

        • Thanks for this, David and Hannah. I don’t know history of art/writing/poetry to know the inside feeling of that movement in history. But I wonder if the Art, the Artist, and the Muses are variably worshipped in post-pagan cultures.
          I have never topped nor tailed gooseberries, but I’d like to try.

          Like

  3. Hannah says:

    Thanks for this post! I am still sifting through “Word and Story in CS Lewis” and questions triggered by the chapter “The Multiple Worlds of the Narnia Stories” by Michael Murrin seem to fit in here; hopefully you can help me with some of them.
    Quotes from p232:
    “In the Narnia series Lewis developed an elaborate cosmological dialectic, with Narnia and our own universe as contrasting opposites. Lewis complicates this by adding more parallel worlds (Magician’s Nephew) or imagining a Platonic situation where one world mirrors a higher world, and that one still another ………….
    The interplay between worlds, suggests two interpretative possibilities which Lewis found in his sources. He used both the dialogues of Plato and … art fairy tales, initiated by the German romantics, distinguished as conscious creations by individual artists … from folk fairy tales, anonymous stories told among people. Lewis, while accepting the distinction and writing art fairy tales, really preferred Plato ….”

    These quotes indicate Platonic ideas and preferences without e.g. any quotations by Lewis
    Questions:
    Re “In the Narnia series … another”:
    – Was Lewis’s aim really to write a series as “a two-way critical evaluation of both worlds”? They started with the images of a girl and a faun, and a lion jumping into the first tale
    – Are those worlds really “mirroring a higher world”? Narnia worlds are so different from each other and from the earth
    – And even if so, why would that be a Platonic situation? It sounds so negative. And what would he mean by ‘Platonic’? Narnia is nothing like some shadowy world
    Re “The Interplay between worlds … sources”:
    – Everything points towards Lewis’s preference for the romantics as “source” (and myths e.g. Norse ones, art/folk fairy tales ..). This is the first mentioning of any ‘Plato’s dialogues’ in the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Without pausing to reread Michael Murrin’s essay, I will think out loud, a bit…

      It is interesting that there is not only Narnia, but, we learn in Magician’s Nephew, Charn – and, judging by the way they visited it, possibly – even, probably – more worlds, and also, starting with Prince Caspian, and going on in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair we have (already, in publication order) learned about Aslan’s Country (or, also, Land, or Mountain) – and in The Last Battle we learn a lot more, especially as to how it is related to various worlds. So, this seems fairly soon and in any case very thoroughly more than merely “Narnia and our own universe as contrasting opposites” or “a two-way critical evaluation of both worlds” – though I’d have to see what case he makes for that as part of what Lewis is doing.

      The various created worlds we know of from the Chronicles are related to Aslan’s Country, but I’m not sure how that could be put in terms of “imagining a Platonic situation where one world mirrors a higher world, and that one still another”, or, indeed, in what sense that would be “a Platonic situation”. Lots of quotations – and footnotes – would seem to be in order, to make such a case… I do like to try to compare the interrelations of the planetary worlds of the Field of Arbol as they are discussed in the Ransom books, with Charn and Narnia, and especially how Narnia is related to ‘the Field of Arbol’. (E.g., how Narnian time seems both to run parallel with a certain period of 20th-c. Earth time, but also to last thousands of years in doing so.)

      Plato’s having Timaeus discuss time as a moving image or picture of eternity is probably relevant to our world, Charn, and Narnia, as they are all worlds in which things happen and change in time, but how might Lewis talk about that – or where does he do something of the sort?

      Liked by 2 people

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Tangentially, in checking on the reference from Plato’s Timaeus, I encountered a new book about an Inklings-loving Canadian philosopher: William F. Pinar’s Moving Images of Eternity: George Grant’s Critique of Time, Teaching, and Technology (University of Ottawa Press)!

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for this Hannah–and thanks David, for the follow-up. Not surprising you found a relevant Geo. Grant reference!
      That “Word & Story” book is one of the essential Lewis studies volumes. A great collection, and Murrin is right about the many sources behind Lewis’ thought. There is a debate about how much of a Platonist/Christian Platonist Lewis was, though I can’t speak to that, really. “It’s all there in Plato,” the Professor says in Narnia, and the climax of The Silver Chair is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave for children. But how deep is that? I don’t know. I don’t get the sense that Narnia is a shadowy world of the ultimate (or the really real).
      But I also don’t get the sense that our universe is a shadowy reality of Narnia. So I have never felt comfortable about Murrin’s “contrasting opposites” argument. There is contrast, yes. But is “opposite” right? I think “alternative” is better. As David says, Lewis’ various worlds teach us something about our own. I think that’s the key, and wouldn’t want to say much more.
      But that’s also me just responding to the quote. Thanks for the thoughtful ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        The “climax of The Silver Chair is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave for children” – yes, and interestingly varied – I wonder how many good comparative discussions are ‘out there’ that I haven’t encountered, yet? Erich Voegelin has a lovely discussion of the original, where he suggests Plato is depicting something like the operation of grace with respect to the one drawn out and up, though without having the vocabulary for it. It occurs to me that Puddleglum, among other things, sounds a lot like George MacDonald in that scene… It would be a good scene for a dramatic reading plus discussion…

        Liked by 1 person

        • I know someone who reads Voegelin, and every time he talks I am sure I’ll never read Voegelin. But when you bring him up, it sounds awesome. The many lives of Voegelin?

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Yep! – I’m not sure what I’d best recommend for a good sample taste… the first little introductory part of Order and History, volume I is sort of like a prose poem which I’ve read aloud to various people… And I think that discussion of the cave is a set piece that could be read by itself (I think it is in volume III of Order and History, and the index could probably get you there). Autobiographical Reflections is enjoyable and might be a good little book to try – it’s ‘out there’ in a couple versions… (I have not seen the one that is now Volume 34 of the Collected Works – Autobiographical Reflections: Revised Edition, with a Voegelin Glossary and Cumulative Index, edited with introductions by Ellis Sandoz – !) I think that’s where I’ve read some tantalizing remarks about his brief time in Oxford, which leave me wondering if he had any contact with Lewis, Tolkien, or other Inklings… If any of the good libraries you have access to have any of those three books, I’d say, have a look, sometime…

            Liked by 1 person

      • Hannah says:

        Yes, there are many great chapters in that book, e.g. “CS Lewis and the Narrative Quality of Experience” by Gilbert Meilaender.
        On p153 he describes “… a problem for the theorist …: if the quality of our experience through time is narrative, no theory (itself an abstraction from experience) can fully capture the truth of reality”, and he notes “the clear irony of having so far done just that, in rather abstract fashion conveying a quality of creatureliness”.
        His quote from p151: “The author of a story uses the net of temporal plot to try to catch a timeless theme. Life is the same sort of net ….” is in line with one from Colin Manlove on p257 in “Caught Up into the Larger Pattern” …..: ”Imaginative stories can capture in their actions an elusive sense of their own essential nature; the sequence of events, the plot “is only really a net whereby to catch something else, other than successive moments ….”. John D. Haigh on pp 188: “story is trying to catch in its net of successive moments, something that is not successive”

        According to a reliable source “Lewis wrote apologetic books rather out of obligation and vocation.”
        Writing stories seemed to come much more natural to him, with “the material for a story … bubbling up …”, catching in the net of the plot something else….
        And so, unless I would see a Lewis quote proving otherwise, I stick to his preference for myths e.g. Norse ones, art/folk fairy tales .. above ‘Plato’s dialogues’.
        And that he could well have meant the Professor’s “It’s all there in Plato” in an ironic sense, as that would really be a thing for professors to say ….

        Liked by 1 person

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Among the neat things about Plato is the combination of vivid stories (like the cave) with sometimes really dialectic dialogue conversation, hammering out fine distinctions, and also the lively ‘realistic’ quality of speakers and dialogues, like, say, in a Sherlock Holmes story (which is a product of storyteller’s art on the part of Plato, whatever real conversations with Socrates and others lie at the beginning of his undertaking). I wonder how much Lewis plays with this in conversations between Orual and the Fox, in Till We Have Faces? (Or maybe Ransom and McPhee in That Hideous Strength?)

          On the ‘Norse front’, I’m finally finding out how fascinating it is dialogue is used in different ways in different poems in The Edda…
          ,

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Hannah says:

    May not only “…. Fairy Stories … Say Best What’s to be Said.” but in our post-modern times also other kind of stories, films …. instead of theories?

    Liked by 2 people

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Yes – and I think this opens a big, interesting conversation about what and why – about style and content, e.g., the realistic, historical fiction style of the Lord of the Rings, and its more than ‘everyday’ content, compared (to select films) with something with more ‘everyday’ content as well, such as Babette’s Feast (1987), or Dersu Usala (1975), or (though the conditions and situations are unusual and terrible) Saving Private Ryan (though I have never yet seen that, having heard when it came out how vividly horrific the opening scene is!).

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Hannah says:

    As examples of stories conveying ‘something else’, would this sentence of Donald E. Glover in “Bent Language in Perelandra: ….” on p179:
    “Ransom, waiting in an underwater cave for daybreak, recites old tales … they … give him hold on reality, restoring faith in an unseen and now far distant reality, reinforcing Lewis’s claim that …. they carry truth and power in their lines”
    have resemblances with Puddleglum’s response to the witch at the climax of The Silver Chair?
    For me Puddleglum has no connotations with Plato’s cave, but everything with him being from the swamp, seeing the dark side of things even when it is sunny;
    but being able to defeat the witch by stamping out her fire and speaking words of ‘truth and power’, because he is so used to dark and swampy places that he is not fazed by her spells.

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    • I never thought of that dark-sunny element in Puddleglum and the Plato connection. That’s intriguing, maybe. When I compare his fight against the Green Witch to Plato’s Cave, I mean when she argues that Aslan is just a mythic image of a “cat,” and the sun just a mythic image of a lamp. That sort of thing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Very interesting Glover quotation – and connection or comparison of Ransom with Puddleglum!

      Rereading Plato here in translation, something struck me in this connection – where Socrates says (in Paul Shorey’s translation) of the person drawn up out of the cave, “there would be need of habituation, I take it, to enable him to see the things higher up.” Ransom’s familiarity with those old tales, having taken them to heart, seems to tie in, as does Puddleglum’s being used to dark and swampy places and to seeing the dark side of things even when it is sunny, while another contribution comes from their other good habits – such as Puddleglum’s kindness, and Ransom’s love of justice which is evident all the way back at the beginning of Out of the Silent Planet. Good famliarities and habits come into action when needed, for both. (Which ties in with the Tao in The Abolition of Man.)

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  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Just ran into a post where an Italian sociologist of cultural processes is quoted referring to the themes of “environmentalism, the critique of market capitalism”and “third-worldism” (“l’ambientalismo, la critica del mercato capitalistico”and “il terzomondismo”), and this is quoted from a 2011 talk by Pope Benedict to the Bundestag: “In its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products. The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.”

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  7. Pingback: C.S. Lewis, Sexology, and the OED | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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