“Is C.S. Lewis too Sexy for America?” TexMoot 2021 (Saturday, Feb 13th)

I am pleased to be part of TexMoot 2021: Signum University’s Fourth Annual Texas
Literature & Language Symposium. The Signum “moots”–from the Old English word for a meeting or assembly–are there to give a live, in-the-flesh connection for this international digital university. I still have a slim and fading hope to be live at the international Mythmoot in June near the US capital and meet more personally many of my friends and colleagues that I have known for months and years. Until pilgrimages once again open to the world and wilds, we are meeting digitally. As an upside, I get to go to TexMoot this year! It is unlikely I could just drop into Dallas or Houston or Waco for a quick weekend of literary conversation in any other setting, so I have chosen to take advantage of the moment.

My paper proposal was accepted: “Is C.S. Lewis too Sexy for America?” As the conference is set up less to provide academic papers, but to suggest smart conversations, I wanted to test out a curiosity I have had for some time. There’s nothing more American than a wild question in Texas, and Americans love (or love to hate) C.S. Lewis, so it was time for me to spend some time tinkering in this odd bit of Lewis lore.

My abstract is below.

Registrations for the conference are still open (click here) and the cost is very low ($10-$15 for the entire event). The schedule is below and I hope you can join in because it is really the conversation that makes this event. See you soon!

“Is C.S. Lewis too Sexy for America?”

Sex and C.S. Lewis seem to be a strange mix. There are unusual tensions about Lewis and sexuality in Lewis studies, including “The Minto Affair”–a strange and perhaps problematic conversation about Lewis’ decade-long affair with a 40-something married woman while he was in his 20s. This fascination with Lewis and sex continued into Lewis’ late-in-life and no less scandalous marriage to an American divorcee–begun with intimate evening meetings while Joy Davidman was still married. What is intriguing about this relationship is that the scandal went in opposite directions, with suggestions by major Lewis historians that the marriage was not sexual, but a deep friendship–or, on the other side, that Lewis and Joy were sexually active even before marriage. And his Four Loves lecture series was deemed too sexual to air for sensitive American listeners in the late ’50s. This lurid sexual fascination in the pre-sexual revolutionary life of C.S. Lewis is complicated by critics. I know of no other 20th-century figure who has received more scrutiny by critics of gender and sexuality.

After briefly sketching the critical scene, I would like to think aloud about one of these weird moments in Lewis studies: the part in his memoir, A Grief Observed, where Lewis speaks intimately of sexual love and bodily connection with his wife: “No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied.” This sexual love element is dismissed by some critics, including major biographers. This conversation is an experiment to sketch out a spectrum of contextual feelings that might lead to that kind of anti-sex reading in Lewis.


(All Times U.S. Central; i.e., EST -1, GMT -6)

FRIDAY, February 12th

Gaming from 8:00pm until the Witching Hour. Thengel King has urgent need of brave adventurers! Several steadings have been attacked, animals have been slain, and rumors abound that Dunlendings are killing and eating the horses of the Mark! One Ring RPG Loremaster Richard Rohlin will delight and terrify with Blood in the Snow, an adventure set in the hills and valleys of Rohan.

SATURDAY, February 13th

8:45 in Waco and/or the Hallway: Sign in and check your technology
9:00 in Waco: Welcome!

9:15 Session I

in Dallas: Theologies of Embodiment in Milton & Kingsley
Christian Dickinson, “Charles Kingsley’s Theology of Embodiment”
Aaron Cassidy, “The Embodiment of Innocence in Paradise Lost

in Houston: Form & Spirit in Place, Space, & Women’s Bodies
Carla Alvarez, “The Impact of Form on Spirit in The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo”
Elizabeth Olaoye, “Environmental Scars on Women’s Bodies”

10:00 Session II

in Dallas: Suffering & the Soul: Theological Meditations Ancient & Medieval
Micah Snell, “Socrates’ Noble Risk of the Soul, Jesus’ Nobler Risk of the Body”
Jonathan Kanary, “Shared Suffering in the Crucifixion Meditations of Nicholas Love and Julian of Norwich”

in Waco: Digital Consciousness, Rebirth, & Religion
Shawn Marchese, “Reconstructing the Self: Modes of Rebirth in Fantasy and Science Fiction”
David Schones, “Religious Symbolism and Digital Consciousness: Religion and Embodiment in Amazon’s Upload

11:00 in Waco: Keynote Speech by Dr. Sara Brown, “Written on the Body: Cyborg Theory and Understanding Humanity in the 21st Century

<12:00 Lunch Break; you’re welcome to hangout in the Hallway, where Sparrow Alden will be your social host>

1:00 in Waco: Growing All the TimeSignum University Update with President Corey Olsen

1:30 Session III

in Houston: Write/Create Workshop led by Ashley Soden

in Waco: Embodied Impairment, Invisible Disabilities, & Multi-Abilities
Christine Norvell, “Leading Limps in YA Fiction”
Jeana Moody, “Blood sucking sucks: Vampirism as an embodied impairment and social disability”
Lynn Schlesinger, “What you can’t see…Invisible & Hidden Disabilities and Embodiment”

3:00 Session IV

in Dallas: WriterSpace Flash Mob Workshop led by Sparrow Alden

in Waco: Faces and Bodies in the Writings of C. S. Lewis
Sarah Waters, “’Faces, faces, faces! What are you all gaping at?’: Face-to-Face Interaction in a Masked World”
Brenton Dickieson, “Is C. S. Lewis too sexy for America?”

in Houston: Racism and Disability in Tolkien’s Legendarium
Zak Schmoll, “I Can Carry You!”
Joe Ricke, “Swarthy Bodies and Pale Goodness”

4:00 in Waco: Do You Need Some Body to Dance? Get up out of your chair and learn a few ballroom dance moves with Sørina Higgins (aka the Dark Lady of the Dance Floor)

5:00 Session V

in Waco: Light Bodies and Grave Love: A Dramatic Reading of George MacDonald’s The Light Princess, directed by Joe Ricke

in Houston: On Stage and on the Catwalk
Sirsha Nandi, “‘Fashion is gratifying the well-being and happiness of the senses’: An Examination of Body and Fashion Aesthetics on Social Media”
Abigail Dillard, “Give Yourself Permission to Embody Space Beyond the Zoom Screen”

in Dallas: Cyborgs & Science Fiction
Nadia Schafer, “I Am Cyborg (And So Are You): Discussing Donna Haraway’s ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ as a Lens for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Julie Dick, “The Long-Distance Relationship of River Song and the Doctor”

6:00 in Waco: Happy Hour hosted by the Tolkien Professor

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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28 Responses to “Is C.S. Lewis too Sexy for America?” TexMoot 2021 (Saturday, Feb 13th)

  1. robstroud says:

    Sounds quite interesting, Brenton. Yes, C.S. Lewis has certainly been the subject of excessive scrutiny in this regard.

    Many Christians are uncomfortable exploring the sexual aspects of people’s lives. As for American society in general, I feel it has become so degraded that there are few, if any, inhibitions. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject… especially in light of your expertise on C.S. Lewis, Americans and sex.


    • Ha! That is funny. Well done. For folks listening in, I’m not actually an expert on sex, or even on Americans! I would say “Americans have had an historical fascination with sex,” which covers everything from the “True Love Waits” movement and the “Shakers” to Hollywood and Las Vegas.
      In THIS case, I’m curious about response to Lewis, who is pretty tame in today’s standards (but I think a more controversial ’50s figure than we typically recognize).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. John Gough says:

    This is an interesting topic, indeed, Brenton, and, as you are aware, others have considered examples of Lewis and his mention of sexuality / physical sex.
    I am not a chapter-and-verse expert on Lewis’s writings, which must be the foundational source for any discussion of Lewis — focus on the words! But there are (from memory) several times where Lewis is as explicit as he feels able to be, in an era of public censorship of explicit description or mention, and living as a post-Victorian with a Victorian’s strange mixture of prudery, licit sex-in-marriage, and secret outlets.
    There are, as I recall, moments in “The Great Divorce” where nakedness is mentioned, and Lewis describes (for the strictest of logical reasons) people (souls) shamelessly naked without genitals. (There is nothing like human sexual passion in heaven, at least as Lewis tried to imagine it. Which carries an implication that mortal human sexual passion is somehow less than heaven-ideal.)
    There is the great moment at the end of “That Hideous Strength” where Mark and Jane Studdock finally go to their marital bed for the high moral purpose of expressing their re-established love in the morally approved way of sexual-passion-without-protection-from-possible-pregnancy. The implications are that married (!) couples using contraception (always much less than 100% certain before the Pill, which comes, imperfectly, close to 100% certainty), and married couples avoiding sex to avoid pregnancy, are both morally wrong in someway.
    I think Lewis explicitly comments on pre-marital sex in “The Screwtape Letters”, albeit through Screwtape (always a dubious authority), but you will be totally familiar with that. Likewise, I think, in “Mere Christianity”, and “The Four Loves” (especially, but probably not exclusively, in his discussion of Eros), where the moral voice is Lewis’s (not Screwtape’s).
    I cannot place, but feel sure that Lewis comments on sexuality when he discusses “The Song of Solomon”, and I feel sure that his great academic studies of “Paradise Lost”, and “Roman de La Rose” and “The Faerie Queen” must need to discuss aspects of physical sexuality alongside matters of love, and chivalrous chastity, and especially courtly love.
    And (this is one for the experts familiar with “They Stand Together”, and other collections of Lewis’s letters), I recall a Lewis expert I worked with, nearly forty years ago, saying that Warnie had blacked out Lewis’s, and Arthur’s mentions of masturbation in Lewis’s and other correspondents’ letters. (As Woody Allen famously said, about masturbation, it is “sex with someone I love”.) It seems that Lewis was sufficiently realistic about human sexuality to understand that if chastity cannot be safely achieved, it is better to satisfy the natural physical urges of the body as harmlessly as possible, rather than use another person to feed an immoral but otherwise natural physical urge.
    It is a long time since I last read “Till We Have Faces”, but I think Lewis remained close enough to the source of “Psyche and Eros” that there must be some morally approved sex-in-the-dark between the Pysche-woman and the Eros-man, before the moral catastrophe of Psyche looking at him in the light. (What is the nature of that catastrophe, morally? Seeing sex, or the loved-one as sexual-object / sexual-partner? Or the fundamental wrongness of disobedience — lighting a lamp when it has been forbidden)?
    Naturally, the mutual expression of mortal/immortal love through sexuality is implicit in the great marriage scenes of Creation in “Perelandra” and “The Magician’s Nephew”, with the first Man and Woman (on the fixed land of Perelandra, and in the newly made world of Narnia) being blessed, and (not quite explicitly) being given approval to “go forth and multiply”. (This is a “Studdock” moment.)
    “Out of the Silent Planet” imagines a non-human world where the intelligent otter-like creatures Ransome finds, or is found by, live adult lives full of deep male-with-female love, but which is utterly chaste except for the one or two times when the creatures have sex for the sake of procreation, much as mammals do on Earth. The long-lived adult-creature lives of loving chastity seem beautiful, and the one or two moments of procreative passion are cherished. But this seems very different from a human man-and-woman expression of sexuality where (unlike other animals) sex can often be with no intention of procreation. Scripture, apart from “The Song of Solomon”, seems to be conflicted about human sexuality, as we know it, in our era, and as Lewis glimpsed it as a young adult in the era of Aldous Huxley and D.H. Lawrence, and Marie Stopes.
    Liturgically, there is marriage-as-sacrament versus sin, and the Old Testament is full of rules about marrying, and sex-for-children.
    In “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, towards the end, and in the Narnian moments in “The Horse and His Boy”, we see the Pevensey children becoming adults, and Susan is actually being courted. But this is adult-life imagined with a Narnian version of chivalrous chastity comparable to the innocence of those purer Arthurian knights, “Percival”, “Lohengrin” and “Galahad”. (Within the scheme of a return to childhood at the end of “LWW”, where it would be difficult to imagine a sexually-experienced adult becoming a pre-sexually mature child again, in full possession of adult memories of sexual activity in adult love.)
    There seems to be a blankness, a gap, between a child’s pre-sexual innocence, and an adult’s awareness of sexual feelings and knowledge of what happens during sex (albeit, possibly unexpressed). in “Surprised By Joy”, between Lewis’s childhood, and the brief but explicit mention of fully expressed adult sexual activity (the “Minto” enigma), there is only the brief and inexplicit mention of the (implied) homosexual activity between school boys during Lewis’s school days, with Lewis clearly leaving himself out of that adolescent experience within a boys-only school where adolescent heterosexual experiences are impossible.
    All the rest of Lewis-as-adult in “Surprised By Joy” is hearty innocent beer-drinking, pipe-smoking intellectual academic bachelordom — chaste and asexual.
    But I’m sure you have all of these instances of sexuality in Lewis’s writings clearly in mind.
    Best wishes for the Moot-paper researching and writing, and the presenting and follow-on discussions!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cecilia Zeichner says:

      ““Out of the Silent Planet” imagines a non-human world where the intelligent otter-like creatures Ransome finds, or is found by, live adult lives full of deep male-with-female love, but which is utterly chaste except for the one or two times when the creatures have sex for the sake of procreation, much as mammals do on Earth. The long-lived adult-creature lives of loving chastity seem beautiful, and the one or two moments of procreative passion are cherished. But this seems very different from a human man-and-woman expression of sexuality where (unlike other animals) sex can often be with no intention of procreation.”

      I know that Lewis was very interested in Milton and the way he wrote the hrossa certainly reflects sexual relations between a pre-Fall Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost (which sounds freaking awful, if you ask me, but then again, I am a post-Eden human). It’s been a while since I’ve read OSP and Perelandra but I believe there is discussion about human sexual pleasure was a joy that humans would not have experienced without the Fall but it can only be a reflection of the more pure joy that humans could have had if only Adam and Eve had not eaten the Apple.

      I’ve also been rereading The Dark Tower, which is definitely a horny novel fragment (no pun intended, but I mean. Come on) in an attempt to maybe finish it in the form of a fan fic. I don’t know if I’ll ever publish it, but hey, who knows. It seems that Lewis was going to set up a confrontation between his more traditional Oxbridge professors and the “modern” Camilla, who’s engaged to one of the professors’ students, Scudamour. According to Walter Hooper, Camilla’s last name was originally going to be Amoret, a reference to The Fairy Queene. In the poem, Amoret grows up in Venus’s garden, where she is surrounded by constant procreation, including humans engaged in noble love, but the lovers are not necessarily married. Amoret thus grows up understanding the value of love but not Chastity, in contrast to the chaste night Britomart, who is forced to rescue her when Scudamour can’t. Britomart knows that she is destined to fall in love Artegall, but she doesn’t understand what, exactly love is. Spencer’s ideal lover is one who honors and understands chastity and love.

      Similarly, Lewis writes in The Screwtape Letters: “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.” And also: “His real motive for fixing on sex as the method of reproduction among humans is only too apparent from the use He has made of it. Sex might have been, from our point of view, quite innocent. It might have been merely one more mode in which a stronger self preyed upon a weaker—as it is, indeed, among the spiders where the bride concludes her nuptials by eating her groom. But in the humans the Enemy has gratuitously associated affection between the parties with sexual desire. He has also made the offspring dependent on the parents and given the parents an impulse to support it—thus producing the Family, which is like the organism, only worse; for the members are more distinct, yet also united in a more conscious and responsible way. The whole thing, in fact, turns out to be simply one more device for dragging in Love.” From these, and many more quotations from Screwtape, I take it that pre-marital sex is acceptable only if the couple is already engaged and planning on having children once they get married. I know that this view was generally acceptable in pre-Victorian England, so I wonder if this was just Jack’s romantic rebel side coming out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cecelia, this is also a great note. I mentioned one of your comments above. I’m not sure about the pledged sexual love and Lewis’ thought. Shakespeare, like many couples of his generation, began sexual relations when the marriage was promised, not solemnized. What would Lewis think of this? I don’t know. In his case, unusually, he was married to Joy BEFORE he started dating her! Flips things a bit.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Cecilia Zeichner says:

          I think it’s a little hard to know what Lewis would think. I think whatever is represented in Till We Have Faces would be his most complete thoughts since I’m sure his opinions on sex and marriage (and sex IN marriage) would have changed after falling in love with Joy, who could neither have nor wanted more children.

          Liked by 2 people

    • John, thank you for the long and careful note. I have some thoughts and your thoughts have helped focus mine.

      You drove me back to the Great Divorce text, but I don’t see where the naked spirits are sexless, without genitals. They are certainly identifiable as male and female, though that may be another kind of expression in that place. There is a nice note about clothing not as a disguise but as “living organs” on a spiritual body.

      In both Perelandra and the Great Divorce, where there is a good deal of nakedness (besides a clothes change and a bath in That Hideous Strength, the partial unveiling of a goddess you note and the naked preparation of victims in that same novel, and the almost-nakedness of the hnau in Out of the Silent Planet), there is no sense of lurid or even honourable sexual attraction. I wonder if Lewis might call that suprasexual or transexual rather than asexual, but he was like that. I can see him saying, “Not without sex, but sex like all bodily realities is brought into the new spiritual reality” or something like that.

      I struggle with the “implications” of the text of That Hideous Strength. There are a lot of voices of goodness and truth there, and they don’t all agree. It is certainly the case that Merlin thinks Jane’s use of contraception a great calamity in a moral sense, though Ransom asserts that Jane is “chaste” (which I suppose means in an ordered sexual union). It does seem that Mark and Jane lost the chance to give birth to the next Pendragon… though I may be misinterpreting the text.

      Cecilia’s response to your Silent Planet hnau sexuality is an excellent one: the evocation of Milton’s imagination. It is an unfallen world (though a world after the fall). Her point about pleasure in Screwtape also resonates with your overall presentation.

      Your comment about LWW is a revelation to me: The adult Pevensies then return to childhood. Perhaps they were all single by the end (Rabadash’s attempt to “rape” (in the old sense of the word) Susan in Horse & Boy is unsuccessful), but still, the awakening of bodies–ours and others–to me seems unforgettable. Wow, yes.

      You are right about Till We Have Faces. At one point, Psyche “tut tuts” her sister, Orual, because Orual is a virgin and clearly cannot understand the full sensuality and intimacy of sexual love. Orual remains a virgin queen, though that is probably about control of her power more than anything else. She does realize she has loved her primary counsellor.

      As you note, the letters are censored at points (though not terribly thoroughly) to remove concern about masturbation. Biographer-friend George Sayer notes it in his memoir, saying that Lewis conquered masturbation before becoming a Christian as a kind of Idealist or theist morality. For Lewis, anyway, he thought that masturbation was like having a personal imaginative harem where no self-sacrifice was required by the dreamer, and thus it is a broken kind of experience.
      My suspicion is that the letters conceal some other kinds of sexual experimentation, perhaps once with Arthur as teenage boys, and at least one night of homosexual sadism. And I am one convinced that Lewis had an affair for some years as a student at Oxford, and perhaps as a young don. Ultimately, I doubt Lewis as an adult Christian thought anything unorthodox about sex and viewed it as the purview of a married couple. He had sympathy for homosexuals and saw adultery as a sin both spiritually and socially.
      However, he definitely challenged the social standards and mores of the day. He spent many evenings with a married woman in his home, though perhaps not often totally alone (alone in a study or sitting room, perhaps). He used marriage as a tool to subvert the government and help a friend. This marriage was to a divorced woman. Against his bishop’s wishes, he then married her in an Anglican wedding. That she was American is probably an eyebrow-raiser in the UK at the time, but not much more. That she was a Jew (even converted) would have been a minor scandal. Then Lewis wrote about sex both in a theological way (Four Loves) and a personal way (Grief Observed).

      Altogether, the open conversation about sex in his fiction, the time alone with a married woman, the marriage shenanigans, and that she was divorced and Jewish–all told, these would amount to a major scandal in many contexts, including America, had it broken. Today, it would have the same social weight–though not a moral equivalent–to a leading evangelical pastor revealing he is gay and marrying a many he has been dating. I think we miss how big that would have been then. As a public figure today in a world that relishes liberal or conservative hypocrisy, he would have been a sitting duck.

      Liked by 1 person

      • John, a quick note that it is in Perelandra where genitalia are absent when it comes to the Eldila: “Both the bodies [of Mars and Venus] were naked, and both were free from any sexual characteristics, either primary or secondary.”


        • John Gough says:

          Thanks, again, Brenton.
          These are the details — Mars and Venus having no sexual characteristics — that need to be noted.
          But, this leaves open the question of sexuality / gender / sex in Perelandra, and the other planetary “spirits”. Maybe there will be no Perelandrian children. No procreation. No sex, once the Unfallen “Adam” and “Eve” achieve their Paradise, thanks to Ransome’s battle with, and victory over Weston, the Unman.
          Equally, maybe Perelandrian biology may be different from that on Earth. Maybe there are other sexual organs that Ransome would fail to detect?
          Male spiders pass a parcel of sperm to the females, for example, when mating. Corals spray sperm into a warm tropical sea full of ova. Coral genitals are little more than hosepipes.
          Should we expect human genitalia on non-humans? Extraterrestrials?
          It is a “Star Trek” kind of question that we may ask decades after Lewis was creating his planetary novels.
          Naomi Mitchison (who, I think, was a correspondent with Lewis), wrote “Memoirs of a Spacewoman”, an early sci-fi novel comparable to Lewis’s sci-fi novels, in which the act of sexual intercourse is regarded by a non-human species as a profoundly intimate form of person-to-person communication, even if it results in pregnancy (in the novel, of a human-non-human child).
          I mention this because Ransome’s failure to observe “sexual characteristics”, primary (genitals) or secondary (breasts and nipples), may be a human failure when observing creatures who merely LOOK like humans but have clearly evolved on a very different planet.
          What are the words: what is Ransome’s / Lewis’s evidence that the “woman” and the “man” on Perelandra are actually female and male? In what sense? Is Lewis invoking a sexless Platonic ideal of “woman” and “man”? Would Plato suggest there could be “female” and “male”, in his heaven/world of Ideals, that did not have primary and secondary sexual characteristics?

          Liked by 2 people

          • Cecilia Zeichner says:

            John, I hope you don’t mind my jumping in here. The Green Lady definitely has human sexual characteristics–Weston suggests that Ransom is trying to seduce her when he first lands on the planet. Then, in the climactic scene, one of the eldil (I think Malacandra, sorry, I don’t have the book in front of me) says that Tinidril and her husband (I think his name is Tor or something like that?) will have many children and they will be warriors sent to Earth on Judgment Day. I never liked this ending for Tinidril because after saving her entire fricking planet she basically gets to spend the rest of her days barefoot in the kitchen, but at least childbirth wouldn’t be painful as it was for Eve so that’s a win?

            But there is plenty of room for speculation about all of the creatures of Perelandra. I always liked the merpeople. They were dreamy and a little spooky and hint at so much more going on than Ransom, the Green Lady, or the King could have known.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I think John’s speculations and questions are kind of interesting. Cecelia is right that the Eve of Perelandra seems as human as one might expect–except, presumably, the belly button? It could be that Tor & Tinidril would not have children because they will raise the creatures of Perelandra to “hnau” status. I’m not sure I recall the text either way. But she -is- a mother character, so I think motherhood of one kind or another would be critical. She is Eve, mother of humanity, but also Ave (Maria), who becomes a medieval warrior and cosmic lord (midon). To me, that’s not terribly kitchen-like.


            • Perhaps there won’t be a need for kitchens. There seems to be plenty of food growing on the trees.

              Liked by 1 person

        • Cecilia Zeichner says:

          Brenton, I should give credit where credit is due–David C. Downing brought up the Miltonian view of sexuality in the Wade Center podcast, but I can’t remember if this was in reference to OSP or Perelandra. Either way, the point is the same: the hrossa and Tinidril and her king live in harmony with nature and with God, while humans have to content themselves with mere sexual pleasure as a shadow of the joy that would have come if Adam and Eve had not bitten the apple.

          I should also note that at one point Lewis says that the Pfifltriggi (can’t believe I got the spelling right on the first try!) and the Seroni aren’t as relatively egalitarian as the Hrossa when it comes to sex and gender relations. The male Seroni let the females do all the housework while they study and mate very rarely because they’re sexist giant pandas I guess, while the male Pfifltriggi, as artists, worship their women. Imagine if Ransom had landed among them!


      • John Gough says:

        Thanks, Brenton.
        I doubt that “time alone with a married woman”, in the mid-Twentieth century, would be an issue. Surely Lewis and others of his generation had moved on from the repressed, puritanical age of necessary chaperones and duennas.
        In that same era, questions were asked about single men, such as Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, sharing a house, “alone together” in Hollywood in their early years. Their modern biographers reject any suggestion of (Victorian, or other) impropriety between these particular two single males, alone. (!) But in that era, the smutty newspapers gave both men publicity. (There’s no such thing as bad publicity, supposedly.)
        But in that era, being together unchaperoned was not enough. The British divorce laws, where divorce was granted mainly on grounds of proven adultery by one of the partners, or cruelty by one of the partners, both of which required a third person to witness the (apparent) adultery, or cruelty. (The usual ploy was for the divorcing husband to deliberately go to a hotel, and be deliberately found in bed with, or partially undressed in the same room as, a suitably willing “adulteress” — typically, an experienced, but otherwise uninvolved, woman familiar with the law. Her role was not adulterous, but that of a legal stooge. Photos would be taken, as a matter of course, and presented in the divorce court, thereby proving the guilt of the adulterous partner.)
        That is, man plus married woman ALONE was not enough for a legal conclusion.
        Another matter, closely related to the chaste (asexual) love of Hrossa (when not procreating, once or twice in their shared adult lives: biologists must wonder about the ovulation cycles of female hrossa), is the issue of gender.
        Regarding “gender”, Paul Ford’s invaluable “Companion to Narnia” has a long and thorough “article” on supposed “Sexism” in “Narnia” — something I touched on in my rebuttal of David Holbrook’s attack on Lewis and Narnia (in the early 1970s, in “Children’s Literature in Education”, where my rebuttal later appeared).
        Are there distinct roles assigned to “male”, and assigned, differently, to “female”, in everyday life, in battle, in love, in family life? (We must leave female biology — pregnancy, birth and suckling — out of this, although male “breast”-milk devices complicate this, as in one of the later “Meet the Focker” films.)
        On the aging of the Pevensey children through “LWW” and “HHB”, it seems clear that all of the children, as they are initially when they pass through the wardrobe into Narnia, pass through puberty to some kind of adult maturity. There is no mention of Peter or Edward, as post-pubertal, being interested in girl/women, neither is older-Lucy interested in boys/men. But Susan seems to be, or is considered likely to be.
        However any passage through puberty that may have occurred in the Pevensies many happy years as the Four High Kings of Narnia, is cancelled at the end of “LWW”, when they pass back through the wardrobe, and return to the same time that they left Earth — as children!
        This remains the case with Peter, Edward and Lucy through the rest of the “Narniad” — they are still childlike, albeit in Earth years (not Narnia years) a little chronologically older — but not noticeably biologically older — by the (Earth) time of “The Last Battle”.
        By contrast, Susan has entered an Earth-time puberty, and lost interest in Narnia.
        Interestingly, in “The Horse and His Boy”, Aravis is a (pre-pubescent probably) girl fleeing an arranged (“Arabian Nights”) marriage to a much older man, if I have remembered correctly. She rejects this arrangement, although I don’t recall if it is simply because she does not like the man, or she does not want to be married, yet, or has not yet developed any adult interest in what marriage involves, physically.
        Meanwhile, the Old Testament has the story of Onan, where sex which avoids the possibility of children (regardless of other considerations, such as who the sex is with, such as brother’s widow), has disastrous but divinely determined consequences.
        This is a large and complicated topic.
        I would also mention the post-sex, or step-parent, issue of parenting.
        Lewis had no children of his own, but he and Warnie were, however briefly or superficially, responsible for some evacuee children, if I remember correctly. (A personal inspiration for the Pevensies!)
        And much later there were the Gresham step-sons of his marriage. Sexual relationships have consequences, as scripture says and intends, and Lewis, as far as I am aware, honoured his responsibilities as far as his step-sons allowed.
        Again, I send you my best wishes for the Moot researching and writing!


        • Cecilia Zeichner says:

          I feel like it’s a little difficult to bring up HHB with regards to the Pevensies’ or Aravis’s approaching puberty because the whole book is based on Arabian Nights tropes. I don’t think Lewis was considering any implications of puberty or sexuality as much as he wanted the book to be the sort of “romance” he read as a boy. Lewis certainly would have absorbed the Orientalist smorgasbord in any Victorian translations of 1,001 Nights and that sort of sexual anxiety and exoticism is what we see reflected in the book, not any of Lewis’s own personal views of the matter. Lewis has some pretty awful Orientalist stuff to say in Surprised by Joy about Hindus and Muslims, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge him against our contemporary moral standards. We all wish our heroes knew better but they also didn’t know what they didn’t know.


      • Re the nakedness: I wonder if Lewis would have been aware of a rather obscure heretical Christian sect called the Adamites, who believed that living in a perpetual state of nakedness conferred the innocence that was the human state before the Fall. Anyway it seems that nakedness symbolizes a non-fallen state generally.

        I have assumed for a long time that the reason that the Pevensies cannot marry in LWW and TH&HB is because the reversion to their childhood would be too weird and painful and they are in some sense still children.

        I love the title of your talk and the whole symposium sounds fascinating. I suppose the answer would be that it depends what section of American society we are talking about, but I sometimes notice a certain small-c conservatism in the most surprising places, so I definitely think you’re onto something here.


        • Cecilia Zeichner says:

          I suspect that Lewis’s views on nudity as man’s natural state are mostly informed by Paradise Lost and Genesis: 3, when nudity suddenly becomes shameful because of the Fall and nature actively works against Adam and Eve and their children as punishment (specifically, Adam will always have difficulty ploughing the land, Eve will always have difficulty bearing children, but humans are condemned to scavenge for resources instead of living in harmony with nature and having those resources freely given).

          This is a totally different conversation, and one I’ve been meaning to write a l’il article about on my own blog, but I think Lewis’s distinction between clothing and fashion is very fascinating. One is “timeless” and necessary, while the other is disposable. For example, when Susan becomes a teenager she gets interested in “nylons”, which a lot of critics think is a reference to her sexuality, but it really reflects an interest in fast fashion–at least, fast for the 1950s–and conformity. Nylons tear and are cheap and disposable,* whereas Susan’s mother would have worn silk stockings, expensive but repairable if only Susan had the time to care for her clothes. See also Perelandra where Weston fashions a coat for the Green Lady out of feathers. The only way to make clothing is to strip the planet of its resources, something that I and fellow sustainable designers know all too well. Yet the sort of “timeless” clothes that the company at St. Ann’s wears in That Hideous Strength was subject to plenty of papal regulation, sumptuary laws, and anonymous pamphlets in its day. There is no such thing as timeless fashion or clothing but hopefully more and more 21st century consumers will learn to reuse, repair, and recycle their clothes instead of throwing it away.

          *As of maybe five years ago, companies have developed the technology to recycle nylon. Some companies, including Prada, are making nylon fabric out of recycled fishing knits, a huge pollutant to our oceans, but I haven’t heard about anyone recycling nylon clothes or stockings. The fiber is probably too weak, especially with stockings, which are also combined with spandex and that opens up a whole other can of worms. And even if you could recycle nylon clothes, they would still shed nylon microfibers in the wash so it’s just best to eliminate their use altogether.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Great comment. I’m sure you’ve read Kat Coffin’s excellent piece about Susan. I was a bit of a tomboy so I read the whole bit about Susan getting into lipsticks and nylons as being about conformity to 1950s notions of femininity — and there being a contrast between that and the lovely, comfortable clothes worn in Narnia.

            You are so right about the sumptuary laws and all that. Interestingly all of that broke down after the Great Plague.

            And what you said about sustainability and clothing and our relationship with Nature is very true.

            Whereabouts is your blog? It sounds interesting.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Cecilia Zeichner says:

        Re: Til We Have Faces

        “You are right about Till We Have Faces. At one point, Psyche “tut tuts” her sister, Orual, because Orual is a virgin and clearly cannot understand the full sensuality and intimacy of sexual love. Orual remains a virgin queen, though that is probably about control of her power more than anything else. She does realize she has loved her primary counsellor.”

        Speaking of Lewis and disabled characters! You’ve read TWHF much more recently and frequently than I have, but doesn’t Orual retain her virginity because she thinks she’s ugly and has to wear a veil? I very vividly remember the scene where she faces a claimant to the throne in a duel and kills him and she reflects that driving the sword in was probably akin to losing one’s virginity, which is 1) fantastic writing, 2) hot, 3) almost certainly written by Joy. Lewis is a great writer but not that great.

        I also think the point of Orual is that she is frightened by intimacy because of the trauma of losing her sister, the only person who ever loved and protected her. As I recall, her life is bittersweet in that eventually she is able to overcome her fear of her own “ugliness” (and, as I recall, a limp) and is able to have a good many friendships but she is never able to have a romantic relationship.

        In the original context of the Cupid and Psyche story, it was probably a cautionary tale to contemporary girls to not look the gift horse in the mouth and try to enjoy your wedding night even though you’re scared of your much older husband from a pre-arranged marriage. (Fun!) This story type eventually evolves into the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale variants seen throughout Europe. (Incidentally, has anyone here read Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales. “King Crin” is definitely the most charming of this variant.) In terms of TWHF, Orual’s rejection of erotic love, as a ruler of a land that worships a fertility goddess, stops her from recognizing the “True Myth” (Christianity) that Lewis believed was latent in all mythology.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cecilia Zeichner says:

        Interesting re: the legal requirements needed for a divorce at the time!

        I also don’t know if Lewis visiting Joy alone would have been especially escandoloso. A casual observer would have just assumed that an older, divorced women with two children would have been “off the market.”

        The fact that they married after she was already divorced would have definitely been a scandal. I think the fact that she was born Jewish, but no longer practicing, would have been good political fuel to any of Lewis’s enemies who were jealous of his popular persona, but I’m not sure what the general public would have thought. Remember that Joy’s first husband was also a gentile, which definitely would have been a shonda for the neighbors up and down the Grand Concourse in the Bronx–I wonder if the recent biography goes over that at all?–but I don’t know if the artistic circles Joy traveled in would have especially cared. I can only reflect, based on my grandparents and their friends, who would have been Joy’s contemporaries (my grandfather, who was also a Communist for a brief period, like Joy, was only two years older than her and died in 2007), that interfaith marriages in mid-century New York City weren’t so rare but definitely would have been a cause for comment.

        Eager to attend your talk later today, Brenton. Thank you for opening up this post to your vast knowledge of the topic!


        Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic topic. Anyone who claims Jack wasn’t sexy—erotic, lusty, sensual—hasn’t read him.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Cecilia Zeichner says:

    I will definitely have to tune in! So many fantastic topics–I just wish the Tolkien, race, and disability talks weren’t happening at the same time. (Btw, would love to see an examination of the Inklings’ ableism in general.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think that has been done, Cecilia. But it is a relatively new question and one that keeps moving and hard to answer poetically as it threatens so many of our metaphors today, like deaf, blink, mute, lame, obese, anemic–and the progressive concern about being “tone-deaf.”


      • Cecilia Zeichner says:

        Interesting. I’m not sure how useful a word analysis would be–I’m not really a fan of scolding historical figures for not knowing what they didn’t know, and the Inklings in general were not pejorative when they did use words describing disabilities. But I think an examination of Lewis’s short story “The Man Born Blind” or even Ransom in That Hideous Strength might be interesting. Medieval literature, and Arthurian romance in particular, is full of the inspirationally/magically disabled trope (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/InspirationallyDisadvantaged), whether it’s the Fisher King himself or lepers that pop up just in the nick of time to guide Tristan and Isolde back together. As a scholar of medieval romance, Lewis would certainly have encountered that trope many times but he doesn’t really seem to have engaged in any criticism of it.

        I was also very struck by a letter Lewis once wrote where he describes homosexuality as a disability (https://www.ncregister.com/blog/interesting-letter-from-c-s-lewis-on-homosexuality) and therefore should not be met with disgust but rather pity. While this view is certainly enlightened at a time when Alan Turning was forced to choose between prison or chemical castration, it does reveal much about Lewis’s attitude to sex, chastity, and ability. I find it disturbing that he would condemn someone who was a paraplegic or nonverbal or perhaps in some other way not able to attract a spouse or have children to chastity, but that’s me looking at the letter with modern eyes. I imagine that if Lewis were alive today his compassion and empathy would extend to the queer rights and disability rights movements, even if he wouldn’t necessarily be waving a rainbow flag at the local gay pride parade.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Nobody’s mentioned the Perelandra section of “The Descent of the Gods” in THS, which may be the sexiest thing Lewis ever wrote (and all done through sense impressions, without any physical activity at all!).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Joe Christopher says:

    An interesting discussion. I’m just finishing a paper on H&HB titled “Miscegenation in Archenland”. I suppose I’ll be reading it at one or the other of Mythcon or CSLIS–the latter will be electric this year and probably the former also (though not certainly decided). My decision on the Pevensies is that the first two had gone through puberty and the next two hadn’t. Lewis solved the problem of Peter by sending him off to fight giants for the whole book; Susan responded like a teenage girl admiring a highschool football player.


  7. Pingback: Upcoming Signum University and Mythgard Online Events (For Tolkien, Fantasy, SF, and Language Lovers) | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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