Achievement of C. S. Lewis - A Reading of his Fiction 0877880042

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Achievement of C. S. Lewis - A Reading of his Fiction

Table of contents :
CHAPTER 1 - The Peal of a Thousand Bells - 9
CHAPTER 2 - Narnia: The Forgotten Country - 21
CHAPTER 3 - Out of the Silent Planet: The Discarded Image - 53
CHAPTER 4 - Perelandra: The Paradoxes of Joy - 89
CHAPTER 5 - That Hideous Strength: The Miserific Vision - 119
CHAPTER 6 - Till We Have Faces: The Uttermost Farthing - 155

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Thomas Howard

The zst Achievement of C. S. Lewis A Reading of his Fiction

" ... a joy to read, a feast for the spirit ... Without question the best book yet written about C. S. Lewis." Peter Kreeft, author

Love ls Stronger than Death

The Achievement of C.S.Lewis

Thomas Howard

Harold Shaw Publishers Wheaton, Illinois

by Th omas Howard:


Co11yrigl1t © 1980 by Harold Shaw Publishers All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced i11 any manner without written permission from Harold Shaw Publishers, Box 567, Wheaton, lllinois 60187. The author gratefully acknowledges the use of excerpts from the following copyright material: from OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, by C. 5. Lewis, Macmillan Paperbacks Edition 1965. Reprinted with pem,ission of Macmillan Publishing Co., Ille. and Collins Publishers. from PERELANDRA, by C. 5. Lewis. Copyright 1944 by Clive Staples Lewis, renewed 1972 by Alfred Cecil Harwood & Arthur Oliver Barfield. Reprinted with permission of Macmi/la11 Publishing Co., Inc. and Collins Publishers. from THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, by C. 5. Lm•is. Copyright 1946 by Clive Staples Lewis, renewed 1974 by Alfred Cecil Ham•ood & Artliur Owen Barfield. Reprinted with permission of Macmi/la11 Publishing Co., 111c. and Collins Publishers. from TILL WE HAVE FACES, by C. 5. Lewis. CopiJright 1956 by C. 5. Lewis. Reprinted with pennission of Harcourt Brace Jova11ovich, Inc. a11d Collins Publishers. LibranJ of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Howard, Thomas. The achievement of C. 5. Lewis. Bibliography: p. 1. Lewis, Clive Staples, 1898-1963-Criticism and interpretation. I. Title. 80-14188 823'.912 PR6023.E926Z68 ISBN 0-87788-004-2 Printed in the United States of America

To Mrs Kilby

For you, dear & noble Lady, because you like Mother Dimble & Mrs. Beaver & Lucy & Tinidril exhibit to us all, every day, all day, what goodness (that is to say, glory) looks like

CHAPTER ONE The Peal of a Thousand Bells 9 CHAPTER TWO Narnia: The Forgotten Country 21 CHAPTER THREE Out of the Silent Planet:

The Discarded Image 53 CHAPTER FOUR Perelandra:

The Paradoxes of Joy 89 CHAPTER FIVE

That Hideous Strength:

The Miserific Vision 119


Till We Have Faces:

The Uttermost Farthing 155

PREFACE At last! A book about C. S. Lewis that doesn't sound like a term paper, a book that is a joy to read, a book written with Lewis's own passionate power with words, Mercurial magic. At last a book that shows us things we didn't see or appreciate in Lewis before, instead of trotting out a recital of the obvious things we did see (unless we were morons). At last a book that looks along Lewis rather than merely at him; a book that looks at something far more important than Lewis: his world; which is also our world because it is the real world. So far the plethora of Lewisiana has illustrated two maxims: that inflation cheapens value and that the more interesting the author, the duller the books about him. To see the first maxim, all you need do is live in America. During inflation, the value of gold soars. We are living through a Lewis inflation, and here is some gold. For the second maxim, first read Homer, Plato, St. Augustine or Kierkegaard, then read any commentary you can find about them. Better yet, first read the most exciting book in the world (The Bible, of course), then read a few dozen of the thousands of astonishingly dull books about it. Lewis is a magificent writer, strong and soaring. But with only a few exceptions, books about him have been leaden-footed and platitudinous. Here is the most notable exception so far. What makes it exceptional is that it accomplishes the two things a good book should aim at, according to the sane, sunny common sense of pre-modern, pre-publish-or-perish literary criticism: "to please and instruct." That is to say, it offers the hu­ man spirit its two most essential foods: joy and truth. Lewis does this; that's why he moves us so, and why most books about him don't. Throw them away and read Lewis again. Why eat ham­ burger when you can eat steak? Why read by reflected moonlight when you can read by direct sunlight? Why look at a photograph when you can look at the real thing? Why read this book then? Doesn't any book about Lewis merely shed snow on his bell? The shape may be faithful to the bell, but the snow blurs it a bit; and the sound may be the bell's 7

The Achievement of C. S. Lewis

sound, but the snow muffles it a bit. Why not blow away this new snow and hear the naked bell ring out again? Because this book is not just more snow on the bell. It is an echo chamber, a corridor through which those reverberating bell tones can reach into silent, empty rooms and tombs. It is a witness preaching the ancient and universal gospel of a glory-filled uni­ verse to mousey Modern Man, opening a window onto a world that is not modernity's dungeon but the Great Dance; not Play­ boy's playpen but Providence's play, the Cosmic Drama; not the formulas of flatness but the fountain, the hierarchy, the Great Chain of Being, packed with peril and "drenched" This world is like Asian: it's not tame, but it's good. Tom Howard takes the delightful trouble to make this world­ view, which is implicit in all Lewis's fiction, explicit in this book. Because he believes, together with "the democracy of the dead, " together with all pre-modern, pre-secular civilizations, that it is the true world; that nothing is more important than living in the true world; and that one of the most effective ways to waken us out of our little dream worlds into the enormous, terrifying and wonderful real world is through the imagination of a master story teller. And who could do this better than the author of Chance or the Dance? I would no more put snow on Howard's bell than he on Lewis's. My prophetic burden is: look with Tom Howard (not at him) as he tells you to look with Lewis (not at him) and Lewis tells you to look with the world, along the world (not at it). If you do, you will see the ancient stars shining through the modern smog. We are "lost in a haunted wood; "why should we always be staring at the ground? Life up your eyes, 0 Jerusalem, and see the "weight of glory." What an unfashionable task for a book today. Hopelessly naive, of course. Simple-minded, wish-fulfillments, desperate dreams. Science has conclusively demonstrated that. . . . modern scholarship is unanimous that. . .. the consensus of the most enlightened opinion assures us that . .. Oh, shut up, Screwtape! Go on, reader, I dare you. Take another look.

-Peter J. Kreeft 8


The Peal of a Thousand Bells


n the early days of World War II, an odd book appeared in England and America. It seemed to be a collection of letters from an old devil to a younger one, telling him how to handle a man who had been assigned to him as his special demonic responsibility. The book was odd for a number of reasons. For a start, one does not run across infernal letters every day. But then this was not a book on the occult, nor demonism, nor satanism, nor any other sort of arcana. Moreover, it was odd in that, in the darkest days that the West had known for many a century, it caught the atten­ tion of Christendom, not by commenting on the dread and apocalyptic political situation we found ourselves in just then, but rather on a much older, more widespread, and infinitely more alarming situation that the ra