C.S. Lewis

Dorian E. Gray israfel at eircom.net
Tue Oct 3 16:53:25 EDT 2000

Helen said...
> In a message dated 10/2/2000 3:33:32 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Nat wrote:
> > >3. I'm struck by how intrusive the obviously religious elements in
> >  >Narnia are. It's as if there were two levels of story going on: the
> >  >one he obviously enjoyed, and the one where he was aware of his
> >  >responsibility as an Adult to Care for the Moral Well-Being of His
> >  >Readers. Even Aslan's character is not always specifically preachy.
> >  >I think part of the difference may be that old creative writing
> >  >mantra: "show, don't tell." Because his showing is, in an
> >  >old-fashioned way, wonderful. It's only when he gets going on who is
> >  >a good child and who is bad, that things really start falling apart
> >  >for me.
> No, I don't see it that way. I don't think he *meant* to be didactic in
> way that, say, Thomas Hughes (_Tom Brown's Schooldays_) says that his
> object in writing was to get a chance to preach to boys. I think he took
> shortcuts in writing that he oughtn't to have taken (the description of
> Eustace's parents comes to mind), and that those led him into an imitation
> didactic books. I see it as a literary failure, a failure of execution,
not a
> failure of intent. Does that make any sense whatsoever?

Yes, it does.  For instance, I can read and enjoy "Tom Brown's Schooldays",
but I'm always conscious that this story is trying to tell me something, and
some of my enjoyment comes from spotting the message (and, sometimes,
laughing at it!).  But when I read C. S. Lewis, I read and enjoy the story.
Okay, sometimes bits jar at me, but they're so obviously (to me, anyway)
aberrations, because I *know* that most of the time, Lewis is a damn' fine
storyteller...so even though I know (now) that there's a message in there,
most of the time I'm too busy finding out what happens next that I dont'
care about the message, except when he has one of those "brain-farts" and
gets obvious about it.
> I think he would have said that the real teaching, like the real humor,
> should be part of what's going on (with humor he called it "the bloom" on
> writing, I think), not added in.

I agree with you.  Lewis was perfectly capable of saying what he wanted to
say *without* sacrificing the story.  Look at the death and resurrection of
Aslan in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", for instance.  I *still*
shiver when I read those few chapters.  Without losing any of the story, he
was still able to say "look, kids, willing sacrifice has a power that
nothing can stand against, and that can do anything, anything at all".
Well, okay, I guess *he* wouldn't have described the message in quite that
way, but I think that's more or less what it boils down to, no matter what
religious beliefs you hold.

> I've always thought Lewis needed a
> first-rate editor,

Personally, I feel that Tolkien needed one much more, but that's a whole
'nother kettle of fish...

Until the sky falls on our heads...

Dorian E. Gray
israfel at eircom.net

No, I haven't lost my mind - it's backed up on tape somewhere.

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