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C.S. Lewis’ Lands Of Shadow

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Among the surfeit of reviews of Beyond the Shadowlands, perhaps it would be useful to take a step back and evaluate the writer, C.S. Lewis, and his work.

He was born in 1898 in Belfast, and lost his mother at nine. She created a sense of wonder in him, and a love for books. As an academic, he was a renowned professor of medieval and renaissance literature, arguing against an English Renaissance. He was given to impressionism, in a literary sense, believing that a reader experiences a text through his or her senses.

He was close friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, and they formed a literary society, the Inklings, along with other Oxfordians. Tolkien led him back to Christianity from agnosticism/atheism in 1931, using ancient myth. Both recognized the archetypes of the dying and reborn god in Christianity as similes, more than truth, and reinterpreted these images in their master-works, the Lord Of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia.

The myth-making engendered in their works made islands of creative magnificence in the desolate twentieth century, a time of strife and war, a world under the Shadow, as it were. CS Lewis volunteered in the Great War, and was severely wounded. Tolkien’s perspectives of Boer Africa’s cruelties, and their shared horror at the Second World War all strongly affected their vision of this world as a shadow of the real, promised land—Narnia for Lewis and the lands of the West for Tolkien. Their own implicit racism, sexism, and Catholic-Anglican conflicts added much more creative fuel to their fires.

Apart from Narnia, and his scholarly works, CS Lewis’s best work was probably the Screwtape Letters, in my opinion, an exchange of letters between an elderly demon and his nephew, Wormwood, on the damnation of a specific human, an allegory of the Second World War.

Tolkien critiqued the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe so much so that Lewis almost never finished the book. The derivative nature of these books, and their childlike allegories were surpassed by Lewis’ Space Trilogy, set on Venus and Mars. His final book, Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, was from the perspective of Psyche’s sister, drawn from Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. More the memoirs of an old and bitter woman, the book was perhaps based on his winter romance with Joy Gresham, and her lingering death from bone cancer.

This experience was caringly annotated by him in the third of his autobiographies, A Grief Observed. His death was largely overshadowed by the demise, on the same day, of John F. Kennedy.

His life and works have engendered much admiration and criticism. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is intended as an antithesis to the Narnia books. A series of posthumous books were of questionable authenticity.

As the Ruin Falls

All this flashy rhetoric about loving you.

I never had a selfless thought since I was born.

I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:

I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,

I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:

I talk of love–a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–

But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.

I see the chasm. And everything you are was making

My heart into a bridge by which I might get back

From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains

You give me are more precious than all other gains.

About aacool

  • swingingpuss

    Great review Aaman, I am quite surprised I hadnt heard about the book- Till We Have Faces by Lewis. It sounds quite intriguing.

  • Aaman

    It’s on it’s way – Amazon Prime is a great thing:D

  • DrPat

    Thank you, Aaman! It was beginning to feel like the “Shadowlands” section, instead of the “books” section…

    This perspective on C.S. Lewis is much appreciated, especially his connection with Tolkien!

    One question – whose work is quoted at the end of your post?

  • Aaman

    That is a poem by CS Lewis, probably about his love for Joy Davidson – some info in “Into The Wardrobe”

  • Warren

    I have to agreew with you — Screwtape is his best non-Narnia fiction — of course, I haven’t read the space trilogy.

    Wasn’t Tolkien’s criticism of LW&W that it was too allegorical and not fantastic enough? It IS a bit obvious in it’s characterizations (moreso than LOTR).

  • Hannah Im

    Thanks for the good bio on Lewis. “Til We Have Faces” is a very good novel. For some reason, I rarely hear people mention it. It’s worth reading and pondering.

  • George P. Wood

    Great background information, Aaman. It’s my understanding that Till We Have Faces was Lewis’s personal favorite. Regarding Tolkien’s critique of the Narnia Chronicles, which also applied to the Space Trilogy: Tolkien hated the fact that Lewis skipped back and forth between the real world (London, England, etc.) and Faerie, a world that was supposed to be utterly self-contained. He especially hated the fact that Lewis incorporated some of his fiction–Middle Earth–into the trilogy.

  • George P. Wood

    One more thing: The single-best reference work on C. S. Lewis is undoubtedly “C.S. Lewis: Companion and Guide” by Walter Hooper. Hooper is a trustee of the Lewis Estate. Although Kathryn Lindskoog has accused Hooper of inserting several of his own pieces into the Lewis curricula vitae, Hooper’s work in this book is universally respected.

  • Aaman

    Don’t get me started on Hooper’s malfeasances as an editor:) Good book, though

  • DrPat

    So Hooper wrote pieces which he then attributed to C.S. Lewis? WHY?!?

    I mean, what would be the motivation to do that?

  • George P. Wood

    DrPat: Financial motive? Personal vanity? If Lindskoog’s charges against Hooper are correct, there are a number of possible motivations.

  • Bonez

    Your comments concerning the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe are interesting. I appreciated you providing information on the relationship between Lewis and Tolkien, especially as pertains to the Inklings (there were several other authors in this group as well). Not many people are aware of their connection. However, I was intrigued by your assertion that neither Lewis nor Tolkien actually took their belief in a risen God as truth but merely saw it as a simile. I would be interested in seeing your sources for this information, for every respectable scholar that I have ever read on either author – including works by the authors themselves (see Mere Christianity, by Lewis) – hold to a very strict and literal interpretation of this and other biblical events. At any rate, I enjoyed your review.