Category: Literature

Beastly Metaphysics: The Beasts of Narnia and Lewis’ Reclamation of Medieval Sacramental Metaphysics

The oft-made claim that The Chronicles of Narnia is an allegory,[1] though partially true, does not quite do justice to the power of the work, or the beautiful, grace-filled, and luminous world Lewis creates. In a work of allegory, as Lewis explains it in The Allegory of Love, characters are visibilia (“visible things”) invented to express or represent certain “immaterial facts” about the world of our experience, such as our passions or states of mind,[2] as we see in Lewis’ own example:

If you are hesitating between an angry retort and a soft answer, you can express your state of mind by inventing a person called Ira with a torch and letting her contend against another invented person called Patientia. This is allegory.[3]

But this, of course, is what we tend not to find in Narnia. Reepicheep, the Beavers, Ramandu, Jewel are not visibilia standing in for certain invisibilia of our world-representing things like Courage, Constancy, or Wisdom-though they may possess such qualities. The creatures of Narnia have a certain (admittedly fictional) integrity of their own that works against reading them as mere stand-ins or simulacra for aspects of our world, even if Lewis has certain didactic aims in their creation.

Nothing Yet in Its True Form: Shifting Portrayals of Female Villains in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia

Many of C. S. Lewis’ most profound experiences were literary. From a young age, Lewis was a voracious and engaged reader who immersed himself in Classic and Romantic literature and ancient mythologies. The characters and ideas he encountered in his readings left deep and lasting impressions on how he viewed himself and the reality around him. What depictions and symbols of females in literature affected Lewis’ understanding of females? How do his literary ideas of the feminine determine the female characters he creates? Are Lewis’ experiences of females in literature consistent with the life experiences of real women? How do these multiple influences manifest themselves in female representations in the Chronicles of Narnia?

These questions are significant, considering that an estimated sixty-five million people have read C. S. Lewis’ multi-volume Chronicles of Narnia. It is safe to assume, simply on the basis of demographics, that roughly one half of these readers are female. What do these stories, written by a man who “no sound delights…more than male laughter” (W. H. Lewis 14), say to female readers about what femininity is and about what is valuable about females? With what sorts of characters can female readers identify in Lewis’ stories, and how are female characters represented?

Priestly Poets: Donne and Southwell as Writers for God

Henry Ward Beecher once said, “The strength of a man consists in finding out the way God is going, and going that way.” Both John Donne and Robert Southwell would likely agree with this assessment, though, ironically, their lives took strikingly different paths from one another. Donne and Southwell were both born into staunchly Roman Catholic families in the late 16th Century, at a time when Catholicism was illegal in England. However, Donne eventually renounced his denomination in favor of the more popularly accepted Anglicanism while Southwell, even in the face of oppression, remained an underground Catholic and was eventually executed for his beliefs. Although both poets turned their words to Holy Matters, Donne wrote from within the system, whereas Southwell used his words to subvert it. Comparing Southwell’s The Burning Babe to Donne’s Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward casts into sharp relief the poets’ conflicting perspectives, but it also accents the remarkable similarities that they nevertheless retain toward one another. Although their methods and style may differ, it is clear that Donne and Southwell are seeking the same God.

Humble Heroism: Frodo Baggins as Christian Hero in The Lord of the Rings

How does one create a hero at a time when heroes have fallen out of favor? Much of the literature of the twentieth century shows an ambivalence about this question. During the bloodiest century the world had ever known, a time of ever increasing disillusionment, the conventional hero became an increasingly rare figure in literature and the “anti-hero” increasingly popular. Against this background, J. R. R. Tolkien envisioned a character who embodied an old-fashioned ideal of heroism—but not at all in a conventional way.

“My Precious”: Gollum vs. the Pearl Jeweler

The quest to recover a lost piece of priceless jewelry seems a natural topic for a good adventure story. Yet when the aggrieved quester discovers that the prize is not his, that it is not as valuable as he believed, and that he will die if he tries to regain it, the reader may begin to wonder if the story is really about adventure after all. Such is the case with Pearl, translated by J. R. R. Tolkien, and the story of Gollum that begins in The Hobbit and continues in The Lord of the Rings.1 Both the narrator of Pearl, who identifies himself as a jeweler (252), and Gollum must undertake a journey to find the thing each calls “my precious,” only to discover that he cannot reclaim it and live. The choice each character makes determines his eternal destiny; taken together, the moral lesson portrayed by both quests forms a powerful challenge to the reader.

Reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with C. S. Lewis

Reading with C. S. Lewis: this was my chosen approach when I co-authored a reader’s guide to Lewis’ classic story. Why was that a natural choice? The answer: Lewis bequeathed a richer legacy of literary criticism and theory that addresses his imaginative writing more than any other author I know. From Lewis’ nonfictional writing we can glean a large and detailed picture of how Lewis thinks we should read literature, and how we should not read it.