In an age when technology has caught up with our literary imaginations, film makers are faced with many decisions about how to adapt works of fantasy for the silver screen. Since the beginning of story-telling, the quest for something greater than self has permeated our stories, infusing them with elements of the supernatural and the divine. As we seek a greater Other, we are also seeking ourselves and a deeper understanding of what it means to inhabit this earthly realm while longing for the numinous elsewhere.
All paths seemingly lead to despair as Harry Potter and his two closest friends sit in the drab tent they have been living in for several weeks, continually on the run from servants of the evil Lord Voldemort. Harry’s primary mission-to destroy Voldemort and his power over the wizarding world-seems impossible as he, Ron, and Hermione feel more alone than ever. Suddenly, they hear familiar voices on the radio, voices that belong to “those friends of Harry Potter’s who are suffering for their allegiance” (Deathly Hallows 441; ch. 22).
A number of years ago a musician named George Benson wrote a beautiful song entitled, “The Greatest Love of All,” and these lyrics captured my attention. A few selected lines from the lyrics read as follows:
[…] Because the greatest love of all is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all inside of me
The greatest love of all is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.
At first these lyrics appear beautiful, especially with the lilting instrumentations; however, the lyrics run counter to Lewis’s ideas about love and knowledge as well as John Calvin’s theories of love and knowledge as defined in the Institutes of the Christian Religion. This paper will articulate the numerous ways in which Calvin’s definitions of love and knowledge and the Imago Dei found in Calvin are reflected in Lewis’s fiction by focusing on Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
There are some quotations so arresting, so perfect in simplicity, that they never leave the memory. They are honeyed phrases for the mind: “Beauty will save the world,” says a prince in Dostoevsky’s unfortunately-titled The Idiot. The prince speaks as one having authority: beauty will save the world. Or there is Keats in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: ” ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’-that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”. Or St. Augustine saying to God in his Confessions, “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new”. It is yet more surprising to find Genesis in league with each of the above, for in Genesis’s opening chapter the refrain so quietly insistent, “And God saw that it was good,” contains a Hebrew word which may be translated either as good or as beautiful. The feel of the whole chapter changes if one hears God proclaim that the light, the sun, the greenery, the animals are all beautiful, and mankind very beautiful.
A garden enclosed is my sister my spouse;
a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
To Christian writers, landscape and its seasons are not merely backdrops for plots and characters. As places of destination they are integral elements of quest narratives or pilgrimages. More importantly, nature’s cyclical patterns often function as maps of the human soul: “[t]o the Christian, the seasons’ round, often represented by a contrast between spring garden and winter wilderness, is a natural figure of man’s spiritual life” (Stewart 105). This correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm is a classical belief that pervaded Christian literature in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. One specific structure of landscape that has been widely used by Christian writers to narrate the cycle of Christian history, from paradise to wilderness and back to paradise, is the enclosed garden (hortus conclusus). The enclosed garden was such a common trope in medieval and Renaissance art that “scarcely an event from the life of Christ exists for which some artist at some time or other has not provided a backdrop of an unfinished enclosure [….] The touchstone of the enclosed garden [was] an emblem (hortus mentis) of man’s inner being. This is how the figure was used by St. Teresa and St. John, and how it was used by Herbert, Vaughan, and Marvell” (Stewart 47, 169). As J.T. Rhodes and Clifford Davidson also affirm, “[t]he beginning and end of time were marked by the garden” (95).
The oft-made claim that The Chronicles of Narnia is an allegory, 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, 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.
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.
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?