Category: Dante Alighieri

The Enclosed Garden in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia

A garden enclosed is my sister my spouse;
a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
-Canticles 4:12

I. Introduction

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).

A Terrible Beauty: True and False Visions of the Good in Descent into Hell and Till We Have Faces

In a memorable passage from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, beauty is described as being an “awful thing…mysterious as well as terrible” (97). This strikingly paradoxical view of the beautiful, especially as it relates to the numinous, resonates in the writings of the Inklings. Charles Williams, for instance, points out that while caritas is often likened to “our immediate emotional indulgence,” it should be properly understood in the sense of the “otherness and terror of God.” Encountering the ultimate Other means, in effect, that “Christ exists in the soul, in joy, in terror, in a miracle of newness. Ecce, omnia facio [Behold I make all things new]” (He Came Down, 9-11). C.S. Lewis concurs that divine goodness implies “something more stern and splendid than mere kindness,” since “even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, ‘a lord of terrible aspect’” (The Problem of Pain, 27-9). This majestic Dante-esque figure, at once frightening and attractive, appears under various guises in Descent into Hell and Till We Have Faces. In their respective novels, Williams and Lewis depict the changing faces of beauty in order to highlight the great difference between true and false visions of the good.