There is something “perilous” about beauty and we are aware at some deep level of intuition or, better yet, at some vague awareness of a moral reality or “calling” that Beauty has within it the power to “change” us at some profound and ontological level of our existence. To follow a “trail’ that leads to “the Golden Wood” where one will knowingly encounter Beauty is one that requires courage and calls forth the essence of our character and reveals its flaws and weaknesses. It is here that we begin to acknowledge, again at some level, that Beauty contains within it the potential of great power and great goodness.
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).
In his introduction to English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, C. S. Lewis thrashes the bushes searching out potential causes for the surprising efflorescence of brilliant literature that sprang up near the end of the sixteenth century. At the beginning of the century, “the prose is clumsy, monotonous, garrulous; their verse is either astonishingly tame and cold or, if it attempts to rise, the coarsest fustian. In both mediums we come to dread a certain ruthless emphasis; bludgeon work. Nothing is light, or tender, or fresh. All the authors write like elderly men. . . . Then, in the last quarter of the century the unpredictable happens.
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.
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).
Owen Barfield, a close friend of C. S. Lewis, was a philosopher and writer at heart. His numerous books range from a children’s fairy tale, to a drama retelling the story of Orpheus, to deeply philosophical books on theology and literary criticism. However, Barfield earned his living as a solicitor. For thirty years he rode the train to and from his law offices and plodded determinedly through meetings with clients, court appearances, legal documents, and a daily barrage of legalese. During his years as a solicitor, Barfield suffered a great deal of frustration, even angst. In his poetry and fiction, and perhaps most overtly in his novel, This Ever Diverse Pair (1950), we can identify these feelings as Barfield depicts the threat of stagnation-or worse, the threat of complete disconnect with our birthing selves, a fragmentation in which the creative voice is lost.
What does it mean to be a person? This is one of the central moral questions of our age. Bioethics is particularly engaged with this question. What is human life? When does it begin and end? Does human life have any intrinsic value, dignity, or rights to be protected? Are there any boundaries regarding the manipulation of genetic material, cloning, or embryos? We tend to speak in strong terms about “human rights” and “civil rights” as though there were a secure, generally accepted basis for them to stand on. But is this true? The conversation often seems to ignore the fact that different worldviews lead to widely divergent answers to the question “What is a person?” Most secular modern or post-modern conceptualizations of the nature of personhood are not robust enough to support the notions of human rights and civil rights that we tend to assume.
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?
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.