You know how you complain about your family members sometimes, when you’re in a bad mood with them? And you’re all, My father’s this, my sister’s that, when you’re talking to your friends? And it’s okay for your friend to say things like “That does sound frustrating” or “She’s being unreasonable”, but if your friend ever says “Wow, your sister’s a bitch”, you get really really angry and tell your friend to mind her own damn business?
That’s my exact relationship with C.S. Lewis. I can say bad things about him, but you had better not. Or if you do, you had better start off by saying how much you love C.S. Lewis, so that it is clear to me that your relationship with him is similar to mine. I can continue to like Neil Gaiman, but I am permanently angry with Philip Pullman. Sorry, Philip Pullman. This isn’t your fault. You never had a chance.
Because at heart, and probably forever, I’m devoted to C.S. Lewis. I encountered his books at an uncritical age (three), and I didn’t learn anything to his discredit until I was much older and it was far too late. In the meantime I had discovered that I wanted to be a writer, and I had started writing dozens of stories that were, essentially, Narnia done over again. So much too late to decide that actually I didn’t like C.S. Lewis after all.
Of Other Worlds was a collection of C.S. Lewis’s essays on, you know, other worlds, writing for children and all that, and when I read it, I wanted to travel back in time and give him a hug. He defends children’s stories and fantasy/sci-fi stories very staunchly – bless him for that. I just never get over how much I love C.S. Lewis’s style of writing. I’m sure this is partly because it is the first style of writing I can remember, and it makes me feel safe and at home; but partly, the man just writes elegantly. His sentences are often long, but they never ever seem convoluted, and he uses commas to excellent effect. He’s like – he’s like Cicero with commas and semicolons. Cicero with semicolons! WHAT COULD EVER BE BAD ABOUT THAT?
Here are some things I am glad he said:
Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology, and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord…
The Lion began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’ At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.
Quite right too. (I love Mr. Tumnus.) Say what you will about C.S. Lewis, the man is not afraid of a semicolon. I love semicolons.
I’ve heard of so many people who say feel cheated when they discover that there are parallels between these stories and Christianity, and I find the whole thing bizarre. Authors write about issues that interest them, and C.S. Lewis was interested in Christianity, so – hey, big surprise! – Christian themes inform his books. I can see not liking that, because maybe you aren’t interested in Christianity, at least Lewis’s version of it, but this betrayed feeling is weird to me. The books have themes that inform the entire story, just like every good book ever.
To be honest, the whole business strikes me as rather akin to people who say that things like Angels in America are trying to “advance a gay agenda”. They aren’t; they’re just written by people who hold a certain set of beliefs, and those beliefs come through in the play or book or whatever. The Narnia books aren’t sneakily advancing a Christian agenda for propaganda purposes. They’re written by a Christian person.
And, actually, I think it’s sweet how C.S. Lewis always seems to have such a crush on the Lord. His religious views sometimes annoy the hell out of me, but he seems to have really, really, really liked God, and to have had a powerful sense of the immediacy of God, and to want to communicate that if he could. So if you do not think it’s nice how much he loves God, I guess that could be annoying. I always think it’s nice when people love things tremendously.