What Lewis almost said: some thoughts on quoting carefully

lewis-hamlet-quote
Detail of page 99, _Selected Literary Essays_, C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper. (Cambridge University Press, 1969).

I’ve ranted in the past about C. S. Lewis misquotes. So has the C.S. Lewis Foundation, Essential C. S. Lewis,  and a host of other Lewisians.

I’ve often wondered why I care about this so much, why it rankles me so deeply when someone tosses around a quote offhandedly – or heavy-handedly, as the case may be – and then takes special care to note that it is from none other than C. S. Lewis, implying that it (the quote) is nearly scriptural and therefore they (the quoters) are entirely trustworthy and authoritative.

Does it really matter?

I think so (for reasons mentioned here). I think it speaks to something about how we use language, words, and ideas, how we view authority, and how we tend to accept (often blindly) what we are offered by Those-Who-Know, whether in virtual conversations, printed text, or spoken word.

We often let others do our thinking for us. But to make it look like we’ve done our own thinking, we buttress it with a quote by Someone Really Important and Smart, like C. S. Lewis, or countless other dead people whose words have been dissected into convenient sound-bites that make us look good.

Sometimes the quote is nearly-right, as in the case of this popular one:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live among those who are.

This quotes gets almost 3 millions hits in a Google search. Bravo for Clive on being viral, a thousand times over.

Unlike many of Lewis’s other misattributed quotes (including: “Humility is not thinking of yourself less: it’s thinking less of yourself,” and, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream,” and, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”), this one is almost spot on. What Lewis actually wrote was:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are: that good fortune I have enjoyed for nearly twenty years. (C. S. Lewis, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?”)

If the misquoters knew that the original included “in a circle of” as opposed to “among,” I suspect they would love it even more. We are all about circles these days – circles of friends, circles of life, circles of prayer, circles of circles.

[“Circle” is a very strange word if you look at or say it over and over and over again.]

The problem with this quote being used as it so often is – i. e. to say that if one’s friends have common sense and real-world wisdom, then so will you – is that Lewis wasn’t talking about that at all (which isn’t to say he wouldn’t agree).

This quote is from one of Lewis’s literary essays, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?” You can find it in at least three places: Proceedings of the British Academy (Vol. 28, 1942), They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses (Geoffrey Bles, 1962) and Selected Literary Essays (ed. Walter Hooper, Cambridge University Press, 1969). It appears rather unexpectedly about two-thirds of the way into Lewis’s argument that Hamlet is best enjoyed for its poetic power and prowess rather than being critiqued along various theoretical and critical lines. He tips his hat to Owen Barfield, not for being a friend who helped Lewis navigate the difficulties of daily decision making (though perhaps he did do that) or for being a friend whose mere presence deepened and expanded Lewis’s own daily wisdom (though perhaps that did happen).

Instead, he tips his hat to Owen Barfield specifically and his other literary friends generally for being the kind of people who kept Lewis grounded as a reader and critic, for being people of deep intellect and smart ideas who challenged Lewis as a reader and critic, for being people who thought carefully and thoroughly and creatively before spouting off about nothing in particular.

For those who are interested, Lewis tends toward a reading style that embraces the poetry, the lyricism, the words, the essence, the donegality, and the visceral responses rather than a reading style that hacks and dismembers texts into lifeless blobs of intellectual blubber. Lewis believed that the many critics who had examined Hamlet’s character through every lens from every angle had missed something important. He warns that our own reading of Hamlet (should you choose to read it, which he would strongly recommend) will also miss something important if we approach it in the same clinically sterile way.

Perhaps I should rather say that it would miss as much if our behaviors when we are actually reading were not wiser than our criticism in cold blood. (“Hamlet: The Prince of the Poem?” in They Asked for a Paper, pp. 68-69; Selected Literary Essays, p. 103)

Lewis’s famous quote about wise friends is assuredly about wise friends – but not in the sense that most people use it.

And perhaps that’s not a very big deal at all. Perhaps if the quote is powerful and good and true, it has limitless applications.

But maybe it is a big deal. Maybe we need to be very careful about what we write and say and quote. Maybe knowing the context is as important as knowing the words.

If a writer doesn’t know absolutely certain where a quote is from (which includes almost every wildly popular [uncited] internet quote) but the words are good enough to stand on their own without the weight of Someone Really Important and Smart behind them, then simply say so. “As someone once said: … ”

Don’t claim the words as your own if they aren’t. At the same time, don’t attribute them to someone else if you have not checked and confirmed their source. Language is too important and powerful, too beautiful and poetic to be flung about lightly and carelessly.

 

“We Have No Right to Happiness” – C. S. Lewis’s final words of caution

53 years ago (November 22, 1963), John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX shortly after noon. Less than an hour earlier, C. S. Lewis had collapsed and died at his home in Oxford. The news of his death was quite overshadowed by the American tragedy.

On the day he died, the December 21st issue of The Saturday Evening Post was heading to press. In it were the last words written by Lewis for publication, a short opinion piece titled “We Have No Right to Happiness.” It could have been written today, and certainly should be read today. There are a few unsettling moments, typical of Lewis, that may cause some women to bristle (whether he was insensitive, obtuse, unaware, or misunderstood by readers is a discussion for another time). Regardless, his message is critical to this moment in human history, just as it was in 1963, just as it was in 1982 when SEP reran it, just as it will be next year, and just as it will be for the remainder of human history.

The article lays out a scenario in which person A divorces person B in order to marry person C, who has recently divorced person D. A and B were unhappy together (in A’s opinion, at least), as were C and D (per C, anyway), whereas A and C are head-over-heels-happy as a couple and obviously meant to be together.

They, in fact, have a right – perhaps even a duty – to use whatever means and follow whatever path that will help them fully realize their happiness. It isn’t just for their own good: it is for the good of humanity at large.

That’s a paraphrase, but you get the idea.

In typical Lewis fashion, he’ll have none of this weak and faulty logic.

“At first, [‘a right to happiness’] sounds to me as odd as a right to good luck. For I believe – whatever one school of moralists may say – that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.”

And yet, we do expect that many things out of our control should and ought to be in our control. And we are not afraid to say so or to manipulate the system (or the doctrine) accordingly.

Recently, several highly visible and influential people have thrown off the fetters that have thoroughly strained and prevented their happiness. Convinced of their own insight and rightness, they are encouraging others to do the same. They firmly believe (or at least firmly feel) that any moral or orthodox restraints that tamper with one’s own inclinations and one’s own sense of well-being and happiness are optional.

Morality is malleable. Orthodoxy is not obligatory.

It does not much matter at this point who is most recently blaring this message. It was someone else last week. It will be someone else next week. There will always be someone saying 1) you deserve what you desire and 2) you alone are in charge of setting your own moral compass.

We all want to define our own morality and grasp for whatever makes us happy. We truly feel we deserve this, regardless of the cost or fallout to other people. That persons B and D may not have felt the same way about the dissolution of their respective covenantal marriages as did A and C does not figure into the blissful narrative. B and D’s happiness is not of concern.

Simply put, persons A and C (in this particular Lewis scenario) are quite certain that they deserve happiness – but that B and D likely do not.

This is basically how all of humanity functions. We would like God to step in and stop all the madness, lying, greed, destruction, and other bad behavior by forcing the human race to behave as they ought (which is the only way such uniform and long-lasting good behavior would ever happen). But there is a caveat: we expect Him to leave us alone. No forced good behavior for yours truly, thank you very much.

And therein is perhaps the most obvious reason why none of us has a right to happiness, or in fact to anything at all. We are hopelessly and helplessly fallen creatures who put on a good show of righteous indignation about desiring universal peace and bliss – but we insist that our own decisions and choices be off-limits from God’s powerful control.

In classic Lewis fashion, this final article of his ends with a reminder that one misstep will logically lead to another. Demanding personal happiness in the realm of relationship, specifically sexual and romantic relationship, is merely one step towards a greater evil.

“The fatal principle [that one deserves happiness], once allowed in that department [i.e. the sexual impulse], must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skills may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – one dare not even add ‘unfortunately’ – be swept away.”

One of the most engaging and alluring voices of today is currently saying some alarming things in regards to recent life events:

“Feels like the world could use all the love it can get right now. So today, I’m going to share with you my new love … I want you to grow so comfortable in your own being, your own skin, your own knowing – that you become more interested in your own joy and freedom and integrity than in what others think about you. That you remember that you only live once, that this is not a dress rehearsal and so you must BE who you are. I want you to refuse to betray yourself. Not just for you. For ALL OF US. Because what the world needs — in order to grow, in order to relax, in order to find peace, in order to become brave — is to watch one woman at a time live her truth without asking for permission or offering explanation. The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not explain herself.”

I would respond with this:

  • The world does absolutely need all the love it can get right now. Thus has it been since the first humans said “no” to God and “yes” to their desires. That is why Jesus came as a babe, died as Savior, and was resurrected as Lord – to show us the only Love that can change life.
  • My own joy, freedom, and integrity are real and significant only insofar as they flow out of Christ’s presence and strength in my life.
  • We only live once on this earth; in some ways, this absolutely is a dress rehearsal for the life to come – which doesn’t mean we are allowed to carelessly muddle things or intentionally toss it all off as inconsequential or meaningless.
  • If “betraying myself” means giving up my rights to me, dying to myself each day, carrying my cross, and following Jesus into the difficult places where he will lead, then I will not refuse that (as much as I may wish to). It is the only hope for transformation, growth, and discovering the depth of God’s love and grace.
  • In order to grow, relax, find peace, and become brave, the world does not need to watch one woman at a time live her truth without asking for permission or offering explanation. Indeed not. Rather, the world needs to embrace the Incarnate Lord who not only lived  his truth but was Truth, and who voluntarily offered himself as the only sacrifice that could bring us forgiveness, hope, and life.
  • The most revolutionary thing a woman (or man) can do is to surrender herself – fully, deeply, humbly, painfully, and helplessly. Only then can she (or he) truly live.

We musn’t fret that this most recent round of false gospel is something that will finally tumble humanity beyond redemption. Every false gospel is equally dangerous.

At the same time, we mustn’t brush off this most recent round of false gospel as just another weightless and non-substantial folly. All folly is dangerous, and the closer it sounds to the True Gospel, the more dangerous it is.

Read carefully. Listen thoughtfully. Do not be seduced by sweet words that promise life and happiness but in the end deliver emptiness and despair.

We have no right to happiness – or anything else, for that matter – and yet God offers us his love and hope anyway. Grab them – and only them – and then settle in for a life that only He can provide.

 

 

 

 

Tinkering with Aslan’s roar: please don’t

EDITORIAL UPDATE: Please see the reader comment below. I did not research deeply enough. It looks as though “Haa-a-arrh” is in fact the ORIGINAL British version of Aslan’s roar. The first American edition kerfuffled with it and made it “Wow!” to which John Goldthwaite (who apparently also did not do his research carefully enough) took issue. HarperCollins switched it back to “Haa-a-arrh” – and I must now reorient all of my irritation…because there’s always something to be irritated about. And there is always more fact-checking to do. I suspect that had Goldthwaite known this little fact, he would have taken issue with the British version of the roar as well, perhaps deriding it with the same snakiness that I do below because I doubt the roar was ever really the main issue for him. But since he didn’t, I can’t rightfully claim this. I’m leaving this post up for now as evidence of what can happen in the heat of minor literary irritations. Beware.

EDITORIAL UPDATE 2:

Per Peter Schakel (The Way Into Narnia: A Reader’s Guide, p. 127) it was Lewis himself who made the change to Wow. The British editions and the 1994 editions have the original Haa-a-arrh. Goldthwaite obviously didn’t know this. Per Schakel: “Lewis undoubtedly was not familiar with the U.S. slang word ‘Wow’.”

EDITORIAL UPDATE 3: (see photo of Schakel’s note at bottom of post)

________

For those who love C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, it may come as a surprise to learn that not everyone feels the same (or any) similar affection. (Pause and gather yourselves, people. All is still well even if all do not share our particular literary leanings.)

The most vocal hater is Philip Pullman (author of His Dark Materials trilogy) who calls the complete Narnia cycle “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read” and who places himself firmly in the center of “those of us who detest the supernaturalism, the reactionary sneering, the misogyny, the racism, and the sheer dishonesty of [Lewis’s] narrative method.” (1) For those who are interested, Pullman’s opinions (I hesitate to call them literary observations since in so many cases he wholly misreads the text)  are systematically and politely addressed by Michael Ward (author of Planet Narnia) here. (NB: just because I take umbrage with Pullman’s views does not mean that I view the Chronicles as beyond reproach or canonically inerrant. They are stories, after all – jolly good ones, to be sure – but stories nonetheless, not Scripture.)

Two years before Pullman threw down his gauntlet, John Goldthwaite took his own swipe at Lewis in The Natural History of Make-Believe: A Guide to the Principal Works of Britain, Europe, and America (Oxford, 1996). He accused Lewis of “incompatible borrowings” in the creation of his Chronicles, where he sees traces of Edith Nesbit meeting Lewis Carroll meeting Kenneth Graham meeting King James, resulting in what he considers to be some “truly fatal blunders.”

It is the King James “borrowing” that pains Goldthwaite the most, particularly the parts about a lion, which he claims are based on just two apocalyptic passages. The first is from 2 Esdras: “And as for the lion whom you saw rousing up out of the forest and roaring and speaking to the eagle and reproving him for his unrighteousness, and as for all the words that you have heard, this is the Messiah whom the Most High has kept until the end of days.” (NB: Goldthwaite uses the RSV version here not the King James, which may not nullify his argument but is careless nonetheless.) The second is from Revelation: “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed…”

In Goldthwaite’s words: “[Lewis’s] central problem building the parable had always been the difficulty of portraying his Lion of Judah, Aslan, in such a way that the Christ figure would speak with the needed authority yet without intimidating the tale back into those stained-glass and Sunday School associations Lewis wished to avoid. The odds against him were long, and he did not really surmount them–or, rather, he surmounted them and toppled over onto the other side of good judgment.” (p. 222).

How, exactly, did Lewis “topple over onto the other side of good judgment” in portraying his own lion as The Lion? Goldthwaite provides just a single example, from the end of Chapter 13 in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, holding it up as insurmountable evidence on one hand even as he reduces it to a mere”storybook solution to the dilemma” on the other:

“Wow!” roared Aslan half rising from his throne…

That single phrase–word, actually–is the lynchpin of Goldthwaite’s argument:”Even a child” (he authoritatively sneers) “might question the ‘real potency’ of a Christ given to yelling ‘Wow!'” (p. 223)

Hmmph. Goldthwaite makes a fatal error of 1. reducing to a yell what is clearly called and described as a roar in which Aslan’s “great mouth opened wider and wider and the roar grew louder and louder,” and 2. failing to note that in response to what he views as an impotent yell “the Witch, after staring for a moment with her lips wide apart, picked up her skirts and fairly ran for her life.”

Any reader – even a child, especially a child – can see quite clearly that this Lion is not a meekly mewling yeller. Besides, Aslan speaks and does a thousand other things that (apparently) are not worth Goldthwaite’s consideration.

But Goldthwaite’s tenuous criticism is not the real point. The real point is this: someone actually paid attention to it and considered it credible enough to TINKER WITH THE TEXT.

What manner of indefensible foolishness is this?

If you happen to own a pre-HarperCollins copy of LWW, you can check the final page of Chapter 13 and see the ‘offending’ (per Goldthwaite) “Wow!” in all its leonine glory.

If you happen to own a HarperCollins copy of LWW,* you will find on the final page of Chapter 13 not a gloriously leonine “Wow!” that sends a Witch running for her life but rather a modified – dare I say Goldthwaitified –

“Haa-a-arrh!”

Excuse me?

Excuse me??

Who decided that this part-laugh + part-sneeze + part-pirate kerfuffle was a stronger reflection of Messianic power and strength than the original Wow? Who??

Piffle. Harrumph. Poo.

Sorry to make such a plaguey fuss, but would someone please tell me what exactly is the point of this editorial revision? Do we think children will now, finally, sense “real potency” in both the lion and the text? Do we think Aslan’s leonine legitimacy has, at last, been raised a notch or two? Do we think Goldthwaite will, apologetically and humbly, retract his claim and sing Lewis’s praises? Do we think that changing a word – a roar, rather – will mollify the critics and get them to like us better, or at least view us with less disdain?

Do we?

Ha.

Or should I say Haa-a-arrh?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, end of Chapter 13, per Macmillan (1950-1994)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, end of Chapter 13, per Macmillan (1950-1994)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, end of Chapter 13 per HarperCollins (1994-present)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, end of Chapter 13 per HarperCollins
From
From “The Way Into Narnia” by Peter J. Schakel

1. Philip Pullman, “The Dark Side of Narnia,” The Guardian (Oct. 1, 1998), 6. I have accessed this article from two different research databases (LexisNexis Academic and ProQuest) and can attest to its existence. At one time, it was available online via The Guardian. The original public link is now dead, though someone uploaded the article here.

*   The earliest HarperCollins “Haa-a-arrh” edition I have is dated 1998, a full 2 years after Goldthwaite’s book. The evidence points strongly to the change being made in response to Goldthwaite’s comments, but of course no one at HarperCollins has ever come out and said as much. If anyone has a pre-1996 printing that has “Haa-a-arrh” in it, please let me know so I can retract my complaint, or at least the underlying implications of it.

Sorry, but C. S. Lewis never said that there (in which I begrudge the alarming glut of authoritative misquotes)

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different… – “Prince Caspian”

This pithy quote, attributed to the pages of Prince Caspian, the second installment of C. S. Lewis’s Narnian chronicles (that’s right, second, no matter what HarperCollins says),* appears all over the authoritative world wide web.

And when I say all over I mean ALL OVER. 

And when I say ALL OVER, I mean ALLTHEFREAKINGOVER!

Pinterest. Tumblr. Facebook. Goodreads. Yahoo answers. Etsy. Twitter. Finance blogs. Focus on the Family. Amazon. Numerous self-published books.

And approximately 6 million other pages.

It is quoted in mainstream publications. It is quoted in AP History presentations. It is quoted by pastors. It is quoted on every Lewis-loving-blogger’s blog known to humankind. (I hyperbolize.) It is quoted on every quote site in existence. (I exaggerate.) It is even quoted by C. S. Lewis himself on his personal Twitter account. (I joke not.)

At the risk of bringing down all the authoritative walls of Jericho, Google, Yahoo, and Bing in one fell swoop, I regret to inform all the many millions of people who have lauded this quote as meaningful, life-changing, heart-warming, wise, inspiring, eloquent, and other empty blathery things, that C. S. Lewis did not write these words in Prince Caspian, or any of the other Narnian Chronicles.**

It’s true that when Shasta, Aravis, Bree and Hwin race against time across the desert, the view behind them seems to stay the same no matter how long they trot-walk-trot-walk-trot-walk.

It’s also true that when Pole, Scrubb, Puddleglum, Snowflake and Coalblack climb up from the underworld, the view behind them seems to stay the same no matter how long they clop-clop-clop-clop carefully uphill and underground.

And when Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, Reepicheep and the others are on the last leg of their outbound voyage, it seems that little changes except for the inherent essence of the sun.

Too, when Peter, Susan, and Edmund are finally wise enough to follow Lucy who is following Aslan who is invisible to all but her, it seems like forever until the other three finally see his golden self walking in front of them.

But the confidently posted, quoted, blogged, tumbled, tweeted, grammed, and pinned quote is no quote at all. Not Lewis’s quote, anyway.**

Still, it has become a 6-million-hits-authoritative fact. No one questions it. No one bothers to look it up. No one takes the time to confirm or fact check or wonder if just maybe – since the quote is never referenced by a page number or given a context or framed within a larger narrative, it might be, well, FAKE – FALSE – UNTRUE – MADE UP – CONTRIVED – NONSENSE  – BLATHERY FOO FOO.***

Confession: I do admire Lewis and love his books, and can tend to get unreasonably bothered and bent out of shape when people toss around his words and ideas without ever having read more than a handful of his 50-plus books and countless articles, notes, letters, reviews, and other writings. (“I’ve read Amos and Jude. Let me tell you everything you wanted to know about God.”)

But this isn’t about Lewis. (Okay, maybe it is a little – but not mostly.)

This is about language and thought and reason and creativity and honor and intellect and caution and so many other things.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly something becomes accepted fact.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly we swallow what the Information Age grazers and snackers share with us.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly we jump on whatever train is currently barreling down the cyber track.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly we discard and surrender our brains, assuming someone else has already done the necessary thinking for us.

Wrong. No. Bad form. Dumb idea. Stop it. Now.

All of us. Just stop it. Else our brains, rather than making thoughtful, adventurous, mindful, and exhilarating use of the vast knowledge now at our fingertips, will simply shut down and take a snooze that soon eclipses mere laziness and instead threatens our very ability to reason, to think, and therefore to be.

Quite frankly, as much as it irritates me, a wildly popular Lewis misquote is nothing more than a symptom of something much deeper, something that should worry us all.

And when I say worry us I mean worry us greatly.

Greatly, indeed.

© 2015 Crystal Kirgiss

* Reading order (also known as “publication order for as long as Lewis lived and beyond”):
Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Silver Chair
Horse and His Boy
Magician’s Nephew
Last Battle

** I am 99% certain that I have never seen this phrase in any of Lewis’s books. To be fair, there are some I have read only once (English Literature in the 16th Century, Excluding Drama, for example). I would happily stand corrected about this quote, by way of a specific title (including publication date, edition, and page number), which would then force me to self-rant about the dangers of publishing a blog post without first meticulously reading and exhausting every possible counter-response.

***Dishearteningly, I have even found uploaded book report about Prince Caspian that include this quote. Dear me.

Expect Dragons (in which I leverage the lessons of certain dead British authors)

Sketch by J.R.R. Tolkien (The Art of The Hobbit)
Sketch by J.R.R. Tolkien from The Art of The Hobbit

**In my ongoing quest to leverage my love for dead British authors (whose writings continue to be long-lasting and meaningful) in the realm of life and ministry (which on occasion runs the risk of being short-lived and shallow), I have compiled:

Seven Principles for a Lasting and Meaningful Ministry, also applicable to Life and other Meaningful Endeavors, based on the writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton, authors now long-dead but whose Devout Embrace of Christ lives still in various and sundry essays, tales, poems, letters, and diaries. MMXV.

PRINCIPLE #4: EXPECT DRAGONS

“As you like,” said Chrysophylax, licking his lips again, but pretending to close his eyes. He had a very wicked heart (as dragons all have), but not a very bold one (as is not unusual).
–from “Farmer Giles of Ham,” J.R.R. Tolkien

But perhaps if he had known something about dragons he would have been a little surprised at this dragon’s behaviour. Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.
–from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
–from “The Red Angel” in Tremendous Trifles, G.K Chesterton

Here be dragons to be slain, here be rich rewards to gain . . .
If we perish in the seeking . . . why, how small a thing is death!
–from “Desdichado” in Catholic Tales and Christian Songs, Dorothy Sayers

So, here’s the thing about dragons: they are hands down, entirely, thoroughly, exceptionally, and superlatively bad, wicked, evil, nasty, foul, no-good little stinkers. Period.

Except here. Except now.

Our sophisticatedly nuanced world offers us dragon riders, dragon trainers, and dragon fighter-pilots. Nothing against these tales or their authors (Naomi Novick’s series about draconian aerial warfare during the Napoleonic wars is supremely delightful), but this recent domestication of dragons portends something infinitely more perilous.

On the one hand, we fail (or refuse) to recognize dragons for what they really are, convinced that if we just handle them gently enough, feed them plenty of tasty bits, and cajole them with sweet songs, they will somehow cease to be dragons — as though we have the power and the wisdom to be undragoners.

On the other hand, having lost sight of real dragons, we now see dragons everywhere, squinting our eyes crooked-like and viewing things from inverted angles until – beware! – every kitten, tree, and cloud is branded a dragon — as though we have the capacity and the discernment to be dragonlords.

We surely do hate dragons . . . especially if they are of our own imagining.

We surely do love dragons . . . even if they threaten our very soul.

And by they, I meant it.

Sin. Self-enthronement. Me-centricity. I-fullness. God-emptiness.

It is a dangerous path we tread when we forget that Christ died because of dragons and instead focus our undivided attention on kittens, trees, or clouds, as though they endanger our very existence.

It is a perilous turn we take when we neither recognize nor admit the power of dragons, and instead head off into the forest with a knapsack of jelly sandwiches and a flapping paper shield, as though life were naught but a make-believe quest.

Dragons are. We ignore and forget this at the cost of our ministries and our lives.

But– Christ is. Christ will be. Christ forevermore. We live and minister within that brilliant truth, regardless of the cost.

Expect dragons, dear friends, and then prepare to willingly see them slain.

© Crystal Kirgiss 2015

C.S. Lewis, Lore, and Love

Photo: CKirgiss

It seems presumptuous to join all the other Lewisians today in celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Perhaps not brilliantly, but oh well – we can’t all be Lewis.

Set aside for the moment that Lewis and Tolkien had a serious falling out, in part because of Lewis’s decision to join the Church of England after his conversion.

And that his writing sometimes echoes faintly of British snobbery.

And that he occasionally leaves you guessing as to what he really thinks and believes about specific doctrinal points (purgatory, for example).

And that Robin McKinley, one of my favorite young adult authors, who recently converted to Christianity, is quite thoroughly allergic to him (as stated here).

And that Hollywood has made a flozzergnashing priddlyshnotz of Narnia (there are no words for it, really).

And that HarperCollins has ignored all textual evidence, literary logic, and scholarly output by INCORRECTLY renumbering the Chronicles of Narnia (which many of us have ranted about in the past for all the reasons outlined here).

And that Tolkien pooh-poohed his Chronicles in part because they included Father Christmas.

And that many of his colleagues felt he’d sold out to the world of commoners via the BBC and popular publishers (or maybe it was just jealousy).

And that sometimes you have to read his sentences several times over to really digest all of the truth and logic and brilliance packed into them.

And that his literary scholarship can sometimes make current literary scholars feel incompetent.

And that he often leaves readers hanging with, “In a book I read one time – I can’t remember which one…” (the price of possessing a searchable-PDF-high-quality-flatscanner-like memory).

And that he smoked (this one really gets some people).

And drank (now I’ve really done it).

Set it all aside because it doesn’t matter; the fact remains – C. S. Lewis was a brilliant writer. Since his writings are all I personally have of him, they are all I can speak to.

And they are indeed brilliant. Delightful. Unexpected. Rich. Deep. Profound. Playful. Reflective. And so many other things.

The Lewis Society to which I belong does, on occasion, genuflect a bit more than necessary. And a friend of mine sometimes jokes that I adhere to the doctrine of the Quadrinity. But I recognize my sometimes excessive adoration of Lewis for what it really is – sincere admiration (with a dash of awe) for a man who wielded language like a warrior’s sword, waved words like a magician’s wand, and rang truth like a chorister’s bell.

He did this as an expert of literary scholarship.

He did this as a devout believer of Jesus Christ.

I am glad to know him, even if just through his books. Those are more than enough.

________________

[Lewis is so very much more than his Chronicles; even so, many readers only know him as the man who created Narnia. And so here are some of the best lines from that land where we all want to be.]

“Then he isn’t safe” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  –The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”  –Prince Caspian

“If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie.”  –The Silver Chair

“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”  –The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Was it all a dream?” wondered Shasta. But it couldn’t have been a dream for there in the grass before him he saw the deep, large print of the Lion’s front right paw. It took one’s breath away to think of the weight that could make a footprint like that.  –The Horse and His Boy

Then there came a swift flash like fire either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”  –The Magician’s Nephew

“Come further up, come further in!”  –The Last Battle

______

Okay, just one more, from Out of the Silent Planet, basically summing up the entire doctrine of the fall and our subsequent need for Christ’s redemptive work on the cross:

They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history – …

“It is because they have no Oyarsa,” said one of the pupils.

“It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,” said Augray.

Lewis at The Kilns