Saturday, 7 November 2015

CS Lewis's four wisest works

CS Lewis was certainly a wise man - and almost everything he wrote (including ephemeral correspondence) has at least glimmers of this wisdom; but there are four of his works in particular, which seem to me to be the wisest - by the test of my returning to them most often in thought:

The Screwtape Letters
The Great Divorce
That Hideous Strength
The Last Battle


John Fitzgerald said...

That's a terrific selection - a Royal Quartet.

The Screwtape Letters perfectly captures the aims and goals of what we might call 'organised evil.' I reflected on it the other day, when we visited a famous Cathedral in a big North West city. We expected an ambience dedicated to the sacred, only to find vast chunks of the space given over to a variety of educational activities involving actors and props and lots and lots of talking. That's when I remembered Screetape - "we will fill the whole world with noise in the end."

I expect the clergy were delighted to see so much activity in the building. They're deluding themselves though if they think this chatter and hoo-hah will bring people closer to Christ. The reverse is true - it militates against the possibility of intuiting the Divine. Is that the actual purpose behind this whirl of activity, I wonder? A sobering thought. Thankfully, the equally famous Cathedral down the road was as silent and reverent as anyone could wish for.

The Great Divorce, for me, is exactly the kind of text which could help spark the mass Christian revival you spoke of last week. It brings eternal truths to life in fresh, dynamic ways. I find it staggering that ecclesiastical hierarchies place such little value on imaginative engagement of this kind. The idea of Heaven as a place so real that you can cut your finger on a blade of grass will never leave me - same with Hell being so small, insignificant and ultimately irrelevant that you enter it through a tiny crack in a rock.

It's this type of startling imagery that (in the words of the theologian and poet, John Milbank) 'makes faith strange' to the contemporary world, shocking the buffered secular mindset awake to the reality of the 'War in Heaven' unfolding around us all the time.

That Hideous Strength, and particularly The Last Battle, illustrate what happens when civilisations lose this imaginative contact, when societal moorings with Divinity are severed and men and women are left to wander aimlessly in a free-floating, godless milieu, losing themselves in a Macbeth-style murk of lies, spin, half-truths and manipulation, becoming ripe for conquest very quickly. 'After us, the Savage God' as Yeats prophecied.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is probably my favourite Narnia book, its atmosphere soaked in the light of the Resurrection and Transfiguration. In terms of wisdom, however, The Silver Chair would surely have to be another contender - a descent to the heart of things - the heart of the matter - and an existential duel between light and dark, faith and doubt,, truth and lies.

Lewis's riposte to Sartre perhaps?

ajb said...

'makes faith strange'

Horatio: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Adam G. said...

I would probably replace your last two with Perelandra and Till We Have Faces. Tastes differ.

Adam G. said...

I agree with John Fitzgerald about the Silver Chair and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In fact, I might say that rightly understood, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the wises of Lewis' books. It isn't the best of his books at teaching ideas and principles. But it is the best one for directly soaking up the experience of holiness. It teaches that there is a glory that awaits in the light and the air.

Leo said...

I, like Adam G, am partial to Perelandra.