Friday, 18 May 2012

CS Lewis' World View

C. S. Lewis’ Ransom trilogy expresses not only Christian belief but also Lewis’ particular version of it:

Genesis 2 and 3 are essentially accurate history;
Darwinian processes do not occur;
all animals in an un-Fallen world are tame;
un-Fallen human beings do not die;
their population increases to a preordained number;
their first parents are divinely endowed with knowledge that we acquired only by scientific research;
the first male parent of a new race is, not by social convention but by divine intention, a “King” who will “judge” his descendants;
it is pre-ordained that their bodies will cease to be planet-bound.1

In addition, Lewis presents fictitious ideas that are consistent with his beliefs:

eldila (angels) formed the planets that they rule;
each planetary eldil has a terrestrial counterpart;
this explains the ancient belief in gods corresponding to the planets;
all newly created rational animals on Venus and elsewhere must now be humaniform because of the Incarnation on Earth;
the King of Perelandra (Venus) is green but otherwise resembles Christ;
the Lady of Perelandra stops addressing Ransom as an equal when she realises that he is not the King of his world. 

Even in fiction, this is hard to take. That Lewis applied the concept of the royalty of the first parents not only to his fictitious Venerian Tor and Tinidril but also to the real terrestrial Adam and Eve is evident in A Preface to Paradise Lost:

“Milton himself gives us a glimpse of our relations to Adam as they would have been if Adam had never fallen. He would still have been alive in Paradise, and to that ‘capital seat’ all generations from ‘all the ends of the Earth’ would have come periodically to do their homage (XI, 342). To you or to me, once in a lifetime perhaps, would have fallen the almost terrifying honour of coming at last, after long journeys and ritual preparations and slow ceremonial approaches, into the very presence of the great Father, Priest, and Emperor of the planet Tellus; a thing to be remembered all our lives…The task of a Christian poet presenting the unfallen first of men is…of drawing someone who, in his solitude and nakedness, shall really be what Solomon and Charlemagne and Haroun-al-Raschid and Louis XIV lamely and unsuccessfully strove to imitate on thrones of ivory between lanes of drawn swords and under jewelled baldachins.” 2
(Of course, if history and even prehistory had diverged completely from the beginning, then you and I as the individuals we are would not have been born. Someone else with different parentage, traditions, up-bringing and memories would have been here in our place.)

Lewis’ fantasy makes a good story but, to explain the world that we do inhabit, I find Darwin’s The Origin of Species and Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State more convincing. Even in the Biblical account, Emperors arose after the Fall of Man (Gen. 10.8). Some of us now think that they arose after the transition from ape to man and after the production and appropriation of a store-able and possess-able surplus of wealth but Lewis projects our historically conditioned social divisions onto the structure of the universe.

Although James Blish’s post-Lewis trilogy, After Such Knowledge, addresses common themes, Blish could not have written direct sequels to Lewis’ interplanetary novels. Blish’s solar system is the one revealed by telescopes and space probes, not by a Classical literary imagination. His extraterrestrial “Angels” are energy beings, not, like Lewis’ eldila, both extraterrestrial and supernatural. When Blish’s characters do encounter real demons, they speculate that these also are composed of energy. Blish’s agnosticism enables him not only to consider the death of God but also to imagine its unexpected outcome.

There are at least four points in Lewis’ favour:

he describes other worlds imaginatively;
his juvenile and adult novels cleverly parallel each other – evil magician = evil scientist, magical worlds = other planets, the leonine Aslan = the cosmic Maleldil etc;
remembering his own period of unbelief, he imaginatively enters into other points of view, including those of the unbelieving characters, Weston and MacPhee;
in various works, and particularly in The Great Divorce, he depicts moral choices, for example about personal relationships or intellectual integrity, that everyone faces with or without Lewis’ faith.

  1. C. S. Lewis, The Cosmic Trilogy (London: Pan Books, 1990).
  2. C. S. Lewis, A Preface To Paradise Lost (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 118.
    C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (London: Fontana, 1982).


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