Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Next Step

I think many believe that C. S. Lewis suffered some sort of impairment in the late 1940's (largely blamed on what is, in reality, a rather insignificant argument with Elizabeth Anscombe), after he wrote Miracles, a belief I used to somewhat buy in to, but am now no longer convinced of. They assume that, because Lewis was once largely preoccupied with more philosophical writing, when he turned to Narnia in the 1950's he somehow "stepped down." But given the whole arc of Lewis's work, I am inclined to believe he simply moved in a new direction. Writing was kind of a compulsion for Lewis, and his most popular books were written in his spare time (the only books that he really considered "work" were his scholarly publications).

Not only this, but if one really looks at the progression of Miracles (1947), a largely imaginative literature seems to logically "come next." For the aforementioned book begins with much logical rigor, and ends in a sort of epic tone. One might say the book represents, in brief, his lifelong intellectual progression. By the end of the book, Reason and Imagination have suffered a kind of fusion, Fact and Myth have become One. This is one of the very fundamental truths of the Christian faith: the Incarnation--God become Man--which is, to our human perception, the grand instance of Myth become Fact. As Chesterton put it, throughout history, philosophy and religion were like parallel rivers, but when Christianity came, those two rivers merged and became one river: from then on, Reason and Imagination would unite under the spectre of Faith, and serve one ultimate purpose rather than two distinct purposes.

But it would be a drastic mistake to think that Lewis only wrote (as they call them) "children's stories" from 1950 until his death. This was the era of some of his most enjoyable writing, including his autobiography (which in itself has a lot of philosophy), other works of fiction, and some of his best scholarly writing (e.g., Studies in Words, The Discarded Image). As for the latter, one could most certainly consider his death "untimely" when considering these later books on literature; i.e., had he lived another ten years--another five years--we might have half a dozen more great books on old books which, like the ones he did write, put contemporary literary scholarship to shame.

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