Lewis Quote of the Day

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Vitrea Circe

The name of Circe
Is wrongly branded
(Though Homer’s verses
Portrayed her right)
By heavy-handed
And moral persons
Misunderstanding
Her danger bright.

She used not beauty
For man’s beguiling,
She craved no suitor;
Sea-chances brought
To her forest-silent
And crimson-fruited
And snake-green island
Her guests unsought.

She watched those drunken
and tarry sailors
Eat nectar-junket
And Phoenix-nests;
Each moment paler
With pride, she shrunk at
Their leering, railing,
Salt-water jests.

They thought to pluck there
Her rosial splendour?
They thought their luck there
Was near divine?
When the meal ended
She rose and struck them
With wand extended
And made them swine.

With smiles and kisses
No man she tempted;
She scorned love’s blisses
And toils, until
There came, undream’t of,
The tough Ulysses,
From fate exempted
By Pallas’ will.

Then flashed above her
(Poor kneeling Circe,
Her snares discovered)
The hero’s blade.
She lay at mercy,
His slave, his lover,
forgot her curses,
Blushed like a maid.

She’d none to warn her.
He hacked and twisted
Her hedge so thorny;
It let him pass.
Her awful distance,
Her vestal scornings,
Were bright as crystals,
They broke like glass.

~C.S. Lewis, Poems (1st published June 23, 1948 in Punch)

I have, in my day, read many feminist retellings of the classic fairy-tales and myths. But I think this one by Lewis is one of the best I’ve read. Lewis, despite how much people imagine that he was a misogynist who didn’t understand women, shows here again his focus on the female characters in classical stories. His sympathetic portrayal of Psyche and her sisters in Till We Have Faces is the main example of this, but there is also his beautiful portrayal of Helen in After Ten Years (which I really wish he had finished). One should also not forget that, while Jadis is descended from Lilith, Lewis describes the early kings and queens of Charn as being kind and beautiful, suggesting that being Lilith’s offspring didn’t necessarily make them Bad (which forced me in my own fic to describe Lilith as a sympathetic character, something I wouldn’t have chosen to do on my own, but then I wouldn’t have included Lilith at all except that Lewis’s story demanded I did). Also among his Poems is Hermione in the House of Paulina, which is based on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, but which gives evidence of Lewis’s ability to use feminine imagery to portray female characters in a strong light.

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Lewis Quote of the Day

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Of this tragic dilemma [to lack one kind of knowledge because we are outside it] myth is the partial solution. In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction. At his moment, for example, I am trying to understand something very abstract indeed – the fading, vanishing of tasted reality as we try to grasp it with the discursive reason. Probably I have made heavy weather of it. But if I remind you, instead, of Orpheus and Eurydice, how he was suffered to lead her by the hand but, when he turned round to look at her, she disappeared, what was merely a principle becomes imaginable. You may reply that you never till this moment attached that ‘meaning’ to that myth. Of course not. You are not looking for an abstract ‘meaning’ at all. If that was what you were doing the myth would be for you not true myth but a mere allegory. You were not knowing, but tasting; but what your tasting turns out to be a universal principle. The moment we state this principle, we are admittedly back in the world of abstraction. It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely. – “Myth Became Fact”, in God in the Dock, ed. Hooper.

I sometimes accuse Lewis of being too Modernist. He was a man of his times, so it rather can’t be helped. But sometimes I think he speaks straight into my postmodern soul. The value of story and myth to tell truth is one of those ways.

I disagree with his characterization of “mere allegory.” If he means allegory in the simplistic way it became, where Object A stood in place of Object B, and there was a complete equation between the two, then yes. But true allegory, the way that it was done by those who understood allegory in it’s original Greek sense, was something else entirely.

I do think that it is interesting that this quote shows that Lewis would quite disagree with those who say that the Narnia books are allegorical. Aslan is not to be equated with Jesus, really, which would be necessary if they were allegorical. And honestly, I have theological issues with people who draw that complete equation. Because if it’s true then it is heresy. Aslan did not die to redeem everyone, just Edmund. This may make sense to people who think of Jesus as their “personal Savior” and that Edmund is then an allegory for themselves, but it is quite a bit different from the Gospels.

It is clear to me that Lewis wrote the Narnia books to be mythological, and therefore even the episode of Aslan being resurrected should be understood in a more general mythological way, and not entirely unlike the way one reads the resurrection of Gandalf, or even Harry Potter.

Fanfiction

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Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.

How Harry Potter Became the Boy Who Lived Forever

It has come to my understanding that many of the major CS Lewis webpages and forums officially “disapprove” of fanfiction. Which is kinda strange, since CS Lewis once wrote to a young reader who asked a bazillion questions like “what happened with this character? what happened after that happened? how did this happen? and etc.” that he, really, didn’t have answers for those questions, but that the reader should write their own stories to solve those gaps.

However, that doesn’t please everyone. As one grumbler said:

The suggestions Lewis made – to children – were for filling in the gaps in his stories, not for continuing the story of Narnia after it had already finished and the protagonists gone to heaven!
The idea that young adults, or teenagers, fifty years later, would turn up and write soppy medieval/sub-Tolkienian stuff using his characters, locations and concepts, would have worried the dear man.
And his suggestion was for them to write for their own pleasure and creativity – not to publish it internationally!

The same person also categorically stated that fanfiction is illegal.

You can’t please everyone, but there are a few facts here that should be straightened out.

First, it is completely ridiculous to create a distinction between “writing for one’s own pleasure and creativity” and “publishing internationally.” One can do both, or either. CS Lewis does not ever talk about either one.

Second, Lewis never specified that writing should be limited to children. He was, after all, an adult when he wrote children’s stories. A great number of adults write Narnia stories too.

Third, one could suppose that “publish internationally” means “on the internet.” What Lewis would have thought about the internet, or putting fanfiction there, is impossible to say.

Finally, fanfiction is not illegal. Fanfiction falls under the “Fair Use” clause of copyright law. Some author’s may declare that they do not want any fanfiction of their works, in which case the major fic archives will refuse to host stories based on stories by that author. But there is nothing to stop fans from making their own websites and posting fanfiction there. The author may send the web owners a C&D letter, and if that didn’t work the author could sue the owners to take down the webpage, but most intellectual property specialists believe that in a court case the web owners would win.

tl;dr: Fanfiction is legal, and the estate of CS Lewis hasn’t said they don’t want any anyways.

I would say all this in direct response to the poster, of course, but the forum is now closed.

Basically, though, the author seems to believe that all fanfiction is crap, though she refuses to read any, therefore it is stupid to even talk about it.

However, many people have pointed out that Fanfiction is just another form of Literary Criticism. Fanfiction is a way to explore not just the “what happened then?” that the young reader once asked Lewis, but “why?” and “how?” I remember when my brother and I were young and first read the Narnia books that the two questions my brother had were, “how did the Pevensie’s feel after they fell out of the wardrobe at the end of LWW, wouldn’t they have kept all their adult knowledge?” and “did the Pevensie’s go to church?” Since the books themselves offer no information on these matters, there’s no really good way to answer those questions except by fanfic. One may disagree how a fanfic writer answered the question of what the Pevensie’s went through after they returned from Narnia, but hopefully your disagreement leads you to consider what you do think is plausible. Fanfiction is also a way to “fix” a perceived problem in a text. The problem may be nefarious, or just mundane. Did the Pevensie’s go to church? Yes, but they were just a bit slow on the uptake, so to speak, is one answer.

It is this form of criticism which spawned my first Narnia fanfic, Aesop’s Foible. I half-jokingly subtitled it in my mind, “In Which All the Problems of the Narnia Universe Are Solved, Except Mrs. Beaver’s Sewing Machine.” But it wasn’t until after writing it that I fully grasped the Longstanding Issue I had with the Narnia books. Which was, believe it or not, Fauns.

Seriously.

I am not a “Classicist” but I took a fair amount of Ancient Greek once upon a time. One can misconceive a reading course in Ancient Greek as a dry and largely philosophical class in which Plato and other High Ideals are read in the original. But it’s really not like that at all. You read the historians, mostly. And it can be dull wars and speeches by statesman, but then you come across something which just makes you throw your textbook against the wall in horror and go “Oh my God!”

I can imagine that when Lewis first read his draft of LWW at Eagle and Child, everyone thought it was very charming until Lucy went through the wardrobe and met Tumnus.

Someone coughs on their beer.

Another person drops their rasher.

Yet another exclaims “I thought you weren’t into the occult stuff anymore!”

And another, the very wisest of them all, says “My good fellow,” in all the seriousness of telling a first-year that their thesis topic is utterly wretched and unsavory, “you just created this lovely character of a young girl, and now you expect us to accept that she and this faun will have a long-standing relationship in which nothing untowards will occur?”

“I won’t read a book like that to my daughter,” mutters another in agreement.

I don’t think a lot of people today know much at all about Greek mythological creatures, but after I learned about them, their presence in Narnia just rubbed me the wrong way. Talking Animals, sure, fine. But Centaurs and satyrs and fauns and minotaurs? Errr…no thanks. What was Lewis thinking anyways?

This doesn’t seem to bother other people, but it bothered me. So I wrote a fanfic in which I solved it, in my mind at least. And yes, I “published it internationally” on the internet. Because maybe other people feel the same way, and may find my answer helpful.

I do think that fanfiction is a lot like Sturgeon’s Revelation. Ninety percent is crud, ten percent is amazing. I don’t know which camp my story fits into, those who read it probably know. But all of fanfic does provide information on how people interpret the source material, what problems they see with it, and how they think it’s best to solve it. To simply ignore all this evidence as “nonessential” to the ongoing dialogue the source text is having with the world seems to be the ignorant putting on of very large blinders. Just because a response is in narrative form instead of essay form does not make the response any less valid.