C S Lewis and me

As a child, I was aware of “The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” mainly through a cartoon film version.  I never read the books. 

It wasn’t until 18 that I, about to embark on the adventure of my adult life and looking for deeper meanings to guide me, bought and read “Mere Christianity.”  I remember the cover, a cartoonish depiction of the nativity.  Reading it, I found Lewis’s explanation of the Christian faith compelling, imaginative and engaging, and adult.  I could engage with this, on my own terms.  This was a break and a development from the learned Church going of my childhood.  This included being a member of the choir, which I detested, all silly robes and bullying senor servers.  At its best it was the ‘cultural Christianity’ of village churches that even Richard Dawkins feels to be part of his heritage.  But I did not feel this could guide or sustain me as an adult newly launched on the world.

Lewis changed all that.  In “Mere Christianity” he wrote of an adventure inseparable from daily lived reality, but underpinned by wonder.  I can remember reading for the first time his culminating vision of the light breaking in, and being clothed in wondrous new forms.  This felt like some kind of bookmark being placed in my soul, or a score being made in my mind.

Next I read “The Great Divorce,” Lewis’s vision of the after-life.  Again I found the imagery to be logical and compelling, adult and not condescending.  The story of a land where you become more real or solid as you journey on, so the grass no longer pierces your feet, stayed with me, as did the themes of personal responsibility and choice.  People, of their own volition, refuse to leave the Purgatorial town where Lewis’s journey starts, preferring the known to the unknown.  Or they get to the new land and flee.  Rather than St Peter playing some kind of celestial bouncer, people do this for themselves by the choices they make.

“The Screwtape Letters” was probably my next read, but I can’t be sure.  The ebullient comic tone and deadly seriousness of what is at stake (the fate of a soul) and the epistolary form, give an intensely readable dynamic.  Stand out moments include the protagonist being encouraged by his demon to caricature his fellow Church goers by their appearance and by default the Christian faith, and the fate of unsuccessful junior demons to be lunch for their seniors.

In the next few years I took in “Prayers, Letters to Malcom,” “Reflections on the Psalms,” “The Four Loves,”  “The Problem of Pain” and “Surprised by Joy.”  All the while I enjoyed engaging with what Lewis had to say, and his skills as an apologist.  But nothing quite had the same impact on me as “Mere Christianity,” and “The Great Divorce.”  It was the feeling of breaking new ground, of a new adventure opening up.  The gift Lewis gave me was to engage with the Christian faith for the first time as an adult, something I continue to do, and for that I am forever in his debt.

And I still haven’t read the Narnia books.

“Till We Have Faces” by C S Lewis: a review

Here is a work that will feed mind, heart, and soul.

It’s a reinterpretation of the old myth of Cupid and Psyche, told in one of the few surviving Latin novels, “the Metamorphoses.”  More than a reinterpretation, it’s a retelling and re-imagining, in contemporary terms a complete re-boot!

It’s a fantastic tale, wonderfully told.  Lewis’s gifts as a storyteller were never more on display than they are here.  The story gallops along in a compelling narrative that has the rhythms of the stories we used to love when we were young, and have always loved.  It’s a tale of a tyrannous and half mad king of a land called Glome.  He has two daughters, the beautiful Psyche and the ‘ugly’ Orual.  The sisters are bound by love and guided by a wise mentor, the Greek slave known as the Fox.  But shadows fall and Gnome falls under blight, and the Goddess of the land, ‘Ungit,’ will have expiation and sacrifice before the land can be restored.  Psyche is chosen…

Lewis here spins a tale that draws on an intoxicating mix of themes told in vivid and compelling imagery.  Loss, tragedy, human responsibility, expiation, redemption, vocation, faith versus rationality, all are here and more.  Lewis the Christian apologist is at work here, although his meanings are so intrinsically bound up in the story that you never feel ‘preached to.’  Christianity is never explicitly mentioned.  Rather, we have a story to chew over and enjoy, and we can let the deeper meanings work through us, or we can go into an internal dispute with them.  That’s up to us.  But the enjoyment the story gives, the enjoyment that comes from the love of ‘story,’ that’s not in doubt here.

There are strong and vivid characters and character development that is utterly believable, although told in a fantastic setting.  There are moments of intense human drama, and fantastical wonder.  It’s Lewis at his very best.  And in our time (as in most times) when the arguments between ‘reason’ and ‘faith’ clash ever more hotly, this work is supremely relevant.  Those unfamiliar with the myth that it is based on (myself included) can still appreciate how it has been re-told through an introductory note that gives a good, detailed summary of the original myth.

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Desert Spirituality: a review of Stant Litore’s “Ansible 15716”

This is the second short story in Mr Litore’s intense ‘Ansible’ series.

The stories tell the story of Starmind, a future interstellar exploration organisation that travels across galaxies not by hulking or sleek star-ships, but through the mind. Starmind team members can project themselves, after rigorous selection and training, telepathically across the void until they ‘possess’ the mind of another alien being to make the much prized ‘first contact.’

In the previous story, “Ansible 15715” (see previous post), the results were terrifying and horrific, an encounter with a hostile soul eating parasite that’s on its way to destroy us.  This time, there’s also terror, but it’s of the horror of isolation, of being lost and alone and cut off from your kind.

Ansible 15716’s protagonist wakes up in the body of a creature that’s a mash up between a spider and a camel and speaks through fluted apertures in its thighs (that’s a sentence no-one will expect to write!   And it’s a measure of Mr Litore’s skill as a writer that you accept this and go with the flow).  His team members are gone, and it’s not clear where.  He sends desperate psi-casts (telepathic messages) to home, but he knows chances of reception are negligible.  He can only live his life as one of these creatures, neither human, nor truly one of them.  He’s surrounded by an endless desert of salt, full of immense and towering structures.  He tries to flee, but can find no boundary, and is forced to return to his point of departure.

Stant’s world building, in the limited canvas of a short story, is laudable.  This future world sees God as far from dead. There is a sense of how pivotal faith is in the universe of this story. Both of his protagonists so far in this series have prayed to Allah in their desperation and their are references to how religious principles underpin the characters motivations. Mankind’s yearning for new territory and contact and the burgeoning power of Starmind is well evoked, as well as the ruthlessness of the vocation.  The alien world and its indigenous species is a real feather in the writer’s cap.  He conjures a race that is truly alien, bewildering in its strangeness, and yet recognisable because it is drawn with such integrity.

The story describes the spiritual isolation of its protagonist, but it’s also a hymn to desert spirituality.  There is a terrible beauty in being lost in immensity, and in utter silence being thrown back to reach out with mind and heart to a God who can also answer with silence.  Certainly the protagonist is not given a hot-line to the Almighty.

This is an amazing short story and I’m looking forward to seeing the direction future installments take.  Will the horrors of the first develop into a story arc amidst more episodic installments?  Will we learn more of Starmind and its world?  My guess is yes and yes.

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