Past Watchful Dragons
This volume provides a broad sample of the research presented at the “Past Watchful Dragons: Fantasy and Faith in the World of C.S. Lewis” international conference held at Belmont University on November 3-5, 2005. The contributing scholars reflect a truly interdisciplinary discussion representing the fields of literature, theology, history, and popular culture. The assembled essays offer insights on the messages of C.S. Lewis’s fiction and nonfiction, the dramatic adaptations of his work, the influence of his faith, and his relevance to related fantasy literature and authors from J.R.R. Tolkien to J.K. Rowling. These diverse contributions combine to offer a better understanding and appreciation of the life and legacy of C.S. Lewis.
Praise for Past Watchful Dragons
It is no small achievement to gather twelve essays with authority and grace (ten on Lewis and one each on Tolkien and J.K. Rowling). Lewis enthusiasts with Puddleglum personalities, who expect at least one bad egg in a dozen, will be pleasantly surprised. —Robert Trexler, Editor of The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society
This is no dry collection, but a continuation in kind of the vibrant conversations that went on between C.S. Lewis and his like-minded friends in smoky Oxford pubs and book-lined college rooms. —Colin Duriez, Author of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship
A welcome collection of reflections on C.S. Lewis by both seasoned and fresh voices on a wide range of topics topped off with two provocative explorations into Tolkien and Rowling. —Christopher Mitchell, Director, Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College
This volume is a must-have for lovers of C.S. Lewis. It not only engages in excellent scholarly work, but it maintains the vital heart of Lewis’s writings. You don’t expect to have your heart moved while reading a collection of academic essays, but that’s what will happen if you read Past Watchful Dragons. —Travis Prinzi, The Hog’s Head
Contents and Abstracts
Part I: Introductory Words
By Darrell Gwaltney Introductory words about the Past Watchful Dragons conference.
By Amy H. Sturgis
Introductory words about the contents of the book.
Part II: Keynote Speaker
3. Contribution related to keynote talk: “Apologetics in the Shadowlands: The Problem of Pain and Narnia”
By Bruce Edwards
Edwards explores the relationship between The Chronicles of Narnia and The Problem of Pain, and considers how these works by Lewis together form an awareness of humanity’s plight in a fallen world, an “Apologetics for the Shadowlands.”
Part III: The Chronicles of Narnia
4. Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve: Lewisian Perspectives on the Human in The Chronicles of Narnia
By Donald T. Williams
It is a critical commonplace that in That Hideous Strength Lewis gives readers a fictional incarnation of the argument he made against reductionism and for a fully biblical concept of what is human in The Abolition of Man. What has been less fully realized is that The Chronicles of Narnia relate to Abolition in precisely the same way. Talking Beasts, much like the hnau of The Space Trilogy, form foils which allow Lewis to set off the essential characteristics of human nature. Willams shows that Abolition constitutes a most useful grid for interpreting The Chronicles, that the conception of human nature incarnated there is informed by a richly biblical anthropology, and that, together with The Abolition of Man, they offer an apologia for a biblical view of human nature that still provides good traction against contemporary forms of reductionism.
5. “Let the Villains Be Soundly Killed at the End of the Book”: C. S. Lewis’s Conception of Justice in The Chronicles of Narnia
By Marek Oziewicz
One of the most fundamental assumptions of Tolkien’s famous essay “On Fairy-Stories” is that fairy-stories, or mythopoeic fantasy as some critics would call the genre now, quench human spiritual thirsts. Among those, of paramount importance for a person’s spiritual well-being is human yearning for justice. Although Tolkien did not make it explicit, it is clear in his writings that he was aware of a conflict between people’s customary sense of justice, applied to and expected of them in ordinary human relations, and the legal sense of justice, imposed on them as citizens by the state. More outspoken in this respect, Lewis addressed the problem of justice in many of his essays and repeatedly criticized modern state’s conception of justice as degrading to human dignity. If Lewis and Tolkien thus demonstrated their allegiance to mythic or more traditional concepts of justice, it is nowhere as clear as in fantasy works they wrote. While all of their works reveal a specific conception of myth-derived justice, which Oziewicz calls a compensational one, Oziewicz argues that this concept is one of the many reasons for the lasting appeal of The Chronicles. Compensational justice is more satisfying to human spirit than any legal type of justice known in our world. Although it operates by the principle of “getting what one deserves,” compensational justice is not revenge, nor is it driven by the logic of vengeance. Contrary to faceless legal justice that depersonalizes human relations, it builds and fosters them by making characters face the hurts they caused others, understand the resulting pain, and learn not repeat their mistakes. Oziewicz demonstrates how compensational justice as “textualized” by Lewis involves a whole set of assumptions concerning guilt, crime, compensation and giving others their due. Most importantly, however, he argues that Lewis presents his conception of justice not as a utopian construct, but as a practical ideal to be sought and realized in actual life.
Part IV: Adaptations
6. “Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle”: Aslan’s Sacrifice in Adaptations of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
By Hugh H. Davis
As Walden Media prepared to release its adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, its early media machine’s emphasis focused on the novel’s final battle, with clips in its trailer of massive armies locked in combat. Early merchandise announcements, likewise, focused on centaur and ogre figures, suggesting significant attention on this battle and its warriors, despite the fact that this war lasts a mere few pages in Lewis’ text. While this conflict between the White Witch’s minions and Aslan’s supporters has narrative importance, allegorically, the more important sequence should be Aslan’s sacrifice in place of Edmund. Aslan’s murder at the hands of the White Witch and her hordes—the crucifixion of this Christ-figure—is the true “glorious battle” of LWW, providing readers with a fantastic/symbolic version of that mighty conflict celebrated in Christian tradition during Holy Week, with the hollow “Triumph of the Witch” (the title of Lewis’ fourteenth chapter) representing in truth the “triumph of the victim,” as sung of in a hymn by Fortunatus . It is on this event of “a magic deeper still” whereupon Lewis sets his supposal, with this lion’s sacrifice and resurrection the pivotal point in the novel upon which all other action relies. Davis considers how attempts to dramatize the novel have presented Aslan’s sacrifice in adaptations of the initial Chronicle of Narnia, considering the transformation of the text into audio drama and into both animated and live-action televised versions while also considering how it presents a story lasting as “eternal ages run”.
7. Sometimes A Film May Say Best What’s to be Said
By Greg Wright
Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien voiced serious misgivings about the art of cinema. While Lewis speculated on the obsession with “sheer excitement” in film, and contrasted that with the “hushing spell of imagination” possible in literature, Tolkien went so far as to offer the opinion that the visual arts “outrun the mind,” even “overthrow it.” How, then, do we account for the current enthusiasm among fantasy fans for filmed versions of Middle-earth and Narnia? We might argue that today’s fanbase is woefully out of touch with the love of literature which inspired Tolkien and Lewis; but we might also argue that the Oxford dons were poorly suited to be critics of cinema. First, Tolkien and Lewis were both devoted to literature and steeped themselves in its history, its consumption and its production. Quite simply, they loved words. And while they both were inspired by visual art—Lewis finding most of his creative impetus in concrete visual imagery and Tolkien interpreting his own worlds through drawings and sketches—they could hardly have been described as lovers of film. According to Lewis’ own suggestions regarding criticism, then, the two were simultaneously eminently qualified as critics of literature and roundly disqualified as critics of the cinema. Second, the art of cinema could hardly have been described as mature in the 1930s. While the jury is still out on the ultimate role that film will play in our culture, there can be little doubt that Lewis and Tolkien would have a very different opinion of cinema in 2005 than they would have when their seminal fantasy works were initially published.
Part V: Lewis and Literature
8. Surprised, but Not by Joy: Political Comment in Out of the Silent Planet
By Karen Wright Hayes
George Orwell’s often-anthologized essay “Shooting an Elephant,” originally published in 1936, contains the line, “And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.” Orwell experienced first hand the conflict of being a thinking human being acting as part of a colonial power, and made capital of it. C.S. Lewis published in 1938 the story of another attempted English colonization: Out of the Silent Planet. In chapters 19 and 20, Lewis offers a satirical comment on England’s interaction with “native” cultures, as Weston (“the great physicist”) attempts to communicate with—but more properly to intimidate—the creatures of Malacandra. Lewis’s hero Ransom looks on with minimal reaction but is eventually drawn in to translate for Weston and Oyarsa in a juxtaposition of ideas that rivals another Orwell classic—”Politics and the English Language”—for pointed comment on the relationship between power and words. Lewis, however, makes his anti-colonialist comment in fiction, a form which often slips past the “watchful dragons” of pro-British, pro-Western sentiment, resulting in the assumption by many that he was either a supporter of Empire or oblivious to its existence.
9. The Four Loves of Dorian Gray
By Ernelle Fife
Abstract: Although C. S. Lewis’s works of fiction, particularly his Chronicles of Narnia, are slowly finding a niche in academia, his works of literary criticism seem to be ignored, replaced by more theoretical stances. And his overtly Christian works rarely, if ever, are incorporated into literature courses. However, much can be gained by using Lewis’s non-fictional works as a lens to re-examine canonical texts. Fife proposes that using The Four Loves in teaching Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray highlights the underlying morality of the novel. In his The Four Loves, Lewis distinguishes between Need-Love and Gift-Love. Both he concedes are necessary for human existence. Lewis believes that all human love can be categorized as one of four types: affection, friendship, eros, charity. Any type can be a Need-love or a Gift-love, and any type can be corrupted if we attempt to make that love into a Gift-love with the beloved as the object. What is really interesting in Lewis’s argument is that it is not pride or self-love that is the corrupting factor. Self-centeredness or self-indulgence may prevent one from loving anyone at all, but only “[A] faithful and genuinely self-sacrificing passion will speak to us with what seems the voice of God”. Where the danger lies, and what I contend to be the moral of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, is when the object of a healthy and necessary Need-love is mistaken for or substituted for what should be the object of Gift-love, God. Wilde’s novel incorporates all four types of love, and each is present as both Need-love and Gift-love. The novel’s inner morality centers upon all the characters creating sinful loves by altering a perfectly healthy and morally sound Need-love into a Gift-love, and thus, destroying both the love and the beloved.
10. A Cat Sat On A Mat: C.S. Lewis In A World Without Wonder
By Rev. Daniel L. Scott, Jr. and Austin Cagle
C.S. Lewis makes it very clear where he believes the extreme democratization of education has led. In his satirical essay on education, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” he uses his unique genre of “diabolical ventriloquism” to explain the specific effects of democratic education that brought about the destruction of education in significant way in Great Britain and a catastrophic way in the United States. Lewis directly opposed this extreme democratization which was introduced to schools in the U.S. by the highly esteemed John Dewey. Dewey’s system is littered with problems. Not the least of which is the propensity of the system to encourage mediocrity and discourage the brighter students to assert themselves; that would be highly undemocratic. Lewis believes that education must base its philosophy on a few very key truths. First, man is created in the image of God. Belief in God permits the possibility of absolute truth and an absolute aesthetic. These are necessary for making any judgment of value in knowledge and beauty, which is the point of education. Second, God gives different abilities to different people. To require that all children be treated the same in school is as foolish as requiring all children to be treated the same in sports. Children have differing abilities naturally. It is necessary to separate the gifted and the hardworking from the average or lazy sportsmen. The professional leagues in the U.S. would have a hard time drawing spectators to the arena if they decided to make their recruiting, coaching, and drafting a more “democratic process.” Third, the beginning of and inspiration for education is wonder. Plato writes, “Philosophy begins in wonder.” And Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel furthers that to, “Wonder…is the root of knowledge.” Lewis makes it clear that he values the reinstallation of wonder into people. His fantasy stories provide a means to the beginning of education. Lewis used his faith and his fantasy to combat the extreme democratization of education that is pushed with more vigor today than in his own lifetime. It’s time we listen.
Part VI: C.S. Lewis and Faith
11. C.S. Lewis on Vocation: The Integration of Faith and Occupation
By Devin Brown
As an Oxford don in his early thirties, a secular scholar well-established in what he thought was to be his life’s work, C.S. Lewis could not have known he was about to receive a call to a vocation he had never envisioned—to become the foremost Christian writer and thinker of his day. Brown looks at Lewis’s own vocation and at what he said about vocation in his apologetic and his imaginative works. An examination of the calling of C.S. Lewis can provide key insights into what true vocation is. Lewis never stopped teaching English literature at a prestigious university as his full-time job, never attended seminary, and never went into what some might call “full-time” Christian ministry. Instead he wrote Christian fiction that was marketed by commercial publishing companies, spoke about his faith on the BBC, and created philosophical and apologetic materials intended to be understood by everyone. In short, Lewis responded to his own personal calling by remaining right where he was in the secular world and by adding his unique voice, his own Christian witness, to the conversation in ways that particularly suited his abilities, his opportunities, and his inclinations. Relatively little attention has been given to Lewis’s views on vocation; paradoxically, he had a good deal to say on this topic. His observations hold special relevance for a professional and an academic audience because he was both himself.
12. “It All Began with a Picture”: The Poetic Preaching of C.S. Lewis
By Gregory M. Anderson
Great preaching is not normally considered great art. Yet, C.S. Lewis, a reluctant preacher, pushed preaching to the highest levels of artistic and aesthetic discourse. Lewis was known for his rational defense of the faith but also for his imaginative and creative works. In his preaching, the propositional and the pictorial dimensions of discourse came together. Few have communicated statement and story, proposition and picture, as well as Lewis. In addition, there was a strong ethical strain that enhanced the logical and emotional arguments. The logos, pathos, and ethos of his presentation reveal a master rhetorician at work. What has come to be called apologetics comes to us from rhetoric, long before it came to be viewed as philosophy or theology. Understanding the rhetoric of Lewis will help us understand his ability to communicate across cultures and intellectual fashions. Anderson rehearses Lewis’s views of rhetoric, particularly on the poetic vs. rhetoric debate. His perspective will be examined in the light of ancient rhetoric, as well as the later notions of Fenelon, and Kenneth Burke. Lewis’s theoretical insights are compared to his practice, using his “Weight of Glory” sermon as a case study. A close reading of the context and the text of his most famous sermon demonstrates how Lewis combined romantic, rational, and relational reasons to clinch his case for Christ.
Part VII: Related Authors
13. Storming the Gates of Barad-Dur: J.R.R. Tolkien, Christian Resistance, and the Imagination
By Harry L. Reeder, IV
One of the clearest refrains of contemporary academic criticism is heard in the word resistance. From confrontation to subversion, this word is one which occurs time and time again in the last thirty to forty years in the different theoretical approaches to texts. Whether it be in radical deconstruction, Marxism, or cultural criticism, resistance is in vogue. And yet, what is the Christian academic critique to do with these theories of resistance that are themselves so resistant to Christian ideology? What are the Christian intellectuals to do in an arena that is subversive to the very foundations of our faith? Retreating is not an option we are ideologically given. Nor can we simply advocate a return to the “glory years” of Enlightenment philosophy or medieval scholasticism. Resistance is a choice the Christian also has: resistance and subversion. I will define these terms more clearly later, but at the time I would like to say that we have, in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, an excellent example of Christian resistance, an excellent example of the Christian’s ability to reclaim truth from pagan world views. Tolkien’s religious resistance is not only seen in his fictional work; it begins in his critical work. Through an examination of Tolkien’s ideology as resistant in his Beowulf essay, “The Monsters and the Critics”, and then through a critical application of those principles to The Silmarillion, Reeder makes several invigorating conclusions about the Christian use of the imagination in our own postmodern context. Tolkien’s work, both fictional and critical, is invaluable in creating a literary ideology of Christian imaginative resistance that does not result in a simple metaphoric rendering of Christianity, but rather one that is insightful, intellectual, literate, and inclusive.
14. The Elfin Mystique: Fantasy and Feminism in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series
By Kathryn N. McDaniel
Readers often criticize fantasy writers for the imperfections found in their fantasy worlds that seem to undermine their ideal, and idealistic, quality. C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling have both experienced criticism for pandering to gender stereotypes or reinforcing the subordinate position of women in society. Because Lewis emphasized faith and spiritual values found in worlds beyond our own, such a critique strikes less at the heart of his message than it does for Rowling, who has created an unabashed liberal fantasy world that exists, so it appears, in the here and now. Scholars and fans alike have wondered about Rowling’s feminist credentials: does she advocate liberty, equality, and dignity for all but women? The answer to this question can be found in an unusual place: through her depiction of the seemingly content, though terribly oppressed, domestic drudges that inhabit her magical world, the house-elves. The house-elves’ supposed happiness with their subordinated position also seems to create a fault-line in Rowling’s liberal fantasy: are they natural slaves who should not gain liberation? If we use second-wave feminism to understand the house-elves’ attitude, Rowling’s message is revealed as consistent, if more complex than her critics have acknowledged. Like mid-twentieth-century house-wives, the house-elves are bound by the invisible chains of culture and tradition to a role of domestic servitude. The conditions of this bondage, as feminists like Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan explained in their pivotal works, offer security in place of freedom and make the oppressed complicit in their subjugation. Instead of the Feminine Mystique, the house-elves are bound by an “Elfin Mystique” that prevents most of them from embracing liberation. Demonstrating that emancipation is not always perceived as unequivocally good, even by those who would be freed, Rowling displays a subtle understanding of the problem of liberation that confirms her liberal (and feminist) message and keeps in tact the integrity of her magical world.