Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Falicy of Chronological Snobbery: From Mars to Mormons

C.S. Lewis often criticized book reviewers who critique work in a genre they admittedly dislike. He believed only a critic who reads science fiction novels with pleasure and who understands and appreciates the conventions of such novels can say with any authority when a certain author has used these conventions effectively. In deference to Lewis, I readily admit that I am not a fan of science fiction (except for Star Trek, which has more to do with television than literature). Therefore, the only review I will offer of Out of the Silent Planet, the first book in Lewis’ space trilogy, is that overall I found it very entertaining. It was a welcome change of pace from his apologetics and scholarly works.

What I enjoyed most about the book was recognizing general themes that Lewis discusses in other, more “serious” books. The theme that seemed most powerful in Out of the Silent Planet was what Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” the presumption that “the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present.” In other words, older things have less value; newer is better.

This may be true of many things in the 20th (and 21st) Century, especially with technology and medicine, said Lewis. He argued, however, that in the fields of art, music, philosophy, and especially religion, today’s society has lost valuable information and insights by dismissing the things that came before as being inferior to modern thinking. For example, he points out that our views of history have often been skewed by interpreting the actions of “older cultures” using modern standards (e.g., Native Americans thought to have been uneducated savages because they did not act the same as Europeans).

In Out of the Silent Planet, the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, is an English philologist (cultural linguist) who is kidnapped and taken to Mars. Once there, he encounters three different species of rational, sentient beings. He describes the first (the hrossa, pictured at right) as resembling seven-foot-tall seals. What he assumes to be a lower form of animal is actually a class of great warriors and the keepers of the songs on Mars. He lives with them for a long time and is able to learn their language, which turns out to be Old Solar, the original language spoken by all creatures on all the planets in our solar system. The hrossa question Ransom about how things are on earth (the silent planet), and they both become impatient because of his rudimentary knowledge. At one point, the discussion turns to religion and God:

“[There was] a good deal which Ransom did not follow. But he followed enough to feel once more a certain irritation. Ever since he had discovered the rationality of the hrossa he had been haunted by a conscientious scruple as to whether it might not be his duty to undertake their religious instruction; now, as a result of his tentative efforts, he found himself being treated as if he were the savage and being given a first sketch of civilized religion—a sort of hrossian equivalent of the shorter catechism.”

It turns out that the hrossa (and the other creatures on Mars) have extensive knowledge about religion, geology, astronomy and other subjects that he does not have. In addition, he realizes he has discovered a type of society that has virtues that surpass those we have on earth; for example, the creatures are so honest and innocent that the only way they can even conceive of the concept of “evil” is to think of it as being “bent” rather than straight or true.

This shatters Ransom’s ideas of “chronological snobbery”—just because the creatures did not live in skyscrapers or drive fast cars, did not mean they were “less” than our “advanced” society. On Mars, older (seemingly primitive) was actually better (more socially and intellectually advanced). Throughout the book, Ransom has additional experiences that prove his chronological snobbery to be false.

Lewis and Chronological Snobbery

The term “chronological snobbery” was actually coined by Lewis and his friend Owen Barfield (photo at right) in their discussions about religion. Lewis, at that point, was still an atheist. One of his biggest problems with Christianity was that the religion was ancient and didn’t apply to modern man. He reversed this thinking on religion being outdated and wrote of it in Surprised by Joy:

Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my ‘chronological snobbery,’ the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

While Lewis overcame his chronological snobbery regarding Christianity, I think there are many people today who still cling to the idea that it is out of date and does not apply to them. I can understand the difficulty non-believers must have when they read the Bible and attempt to find personal meaning, especially if they have not sought the help of the Spirit. Understanding the Bible is often difficult for practicing Christians so no wonder neophytes find it lacks relevance to their lives!

The Old and the New

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds a unique place in the Christian World. We are not Catholic or Protestant. We are Restored New Testament Christians: the "latter-day" Church, like the original Church in Christ's day, is led by apostles, served by a lay ministry, and emphasizes service and good works.

Along with the Bible, we use other scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Christ, which serves as an additional witness to the ministry of Christ and his divinity. Basing Christianity on these two books alone could contribute to Lewis' original belief of chronological snobbery; their contents are about people who lived thousands of years ago so could hardly be relevant to modern man. (This statement assumes the books are read "scientifically" or "clinically," without the guidance of the Spirit.)

What makes it impossible for chronological snobbery to exist in the Church is the fact that, in addition to the two books of "ancient" scripture, we have modern-day revelation from our prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, his counselors, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Virginia U. Jensen, a past leader of the Relief Society women's organization, explained:

"The Lord's will to Abraham was not sufficient for the people of Moses' time. The will of the Lord to Moses was not sufficient for the people of Isaiah's time. Different dispensations required different instructions. That is true today. The dispensation in which we now live is a dispensation into which the knowledge of all other dispensations of the gospel have merged. What a blessing it is for us to live in this time when the fullness of the gospel is ours to bless our lives.” --October 1998 General Conference

We are fortunate in the LDS Church to have continuing revelation that clarifies and interprets the Bible and other ancient scripture so there is no question of relevance when it comes to Christianity and how it operates in our daily lives. We value the old for the richness of its truths, and cherish the new as a compass that will lead us back to God.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sidetracked by Curiosity

Before continuing our journey through C.S. Lewis-land, I’d like to take a couple of detours. Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, listed “curiosity” as an attribute of lifelong learners. He explained, “The thrill of investigating and researching a new concept or discovering the answer to something previously unknown to us is an exhilarating moment of joy and satisfaction.” (A link to his full talk is located in the column to the right.)

As I was reading background information for my previous post on The Inklings, I became curious about Amanda McKittrick Ros, the novelist who provided entertainment for the group when they tried to read her notoriously bad prose aloud without laughing. My curiosity turned out to be serendipitous, and I’d like to introduce you to Mrs. Ros. (She dropped the final “s” in her married name “Ross” when she became a published author!)

Born in Drumaness, County Down in Ireland, in 1860, Ros attended Marlborough Teacher Training College in Dublin, and eventually became a qualified teacher at the same school in the 1880s. She married a widower eight years her senior in 1887, and died after a fall in her home in 1939 at the age of 79.

Ros wrote poetry and a number of novels, and although she was not widely read, her “eccentric, over-written, circumlocutory” writing style has a cult following among critics as being some of the worst prose and poetry ever written. (This brings to mind Lord Bulwer-Lytton of “It was a dark and stormy night…” fame. See Note #1 at the end of this post.)

While many people mocked her writing (like members of the Inklings), Ros had admirers, including Mark Twain and Aldous Huxley.

Her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh was self-published in 1898 and later published by Nonesuch Press in 1926. It was reviewed by humorist Barry Pain who sarcastically called it "the book of the century." Ros retorted in her preface to Delina Delaney by calling Pain a "clay crab of corruption," and suggesting that he was only so hostile because he was secretly in love with her. Ros may be considered to have had the last laugh, however, for her fame has outlasted his. Furthermore, she made enough money from her second novel, Delina Delaney, to build a house, which she named Iddesleigh.

Nick Page, author of In Search of the World's Worst Writers, rated Ros the worst of the worst. He says that "For Amanda, eyes are 'piercing orbs,' legs are 'bony supports,' people do not blush, they are 'touched by the hot hand of bewilderment.'"

Representative samples of her work (most filled with the overuse of alliteration) include:

“The silvery touch of fortune is too often gilt with betrayal: the meddling mouth of extravagance swallows every desire, and eats the heart of honesty with pickled pride: the imposury of position is petty, and ends, as it should commence, with stirring strife.” –-Irene Iddesleigh

"The living sometimes learn the touchy tricks of the traitor, the tardy and the tempted; the dead have evaded the flighty earthy future, and form to swell the retinue of retired rights, the righteous school of the invisible and the rebellious roar of the raging nothing." –-Irene Iddesleigh

“She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father's slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness.” -- Delina Delaney, description of how the protagonist earned money by doing needlework

Visiting Westminster Abbey
“Holy Moses! Have a look!

Flesh decayed in every nook!

Some rare bits of brain lie here,

Mortal loads of beef and beer,

Some of whom are turned to dust,

Every one bids lost to lust;

Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you.”

(Recognize this image? See Note #2.)

None of Mrs. Ros' works are in print today. Belfast Central Library holds an archive of her papers, and the Queen's University of Belfast has some volumes by Ros in the stacks. Her books are rare, and first editions command prices of $300 to $1,000 in the used-book market. Festivals and retrospectives in her honor occur at regular intervals in England.

I admire Mrs. Ros for pursuing her dreams of becoming a published author, and for standing up to legions of critics. She must be roundly rotating in her cold, claustrophobic crypt with gleeful guffaws at her perpetual prominence! Or for those of you who have not caught Amanda’s amusing approach to writing—she must be rolling over in her grave with laughter at her continued fame!

Note #1: If your curiosity is still active and you don't know who the Lord Bulwer-Lytton mentioned above is, you might want to check him out. He was a Victorian English novelist, poet, playwright, and politician who coined such phrases as "the great unwashed,” "pursuit of the almighty dollar,” and "the pen is mightier than the sword.” More interesting than his biography is an international literary parody contest named after him; contestants write opening sentences to imaginary novels, copying the famous first line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford: "It was a dark and stormy night..." Cartoonist Charles Shultz' dog Snoopy is also famous for sitting with a typewriter atop his dog house to begin his literary pursuits in the same manner.

Bulwer-Lytton biography,_1st_Baron_Lytton

Winning contest entries

Note #2: Still curious? This is a photo of Sir Isaac Newton's tomb, located in a niche on the north side of the nave in Westminster Abbey in London. The tomb is monumental, with lovely sculptures and elaborate decorations representing Newton's scientific discoveries. Atop the monument is a giant orb with images of planets. If you recognized this photo, you (1) majored in history, art or architecture in college, (2) have visited Westminster Abbey, or most probably (3) saw the The DaVinci Code, in which the tomb stars in the climactic scene of the movie.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Inklings—C.S. Lewis’ Literary Discussion Group

When I was growing up in Denver, my mother and grandmother belonged to the Jane Herrick Literary Club. It was started by a group of Mormon women who wanted to continue their education but, because of raising families, were unable to attend college. They were passionate about searching “diligently out of the best books.” The club was named after the wife of an early mission president in the area, who was herself a staunch advocate of women being lifelong learners.

It was a rather formal group, with bylaws, officers, and membership requirements. As the Church grew in the Denver area, the literary club also grew, eventually to form three chapters. Every year, each chapter would decide on a course of study and members would sign up to research a topic or review a book. Refreshments and visiting were also key elements in the monthly or bimonthly meetings. I recall the joy my mother experienced through her membership, and the time and effort she put into her annual presentations.

When I moved to Seattle, a group of women in my ward decided to form a book club. Most of the books we read were newer fiction with an occasional biography thrown in. The thing I enjoyed most about the informal group was hearing the viewpoints and insights of the other women—things I had not considered in my reading of the books.

Coming from this background, I was excited when I read in C.S. Lewis’ biography about The Inklings, a literary discussion group he co-founded while at Oxford. The Inklings met weekly for nearly two decades between the early 1930s and late 1949. Regular members (many of them University Dons) included C.S. “Jack” Lewis, Warren “Warnie” Lewis (Lewis’ elder brother), J.R.R. “Tollers” Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (J.R.R.’s son), Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams, and Lord David Cecil.

The Inklings were literary enthusiasts who praised the value of narrative in fiction, and encouraged the writing of fantasy. Although Christian values were reflected in several members' work, there were also atheists among the members of the discussion group.

"Properly speaking," wrote Warren Lewis, "the Inklings was neither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections."

As was typical for university literary groups in their time and place, the Inklings were all male.

Readings and discussions of the members' unfinished works were the principal purposes of meetings. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet, and Williams's All Hallows' Eve were among the novels first read to the Inklings. Tolkien's fictional Notion Club was based on the Inklings.

Member comments were not always favorable: Tolkien complained that Lewis’ Narnian books were hastily written without enough thought and connectivity; Lewis complained about the excessive length and detail of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings—so much so in fact that Tolkien only shared that one Ring manuscript with the group. The following video is from the movie Shadowlands. Lewis (portrayed by Anthony Hopkins) is explaining his first Narnian book to The Inklings at the Eagle and Child pub (filmed in the actual pub).

Discussions were not all serious. In addition to drinking and socializing, the Inklings often amused themselves by having competitions to see who could read the famously bad prose of Amanda McKittrick Ros the longest without laughing.

The discussion group usually met on Thursday evenings in C.S. Lewis' college rooms at Magdalen College. The Inklings and their friends were also known to gather informally on Tuesdays at midday at a local pub, The Eagle and Child, familiarly and alliteratively known in the Oxford community as The Bird and Baby, or simply The Bird. Later pub meetings were held at The Lamb and Flag across the street, and in earlier years the Inklings also met irregularly in yet other pubs, but The Eagle and Child remains the most famous.

Over the years, great friendships developed among Inkling members. Discussions with Tolkien, Barfield and Dyson eventually lead Lewis to abandon his atheistic views to become first a theist and then a Christian. Lewis also referred to the influence of several of his Inkling friends in his books, and paid homage to them through the names of characters in his fictional works.

Participating in literary clubs or book clubs is an excellent way to pursue lifelong learning and develop rewarding relationships. If you are interested in starting a book club, there are several online resources. I found Oprah Winfrey's step-by-step process well organized; it even includes a list of publishers (page 5) who prepare book club discussion questions for many of their books.

You might also enjoy watching the movie “The Jane Austen Book Club.” It’s the story of women who form a book club to help one of their friends who is going through a difficult time. The all-female club decides to read Jane Austen books, and because they need a sixth member, they invite a man to join them. The movie demonstrates the power of friendship and sharing ideas and experiences. Plot details can be found at:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Insights into C.S. Lewis – His “Mothers”

Mothers play pivotal roles in the lives of their children—either by their involvement or their absence. This was certainly true with C.S. Lewis, who had both a mother and an “adopted” mother.

Flora Lewis

Florence (Flora) Augusta Hamilton was descended from a titled Scottish family and an Anglo-Norman family that had been landowners in Ireland since the 12th Century. Her father and several relatives were ministers. Flora graduated from Queens College, Belfast, with First Class Honors in logic and Second Class Honors in mathematics. She had a promising career as a mathematician ahead of her when in 1894 she married Albert Lewis, a Welsh solicitor (attorney), the first professional in his family. Their first son, Warren, was born in 1895, followed three years later by “Jack.”

Lewis grew up in a household that valued education, reading, and music—both parents were voracious readers, and their house was filled with books. The boys began their education at home; Lewis learned French and Latin from his mother, as well as other subjects from a governess, Annie Harper.

The Lewises, because of their prosperity, chose to educate their sons as English gentlemen, which meant the boys were eventually sent away to a series of boarding schools, some good and some bad. The boys had to leave Ireland and live in England because their parents thought English training would afford the boys greater social mobility and “right connections” as men.

On the emotional side, Lewis was closest to his mother. Flora’s serene temperament balanced Albert’s moody disposition. The Lewises developed close family bonds of love and respect. Unfortunately, this happiness was relatively short-lived. Flora contracted cancer when Lewis was nine years old and she slowly died at home. He wrote in Surprised by Joy: "With my mother's death, all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security."

The death of his mother had profound effects on the future of Lewis’ life. When Flora was sick, Lewis fervently prayed to God to heal his mother. When she died, Lewis’ faith was shaken. He figured there either wasn’t a God, or if God did exist, he was impotent, cruel or both. Also, it was after Flora’s death that Lewis was sent away to his first boarding school, which Lewis later referred to as Belsen (after the Nazi concentration camp); the school was closed two years later and the headmaster sent to an insane asylum. This experience, plus succeeding tutors who taught that there was no God, lead Lewis to proclaim himself an atheist by the age of 16.

"Adopted" Mother—Jane Moore

In 1916, Lewis won a scholarship to University College, Oxford while World War I was raging. Because he was Irish, Lewis was exempt from being drafted, but against his father’s wishes he enlisted in the British Army in 1917. He was commissioned as an officer in the third Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. Lewis arrived at the front line in the Somme Valley in France on his 19th birthday.

While receiving military training, Lewis shared a room with another army cadet, Edward Courtnay Francis "Paddy" Moore. Paddy introduced Lewis to his mother, Jane King Moore, and his sister Maureen, and they all spent time together during furloughs. A deep friendship between the teenage Lewis and his friend’s mother quickly developed.

This friendship with Mrs. Moore was particularly important to Lewis after he was wounded in the war. She traveled to London to be near him while he recovered (and while she was waiting for news of her own son). Lewis appreciated this loving gesture, especially since his father, who had an almost pathological reluctance to break free from the routine of his Belfast practice, could not bring himself to visit Lewis. According to one Lewis biographer, “The experience of being mothered, for the first time in his life since he was nine years old, was having a profound effect on Jack.”

Lewis and Paddy had become the best of friends. They made a mutual pact that if either died during the war, the survivor would take care of both their families. When Paddy was killed in action in 1918, Lewis kept his promise. After the war ended and Lewis was released from the army, he moved in with Mrs. Moore and her daughter. Lewis routinely introduced Mrs. Moore as his “mother,” and referred to her as such in many of his letters. In correspondence to his childhood and lifelong friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis referred to Greeves and Mrs. Moore as “the two people who matter most to me in the world.”

In 1930, Lewis and his brother Warren moved, with Mrs. Moore and Maureen, into "The Kilns," a house on the outskirts of Oxford. (The house was built in 1922 on a site that had been used to make bricks for the local area. Its name came from two old, funnel-shaped kilns that were still located on the property. With the home also came a brick-drying house, tennis court, woods, and a pond.) The Lewises and the Moores all contributed financially to the purchase of the house, although the title was held solely by Mrs. Moore, with Jack and Warren having rights of life-long tenancy. After Warren’s death in 1973, the home passed on to Maureen, then Dame Maureen Dunbar. It is now owned by the C.S. Lewis Foundation and used as a place for writers to congregate.

Mrs. Moore was often described as being possessive and controlling (demanding that Lewis do household chores), as well as a sufferer of “pathological illnesses.” However, she was also reported to be a warmhearted, affectionate and hospitable woman who was well liked by her neighbors at The Kilns. Lewis said of Mrs. Moore: “She was generous and taught me to be generous, too." Another Lewis biographer postulated that "Moore quite likely provided Lewis with a measure of emotional and domestic stability that he welcomed as an escape from the daily rigors of academe.”

In her later years, Mrs. Moore suffered from dementia and was eventually moved into a nursing home, where she died in 1951. Lewis visited her every day in this home until her death.

Although the exact relationship between Lewis and Mrs. Moore has been questioned, it is clear that it was mutually rewarding. Mrs. Moore became the mother Lewis had lost in childhood, and Lewis became the son Mrs. Moore had lost in the war.


From his mother, Lewis experienced unconditional love, developed a passion for books and music, knew security, and felt happiness and joy. From his “adopted” mother, he achieved a sense of stability and learned responsibility, the value of companionship, and generosity. All of these qualities were great gifts from mothers to their son. Both had powerful influences on his personality and approach to life, and provided resource material for many of his greatest literary works.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

C.S. Lewis Quotes from Mere Christianity

Today’s Relief Society lesson was taken from Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ April 2009 General Conference address entitled “Unselfish Service,” in which he quotes C.S. Lewis. As mentioned in my first post, I am impressed with the number of Church leaders who quote Lewis. I believe it demonstrates the kinship between Lewis’ Christian beliefs and Mormon doctrine. Lewis also had a talent for expressing truth in simple language that is easily understood.

Just for fun, I checked out other Lewis quotes mentioned in the Ensign and New Era. There were so many that I restricted my search to quotes from one book, Mere Christianity. Of the 36 listings, here are my top 10 favorites.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Unselfish Service,” Ensign, May 2009: A selfish person is more interested in pleasing man—especially himself—than in pleasing God. He looks only to his own needs and desires. He walks ‘in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world’ (D&C 1:16). …Those who are caught up in trying to save their lives by seeking the praise of the world are actually rejecting the Savior’s teaching that the only way to save our eternal life is to love one another and lose our lives in service.

C.S. Lewis explained this teaching of the Savior: ‘The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the centre—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. … What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come … the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989: The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others. In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.”

Pres. James E. Faust, Councilor in the First Presidency, “The Forces That Will Save Us,” Ensign, January 2007: Agency—Satan does, however, perform an important negative function. In the book of 2 Nephi we are told, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” Indeed, Peter warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

C. S. Lewis, a Christian author, gave us a keen insight into devilish tactics. In a fictional letter, the master devil, Screwtape, instructs the apprentice devil Wormwood, who is in training to become a more experienced devil: ‘“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. … It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. … Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Elder Dale E. Miller of the Seventy, “Bringing Peace and Healing to Your Soul,” Ensign, November 2004: C. S. Lewis put it this way: “[God] has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man [or woman] in the world.”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Enduring Well,” Ensign, 1997: C. S. Lewis has said that only those who resist temptation really understand the power of temptation: “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.” Because Jesus resisted it perfectly, He understood temptation perfectly; hence He can help us. The fact that He was dismissive of temptation and gave it “no heed” reveals His marvelous character, which we are to emulate.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “True or False,” New Era, 1995: I feel about this as C. S. Lewis once said about the divinity of Christ: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: [that is,] ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy, “I Am the Resurrection and the Life,” Ensign, April 1995: C. S. Lewis, who had such unusual insight into “things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13), had this to say about what we can do once we get the perspective of immortality clearly in our minds: “The command be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He [Christ] is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”

Elder Joe J. Christensen of the Seventy, “Greed, Selfishness and Overindulgence,” Ensign, May 1999: In addition to paying an honest tithing, we should be generous in assisting the poor. How much should we give? I appreciate the thought of C. S. Lewis on this subject. He said: “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. … If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, … they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Value of Home Life,” Ensign, 1972: C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, describes our relationship with God in a special way that can help us to appreciate how submitting ourselves to his will is the only way that spiritual growth can occur: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.”

Elder Robert L. Backman of the Seventy, “Jesus the Christ,” Ensign, November 1991: What Christ desires from each of us is surrender, complete and total—a voluntary gift of trust, faith, and love. C. S. Lewis captured the spirit of this surrender: “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. … Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Insights into C.S. Lewis - Imagination

A person and his outlook on life are shaped by a combination of his parents and upbringing, his educational opportunities and career choices, and his relationships with other people and his God. C.S. Lewis was a very complex individual, a prolific author whose life experiences fill the pages of his books, giving readers insights into his mind and heart. Lewis’ childhood and early teen years provided fertile ground for the imagination and creativity that permeate many of his books, including Surprised by Joy, The Discarded Image, and The Abolition of Man.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29, 1898. Lewis' father was a passionate attorney and his somewhat reserved mother came from a long line of ministers. His older brother by three years, Warren, was nicknamed Warnie by Lewis. Lewis assumed the name of Jacksie when he was four years old, after the death of his dog who was named Jacksie. This nickname was later shortened to Jack, the name by which he was known his entire life.

Lewis and his brother grew up in a large, comfortable manor house. They freely roamed the entire estate: they played in the garden, they read, they wrote stories, and they drew. They had the time and freedom to pursue ideas.

There was no sibling rivalry between the brothers, and they shared their deepest secrets with each other. The tranquility and sanctity of the Lewis home was shattered, however, with the death of Lewis’ mother when he was nine. It was about this time that Lewis’ father became distant and was unable to listen to or communicate with his sons, especially Lewis. The rest of Lewis’ life seems to have become a search for the security and "settledness" he had taken for granted during his peaceful childhood.

The Influence of Books

As a child, Lewis was surrounded by books. The house was overrun with them—the bookshelves were laden with them, there were piles in the bedroom, the cloakroom, the cistern in the attic. Books of all kinds could be found at every turn, and Lewis was allowed to read any of them he wanted. Reading was like a journey of discovery. Lewis wrote, “I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.”

Commenting on his love of reading, he said, “On a Saturday afternoon in winter, when nose and fingers might be pinched enough to give an added relish to the anticipation of tea and fireside, and the whole weekend’s reading lay ahead, I suppose I reached as much happiness as is ever to be reached on earth. And especially if there were some new, long-coveted book awaiting me.”

Lewis often commented that he often lived “almost entirely in [his] imagination.” I think what he meant was that he spent much of his time looking at, listening to, and reading highly imaginative works and being caught up on the powerful impressions created by them.

A Place of His Own

Not only did Lewis have the freedom to read whatever he wanted, he also had his own special place to which he could retreat to pursue his creative talents. Located in a corner of the attic, he called it “The Little End Room.” It was here that he kept his art supplies and posted his drawings. After his brother went off to school, Lewis would spend countless hours alone in his little attic studio. Lewis had a physical deformity—his lower knuckles in his thumbs could not bend—so he was not good at games requiring manual dexterity. He shied away from sports and turned to the internal world of imagination for refuge. How grateful the world should be that young Lewis was not gifted cricket player!

Artistic Talents

Because influenza was rampant in the early 1900s, the Lewis brothers were kept indoors and forced to entertain themselves. Drawing was one of their pastimes. Lewis, his brother and father all started out drawing pictures of boats together. Inspired by the Beatrix Potter’s books, Lewis soon advanced to creating a mythical world of his own called “Animal-Land,” which he populated with talking beasts who had wonderful adventures. He wrote descriptions of the animal society, complete with details about the country’s economics, politics/government, and history, as well as creating illustrations of buildings and characters. Warren’s drawing changed from boats to a fascination with the country of India. Over time, Lewis began to include some of his brother’s India drawings with his own so they could “play” together; he created Boxen, a place where their two imaginary worlds interacted.

Envisioning these imaginary worlds required extensive creative thought. Even as a young boy, Lewis knew that, as he put it, “Invention is essentially different from reverie.” He was no daydreamer. “In my daydreams I was training myself to be a fool,” he wrote, “in mapping and chronicling Animal-Land I was training myself to be a novelist.”

Lewis explained that his fiction books all started out as images: “All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. …One day…I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’”


And what a story he made! Lewis' imagination was nurtured throughout his childhood, provided a refuge during his difficult teen years, lead him to schools, teachers and friends who helped him hone his skills, and eventually provided him with a profitable livelihood. Imagination became the very core of his being, to which he later added reason, philosophy, and religious conviction. And his imagination has provided millions of people with the happiness and joy he himself sought and valued his entire life.

Note: The following YouTube video covers the life of C.S. Lewis from birth to the point of his return to Christianity. It's well done and I found it very entertaining.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

C.S. Lewis, Orson Scott Card, and Hugh Nibley

C.S. Lewis was born into a church-attending Christian home, but as a teenager he considered himself an atheist, a position he held until he was re-converted to Christianity during his college years at Oxford where, thanks to friends like J.R.R. Tolkein, he became a stalwart defender of the faith, and member of the Church of England.

As mentioned in the previous post, one attribute that has made Lewis popular with readers is his ability to write about Christianity from a non-denominational viewpoint. He is able to distill doctrine down to basic truths to which people of numerous faiths can ascribe. I think this is the reason Lewis is a favorite among Mormons. To my knowledge, Lewis was never exposed to LDS doctrine, although many of his beliefs fit nicely with ours. Of course, some of his stances seem like "religious gibberish" in light of the Restored Gospel. (I would love to know how he would rewrite some of his books in light of what he knows now that he has passed on! I can just imagine the discussions he has had on the other side and how he has modified his religious beliefs!)

I was fascinated in February to read an article in Mormon Times by Orson Scott Card in which he discusses the relationship between Lewis' writings and Mormon thought. For those not familiar with Card, in many ways he takes after Lewis in that he is a prolific writer in multiple genres: poetry, plays, musicals, novels, science fiction, and education. It doesn't surprise me that Card is a fan of Lewis' work.

I became aware of Card when we were both students at BYU in the 1970s. I attended the premier of his musical "Stone Tables," a thought-provoking interpretation of what the daily life of Moses might have been like. My sister (who was a drama major at BYU) and I also attended a couple of his productions at "the Castle," a Depression-era outdoor amphitheater behind the then-active state mental hospital in Provo. (The location was half the fun!) We were both impressed at the quality of work produced by one of our peers. Over the years, I have followed Card's career as he has gained fame, primarily as an award-winning author of science fiction. Now that he has a regular column in the Mormon Times section of the Deseret News, I can't wait for the paper to arrive to discover his views on current events and modern thought.

In Card's February 19 column, he talks about his introduction to and early experiences with the works of C.S. Lewis. One summer, Card's father gave him a copy of The Screwtape Letters, which he read and then discussed with his father. More books followed, and thus began Card's own journey into Lewis-land:

"C.S. Lewis was somehow different. He had put his religion lessons into the form of stories -- funny, ironic, sarcastic stories, yet with compassion and tragedy and redemption and joy. And even though he wasn't LDS, the kind of religion he was talking about still had everything to do with the way we Mormons try to live. My reaction can be boiled down to sheer astonishment: This is possible!

"Later, when I was in college, Lewis' work went through a kind of resurgence, and new editions of everything came out. I read it all -- not just the Christian apologetics, the 'space trilogy' and 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' but also his narrative poem 'Dymer,' his critical study 'The Allegory of Love' and his best novel, 'Till We Have Faces.' I read his memoir, 'Surprised by Joy' I felt as if he had seen into my heart. "[I realized] you can be a non-athlete who doesn't fit in at school, then end up a writer of good fiction and an unashamed Christian at the same time.

"So I carried Lewis around in my heart, as a kind of beacon."

In the Mormon Times column, Card then switches to another person he greatly admires, Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley. (I was fortunate to hear Nibley lecture at BYU Education Week in the 1960s in Denver. I recall thinking him the perfect example of an absent-minded professor--slightly rumpled and seemingly disorganized with his notes, extremely brilliant, taking all kinds of twists and turns in his presentation and forgetting his launch point, but somehow always able to make a powerful point.) In Card's column, he compares the two authors and explains how Lewis had prepared him to understand the deeper gospel teachings of Nibley. Card writes:

"As with Lewis, during my college years I came to read more of Nibley's writings. Nibley wasn't a fiction writer, but he had the kind of humor and verve and wit that typified Lewis' nonfiction writing. It was a joy to spend time in his company, reading what he had to say.

"He taught me, as Lewis did, that worldly intellectuals are only able to claim superiority to believers by using the dumbest examples of Christian thinking, and comparing it to the best of science; but the best of Christian (and, more particularly, Mormon) thinking takes all the findings of science and history into account, and finds no contradiction. ...It comes from a rigorous scholar, who never lowers the bar to account for faith. Indeed, it was Nibley who taught me that religion must meet the same standard as science: It has to work in the real world. You have to be able to replicate the results.

"What Nibley had in common with Lewis, besides their roots in the philological tradition, their extraordinary talent for language and their commitment to the revealed religion of Christ, was their brilliance as writers. For me, reading either of them was like sitting down with a scintillating conversationalist. They didn't just provide information, they involved me in the conversation, so that even though they weren't present, I found myself adding to what they said, finding my own examples, going beyond, when I could, and always going within."

Orson Scott Card very eloquently described the impact C.S. Lewis had on him and likely has had on others. My journey with Lewis is still new, but even now I find myself captivated with his writing style and his view points, and I am lead to ponder his ideas in relation to Gospel principles. It's easy to see why Lewis is often quoted in LDS talks and articles.

--Card's column can be found at

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Wisdom of C.S. Lewis

I became aware of C.S. Lewis in a high school English class where The Screwtape Letters was required reading. I read Mere Christianity while attending Brigham Young University, and finally became acquainted with The Chronicles of Narnia as my nephews and nieces grew up. I am continually amazed at how many times Lewis is quoted by a General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Conference talks or Ensign articles.

In 2008, I happened to watch a program on BYU TV entitled "Letting God Have His Way: A Conversation about C.S. Lewis." It was a roundtable discussion with BYU religion professors Robert Millet, Andrew Skinner, Brent Top; BYU English literature professor John Tanner; and non-LDS professor of psychology Brent Slife. Partially filmed in England where Lewis lived, the program presented biographical information and showed how his life experiences influenced his writing. The professors also explained why they thought Lewis is such a popular author, especially among Christians:

  • He has the ability to express complex ideas as simple principles; simplicity beyond complexity.
  • He has a gift for metaphor, which helps readers understand and remember what he says.
  • He is a non-denominational writer so everyone can identify with him.
  • He speaks to the people; he is a common sense Christian.
  • He is able to write in the vernacular of the common man. He said if a writer can’t write in the vernacular, he either doesn’t believe what he is writing about or he doesn’t understand it.
  • He has intellectually defensible religious thoughts.
  • He focuses on Christian ethics—what it is like to be a Christian from the inside.
  • He honestly deals with his own issues.
This program piqued my interest in learning more about such a universally admired writer. I determined that my personal course of study for 2009 would be learning more about Clive Staples (Jack) Lewis. I purchased from The Teaching Company a multiple cassette-tape class entitled "The Life and Writings of C.S. Lewis." In 12 half-hour lectures, the professor discusses Lewis' philosophy of life using examples from his books.

Unlike most authors who specialize in a single genre of writing, Lewis produced a body of work that is as prolific in its length as it is wide ranging in its breadth. It includes not only apologetics (a logical defense of the Christian faith), but also theology and philosophy, science fiction and fantasy, children’s literature and poetry, literary theory, aesthetic history, Christian allegory and spiritual autobiography, fictional letters, and devotional meditations.

Reading Lewis' books can be challenging. There are many layers to his writings, and I believe they are like the scriptures in that the more we read, the more we understand; the more we understand, the more we want to study; the more we study, the deeper our knowledge and (hopefully) our wisdom become.

Reading Lewis definitely requires commitment, but I have found that once the journey began, I haven't been able to wait to see what lay just around the bend of each new thought, or was hiding behind the closet doors, or woven in the literary fabric of medieval literature, or imagined in outer space. Underneath it all are Lewis' perceptive insight into human nature and his solid beliefs and wisdom. I look forward to taking you along on my journey through C.S. Lewis-land.

Note: To hear the voice of C.S. Lewis, check out this YouTube audio clip of him reading part of the introduction to his book "Four Loves."