Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds

Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds

Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds

Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds


Imagination has long been regarded as central to C. S. Lewis's life and to his creative and critical works, but this is the first study to provide a thorough analysis of his theory of imagination, including the different ways he used the word and how those uses relate to each other. Peter Schakel begins by concentrating on the way reading or engaging with the other arts is an imaginative activity. He focuses on three books in which imagination is the central theme: Surprised by Joy, An Experiment in Criticism, and The Discarded Image.

He then examines imagination and reading in Lewis's fiction, concentrating specifically on the Chronicles of Narnia, the most imaginative of his works. He looks at how the imaginative experience of reading the Chronicles is affected by the physical texture of the books, the illustrations, revisions of the texts, the order in which the books are read, and their narrative "voice, " the "storyteller" who becomes almost a character in the stories.

Imagination and the Arts in C. S. Lewis also explores Lewis's ideas about imagination in the nonliterary arts. Although Lewis regarded engagement with the arts as essential to a well-rounded and satisfying life, critics of his works and even his biographers have given little attention to this aspect of his life. Schakel reviews the place of music, dance, art, and architecture in Lewis's life, the ways in which he uses them as content in his poems and stories, and how he develops some of the deepest, most significant themes of his stories through them.

Schakel concludes by analyzing the uses and abuses of imagination. He looks first at "moral imagination." Although Lewis did not use this term, Schakel shows howLewis developed the concept in That Hideous Strength and The Abolition of Man long before it became popularized in the 1980s and 1990s. While readers often concentrate on the Christian dimension of Lewis's works, equally or


In a 1935 letter to Arthur Greeves, Lewis tells about a five-yearold boy, Michael, who had come to live with his mother as a member of Lewis's household for more than a month. Every evening Mrs. Moore, mother of a deceased army comrade who shared a home with Lewis for more than thirty years, read to Michael from the Beatrix Potter books. “Would you believe it, ” Lewis writes, “that child had never been read to nor told a story by his mother in his life?” Not that the child was neglected by his mother: he had the best in child care, food, and clothing. “But his poor imagination has been left without any natural food at all.” This makes Lewis wonder how the younger generation is going to turn out: “They have been treated with so much indulgence yet so little affection, with so much science and so little mother-wit. Not a fairy tale nor a nursery rhyme!” (TST, 476).

Lewis repeats the charge of imaginative deprivation elsewhere. In a letter to Greeves in 1947, he expresses a concern about his own pupils, who seem to have missed out on youth: “They have all read all the correct, 'important' books: they seem to have had no private & erratic imaginative adventures of their own” (TST, 509). They sound much like Eustace Clarence Scrubb in The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader, ” who “liked books [only] if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools” and neither made things up himself nor enjoyed works of the imagination by others (VDT, 1).Prince Caspian presents two contrasting images of imaginative impoverishment in education. In one, the teacher is totally unimaginative, teaching a “sort of 'History' … duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story” (PC, 167). The students long for nourishment—or at least one of them, Gwendolen, does and is set free from school, and freed imaginatively and emotionally, by Aslan and his merry revelers. A page later the revelers . . .

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