Academic journal article Mythlore

The Great War and Narnia: C.S. Lewis as Soldier and Creator

Academic journal article Mythlore

The Great War and Narnia: C.S. Lewis as Soldier and Creator

Article excerpt

When it comes to his personal experiences in war, C.S. Lewis can be a difficult man to understand. It is not, of course, that Lewis is not clear on the subject when he speaks of it. On the contrary, when he does it is generally with the same incisive clarity that he applies to all other subjects. The trouble is that Lewis simply does not say much about it at all. While other famous veterans of the First World War speak at great length and in horrible detail of what they saw and did, Lewis says what little he must and no more. Some newer authors, such as K.J. Gilchrist in his book A Morning After War: C.S. Lewis and WWI, argue that in Lewis's general attitude lurks the monster of some undiscovered trauma that caused him to willfully "obscure facts" about his wartime past (Gilchrist 1). Others, such as Humphrey Carpenter, talk about Lewis's "silence" on his wartime service but believe that it is because the war did not affect him as much as it could have (qtd. in Gilchrist 8).

When viewed from the perspective of the present author, an historian who has already published a work on a soldier who left relatively few records behind (Sherman's Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum), Lewis does not seem to be abnormally reticent. After all, he was not a significant figure in the war and did not define himself by his time in it, as other writers did. If he appears to be suspiciously quiet, it may be due to the fact that he speaks so prolifically on other subjects that his discussions on war seem slim by comparison. In reality, he addresses it often enough and to a depth that is appropriate for the context in which the various discussions occur. Lewis may not have expended much of his energy looking at his time in the trenches, but he gives everyone enough to get on with. His devotees--the present included--may wish he had said more, but, then again, they generally wish he had said more about every subject he addressed and something about quite a few he did not.

In the land of Narnia, war is as much a real facet of personal and political life as it was in Lewis's own world. Are there any possible ways in which his wartime experiences affected his Narnian creations? While the tracks are somewhat elusive, they are not impossible to trace in every case, and scholars need not indulge in any shady "reading between the lines" to discover parallels. While Lewis does not exhibit every stereotypical World War I influence, and in fact at times he specifically avoided allowing his war experience to affect his writing, what he faced in World War I affected Narnia in a number of distinctive ways. There are other instances where it is likely Lewis was influenced, but scholars cannot know for certain in the absence of specific explanatory evidence straight from Lewis's own pen. In those cases, it is possible to point to distinct historical parallels between worlds--the real and the imaginary--where Lewis's experience may have played a role. Finally, there are a number of themes that are common to many post war writers that Lewis seems to ignore altogether. These are notable by their absence.

Before proceeding, it is important to set a few boundaries and clarify a few definitions. First, this is not an attempt to deal with the general themes of violence or conflict in Narnia. "War" in this context refers to the engagement of significant numbers of the armed retainers of two or more Narnian political factions and the individual's experience of it. This generally excludes personal combat (i.e. Peter versus Fenris in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe [LWW] or his fight with Miraz in Prince Caspian [PC]) as well as small unit actions (i.e. Caspian's fights in Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" and Tirian versus the Calormen squad in The Last Battle [LB]). Second, this article makes use of Lewis's time in World War I exclusively. World War II or his thoughts on war in general are worthy topics to be explored elsewhere. Finally, no attempt has been made to prioritize this particular influence in the complex watershed of thought that flowed together to form Lewis's imaginary world. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.