Academic journal article Mythlore

They Have Quarreled with the Trees": Perverted Perceptions of "Progress" in the Fiction Series of C.S. Lewis

Academic journal article Mythlore

They Have Quarreled with the Trees": Perverted Perceptions of "Progress" in the Fiction Series of C.S. Lewis

Article excerpt

ANY READER OP LEWIS'S FICTION, ESPECIALLY OF THE NARNIA CHRONICLES and the Space Trilogy, immediately notices Lewis's love of Nature, though few seem to connect this love with modern ecological issues. His frequent rhapsodic listing of tree, bush, and flower can set many of us thumbing our dictionaries or Peterson guides. For example, in the first published Narnia book, as the hundred-year winter of the White Witch melts, Lewis reveals in the space of nine ecstatic paragraphs firs, oaks, beeches, elms, celandines, snowdrops, crocuses, larches, birches, laburnums, mosses, currants, and hawthorns, not to mention singing waters and chorusing birds (97-99). Throughout the Narnia Chronicles, he goes on to give conscious spirits, in the form of naiads, dryads, and small-g gods, to these phenomena. By the end of the Chronicles, we reach the eternal Real Land of Aslan, always an early summer morning, abundant in natural beauty. King Tirian first sees there "a grove of trees" filled with "the gold or faint yellow or purple or glowing red of fruits" (Last Battle [LB] 128) of indescribable deliciousness, and Emeth the Calormene meets Aslan after walking "over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees" (155). As the characters proceed "further up and further in," they encounter high mountains covered with "forests and green slopes and sweet orchards and flashing waterfalls" (172). Matthew T. Dickerson and David O'Hara observe, "Although ecology is generally not understood as the primary focus of his fantasy novels, Lewis shows a remarkable, consistent, complex, and healthy ecological vision in his numerous fictional worlds" (2). While I limit this essay to the Narnia Chronicles and the Space Trilogy, I think it pertinent here to also note Nancy-Lou Patterson's observation that in The Great Divorce Lewis uses "the dichotomy of polluted cities and unspoiled countryside to symbolize Hell and Heaven" (5). Obviously, for Lewis, the divine realm consists not of jeweled buildings and metal streets, but of the best features of the natural world intensified.

Equally obvious in these tales is his Platonic binary. A character either loves Nature or hates it, with no middle position. True, Eustace and Jill, in the Narnia Chronicles, and Mark and Jane, in That Hideous Strength, begin their tales with no allegiance to either side, with perhaps a slight initial hostility against the things of God, including his Creation. But as they move closer to embracing the Divine, they also shift their values and their attitudes. As Patterson remarks, when Lewis considers environmental issues, he focuses on not on politics but on "the spiritual dimension of these contrasts" (5). More specifically, throughout Lewis's fiction a morally good character loves Nature, while a bad or "bent" character thinks only to exploit or destroy it. In unrighteous people, we see a hell-bent progression from destroying Nature to mistreating animals to abusing other humans to complete separation from God. Those who, in King Tirian's words, "murder" trees, do not stop at wielding axes or chainsaws against wood. They bind and brutally beat animals. They consider a large portion of humanity dispensable. In other words, their lack of respect for living things does not limit itself to the non-sentient and the non-human. Their callous treatment of other people moves them from merely warped or misguided to truly evil. Ultimately, they reject God himself. Even the dwarves who proclaim themselves neutral ("The dwarves are for the dwarves") end up self-blinded, slaughtering other creatures indiscriminately and eternally condemned by their own proud indifference to miss out on the bliss of Aslan's Country.

We see in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe [LWW], when Edmund leaves his siblings with treachery in his heart, that he plans technological "progress," considering "what sort of palace he would have and how many cars and all about his private cinema and where the principal railways would run and what laws he would make against beavers and dams" (74), a self-deceptive illusion which Dickerson and O'Hara note ultimately leads to the suffering of the animals and Aslan himself in their battle against the Witch (50). …

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