Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

Hidden Images of Christ in the Fiction of C. S. Lewis

Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

Hidden Images of Christ in the Fiction of C. S. Lewis

Article excerpt

C. S. Lewis "was acutely conscious of the hiddenness of God, of the inexhaustible mystery of the Divine," according to Kallistos Ware, Bishop of Diokleia and the Spalding Lecturer in Orthodox Studies at Oxford University. It is an awareness Lewis held in common with the Orthodox tradition ("God" 56). Although Lewis's apologetic works, Ware continues, with their almost overconfident reliance on reason and moral law, are cataphatic in tenor, an apophatic side is evident in his imaginative writings. (1) Michael Ward argues that Ware's insight is applicable to Lewis's general theological vision, his continual emphasis on God's unperceived omnipresence and proximity: "The major feature of his spirituality is the exercising of Enjoyment consciousness in order to experience that hidden divinity" (Planet 227). This paper will build on those comments and show that a subtle mixture of hiddenness and revelation is characteristic of Lewis's imaging of Christ in his major fiction--the Space Trilogy, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Till We Have Faces.

Such a "hidden" approach is apparent in Lewis's earliest work of fiction, Out of the Silent Planet, published in 1938. Hiding the Christian references was easier then than it was later in Lewis's career. Today Lewis is well known as one of the twentieth century's leading defenders of the Christian faith, and readers expect to find, and thus look for, Christian themes in his fiction. But that was not the case in 1938. At that point his name would have been recognized only by literary scholars. They knew it because of the recent publication of a brilliant study of the courtly love tradition, The Allegory of Love. That book, and a half-dozen scholarly articles, marked Lewis as a leading figure in the post-war generation of literary scholars. The only other things he had published at that point were three books with very low sales figures: a collection of war poems entitled Spirits in Bondage; a long narrative poem, Dymer (both published under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton--his own first name and his mother's maiden name); and a rather strange work entitled The Pilgrim's Regress, which is an allegorical account of his sojourns as an agnostic (he said atheist) in his teens and twenties, and his journey back to the Christian faith, which culminated in 1931. It is now evident from The Pilgrim's Regress that Lewis had begun using his writing skills in support of the faith to which he had returned, but readers then would not be aware of this.

In Out of the Silent Planet, a middle-aged professor, Elwin Ransom, who reminds the reader of both Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, is kidnapped by a scientist and an adventurer (Edward Rolles Weston and Richard Devine), and taken with them on a space vehicle to Mars (though called by its "Old Solar" name, Malacandra, in the novel). The flight is a journey into experience and self-knowledge for Ransom as he learns, for example, that space is not cold, empty, and barren, but is pulsating with light and spiritual life. After arriving on Malacandra, he escapes from his captors and spends several months living with the hrossa, the poets and musicians of the planet: rational, gentle, charitable creatures. They live in perfect peace and cooperativeness with two other rational species, the sorns (scientists and philosophers) and the pfifltriggi (craftsmen and artists).

From the hrossa and sorns, Ransom learns about the spiritual beings who look after Malacandra. Each planet in the solar system has a guardian angel called Oyarsa, who is served by numberless lesser angels called eldils. But the Oyarsas are not the supreme spiritual beings. When Ransom asks the hrossa if the Malacandrian Oyarsa had made the planet, their answer is the first example of Lewis providing an image of Christ that simultaneously reveals and conceals: "Did people in Thulcandra [Earth] not know that Maleldil the Young had made and still ruled the world?" (106). For readers familiar with the Bible, this passage clearly betrays that Maleldil the Young is the Malacadrian name for Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who is creator and ruler of Earth: "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1. …

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