Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Lewis, C S

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(1898-1963) Belfast-born UK writer, critic, Christian (Anglican) apologist and Oxbridge don; a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, 1925-1954, and then Cambridge Professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance English until his death. He was the central figure of the Inklings, and a close friend of fellow-members J R R Tolkien and Charles Williams. His first full-length fantasy was the complexly allusive The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity Reason and Romanticism (1933; rev 1943), an eccentric Allegory of CSL's personal path to Religion, whose title salutes John Bunyan but which lacks Bunyan's universality of application; nevertheless there are effective touches, like the Freudian Giant who compels a visually revolting Perception of people's internal organs.

The Cosmic Trilogy or Ransom Trilogy comprises CSL's best-known adult fiction, beginning as sf and slipstreaming into Christian Fantasy. Out of the Silent Planet (1938) is a pure Planetary Romance, touring an evocatively described Mars; its mystical elements remain within the sf tradition of religion as Playground, and the almost invisible tutelary beings called eldils are not yet fully identified as Angels. In Perelandra (1943; vt Voyage to Venus 1953), the significantly named series protagonist Ransom is transported between planets not by spaceship, as before, but in an eldil-borne wax coffin. The floating Islands of Perelandra (the planet Venus) are beautifully imagined, but prove to be the laboratory for a religious thought-experiment revisiting the temptation in Eden. This world's first-created Lady of course plays Eve (see Adam and Eve; the Adam figure is kept offstage by God); the earlier book's amoral scientist Weston – now a puppet of dark eldils – returns as the tempter, coaxing "Eve" to disobey divine Prohibitions. Ransom argues the case for obedience, with waning success; it is unquestioned that the woman, however romanticized and revered, cannot resist the tempter unaided. Ultimately, stripped of intellectual defences by the former Weston's alternating casuistry and childish nastiness (e.g., pointless torture of animals), Ransom disposes of this "Serpent" by physical violence. Venus remains unfallen; angels join in a celebration.

The tale moves to Earth in That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups (1945; cut 1955; cut version vt The Tortured Planet 1958 US), whose supernatural action and moral-theological debates are reminiscent of Charles Williams (e.g., the romantic subplot's stress on female "obedience"). CSL's most effective creation is the Kafka-like nightmare of the N.I.C.E., a state-funded scientific organization whose inner circle plans to take control of human evolution and to annexe Black Magic as science. One result is the artificially and repulsively sustained human head intended as an experiment in Immortality but in fact a channel (see Spiritualism) for dark eldils: this punning "Head of the Institute" speaks directly for Satan. Indeed, the N.I.C.E.'s hatefulness goes beyond plausibility; there is a cruel caricature of the dying H G Wells. But CSL effectively shows a lazy-minded academic being drawn in by what he called the temptation of the Inner Ring – the simple desire to become an insider. As Jorge Luis Borges noted of William Beckford's Vathek (1786), Hell is here both punishment and temptation: the N.I.C.E.'s innermost circle offers nothing but the privilege of entering, and being damned. Its "Objective Room", used in Initiations that destroy all human emotion, recalls the asylum in G K Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross (1909). Meanwhile Ransom, incurably wounded in the heel from his Venusian struggle and too appropriately renamed Fisher-King, opposes the N.I.C.E. in his new role as the Pendragon – Secret Master of an inner Britain called Logres (see Fantasies of History). He finds an ally in Merlin, long entombed as a Sleeper Under the Hill nearby; Merlin becomes a magical conduit for the planetary eldils of Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. The term "that hideous strength" alludes to the hubristic tower of Babel, and Merlin inflicts the appropriate Curse of gibberish on a N.I.C.E. banquet (whose feasters are then killed by freed experimental animals) before loosing heavenly fires and earthquakes which destroy the N.I.C.E. and himself. The finale pairs off surviving humans and animals in a ritual of Love. There are some very fine scenes, but this is a curate's egg of a novel. The series was assembled as The Cosmic Trilogy (omni 1990).

The epistolary The Screwtape Letters (1942; exp vt The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast 1961) was a particularly successful book of apologetics, thanks to its device (worthy of Jonathan Swift) of preaching by ironic implication via a senior Demon's advice to a junior on how best to tempt and ensnare; the "Lowerarchy" of Hell also allows Satire on bureaucracy. Another and more vivid work of apologetics is The Great Divorce: A Dream (1946). This moralizes effectively, its fantastic premise being the theological notion of the Refrigerium – cooling or mitigation – supposedly allowed to the damned, who may briefly visit Heaven. But here the damned are self-damned, almost all preferring the neverending suburban dreariness of Hell to the spiritual tempering required by Heaven (see Purgatory); in a metaphor for this small-mindedness, Hell's vastness occupies the tiniest of cracks in the ground, which only Christ could make himself small enough to enter (see Great and Small; Little Big). CSL narrates in his own persona as one of the damned (though only in a Dream), whose Mentor in Heaven is George MacDonald.

The most popular and influential fantasy sequence produced by CSL is the Chronicles of Narnia, written for children (see Children's Fantasy): The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: A Story for Children (1950), Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951), The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader": A Story for Children (1952), The Silver Chair: A Story for Children (1953), The Horse and His Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955) and The Last Battle: A Story for Children (1956) – this last a Carnegie Medal winner. This publication order is CSL's recommended reading order, though by internal chronology The Magician's Nephew comes first and The Horse and His Boy takes place during rapidly summarized decades towards the first-published book's close.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was clearly written in haste, beginning as a romp: its Secondary World of Narnia, to which the wardrobe is a Portal, has a variegated Fantasyland population including Bacchus, centaurs, dryads, dwarfs, fauns, giants, Santa Claus and – its particular trademark – Talking Animals. The four sibling Children – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy – who enter Narnia find it frozen in Fimbulwinter by a White Witch (descended from Lilith rather than Eve) fond of converting her foes to Statues (see Bondage). The children's arrival heralds change and winter's end with the return of the lion Aslan (Turkish for "lion"), who, it is made increasingly clear, is the Narnian aspect of Christ. Edmund having betrayed the others, his life is forfeit to the Witch; Aslan offers himself as a replacement sacrifice. Following a grim death scene amid the Witch's gloating hordes, an ancient Prophecy is fulfilled and the voluntary sacrifice is rewarded by Resurrection; the Witch is destroyed in battle, Edmund Learns Better and there is general Healing. After subsequent long years of ruling Narnia, the now adult visitors stumble back through the wardrobe, returning to Earth as children after a real-time absence of mere minutes (see Time in Faerie).

Prince Caspian sees the same children summoned back after one year – which for Narnia has been a Time Abyss of many centuries, featuring outside conquest, the dwindling of the children's Golden-Age rule from history to Legend, and widespread Thinning. Even Aslan is more elusive, initially appearing only to Lucy and requiring the others to have faith in her as an appointed prophet. The eponymous prince wins the usurped Narnian throne; the elder children are warned that they cannot return to Narnia but should seek Aslan's Earthly aspect. Thus only Edmund and Lucy return to join Caspian in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader", along with an unpleasant child, Eustace, fated to Learn Better after Transformation into a Dragon. The voyage is a Quest for lost Narnian lords, involving Sea Monsters, Mermaids and marvellous Islands (see Archipelago). Ultimately, the children and an engaging talking mouse reach the world's edge and the shores of "Aslan's Country", where the lion pointedly emphasizes his nature by appearing as a lamb before sending the children home.

Eustace and a schoolmate are summoned for The Silver Chair, and are issued by Aslan with precise-seeming instructions which prove hard to follow (see Read the Small Print); e.g., Eustace must immediately greet an old friend, but fails – since 70 Narnian years have passed – to recognize the now ancient Caspian. They set out with the lugubrious "Marsh-Wiggle" Puddleglum to rescue Caspian's son Rilian from Bondage to a Shapeshifting witch who is also a Serpent, and who keeps Rilian bemused by Glamour when he is not confined to the eponymous chair or imprisoning magic armour. Confronted in her Underground realm, she works a similar glamour on the rescuers (a sly religious thrust, for her denial that surface Narnia exists is isomorphic with the argument that Heaven is imaginary since always described in earthly imagery), until Puddleglum extinguishes her befuddling incense and shocks himself awake by stamping barefoot on the fire. There is a posthumous appearance of Caspian, restored to youth as a denizen of Heaven.

The Horse and His Boy opens in Calormen, an Arabian-Fantasy kingdom south of Narnia. The horse is a Narnian talking horse, the enslaved boy the missing heir (see Hidden Monarch) to a Narnian-allied throne; they are joined by a Calormene girl and her horse for what becomes a cross-desert race to warn the north of treacherous Calormene attack. Aslan repeatedly appears incognito to stage-manage the plot, most disconcertingly when his roar impels the horses to (needed) extra speed and his claws slash the girl's back in punishment for thoughtless cruelty.

The final books deal with Narnia's beginning and end. The Magician's Nephew looks back to London when "Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street". A petty self-made Wizard has misused magic passed down since Atlantis to create Rings that carry their wearers between worlds. He pusillanimously tests these on two children (one being his nephew), who find themselves in a numinous Wood Between the Worlds (see Into the Woods) full of portal-pools leading everywhere in the Multiverse. They visit a dead world and foolishly wake its destroyer, who will become the White Witch of Narnia. She follows them to London and briefly runs riot until (via the rings) the children transport her and others to what proves to be the dark void preceding Narnia's creation. Aslan then movingly sings the world and its creatures into being; this Eden already has its Serpent, the intruding Witch. Finally, by the time of The Last Battle, Narnia is so wasted by Thinning that an Antichrist figure (a duped Ass cloaked in lion-skin Disguise by a cunning Ape) gains acceptance. A Ritual of Desecration follows as Narnian trees are felled and their Dryads thus killed, by order of the puppet Aslan; Calormen invades and its evil god Tash manifests as a Satan figure. In the futile-seeming Last Battle which is Narnia's Armageddon, its own denizens are divided by bewilderment and unbelief. Aslan no longer appears to the living; for the children who are as usual called to aid, this is Posthumous Fantasy since they have unknowingly died on Earth. The remaining portal out of Narnia opens on Heaven: there is a Last Judgement as all creatures choose to accept Aslan, or not. Narnia is laid waste and Father Time puts out the sun; it is the End of the World, comprehensive and unforgettable. The "happy ever after" conclusion shows the "real" Narnia – its Platonic archetype in Heaven, linked to the archetypes of Earth and all other worlds.

Despite slapdash passages and Tolkien's disparagement, the first Narnia book succeeded through the genuine power of its death-and-resurrection theme, and CSL's gift for eidetic imagery: the faithful mice nibbling at dead Aslan's bonds, the cracking of the Stone Table of sacrifice, the new life spreading like flame over the Witch's statue-victims. The sequels are less haphazard, with further glowing images and a powerful grasp of Story more than compensating for the intermittently rough-hewn writing and glossed-over inconsistencies; Pauline Baynes's illustrations also have a unifying effect. Children take the stories at speed, often not detecting the Christian agenda until, perhaps, the last book. Tv versions include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1967 UK) and The Chronicles of Narnia (1988-1990 UK); there has also been an Animated Movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1978 tvm US).

CSL's last fantasy novel, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (1956), is a serious retelling of the Myth of Cupid and Psyche, wherein Psyche becomes the god's lover subject to the Condition of never seeing his face. Egged on by her sisters, she disobeys. CSL makes one sister his narrator; Psyche's role is overshadowed by this painful study of the sister's too-possessive Love and its destructive effect.

An Experiment in Criticism (1961) has brief but penetrating chapters on myth and Fantasy. Other relevant critical pieces are assembled, with short stories (one featuring a lunar Gorgon) and "After Ten Years" – a fragment of an unfinished romance about the Trojan War and its aftermath – in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (coll 1966) ed Walter Hooper (1931-2020). The fiction was later rearranged, with another short story and the long title fragment (found amid CSL's papers) as The Dark Tower and Other Stories (coll 1977) ed Hooper, while Of This and Other Worlds (coll 1982; vt On Stories – And Other Essays on Literature US) ed Hooper expands the selection of essays. The "The Dark Tower" fragment (written circa 1938) represents a road not taken: seven inferior chapters of a sequel to Out of the Silent Planet, whose premise of Time Travel shifts to an Alternate-World/Identity-Exchange plot, involving much academic discussion of J W Dunne's Time theories and the central image of a "Stingingman" whose lubriciously described, forehead-mounted sting erases its victims' individuality and instils mindless cheeriness. The symbolism verges on the embarrassing, as the Inklings seem to have told CSL – who added a kind of disclaimer and then abandoned the work. Its appearance did his reputation little good and eventually triggered an attack, The C.S. Lewis Hoax (1988) by Kathryn Lindskoog (1934-    ), accusing Hooper of forging The Dark Tower; but handwriting analysis authenticated the MS.

CSL's shrewd eye for human folly and self-deception is as effective in fiction as in theology, but a less welcome crossover from the books of apologetics is the occasional bullying rhetoric – a too-triumphant scoring of debating points. Other CSL strengths are ability to marshal and synthesize many Classical sources (and sometimes newer ones: Narnia contains several nods to E Nesbit), power of imagery, gift for the telling metaphor, sense of the numinous, and genuine feel for Evil. The Narnia sequence's popularity among children and the Ransom Trilogy's adult cult following seem likely to continue indefinitely. [DRL]

other works (selective): Dymer (1926), verse as by Clive Hamilton; The Allegory of Love (1936), a seminal discussion of Allegory; A Preface to "Paradise Lost" (1942), nonfiction; Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955), religious autobiography; Poems (coll 1964), including "Narnian Suite" and other fantasy verses; Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young C.S. Lewis (coll 1985), Animal Fantasy juvenilia ed Walter Hooper.

as editor: Essays Presented to Charles Williams (coll 1947); Arthurian Torso: Containing the Posthumous Fragment of The Figure of Arthur by Charles Williams and A Commentary on the Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams by C.S. Lewis (1948).

see also: C.S. Lewis: A Biography (1974) by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper; C.S. Lewis: A Biography (1990) by A N Wilson (1950-    ) has a bibliography listing some of the many other books about CSL.

Clive Staples Lewis


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.