Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Term used by C S Lewis to describe a yearning "desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience". Lewis presented this version in "The Weight of Glory" (in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses coll 1949 US) and went on to argue that Sehnsucht is not a longing that pertains to the natural world or the categories by which we respond – however deeply – to that world. It has nothing to do with beauty, or "sublimated eroticism"; it is not a synonym for the Pathetic Fallacy; it is not a projection. It is a longing for Heaven.

As a Christian, Lewis meant by "heaven" something like the presence or the immanence of God; and he claimed that Sehnsucht represents an actual calling of God to the human soul, a "wind of Joy" – a divine communication. The Landscape Lewis seems to visualize when recording his sense of Sehnsucht – a landscape often found in Nordic Fantasy – is no more than dressing: Sehnsucht calls through the garb of landscape. Lewis would not, therefore, have used the term to describe sensations perceived in the mind's eye by a secular human reader when touched by a purely imaginary wind out of Faerie, although that is the sense most often used in this encyclopedia.

As such, Sehnsucht is analogous to but actually contradicts any nostalgic sense of Eden or of a lost Golden Age, a nostalgia most expressively rendered in the phrase Et in Arcadia Ego. [JC]

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.