Dedicated to one of the great thinkers and authors of our time: C.S. Lewis.
I hope you find each quotation interesting and inspiring.
Friday, July 29, 2005
A Thousand, Thousand Points of Light
In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it. The horse seemed to like it too; he gave the sort of whinney a horse would give if, after years of being a cab-horse, it found itself back in the old field where it had played as a foal, and saw someone whom it remembered and loved coming across the field to bring it a lump of sugar.
"Gawd!" said the Cabby. "Ain't it lovely?"
Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn't come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out - single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.
"Glory be!" said the Cabby, "I'd ha' been a better man all my life if I'd known there were things like this." ~C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew, "The Founding of Narnia", (1955)
As for the man: he is about 52, of humble origin (there are still traces of cockney in his voice), ugly as a chimpanzee but so radiant (he emanates more love than any man I have ever known) that as soon as he begins talking whether in private or in a lecture he is transfigured and looks like an angel. He sweeps some people quite off their feet and has many disciples. Women find him so attractive that if he were a bad man he could do what he liked either as a Don Juan or a charlatan. He works in the Oxford University Press. In spite of his "angelic" quality he is also quite an earthy person and when Warnie, Tolkien, he and I meet for our pint in a pub in Broad Street, the fun is often so fast and furious that the company probably thinks we're talking bawdy when in fact we're very likely talking Theology. He is married and, I think, youthfully in love with his wife still. ~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, (Letter to Arthur Greeves Jan 30, 1944)
Two spiritual maxims were constantly present to the mind of Charles Williams: "This also is Thou" and "Neither is this Thou." Holding the first we see that every created thing is, in its degree, an image of God, and the ordinate and faithful appreciation of that thing a clue which, truly followed, will lead back to Him. Holding the second we see that every created thing, the highest devotion to moral duty, the purest conjugal love, the saint and the seraph, is no more than an image, that every one of them, followed for its own sake and isolated from its source, becomes an idol whose service is damnation. The first maxim is the formula of the Romantic Way, the "affirmation of images": the second is that of the Ascetic Way, the "rejection of images." Every soul must in some sense follow both. The Ascetic must honour marriage and poetry and wine and the face of nature even while he rejects them; the Romantic must remember even in his Beatrician moment "Neither is this Thou." ~ C. S. Lewis, Arthurian Torso, "Williams and the Arthuriad" (1948)
'How soon do you think I could begin painting?' it asked.
The Spirit broke into laughter. 'Don't you see you'll never paint at all if that's what you're thinking about? he said.
'What do you mean?' asked the Ghost.
'Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you'll never learn to see the country.'
'But that's just how a real artist is interested in the country.'
'No. You're forgetting,' said the Spirit. 'That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.'
'Oh, that's ages ago,' said the Ghost. 'One grows out of that. Of course, you haven't seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.'
'One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn't stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower--become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.' ~C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (1946)
[One of the most unpopular of the Christian virtues] is laid down in the Christian rule, 'Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.' Because in Christian morals 'thy neighbour' includes 'thy enemy', and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies.
Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. 'That sort of talk makes them sick,' they say. And half of you already want to ask me, 'I wonder how you'd feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?'
So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do--I can do precious little--I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find 'Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.' There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952)
A letter from C.S. Lewis to his best friend, Arthur Greeves written when he was seventeen:
I have had a great literary experience this week. I have discovered yet another author to add to our circle--our very own set: never since I first read 'The well at the world's end' have I enjoyed a book so much--and indeed I think my new 'find' is quite as good as Malory or Morris himself. The book, to get to the point, is George Macdonald's 'Faerie Romance', Phantastes which I picked up by hazard in a rather tired Everyman copy [...]. At any rate, whatever the book you are reading now, you simply MUST get this at once: and it is quite worth getting in a superior Everyman binding too.
Of course it is hopeless for me to try and describe it, but when you have followed the hero Anodos along that little stream to the faery wood, have heard about the terrible ash tree and how the shadow of this gnarled, knotted hand falls upon the book the hero is reading, when you have read about the faery palace--just like that picture in the Dulac book--and heard the episode of Cosmo, I know that you will quite agree with me. You must not be disappointed at the first chapter which is rather conventional faery tale style, and after it you won't be able to stop until you have finished. There are one or two poems in the tale--as in the Morris tales you know--which, with one or two exceptions are shockingly bad, so don't TRY to appreciate them: it is just a sign, isn't it of how some geniuses can't work in metrical forms--another example being the Brontes.
I quite agree with what you say about buying books, and love all the planning and scheming beforehand, and if they come by post, finding the neat little parcel waiting for you on the hall table and rushing upstairs to open it in the privacy of your own room. Some people--my father for instance--laugh at us for being so serious over our pleasures, but I think a thing can't be properly enjoyed unless you take it in earnest, don't you? What I can't understand about you though is how you can get a nice new book and still go on stolidly with the one you are at: I always like to be able to start the new one on the day I get it, and for that reason wait to buy it until the old one is done. But then of course you have so much more money to throw about than I.
Talking about finishing books, I have at last come to the end of the Faerie Queene: and though I say 'at last', I almost wish he had lived to write six books more as he hoped to do--so much have I enjoyed it. ~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume I, Letter of 7 March 1916
A quotation today from Charles Gilmore's essay in C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table. During World War II, Lewis was asked by the Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force to give talks to the men and women of the RAF stationed in the many camps and training locations in the U.K. This was the first time Lewis had been asked to address non-students, and he was worried that he would flop. Furthermore, he knew the survival statistics of the pilots at that time, and found it very humbling to talk to a roomful of personnel, many of whom would not be alive in another week:
"The effect he made is hard to describe a generation later, and I doubt whether even a contemporary diary could quite convey it. He never showed any emotion, although I think that his listeners knew instinctively that his thoughts had been hammered out in the furnace rather than stored inside a glacier. His subject matter varied most wonderfully and, considered as such, was not always very interesting to ordinary people, but he could light it up with such grace and clarity that, long after what he actually said had been forgotten, the memory of many who heard him was that he had shown to them a sterling and direct purpose, where before they had found only the confusion of a whirlpool. How he did this, whether he knew that he did it, I have no idea but, although I went to only a few of his lectures, I saw the same result, sharp and clear as a diamond with many lights, whether he was speaking to a hundred or a dozen." ~Charles Gilmore, "To the RAF", C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table (1979) ________________________
On this day:
1962 A review of The Lord of the Rings appeared in the New York Herald Tribune: "One of the most remarkable exercises in imaginative fantasy in modern English writing."
The pleasure (quite new to him) of being liked and, still more, of liking other people, was what kept Eustace from despair. For it was very dreary being a dragon. He shuddered whenever he caught sight of his own reflection as he flew over a mountain lake. He hated the huge batlike wings, the saw-edged ridge on his back, and the cruel, curved claws. He was almost afraid to be alone with himself and yet he was ashamed to be with the others. On the evenings when he was not being used as a hot-water bottle he would slink away from the camp and lie curled up like a snake between the wood and the water. On such occasions, greatly to his surprise, Reepicheep was his most constant comforter. The noble Mouse would creep away from the merry circle at the camp fire and sit down by the dragon's head, well to the windward to be out of the way of his smoky breath. There he would explain that what had happened to Eustace was a striking illustration of the turn of Fortune's wheel, and that if he had Eustace at his own house in Narnia (it was really a hole not a house and the dragon's head, let alone his body, would not have fitted in) he could show him more than a hundred examples of emperors, kings, dukes, knights, poets, lovers, astronomers, philosophers, and magicians, who had fallen from prosperity into the most distressing circumstances, and of whom many had recovered and lived happily ever afterwards. It did not, perhaps, seem so very comforting at the time, but it was kindly meant and Eustace never forgot it. ~C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
On this day:
1940 Lewis conceives the idea for The Screwtape Letters.
I am sorry things are not better. I am very puzzled by people like your Committee Secretary, people who are just nasty. I find it easier to understand the great crimes, for the raw material of them exists in us all; the mere disagreeableness which seems to spring from no recognizable passion is mysterious. (Like the total stranger in a train of whom I once asked "Do you know when we get to Liverpool" and who replied "I'm not paid to answer your questions: ask the guard"). I have found it more among Boys than anyone else. That makes me think it really comes from inner insecurity--a dim sense that one is Nobody, a strong determination to be Somebody, and a belief that this can be achieved by arrogance. Probably you, who can't hit back, come in for a good deal of resentful arrogance aroused by others on whom she doesn't vent it, because they can. (A bully in an Elizabethan play, having been sat on by a man he dare not fight, says "I'll go home and beat all my servants"). But I mustn't encourage you to go on thinking about her: that, after all, is almost the greatest evil nasty people can do us--to become an obsession, to haunt our minds. A brief prayer for them, and then away to other subjects, is the thing, if one can only stick to it. ~C.S. Lewis, Letters To An American Lady, Letter of March 10, 1954 (1967)
The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (1952)
Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children's games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups--playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits, so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest. ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (1952)
A child is always thinking about [those] details in a story which a grown-up regards as indifferent. If when you first told the tale your hero was warned by three little men appearing on the left of the road, and when you tell it again you introduce one little man on the right of the road, the child protests. And the child is right. You think it makes no difference because you are not living the story at all. If you were, you would know better. Motifs, machines, and the like are abstractions of literary history and therefore interchangeable: but concrete imagination knows nothing of them. ~C.S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays, "Hamlet, The Prince or the Poem" (1942)
Bonus quotation for the day:
On Television last night I saw the opening installment of J[ack]'s Lion, Witch and Wardrobe by which I was agreeably surprised. Lucy is good, and looks the part, and Tumnus comes off. We got only so far as Lucy's return from her first visit to Narnia, so one cannot yet form any opinion of the whole thing, but so far it's very promising and I think J[ack] would have been pleased with it--no hint so far of what he feared, a touch of Disneyland. [...]How I wish J[ack] were here to talk it over with me! ~Warren Lewis, Brothers and Friends, Journal entry of July 9, 1967 (edited by Clyde S. Kilby and Marjorie Lamp Mead) 1982
All at once everything became quite clear. He had found he was fighting the Tarkaan himself. The bonfire (what was left of it) was straight in front. He was in fact fighting in the very doorway of the stable, for it had been opened and two Calormenes were holding the door, ready to slam it shut the moment he was inside. He remembered everything now, and he realized that the enemy had been edging him to the stable on purpose ever since the fight began. And while he was thinking this he was still fighting the Tarkaan as hard as he could.
A new idea came into Tirian's head. He dropped his sword, darted forward, in under the sweep of the Tarkaan's scimitar, seized his enemy by the belt with both hands, and jumped back into the stable, shouting:
"Come in and meet Tash yourself!"
There was a deafening noise. As when the Ape had been flung in, the earth shook and there was a blinding light. ~C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, (1956)
But to surrender to a self-will inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation is a kind of death. We all remember this self-will as it was in childhood: the bitter, prolonged rage at every thwarting, the burst of passionate tears, the black, Satanic wish to kill or die rather than to give in. Hence the older type of nurse or parent was quite right in thinking that the first step in education is 'to break the child's will'. Their methods were often wrong: but not to see the necessity is, I think, to cut oneself off from all understanding of spiritual laws. And if, now that we are grown up, we do not howl and stamp quite so much, that is partly because our elders began the process of breaking or killing our self-will in the nursery, and partly because the same passions now take more subtle forms and have grown clever at avoiding death by various 'compensations'. Hence the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we find it alive. That this process cannot be without pain is sufficiently witnessed by the very history of the word 'Mortification'. ~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chapter 6: Human Pain, (1940)
Almost the whole of Christian theology could perhaps be deduced from the two facts (a) That men make coarse jokes, and (b) That they feel the dead to be uncanny. The coarse joke proclaims that we have here an animal which finds its own animality either objectionable or funny. Unless there had been a quarrel between the spirit and the organism I do not see how this could be: it is the very mark of the two not being 'at home' together. But it is very difficult to imagine such a state of affairs as original--to suppose a creature which from the very first was half shocked and half tickled to death at the mere fact of the creature it is. I do not perceive that dogs see anything funny about being dogs: I suspect that angels see nothing funny about being angels. Our feeling about the dead is equally odd. It is idle to say that we dislike corpses because we are afraid of ghosts. You might say with equal truth that we fear ghosts because we dislike corpses--for the ghost owes much of its horror to the associated ideas of pallor, decay, coffins, shrouds, and worms. In reality we hate the division which makes possible the conception of either corpse or ghost. Because the thing ought not to be divided, each of the halves into which it falls by division is detestable. ~C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (1947)
While Arevanye is away, I'm filling in. Fear not, she will be back and take over in a few more days. I don't have the C.S. Lewis resources that she does, so forgive me if the excerpts are a bit lacking in novelty. Arrogance and Humility are today's topics.
"But I want her," cried the Prince. "I must have her. I shall die if I do not get her--false, proud, black-hearted daughter of a dog that she is! I cannot sleep and my food has no savor and my eyes are darkened because of her beauty. I must have the barbarian queen."
"How well it was said by a gifted poet," observed the Vizier, raising his face (in a somewhat dusty condition) from the carpet, "that deep drafts from the fountain of reason are desirable in order to extinguish the fire of youthful love."
This seemed to exasperate the Prince. "Dog," he shouted, directing a series of well-aimed kicks at the hindquarters of the Vizier, "do not dare to quote the poets to me. I have had maxims and verses flung at me all day and I can endure them no more." I am afraid Aravis did not feel at all sorry for the Vizier.
The Tisroc was apparently sunk in thought, but when, after a long pause, he noticed what was happening, he said tranquilly:
"My son, by all means desist from kicking the venerable and enlightened Vizier: for as a costly jewel retains its value even if hidden in a dung-hill, so old age and discretion are to be respected even in the vile persons of our subjects. Desist therefore, and tell us what you desire and propose." p.110 ....
"I know," said Aravis. "I felt just the same. Shasta was marvelous. I'm just as bad as you, Bree. I've been snubbing him and looking down on him ever since you met us and now he turns out to be the best of us all. But I think it would be better to stay and say we're sorry than to go back to Calormen."
"It's all very well for you," said Bree. "You haven't disgraced yourself. But I've lost everything."
"My good Horse," said the Hermit, who had approached them unnoticed because his bare feet made so little noise on that sweet, dewy grass. "My good Horse, you've lost nothing but your self-conceit. No, no, cousin. Don't put back your ears and shake your mane at me. If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You're not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn't follow that you'll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you're nobody very special, you'll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another. And now, if you and my other four-footed cousin will come round to the kitchen door we'll see about the other half of that mash." p.151 ~C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy (1954)
To be stories at all they must be series of events: but it must be understood that this series--the plot, as we call it--is only really a net whereby to catch something else. The real theme may be, and perhaps usually is, something that has no sequence in it, something other than a process and much more like a state or quality. Giantship, otherness, the desolation of space, are examples that have crossed our path. [...]
If the author's plot is only a net, and usually an imperfect one, a net of time and event for catching what is not really a process at all, is life much more? ...Art, indeed, may be expected to do what life cannot do: but so it has done.
In life and art both, as it seems to me, we are always trying to catch in our net of successive moments something that is not successive. Whether in real life there is any doctor who can teach us how to do it, so that at last either the meshes will become fine enough to hold the bird, or we be so changed that we can throw our nets away and follow the bird to its own country, is not a question for this essay. But I think it is sometimes done--or very, very nearly done--in stories. I believe the effort to be well worth making. ~C.S. Lewis, "On Stories", Of Other Worlds (1947)
Dined with J[ack] in College, after which an Inklings at which Tollers continued to read his new Hobbit [i.e., The Lord of the Rings]: so sui generis, so alive with the peculiar charm of his "magical" writing, that it is indescribable--and merely worth recording here for an odd proof of how near he is to real magic. ~Warren Lewis, Diary entry Oct. 10, 1946, Brothers and Friends: The Diaries of Major Warren H. Lewis
On this day:
1930 Warren Lewis and C.S. Lewis saw The Kilns, their future home, for the first time.
This is an excerpt from a short, unpublished story called "The Man Born Blind". The story is about a man who has recently been given sight for the first time after an operation, and his search for a tangible "Light", as he had been convinced existed when he was blind. Walter Hooper gives a date of the 1920's for the manuscript, but C.S. Lewis expert Kathryn Lindskoog asserted that a documents expert dates the ink of the manuscript to sometime after 1950.
There was a mist that morning, but he had encountered mists before and this did not trouble him. He walked through it, out of the little town and up the steep hill and then along the field path that ran round the lip of the quarry. Mary had taken him there a few days ago to show him what she called the 'view'. And while they had sat looking at it she had said, 'What a lovely light that is on the hills over there.' It was a wretched clue, for he was now convinced that she knew no more about light than he did, that she used the word but meant nothing by it. He was even beginning to suspect that most of the un-blind were in the same position. What one heard among them was merely the parrot-like repetition of a rumour--the rumour of something which perhaps (it was his last hope) great poets and prophets of old had really known and seen. It was on their testimony alone that he still hoped. It was still just possible that somewhere in the world, not everywhere as fools had tried to make him believe, guarded in deep woods or divided by distant seas, the thing Light might actually exist, springing up like a fountain or growing like a flower. ~C.S. Lewis, "The Man Born Blind", The Dark Tower and Other Stories (1977)
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. ~C.S. Lewis, "Is Theology Poetry", The Weight of Glory (1949)
"Well, sir, if things are real, they're there all the time."
"Are they?" said the Professor; and Peter didn't know quite what to say.
"But there was no time," said Susan. "Lucy had no time to have gone anywhere, even if there was such a place. She came running after us the very moment we were out of the room. It was less than minute, and she pretended to have been away for hours."
"That is the very thing that makes her story so likely to be true," said the Professor. "If there really a door in this house that leads to some other world (and I should warn you that this is a very strange house, and even I know very little about it) - if, I say, she had got into another world, I should not be at a surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stay there it would never take up any of our time. On the other hand, I don't think many girls of her age would invent that idea for themselves. If she had been pretending, she would have hidden for a reasonable time before coming out and telling her story."
"But do you really mean, sir," said Peter, "that there could be other worlds - all over the place, just round the corner - like that?"
"Nothing is more probable," said the Professor, taking off his spectacles and beginning to polish them, while he muttered to himself, "I wonder what they do teach them at these schools." ~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
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