Not a Tame Lion by Terry Glaspey is a biography of C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia and a number of books on Christianity. This Christmas, I will be going to see the movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, despite the lukewarm reviews. I was a major fan of the Narnia books when I was a kid. Years later, I appreciated Lewis’ clever apologies for Christianity even if I did not ultimately agree with him. Despite his claims to be the most reluctant convert, I sensed he felt obliged to give reason its due course before he could permit himself conversion.
Having read several of Lewis’ books, I can recommend Glaspey’s representation of Lewis’ thought. Lewis was a romantic. He wrote fiction, like Narnia, to baptise children’s imaginations with the mythology of the gospel, to reveal the magic of the symbols so that the gospel might live for them. This was precisely my experience as a child. I wished I could go to Narnia and triumph alongside Aslan over evil. Christianity was a pronounced aspect of my upbringing, and it occurred to me that its struggles were of the same mythical proportions, offering me great adventures. Lewis is at his most brilliant when he talks about myth. “In using myth, we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction.” Lewis argues the importance of desire, wonder, and melancholy in the understanding of God. No desire can truly be satisfied, which is evidence that there is more to life than we can sense, and that we belong elsewhere. Fish do complain that the sea is wet.
“We are not merely trousered apes.” I just like that line. Lewis insists on the existence of objective values. Naturalism provides no basis for objective values, he says, since there is no outside frame of reference in naturalism, and the consequence would be a morality of subjective choice. I do not find his argument compelling. Morality could be a social construct, devised for the wellbeing of the whole against dangerous individuals or small groups.
Lewis turned the Christianity I knew on its head by saying that God is the author of pleasure. In fact, evil could never invent a pleasure. Well, that sounded good. Lewis liked smoking a pipe and having a mug of beer. “I have tried to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration.” Spiritual vices like pride are much more evil than bodily vices. Excellent. He is a great writer too in describing the importance of a sensual relationship with God. “All kinds of simple experiences can awaken within us a sense of God’s reality, whether it be the call of a bird, the crisp sweetness of an apple or a refreshing splash in cool water. As our mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun, so these patches of Godlight give us a tiny theophany, a vision of God.”
I leave you with a few more choice quotes.
You would not have called to me unless I had been calling you, said the Lion. The Silver Chair
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Mere Christianity
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. Miracles