If I could invite three guys over for dinner to talk C.S. Lewis it would probably be Douglas Wilson, the author of What I Learned in Narnia, Nate Wilson, the author of The Great Divorce screenplay, and Alan Jacobs, the author of The Narnian, by far my favorite book on Lewis. It just so turns out that a while back these men gathered to chat about Lewis for 80 minutes, a conversation was filmed and is now available for viewing online. If Lewis interests you, and if you can find the time, I highly recommend it:
Tolkien himself may object to a blog post about Narnia on such an otherwise perfect Hobbit Day, but since we’re reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as a family the book is on the brain and, hence, on the blog. The reading (or re-reading or re-re-reading, depending on who in the family you are talking about) is in anticipation of the 3D movie release in December. The extra time will allow us to slow our pace and to read and study the book carefully and benefit from secondary sources. Over the past few days I have been digging through a few books for background it was while researching that I stumbled upon an interesting point made by Alan Jacobs. He proposes that TVDT is ultimately an allegory of the Church. Here’s the argument in Jacobs makes in The Narnian (HarperOne, 2005), page 209-210:
… The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader,” … I am tempted to call an allegory of the Church. After all, historically Christians have linked the Church with Noah’s Ark: each boat is, in its time and place, a unique vessel of salvation. As the Church sails toward Heaven, so the Dawn Treader sails toward Aslan’s country at the end of the world.
And on this voyage Eustace’s situation is the most significant one. He finds himself on this ship, knowing no one, comprehending nothing, and staying with the others only because he has no other option, as the slave trader Pug discovered when he “threw him in free with other lots and still no one would take him.” He doesn’t see that the Dawn Treader is his only hope of survival; he doesn’t see that from the other members of that crew he could learn skills and virtues alike. Thanks to his parents and his school, he is a “boy without a chest” and is simply incapable of understanding what motivates the others, the martial Mouse Reepicheep above all.
And the only way for this to be remedied … is for Eustace to undergo a kind of death: to have his very skin stripped away by Aslan, and only by Aslan, and to emerge newly born from the encounter. Moreover, the first part of what he must learn is simply that he is not a very good boy, that he is weak and cowardly—that, to put it bluntly, he is simply inferior to Caspian and Edmund and, yes, Reepicheep. It is noteworthy that after he becomes a boy again he tells Edmund, “You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.”
This is the first time that Eustace has considered himself anything but superior to everyone else, and if it seems obvious that Eustace’s musculature would be dwarfed by that of the powerful young king, well, in the matter of self-knowledge everyone has to start somewhere. Only once he has acknowledged the “mouldiness” of his arms and the “beastliness” of his behavior is Eustace ready to begin the process of becoming a real member of the Dawn Treader’s crew.
If Jacobs is right and TVDT is an allegory of the Church, that allegory is ripe with application about what it means to live humbly within the community, to depend upon Christian friends (reminiscent of Bunyan’s allegory), and what it means to welcome and care for ungrateful wretches like Eustace who are yet in need of God’s sovereign and gracious skinning. Needless to say, after reading this excerpt from Jacobs I think I will be reading TVDT with new eyes.
But Narnia will wait until another day because this day is Tolkien’s day. And tomorrow on the blog I hope to have a few pictures of our coney stew feast.
Happy Hobbit Day.
Alan Jacobs, in an interview with Ken Myers, as recorded in back matter of Jacob’s excellent book, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis [(HarperCollins, 2005), page 349,] said:
“…almost everything that Lewis really cared about and that he deeply believed in, almost everything that he thought was vital for us to know, no matter how scholarly, no matter how intellectual, found its way somehow into the Narnia books—to a shocking degree, actually. You wouldn’t think that he would be able to get all that stuff into a series of what are, after all, relatively brief books for children, and yet he did.”
Mere Humanity by Donald T. Williams
Debates between atheists and Christians over the question of God have become commonplace and especially as Presidential elections roll around.
For debate is the question: Is God a myth? But another related and important question is often neglected: Is man a myth?
You’ll recall in the world of Narnia, the fawn Mr. Tumnus owns an interesting book by the title, Is Man a Myth? This book, discovered by Lucy on her initial visit, was carefully shelved by author C.S. Lewis who asks his readers a pointed question: Are all living beings mere animals of various evolutionary development, or is there something essentially special and different about the Daughters of Eve and the Sons of Adam? Do these special men/women even exist? Or, are they the mere fantasy of animals?
This question is very relevant today in the torrent of secularism. Humans, we are told, are nothing more than superiorly evolved animals. Man – as an eternal soul and bearing the image of God – is a mythical fantasy.
Dr. Donald T. Williams has set out to rediscover the biblical portrait of man through literary classics in his book Mere Humanity: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (B&H, 2006). Williams serves as both a scholar and pastor.
Mere Humanity is a lively and thought-provoking answer to the question of man from the writings of Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien. But I most appreciate Williams’ helpful interpretive contexts for great literary works like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy and The Lord of the Rings.
For C.S. Lewis, theology saturates his storyline and often lays on the surface (ex. Aslan portraying Christ). But a Christian worldview is also rooted deeply in the storyline of Lord of the Rings. Unlike Lewis, the theology of J.R.R. Tolkien is buried deep under the surface and excavating Tolkien’s Christian worldview is where Williams is at his finest. He has taught me one crucial point about Middle Earth – it is no eternal home (more on this later).
Williams does not shy from correcting these authors in their writings. For example, C.S. Lewis was wrong in denying the doctrine of depravity and Williams corrects him (see p. 63). And Williams is willing to reveal some of the flaws in the literature of these men. This is a discerning book.
So is man a myth? Is man just another animal or an advanced orangutan? We may look to the talking, man-like beasts of Narnia and be tempted to answer “yes.” But this would be wrong. It’s only when the Daughters of Eve and the Sons of Adam take their rightful place on the throne of creation – under the authority of Aslan – that Narnia is set aright.
Williams concludes that man as “the product of evolution who can be explained fully in terms of material and mechanical process, is definitely a myth, a myth created by man the mythmaker” (p. 134).
Mere Humanity is a wonderful and thought-provoking book.
The Everlasting Hobbit
Williams pulls themes from Tolkien almost effortlessly as you can see from this excerpt from chapter six, ‘The Everlasting Hobbit’ (pp. 127-130).
“To be human is to live in hope. … But to be human is also to live with the fact that there is no final fruition of that hope in this world, for our destiny lies beyond it. In the tension between those two truths lies the temporal paradox of the works of man, always beginning, always marring, always failing, only to begin again, never achieving for long the greatness that always seems promised but never finally failing at the last or losing sight of that promise either. …
The brevity of human life, and hence the bittersweet quality of all that man accomplishes in this life, is brought into sharp relief by the contrast between mortal man and immortal elf. Legolas promises, ‘In days to come, if my Elven-lord allows, some of our folk shall remove hither; and when we come [Gondor] shall be blessed, for a while. For a while: a month, a life, a hundred years of Men.’ Our lives in this world are short because this life is not our ultimate end. Nevertheless, we are to love this world for the sake of our Father who made it, not despise it. That is the difficulty of the human condition. We are tempted to take one of the two easier paths: to try to love this life as if it were our final end (like the Numenoreans), that is, to fall into idolatry; or to reject this world and turn from it as cynics always doomed to be disappointed by it. But our true calling is much more difficult: to love it and then to let it go.
Little lettings go, little deaths like Pippin’s casting away of the brooch, are practice for the larger one that awaits us all. Frodo’s loss of the ability to enjoy the Shire he worked so hard to save is perhaps the most poignant image of this truth. Because it is the preparation for something higher, the letting go is necessary and ultimately blessed when not rejected. But it is seldom easy.
… The Lord of the Rings is ‘founded on the rock-bottom Christian belief that this world is not our home.’ And so we learn to live in Middle-Earth as true men and women, and to leave it as Gandalf teaches us: ‘Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-Earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.’”
Title: Mere Humanity: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien on the Human Condition
Author: Donald T. Williams
Reading level: 3.0/5.0 > fairly advanced concepts
Dust jacket: no
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Broadman and Holman Publishers
Price USD: $14.99 from publisher
ISBNs: 9780805440188, 0805440186