Wednesday, November 9, 2011

C.S. Lewis – Till We Have Faces: III

Continuing with Lewis’s letter to Professor Kilby:

3. Orual is (not a symbol but) an instance, a ‘case’, of human affection in its natural condition: true, tender, suffering, but in the long run, tyrannically possessive and ready to turn to hatred when the beloved ceases to be its possession. What such love particularly cannot stand is to see the beloved passing into a sphere where it cannot follow. All this, I hoped, would stand as a mere story in its own right. But -

4. Of course I had always in mind its close parallel to what is probably at this moment going on in at least 5 families in your own town. Someone becomes a Christian, or, in a family nominally Christian already, does something like becoming a missionary or entering a religious order. The others suffer a sense of outrage. What they love is being taken from them!...Let’s hope it is only a phase!...Oh come back, come back, be sensible, be the dear son we used to know.

Now it just so happens that on my other blog, Kaleidoscope, I’m in the process of sharing a story about Maureen and Sean, a story not too far off the mark of what Lewis is writing about. When I read TWHF the second time, reading it as a story without trying to figure everything out, I “saw”, in a measure at least, what Lewis is telling Kilby. Psyche describes a wonderful place to Orual; she takes Orual to the wonderful place; and yet Orual cannot see it – Orual simply sees the mundane, not the beauty. I won’t share any more of TWHF in case you’ve not read it and are thinking about reading it.

As I ponder the negative reaction of readers and reviewers to TWHF a couple of things come to mind:

  1. Had Lewis written the book in the early 20th Century as opposed to the second-half of the 20th Century would it have received a different literary reception? Would early 20th Century reviewers and readers been more at home with the storyline and imagery?
  2.  Did (does?) the fact that the storyline is a mystery to many tell us something about the accommodation of Western Christianity to the surrounding culture? That is, more often than not Christianity is seen as one option out of many, and more often than not becoming a Christian need not be accompanied by a change in living, a change in priorities, or by relational misunderstanding and conflict. Becoming a Christian is seldom, it seems, accompanied by the call to deny oneself and take up the cross. A perusal of contemporary books written for a Christian audience often portrays something more akin to Amway or a diet fad (self-improvement) than laying one’s life down for Christ and others.

My point in “B” is that Psyche went through a radical change and Orual didn’t understand it; because Orual couldn’t follow Psyche she had to make other plans – which I won’t divulge. Christianity is hardly radical in the West – perhaps that is one reason why we find it hard to enter into the story – we simply can’t relate to it. Psyche and Orual lived in two different spheres; whereas it’s hard to distinguish the Western church from the world.

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