Sunday, November 20, 2011

C.S. Lewis to a Young Correspondent: Also Bob on Aslan and Images

On September 14, 1957, Lewis writes to Lucy Matthews:

I am so glad you like the Narnian stories and it was nice of you to write and tell me. I love E. Nesbit too and I think I have learned a lot from her about how to write stories of this kind. Do you know Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? I think you wd. like it. I am also bad at Maths and it is a continual nuisance to me – I get muddled over my change in shops. I hope you’ll have better luck and get over the difficulty! I makes life a lot easier.

I makes me, I think, more humble than proud to know that Aslan has allowed me to be the means of making Him more real to you. Because He could have used anyone – as He made a donkey preach a good sermon to Balaam. Perhaps, in return, you will sometimes say a prayer for me?

[As a reminder, all letters are from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis – 3 Vols, editied by Walter Hooper, Harper San Francisco].

I’ve included this letter in this series of posts because I love Lewis’s letters to children and adolescents. I love them because of the simple fact that he wrote them in the midst of a busy and sometimes painful life, I love them because it seems to me that he was as thoughtful in these letters as he was in those to adults, and I love them because I can hear Lewis’s voice to young people in the letters.

A friend of mine who is a Lewis scholar mentioned recently that someone who knew Lewis (I forget the name) said that, “Lewis wrote as he spoke”. If that is the case then in reading his letters we are reading (usually) the conversational Lewis. This quote also reminds me of a recent post in which Lewis gave the advice to write for the ear, not just for the eye.

The Bible is a book of images, yes there is narrative and there is didactic material, but there is also image, and image, and more image. There is image embedded in narrative and in didactic material. Consider that the Bible culminates in a book that is primarily a book of image – The Apocalypse. Yet rather than reading the images naturally we often try to force a literal reading, which in turn causes us to miss the life and reality of the images. On a literal level Lucy Matthews knew there was no Aslan, but why would someone even pose that question? That would be nonsense. But as an image portraying a reality, there is a seamlessness in Christ and Aslan – not even a transition is necessary for many (most?) Christian readers – anymore than a transition is necessary from the images of the Lamb and the Lion in Revelation to Christ, they are seamless.

Men without chests, as Lewis styles modern man, are people without hearts and imaginations, people who view life mechanistically and therefore materialistically and, by extension I suggest, literally. That is, if we can’t see it and touch it we don’t recognize it. There is an element of Christendom that embraces this approach when reading the Bible and considering the things of the Holy Spirit. Rather than seeking to balance the didactic with image in a natural holistic reading and experience of Scripture, this element sublimates image to the literal and material – thus sucking the life from the image; it unwittingly finds itself oriented toward things seen rather than things unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Perhaps it is little wonder elements of American Christianity are so politically oriented – if all we see is this world (in the sense of what is seen) then we must look for solutions in this world’s political systems – for we have chosen not to see the unseen.

But I digress you must be thinking – or perhaps I’m just following things to their logical conclusion. Just as Aslan is caricatured in The Last Battle, so is Christ caricatured  in our time…often by those who profess to follow Him. If we’ll just use our imaginations a bit I think we’ll see it.

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