Why Old Magic was Innocent, According to C.S. Lewis

As I’ve mentioned, That Hideous Strength dealt with a number of things, and there is one of them I’d like to explore more in depth, as it is a topic that interests me a lot and is relevant to the general enjoyment of literature and other of my favorite works such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Arthurian tales such as The Once and Future King by T.H. White and the more recent Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which I hope to begin soon.

Through the character of Arthur Dimble, a professor of ancient languages and mythology, C.S. Lewis speculates on the role and place of magic in ancient times as contrasted with its place today. Here is an abbreviated version of the discussion on the subject between Dimble and his wife:

“Everything is getting more itself and more different from everything else all the time….[For a man like Merlin] there were still possibilities for a man of that age which there aren’t for a man of ours. The Earth itself was more like an animal in those days. And mental processes were much more like physical actions. And there were–well, Neutrals [spirits] knocking about…A conscious being is either obeying God or disobeying Him. But there might be things neutral in relation us [humans]….There used to be things on this Earth pursuing their own business, so to speak.”

“I think there was room for them then, but the universe has come more to a point.”

“In Merlin’s time…though you could still use that sort of life in the universe innocently, you couldn’t do it safely. The things weren’t bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us….Like polygamy. It wasn’t wrong for Abraham, but one can’t help feeling that even he lost something by it.”

“Merlin…is the last vestige of an old order in which matter and spirit were, from our modern point of view, confused. For him every operation on Nature is a kind of personal contact, like coaxing a child or stroking one’s horse. After him came the modern man to whom Nature is something dead–a machine to be worked, and taken to bits if it won’t work the way he pleases.”

(from That Hideous Strength, p. 284-285)

Lewis, who like Dimble, was an expert in languages and in English literature especially would have encountered this issue theologically and in explaining the value of the myths from various cultures that engrossed him so much.

His answer regarding the status of pre-Christian or early post-Christian magic is that the world was a bit different back then, when distinctions about power and agency were perhaps less clear. It was a time, he says, when angels or other spirits may not have had a position towards humans and when the spiritual, even animal, realities of nature could be tapped into innocently, though he adds not safely. Continue reading

National Book Festival – Sept. 24

nbf-home-animated-banner-2016Something of interest to book readers in the area or perhaps even in general, the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival is happening here in Washington DC on Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Washington Convention Center.

Stephen King will be speaking, and Marilynne Robinson will speak and receive an award. My good friend and fellow reader, among other honors, Meg, had this to say about the latter:

“Marilynne Robinson wrote Gilead, a really beautiful book.  It won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, and was notable for prominently featuring faith as its theme.  It is written from the perspective of a Midwestern pastor. She once said that authors today are afraid of writing about faith, but she finds that writing about it, authentically, produces some of the best writing there is.”

The book festival is free, features dozens of authors and will have children’s activities and appearances by children’s writers.

There will be also be poetry readings and poets. 😀

http://www.loc.gov/bookfest/

#natbookfest

So I’m thinking of going! Are you?

Book Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

10569Stephen King’s On Writing was a Christmas gift; half-memoir, half-guide to writing, it was all memorable and enjoyable, regardless of the fact that I am not a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve read The Shining, but I don’t get much more into it than that.

Nevertheless, his stories about his childhood, early writings for local newspapers and re-workings of movie plots for his classmates were told with funny, self-deprecating flair, and the humble beginnings of his career were downright inspiring: two married English graduates raising little kids on King’s meager teacher’s salary, worried about affording “the pink stuff,” amoxicillin antibiotics, for their daughter’s ear infection, then to run away bestselling author of Carrie, followed by hit after hit.

Granted, Carrie was not his first novel and he had printed many short stories, but he went from seemingly impossible odds to near-overnight success; it gave my soul a smile to read about. When all seems lost, good things might be right around the corner.

As for the writing guide, that too gave a helpful outline of what building a literary career might look like as well as King’s opinions on language–(use few adverbs). Peppered with King’s typical, “earthy” language, a few of On Writing’s examples demonstrated perfectly what works and what doesn’t work in imaginative prose.

I’ll discuss two:

  1. The Simile: “When its on target, a good simile delights us in much the same way meeting an old friend in a crowd of strangers does.” (p. 178)

See that? He’s done it in the very sentence. A good simile connects a tiny piece of our experience and emotion to the physical act being described. All of a sudden, the author has made the connection for us. We all know how pleasant it is to recognize someone, and a good simile does just that.

2. King counsels the aspiring author to tell the story how she sees it, paying no head to trendy critics who pronounce the death of the linear novel. He tells us that he prefers stories written in order while admitting that you might not. Nevertheless, he says, “I’m an A-Z man; serve me the appetizer first and give me dessert if I eat my veggies” (225) as a metaphor for a story told in order.

I appreciated this sentence a lot for its simplicity of image and language, but also for how well it captures the simple pleasure of things taken in order. This is right about the level I like for longer prose. It’s illustrative without making you think about it; it just clicks.

Another book I am reading, which will not be named, uses far more poetic language in the structure of the novel.  She tells of finding her “glasses tipped atop her knobby head.” This sentence annoys me;  I have to stop reading to compose the mental image.

In poems, I like that. In novels, the things built from complete sentences, I’m not such a fan of phrasing that requires mental weight-lifting.

So I liked On Writing. I enjoyed the free-flowing examples incorporated into the text and the personal stories from his life and career.

Do you have any favorite memoirs? Are you a Stephen King fan? Got any favorite books on the craft of writing?