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

Book Review: SPOILER ALERT Harry Potter and The Cursed Child – (Overdone and Boring at the same time)

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I’m sorry to review Harry Potter and The Cursed Child as one of the biggest reading disappointments I’ve had since I started reading for pleasure again after my kids were born–so in the last four years.

I loved the original Harry Potter books and the movies: the magic, the adventure, the fun, the characters. I grew up with it, and I wanted to love Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Yet, from page one, I was disappointed:

  1. little new plot material
  2. simplistic characters
  3. sloppy emotional outpourings

SPOILER ALERT – consider yourself warned, though I have avoided things that could ruin the one real surprise.

Plot:

There is only a little I could spoil because the new plot mostly revolves around the plots of the original seven books. What’s new is that that Harry’s son, Albus, and Draco’s son, Scorpius go, back in time with a time-turner in attempt to right certain wrongs from the past. They revisit Triwizard Tournament a few times, remind us of the Chamber of Secrets and go back to that fateful day when Voldemort gave Harry his scar.

The only present day conflict is that Albus and Harry don’t get along well. The Cursed Child is about the next generation wrestling with the scars of the past, which is of course a real struggle, but I was hoping for new present-day problems and adventures.

Yet the back-in-time plot, while a bit trite and logically-suspect, also tries to do too much.

At one point, Scorpius encounters an alternate universe where Voldemort is king, where all is dark, and Dumbledore’s Army is completely underground and he must find them, and convince them to help him and get time aright again. During this one-scene gargantuan plot piece, three (THREE!) characters throw themselves at Dementors to help save Scorpius. The full undermining of the alternate world is accomplished merely as a step in rest of the story–which is about the importance of letting things stand as they were. That one scene has to do a bit too much emotional and story-telling work for the amount of time it gets. And it seems a little too easy for Scorpius to sweep in and right this all-goes-wrong world in a few sentences.
Continue reading