Wednesday, 6 June 2012

On re-reading C S Lewis...

I have just finished re-reading C S Lewis' trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.

I hesitated as I wrote the word trilogy, as they are such different types of book.  I enjoy all of them, but in different ways and with different reservations.

Out of the Silent Planet is in one way the most conventional: it is a traveller's tale, recounting the adventures of someone forcibly abducted and taken to a strange world.

It is, of course, much more than that, and Lewis puts into practice his own insight as a literary critic that the creation of place is a very important part of fiction.  Certainly, Malacandra is well-conceived, from its geography to its social structures.

These all reflect Lewis' interest in conveying theological ideas within his story.  This is a story designed to show that Earth, as we know it, after the Fall, is an exception in God's creation.

The strong interest in language - and indeed the protagonist's profession as a philologist - reflect among other things his friendship with Tolkien.  Indeed, the book started when he and Tolkien agreed to write a thriller each: Lewis was to deal with space travel, and Tolkien with time travel.  Tolkien never delivered on his side of the bargain, but was a fan of the Silent Planet.

Perelandra is different again.  Another world is created with great and loving  imagination, and the vividness and intensity of life there is powerfully conveyed.  But the essence of this story is a re-playing of the temptation of the Eve of that world at the start of their history.

Lewis makes it clear how simple and practical the choice between obedience and self-will is, and also how subtle and seductive are the temptations to disobey.  The spiritual struggle becomes a physical one, but it is in some ways the pettiness of the devilry that haunts one.

As ever with Lewis there are insights that touch a chord or strike a raw nerve and live on long after the story is finished. Also, and again typically, there are inconsistencies of detail both within the book and between it and its predecessor.  However, it remains a favourite.

That Hideous Strength is in some ways the most unsatisfactory, and partly, I think, that is due to Lewis' friendship with Charles Williams.  Under Williams' influence, Lewis introduced an Arthurian theme into the story, and Williams' whole concept of Logres; this seems to me to be a distraction from, rather than an enrichment of, the central plot and theme.  Nonetheless, it is a good story, bringing the supernatural struggles witnessed on Perelandra back home to Earth.

So I enjoyed reading all three, and will doubtless come back to them again in a decade or so; and in the meantime, I think I'll get out my copies of Till We Have Faces (Lewis' own favourite, I think, though his biggest flop with the reading public) and The Great Divorce, neither of which I have read in this millenium.


Anonymous said...

We read That hideous strength for our Catholic Women's Book Club a few years ago..must read the rest..

Ben Trovato said...

Jackie, if you enjoyed that, you may find you enjoy the others even more! (Or you may not, of course...) But it is the third of the sequence, and you may want to re-read it again after the others, as it will make more sense then.