We support our Publishers and Content Creators. You can view this story on their website by CLICKING HERE.

It is only by freeing ourselves from our possessiveness of others that we can avoid being possessed by the false “loves” that keep us from True Love. In his adult fiction, as in his children’s fiction and his non-fiction, C.S. Lewis teaches this priceless lesson, the learning of which is necessary if adults want to become grown-ups.

Several years ago I wrote a book on The Chronicles of Narnia, which was published by TAN Books with the title Further Up and Further In: Understanding Narnia. I had originally intended the title to be “Narnia for Grown-Ups” as a way of showing that the deep theological and other thematic elements of the Narnia stories illustrated that they were for adults, not solely for children. In the event, the C. S. Lewis estate objected to this title, necessitating the alternative title that the volume was finally given.

This scenario comes vividly and ironically to mind as I prepare to teach an online course for Memoria College on “The Adult Fiction of C. S. Lewis”. I have the distinct impression that I am contradicting myself in teaching a course on this subject, considering that all of Lewis’s fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia included, are for adults. The point is, however, that the Narnia stories were written with children in mind, even if they contain an abundance of deep theological, philosophical and historical context that will only be understood on a deeper level by adults. His other fiction was written with an adult readership in mind and it is this fiction that I will be focusing on in the course.

The fiction I will be focusing on begins with his early work, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and continues with The Great Divorce, followed by the three science fiction novels, which are sometimes called the Space Trilogy or the Ransom Trilogy, and ends with his late work, Till We Have Faces.

I have omitted the two Screwtape books (The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast) for pragmatic and personal reasons. The pragmatic reason relates to the necessity of being selective with respect to the limited class time; the personal reason relates to the fact that Screwtape gives me the creeps. Lewis succeeds in getting inside the devil’s head, via the psychology of the sinner, to such a penetrating degree that I almost feel as though I am supping with Satan himself when I open the pages of Lewis’s exposé of his methods. This is all well and good, not least because we are in fact choosing to sup with Satan when we choose sin over virtue. The problem is that Screwtape gets inside my head, even as Lewis gets inside his, which was no doubt Lewis’s intention with respect to the reader. I feel sullied by my close encounter with the demonic, choosing not to keep Screwtape’s company, even though, ironically, my neglect of his presence might be exactly what he wants. It is precisely Lewis’s point that the devil works best in the dark, disguised with a cloak of invisibility. I confess, therefore, that my failure to re-read Screwtape regularly might be a weakness on my part, a sign of cowardice in the face of evil. My choosing to leave Screwtape out of my life might be culpable negligence, the turning a blind eye to his presence. Mea culpa!

In any event, Screwtape has not been invited to the classroom for my course on Lewis’s adult fiction, though I dare say he will be present as an uninvited guest.

The first class session, which will focus on The Pilgrim’s Regress, is titled “Autobiography as Allegory” because much can be learned of Lewis’s intellectual progress to religious conversion in the pages of this all too often overlooked book. It is no surprise, therefore, that Walter Hooper, in his masterfully comprehensive “Companion and Gide” to Lewis, should list The Pilgrim’s Regress alongside Lewis’s other autobiographical books, Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed, and not amongst his works of fiction. And yet it is clearly a literary work and not a work of non-fiction. A formal allegory, like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the character of John, like Bunyan’s Christian, is an Everyman figure, in addition to being a literary self-portrait of the author. As such, it shows us Lewis but it also shows us ourselves and the times in which we live and the intellectual errors that afflict them and us, as they afflicted Lewis.

The second title on which we’ll focus in the course is The Great Divorce in which Lewis deploys the same sort of psychological weapons that had laid bare the strategies of Screwtape and in which he employs characters who serve as types of specific sins, much as The Pilgrim’s Regress had employed characters who represent specific ideas.

Whereas The Pilgrim’s Regress invites comparisons with Bunyan, The Great Divorce suggests analogies to Dante. The story begins in hell and transitions to a place which can only be described as purgatory, in which souls destined for heaven descend from the high places in penance to help persuade the sinners to repent.

The three novels that comprise the Space Trilogy exhibit Lewis’s adroit adoption of the genre of science fiction to subvert the superciliousness of scientism. In the first, Out of the Silent Planet, he exposes the arrogance and ignorance of the sort of scientistic futurism, which idolizes science as the harbinger of inexorable progress towards a golden age of materialism. In Perelandra he shows how philosophical materialism is really a manifestation of theological pride and how it paves the way for demonic possession. This theme is brought to fruition in That Hideous Strength in which the idolization of technological progress leads to the “hideous strength” of diabolical tyranny.

The course concludes with Till We Have Faces, subtitled A Myth Retold, which is a retelling of the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche as a parable of the destructive nature of possessive “love” and how such “love” blinds the “lover” to the presence of real love and to the Real Presence of Love Himself. Perhaps the overarching moral of this final book, which Lewis considered his best, serves as the overarching moral that Lewis’ entire corpus teaches. It is only by freeing ourselves from our possessiveness of others that we can avoid being possessed by the false “loves” that keep us from True Love. In his adult fiction, as in his children’s fiction and his non-fiction, Lewis teaches this priceless lesson, the learning of which is necessary if adults want to become grown-ups.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

The featured image is “The Lecture by Emile Verhaeren” (1903) by Théo van Rysselberghe, and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email