Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wordy Wednesday: Victim and Killer

Alan Jacobs' The Narnian is fascinating. Jacobs is going through Lewis' life trying to determine his thought-life from writings, letters, and biographies. Lewis' first published work, Spirits in Bondage, was a book of poetry inspired by his participation in The Great War - and before he was a Christian (though baptised and confirmed as a child ... that seal is strong). Jacobs' thesis is that Lewis has two halves to his mind:

In the previous chapter I spoke of Lewis's sense that throughout his adolescence the two halves of his mind --the analytical and the imaginative-- were completely divorced from each other. 'Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.' Reading Spirits in Bondage, one can see not only that the two halves are separate, but also, and more disturbingly, that the imaginative half is dying, unable to resist the combined forces of philosophical pessimism and the horrors of the Great War.  The poems' laments for gods and faeries who fade are also laments for that part of Jack that loved them.  The anger that suffuses the poems is anger not only at losing the gods but also at losing the love of them --losing Joy itself.  It is rage against the diminishment of his very self.  The poems are therefore the story of a kind of war --a war that the deeper part of Jack was losing.  Balder is once more slain by Loki, and Jack is both the victim and the killer. (pg 80, emphasis mine)

I think what Jacobs is leading to, and it isn't particularly hidden, is that this sort of self-war and separation will become integration when Lewis returns to the faith.  From the chapter on Lewis in his 20s, atheist and student at Oxford post-war:

One sees the two sides of Lewis at odds with each other here: the imaginative lover of poetry is taken with [Leo] Baker, but the diatlectician is frustrated by Baker's incapacity. (pg 90)
 Yet this man was the friend who introduced Lewis to Owen Barfield who would sharpen Lewis like iron.  Still in his twenties, Lewis retreats further and further from his imagination; Jacobs asserts:

This is why there are so few references to the Narnia books in this chapter [five]: at this stage in his life, Jack had gone a long way toward turning himself into someone who wouldn't even read books such as the Narnia stories, much less write them. (pg 102)
This divorce of his mind and subduction of the imaginative leads to Lewis, "show[ing] no real interest in anything or anyone.  He is at once very successful and increasingly apathetic." (pg 103)

I'm looking forward to learning more and seeing how Lewis' mental capacities of logic and love are integrated ... and hoping it is through his capitulation to Christ.

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  1. Ok, I'm going to have to add this book to my TBR pile now. You always do this to me! :)

    1. I think Jacobs is a very very good writer. This is interesting and well done so far. 100 pages in I recommend :)

  2. Interesting! I am increasingly struck by the way the only Christianity adequately deals with all the aspects of life that we see-- pain and pleasure, death and beauty, or even (as discussed here) imagination and rationality.

  3. I'm with Mystie. Another one added to my cart. Thanks for the great intro Dawn!

    1. You're welcome. Happily, they're pretty cheap used. My copy had marginalia ... I love that. It has a lot more now!

  4. I have my fingers in my ear and I am screaming blah, blah, blah.....not another book for the TBR pile.....


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