Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Study in Ink: "Jack" Lewis

Aparantly when Clive Staples Lewis was a boy he woke up one day and told his family to call him Jack. It stuck and after that anyone who knew him socially called him Jack. Names are odd like that. Oficially they can be one thing but you are really known by what you are called. I think I would prefer Jack too if my given name were Clive.

I'll begin our discussion of Lewis' work with the most well known and the first ones I read. The Chronocles. I like to call Narnia my first love in literature. It has that sort of sweet, outgrown, nostalgia for me. At the time they were perfect, full of adventure and magic, metaphysical truths and a certain brand of university humor that is in most of Lewis' books. The first concious observation I made on writing style was Lewis' tendancy to point out small details the reader is likely to have experienced like waking up on the hard ground, how thirsty eating toffee for dinner will make you or how much more frusterating it is to wait for something when you have no idea how long you will have to wait, in order to relate them to the story.

My second brush with Lewis was his space trylogy. I have very strong memories of reading Out of the Silent Planet during a tedius pep rally in high school and Perelandra while camping. I think more than anything else Perelandra whet my apitite for thought and discussions about life. I mean what better paradise can you imagine than a planet with land waves and perfect fruit to eat while sit around throwing ideas back and forth at each other?

The more I read of Lewis' works and his life the more I realize that he wrote mostly about himself. Professor Kirk was the name of one of his own proffesors and has a very similar personality as does Digory to Lewis as a boy. Pilgrim's Regress, even though he insisted he was seeking to generalize a logical series of beliefs, more or less chronicalizes his own intelectual/spiritual journey and even Ransom from the space trylogy is arguable a version of his friend Tolkien.

I have read Screwtape Letters three times I believe and written a research paper on it. It was, Lewis admitted, one of the easiest pieces for him to write because it was so easy for him to get into the head of the diabolical. Being nasty is never very difficult. It is interesting to be shown the life of a completely unremarkable man through the eyes of a creature who is contemptous of everything we tend to admire. Screwtape is witty and entertaining, and even makes some excelent points but Lewis always makes it clear when he is disagreeing with the demon. The quote that sticks with me the strongest is "Now is the closest time to eternity."

A Grief Observed is interesting because it was written after most of his books of philosophy (my favorite of which are The Abolition of Man and Discarded Images) and theology were already published and yet chronolizes all his carefully laid thoughts falling appart after the death of his wife. A testiment that a true thinker's thoughts are never done. Their conclusions are as fragile as anybody else's.

The C.S. Lewis book that surprised me the most was Till We Have Faces. It doesn't take place in an imagined land of metaphysical exploration like The Great Divorce, Pilgrim's Regress or Narnia or a university (the only profession he knew well enough to feel confident writing about) like Screwtape or his space trylogy. It is a retelling a myth narated by a woman set in ancient Greece and yet it is full of the same logic mixed with romantic longing that all of his books are held together with.

So what did Lewis teach me about writing? To long for the unknown. To think long and hard about what the little thing represent. To choose my details wisely. To not be afraid to write about the things closest to me. To read so that I am not alone. That now is the closest time to eternity.

1 comment:

  1. Till We Have Faces is (in my very humble opinion) Lewis' most subtle, moving and flawed book. I absolutely love it.