C. S. Lewis, Part 2

By Dave Berry

As writer of this brief article, I invoke the privilege of snatching a phrase, midverse, from Acts 3:21…until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke… – and then using it as a scriptural pinprick into the corpus of the writings of C.S. Lewis. I have been reading Lewis for 38 years. I am not a “Lewis Scholar;” rather, a “Lewis Lover,” and in the loving, certain subjects have redounded throughout his work, woven into his fiction or proposed in his essays. One of these themes concerns and presupposes “the restoring of all things” in Christ.

Now, maybe I have not paid close enough attention over the past forty years when I think I actually have been paying attention to Christian teaching and preaching; or maybe I’ve been tuned to the wrong station or pulling from the wrong shelf of my local Christian bookstore; or just maybe the observation I am about to make actually has substance. Anyway, here is my observation: we (we know who we are) don’t think enough, talk enough, or encourage each other enough about the restoring of all things.

In the grand scheme of things, this “underselling” at best, or omission at worst, seems to border on the ridiculous. Praise be to God: C.S. Lewis must not be included as an underseller or omitter, and I love Him (and him) for it. Lewis has been able to break through my density and doldrums regarding this promising premise of our faith, and he has been able to do it by both sweeping me up into stories and arguing me into agreement. The citings of said stories and arguments would make for a nice “scholarly” package, but (remember), I am not a scholar, so I will reference a few and hope those who are interested will allow these and other restorative references to fire your imaginations as they have mine.

Consider this from the final chapter of  That Hideous Strength:

“You are quite right. The laws of the universe are never broken. Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on one planet for a few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws…”

Thus says Grace Ironwood, a somewhat mysterious (albeit mostly redemptive) character with a Dickensonian name. She has responded to an observation concerning the strange case of the main character of Lewis’ space trilogy, one Elwin Ransom (consider the Dickensonian possibilities of his names). It seems that Ransom, once an unassuming British academic, has been (literally) swept up and away to other planets, planets where earthly norms are not normal. Ransom returns to earth as Director of an effort to oppose and defeat an evil, even demonic, force which threatens to overtake the earth and destroy all that is good and lovely and true. The force calls itself N.I.C.E. – National Institute of Coordinated Experiments.

On a previous “mission” to Perelandra, Ransom was “transformed.” He was wounded in the heel by the Satanic Professor Weston (Gen. 3:15?; maybe, but there are other possibilities…). Back on earth (the silent planet), Ransom neither ages nor heals. The quote from Grace Ironwood is in response to an observation on Ransom’s condition by a less “informed” character. Ransom must return to Perelandra and its (dare I say this?) quasi-Edenic state.

Grace Ironwood’s observation is in keeping with Ransom’s experience and Lewis’ biblically-informed projection that there is much more to know than that which can only be ascertained by considering earth and its “realities.” As Grace notes, The laws of the  universe are never broken.” In Lewis’ economy, those “laws” would include the “deeper magic” of Narnia and the sacrificial death and resurrection to GREATER LIFE and continual creation of the Lawgiver/Creator.

Speaking of Narnia, let us hasten to the end of the end of the stories, to the chapter “Further Up and Further In, from The Last Battle:

The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if ever you get there you will know what I mean.

It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved old Narnia is that sometime looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”

He shook his mane and sprang forward into a great gallop – a Unicorn’s gallop which, in our world, would have carried him out of sight in a few moments.

When I read this, I feel like looking up one of my favorite unicorns and hopping on his back! Maybe you identify with me when I say that things in this life, especially things beautiful and holy, seem to be echoes of Edenor harbingers of heaven or both. When reading Lewis’ fanciful fiction, it is always important to remember how he warns against taking literally what the children experience following the wardrobe entry into Narnia, or the bus travelers to heaven in The Great Divorce, or the letters from Uncle Screwtape, or Ransom’s meanderings to Mars and Venus, etc. But it is equally important to recognize that in all these “variations on a theme,” he is saying something significant about the Christ who proclaims in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Which brings us to a less fanciful but no less fruitful gleaning about these “new things” from his Miracles:

It must indeed be emphasized throughout that we know and can know very little about the New Nature. The task of the imagination here is not to forecast it but simply, by brooding on many possibilities, to make room for a more complete and circumspect agnosticism. It is useful to remember that even now senses responsive to different vibrations would admit us to quite new worlds of experience: that a multi-dimensional space would be different, almost beyond recognition, from the space we are now aware of, yet not discontinuous from it: that time may not always be for us, as it now is, unilinear and irreversible: that other parts of Nature might some day obey us as our cortex now does. It is useful not because we can trust these fancies to give us any positive truths about the New Creation but because they teach us not to limit, in our rashness, the vigour and variety of the new crops which the old field might yet produce. We are therefore compelled to believe that nearly all we are told about the New Creation is metaphorical. But not quite all. That is just where the story of the Resurrection suddenly jerks us back like a tether. The local appearances, the eating, the touching, the claim to be corporeal, must be either reality or sheer illusion. The New Nature is, in the most troublesome way, interlocked at some points with the Old.

I find this passage to be Lewis at his most familiar: firing the imagination, but tempering the fire with a dousing of sanctified agnosticism. For all he “knew” or encouraged his readers to try to understand, he never bounded beyond his essential humility of not knowing and not understanding all the mysteries, all the “deepest magic.” Remember, as Aslan taught the children, earthly existence is “the Shadowlands.” Certainly reminiscent of Paul’s “…seeing through a glass darkly,” Lewis understands that this realm has been darkened, but this realm is ephemeral; the next is not. This realm has been tainted; the next has not. As Aslan tells the children concerning their deaths in a railroad accident, departing from the Shadowlands means: The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended; this is the morning.

It is fair to surmise that Lewis looked forward through the shadows to a restoration of the Ultimate Story of the Way, the Truth, and the Life without a hint of darkness or decay. He looked to freedom so unencumbered that even faint memories of bindings are nothing. And he seemed to love to make merry metaphors of just how fun this all should be to imagine. Consider how The Chronicles end:

All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Better. For ever. Bree-hee-hee!