Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

as long as it's about gnosis
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Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Wed Mar 13, 2013 3:26 am

Dineen has been reading this to our daughter Elanor at bedtime (she's 5). There are a number of striking visual scenes in these books, though many moderns today apparently dislike the overt Christian allegories in them.

Nevertheless, I am attracted to visual images and I find the following one fascinating because in it the sea-water behaves something like a superfluid. I will quote the whole passage from the PDF so that you can get the whole context.
[...] There was no need to row, for the current drifted them steadily to the east. None of them slept or ate. All that night and all next day they glided eastward, and when the third day dawned - with a brightness you or I could not bear even if we had dark glasses on - they saw a wonder ahead. It was as if a wall stood up between them and the sky, a greenish-grey, trembling, shimmering wall. Then up came the sun, and at its first rising they saw it through the wall and it turned into wonderful rainbow colours. Then they knew that the wall was really a long, tall wave - a wave endlessly fixed in one place as you may often see at the edge of a waterfall. It seemed to be about thirty feet high, and the current was gliding them swiftly towards it. You might have supposed they would have thought of their danger. They didn't. I don't think anyone could have in their position. For now they saw something not only behind the wave but behind the sun. They could not have seen even the sun if their eyes had not been strengthened by the water of the Last Sea. But now they could look at the rising sun and see it clearly and see things beyond it. What they saw - eastward, beyond the sun - was a range of mountains. It was so high that either they never saw the top of it or they forgot it. None of them remembers seeing any sky in that direction. And the mountains must really have been outside the world. For any mountains even a quarter of a twentieth of that height ought to have had ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full, of forests and waterfalls however high you looked. And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them. It lasted only a second or so but what it brought them in that second none of those three children will ever forget. It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterwards. Lucy could only say, "It would break your heart." "Why," said I, "was it so sad: " "Sad!! No," said Lucy.

No one in that boat doubted chat they were seeing beyond the End of the World into Aslan's country.

At that moment, with a crunch, the boat ran aground. The water was too shallow now for it. "This," said Reepicheep, "is where I go on alone."

They did not even try to stop him, for everything now felt as if it had been fated or had happened before. They helped him to lower his little coracle. Then he took off his sword ("I shall need it no more," he said) and flung it far away across the Idled sea. Where it fell it stood upright with the hilt above the surface. Then he bade them goodbye trying to be sad for their sakes but he was quivering with happiness. Lucy, for the first and last time, did what she had always wanted to do, taking him in her arms and caressing him. Then hastily he got into his coracle and took his paddle, and the current caught it and away he went, very black against the lilies. But no lilies grew on the wave; it was a smooth green slope. The coracle went more and more quickly, and beautifully it rushed up the wave's side. For one split second they saw its shape and Reepicheep's on the very top. Then it vanished, and since that moment no one can truly claim to have seen Reepicheep the Mouse. But my belief is that he came safe to Aslan's country and is alive there to this day.
--- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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Re: Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

Post by Lúthien » Wed Mar 13, 2013 4:47 am

It is indeed striking, even haunting.

I don't know whether a distaste for Christian allegory is particularly modern though (JRRT also particularly disliked it). In that respect, Lewis is a strange case because he seems so ambiguous about it. I got that impression in particular from reading (listening to) "Surprised by Joy"; JRRT's relationship with him seems to mirror that as well.
Sometimes you get the idea that "wow, he really has seen it!" and then he veers off into some strange, static, dogmatic direction that seems to suggest that he's chickening out: forever hesitating to take that final step.

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Re: Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Wed Mar 13, 2013 1:26 pm

Lúthien wrote:[...] Sometimes you get the idea that "wow, he really has seen it!" and then he veers off into some strange, static, dogmatic direction that seems to suggest that he's chickening out: forever hesitating to take that final step.
Yes, rather like someone with whom we're both acquainted who had some genuine gnosis early on and then -- for whatever reason -- became static and began to accrete layers of ritual upon the original experience(s). Now the 'accretion disk' is so large that it impedes communication with this person. At least, it does for me.

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Re: Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

Post by Lúthien » Wed Mar 13, 2013 6:28 pm

Indeed, now you mention it ... I had not noticed the similarity. But it's spot on.

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Re: Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

Post by Ginnie » Thu Mar 14, 2013 1:15 pm

I like this passage a lot, it's very beautiful. I don't know why Tolkien didn't like allegory, that is puzzling to me.

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Re: Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

Post by Hareth nic Handir » Thu Mar 14, 2013 5:36 pm

CS Lewis is a weird one; he does indeed so often and so frustratingly seem to 'get it' - and then as other people here have noticed, back off double-quick. Lewis said himself - sorry I can't recall where! - that he had to train himself to be a Christian, by habit and effort - to make himself think in ways that confromed to that worldview. What his native habits were, what he might have been if only he hadn't felt that the particular faith and outlook he'd chosen was the only game in town, no-one can be sure. It is so hard when you get glimpses like this passage, though! The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has always been my own favourite Narnia book, I have to admit.

As for JRR Tolkien and allegory - well, for a start, he disliked it in practice a lot less than he did in theory, and wrote a lot of them. I know that his objection was that in strict allegory, the author controls what the reader thinks - there is only one 'right answer'. But allegory needn't be that tight, as a lot of Tolkien's own weren't - Leaf by Niggle for one very large example - if you haven't read it, try it, it's in Tree and Leaf.

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Re: Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

Post by Ginnie » Tue Mar 19, 2013 5:48 pm

I find that comment interesting, that there is only one right answer in allegory. It's always seemed to me that allegory becomes useful when ideas have layers of meaning that can't fully be expressed in words. So one person might approach an allegory somewhat literally, another might see a glimpse of something but find it confusing, and even another might find enough for a book within an allegory.

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Re: Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

Post by Lúthien » Tue Mar 19, 2013 10:45 pm

Hareth nic Handir wrote:As for JRR Tolkien and allegory - well, for a start, he disliked it in practice a lot less than he did in theory, and wrote a lot of them. I know that his objection was that in strict allegory, the author controls what the reader thinks - there is only one 'right answer'.
Maybe it's more correct to say that he disliked it if the (allegorical) story was made subservient to act as a vehicle for political or religious propaganda.
Hareth nic Handir wrote:But allegory needn't be that tight, as a lot of Tolkien's own weren't - Leaf by Niggle for one very large example - if you haven't read it, try it, it's in Tree and Leaf.
That's true; I'm also convinced that that story is an allegory, in this case about himself.
But it's indeed no propaganda or "moral tale", but a way to tell a story that couldn't be told directly because its metaphysical implications would have been considered too weird.

I have wondered whether he was himself aware of the depth of Leaf by Niggle when he wrote it. It was in any case remarkable *how* he wrote it: it appeared as "complete" in his head and he only needed to write it out.

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Re: Striking scene from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia" books

Post by Hareth nic Handir » Wed Mar 20, 2013 4:45 pm

Tolkien was trying to draw a distinction between 'tight allegory' which he presented as a bad thing, controlling a reader's response, steering their reaction to propagate the author's view - propagandising in both senses, at a guess, since he was reacting to critics trying to turn The Lord of the Rings into a 'tight allegory' of the Second World War, from the Allied-Cold War viewpoint - versus what he called 'applicability' - loose allegory which does indeed allow the reader to find as many levels as they like, including ones the author themselves was not aware of, and which Tolkien regarded as a better and more preferrable mode. (Which probably makes it sound way too postmodern or something - !)
Most of us would just say allegory and have done, whilst recognising that it does come in different varieties, but there, Tolkien was a wordsmith and he'd been in some deep and probably rather fraught discussions on this one himself, enough so to feel he needed a new word. :-)) but the likes of RG Collingwood really ought to be a separate topic, if we're daft enough to try!
As for Lewis - the joy of the best bits of the Narnia series for me is that he may be trying to go for 'tight allegory' - but so often he mucks that up and ends with the 'loose' variety, giving the rest of us glimpses of vision that we'd never have from a 'better' (worse?) author who was more in control of their material.

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