Week Twelve- Commentary in Various Works of Nonfiction

Week Twelve- Commentary in Various Works of Nonfiction

Don’t like either the ultra feminine or the ultra masculine myself. I prefer people.” – Letter to Dorothy Sayers  8 May 1955

Thus far, we have explored women in Lewis’s personal life and portrayed in his fictional works. This week, we launch into an in-depth discussion examining women in Lewis’s nonfiction works.

For ease of reading, I have divided the entries into four sections:

Endorsement of Milton’s Hierarchical Conception

Opposition to Feminism

Women as Ministers


Some of the following entries are excerpts from my dissertation: Transformational Leadership in the Life and Works of C.S. Lewis. It may not be used or reprinted without my consent as it possesses an international copyright.

Endorsement of Milton’s Hierarchical Conception

Hierarchy, after the fall of man, exists to restrict man from indulging his evil impulses. Lewis posited a hierarchy reinforces good behavior and punishes those who deviate from these expectations. This is also indicative of the innate sense we have of justice, the sense of Right and Wrong he discussed in Mere Christianity and modeled in Christian scripture. In a biblical sense, God’s position is at the summit of the hierarchy, while humans disperse throughout the body performing various, yet equally important functions:

 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many . . . On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 22-27)

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 In Lewis’s view the only one worthy to rule is God. He is just but also exercises compassion in granting forgiveness of sin. His followers as other parts of the body should rejoice in their position. In a letter to a child correspondent, Lewis reiterated the idea of no little jobs in the hierarchy of Christ:

 A creature can never be a perfect being, but may be a perfect creature – e.g. a good angel or a good apple-tree. Gaiety at its highest may be an (intellectual) creature’s delighted recognition that its imperfection as a being any constitute part of its perfection as an element in the whole hierarchical order of creation…This is an extension of what St. Paul says about the body & the members. A good toe-nail is not an unsuccessful attempt at a hair; and if it were conscious it w[oul]d. delight in being simply a good toe-nail. (100)

 Man in his carnal way cannot effectively rule because he is not benevolent. He has the capacity to abuse power and, in the process, injure and even destroy a nation. Lewis illuminated this view in A Preface to Paradise Lost. In it he argued that Milton’s version of The Fall was similar to St. Augustine and the Church as a whole: “God created all things without exception good, and because they are good . . . Though God has made all creatures good He foreknows that some voluntarily make themselves bad” (66-67). Due to our fallen nature through the introduction of sin, man is unfit to rule one another. Before our fallen natures demanded correction, discipline existed to maintain the natural order. It was the quiet gears upon which ordered life progressed. Lewis wrote that adherence to the greater hierarchy of God and the Hierarchical Concept brought not restriction but liberation before The Fall.

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As a Renaissance scholar Lewis was well acquainted with the cultural milieu of the 16th century. In his work A Preface to Paradise Lost Lewis devoted an entire chapter to exploring the “Hierarchical Conception” as reflected in such Renaissance poets as Milton and Shakespeare. Although scholars like Johnson thought Milton was an opponent of the monarchy because he rebelled against James I, Milton was not coarse and unforgiving. Rather, Milton was a firm believer in the Hierarchical Conception that, as Lewis  pointed out, argued that “degrees of value are objectively present in the universe” (73).

Discipline, while the world is yet unfallen, exists for the sake of what seems its very opposite—for freedom, almost for extravagance. The pattern deep hidden in the dance, hidden so deep that shallow spectators cannot see it, alone gives beauty to the wild, free gestures that fill it, just as the decasyllabic norm gives beauty to all the licenses and variances of the poet’s verse . . . The heavenly frolic arises from an orchestra which is in tune; the rules of courtesy make perfect ease and freedom possible between those who obey them. (81)

However, because men are fallen, discipline post-Eden must correct our wicked nature. Extended to spirituality, it suggests the rewards of obedience. Lewis reinforced this point in his early fiction. In A Pilgrim’s Regress Wisdom coaches the protagonist John on the installation of rules: “A man says, ‘I have finished with rules: henceforth I will do what I want’: but he finds that this deepest want, the only want that is constant through the flux of his appetites and despondencies, his moments of calm and of passion, is to keep the rules” (96).

Image courtesy of bilquisevely.deviantart.com

Scholar David Downing  argued that the society of Malacandra echoed medieval ideas of God and hierarchy. As previously mentioned, Lewis’s reflection of the hierarchical concept inhabited the pages of his science fiction trilogy. Downing, in the essay collection C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy (Bruce Edwards, editor), commented on the significance and philosophical origin of this passage.

 In A Preface to Paradise Lost Lewis argues that ‘the Hierarchical conception’ dominated Western conceptions of order—cosmic, political, and moral—from Aristotle to Milton. With God at the top of the great chain and unformed matter at the bottom, everyone and everything had a natural station, ruling over those below, obeying those above. (25)

 In the first book of Lewis’s science fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Dr. Ransom shares impressions of Earth with the creatures of the planet Malacandra that kidnapped him. Dr. Ransom discusses the “human history—of war, slavery and prostitution” (102) to which the intelligent creatures respond,

 ‘It is because they have no Oyarsa [Head Angel],’ said one of the pupils. ‘It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,’ said Augray. ‘They cannot help it,’ said the old sorn. ‘They must be ruled, yet how can creatures rule themselves? Beasts must be ruled by hnau [people] and hnau by eldila [angels] and eldila by Maleldill [name of the Malacandran God]. These creatures have no eldila. They are like one trying to lift himself by his own hair—or one trying to see over a whole country when he is on a level with it—like a female trying to beget young on herself. (102)

 Some may find it repugnant that Lewis would claim that wives are subordinate to husbands (as he posits in “Membership”). In fact, evangelical culture is rife with debates over complementarian versus egalitarian marriage in the Church. However, Lewis claims that such structure is sculpted by God’s design and this divine organization is no excuse for domestic tyranny. Men rule their homes as God rules the church. Men should exercise wisdom and compassion, desire truth, and deliver discipline. Any man acts contrary to this teaching is abusing his responsibility as spiritual leader. There are moments when we must adhere to this hierarchy. Lewis writes in “Membership”:

Equality is a quantitative term and therefore love often knows nothing of it. Authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits live. Even in the life of the affections, much more in the Body of Christ, we step outside that world which says “I am as good as you.” It is like turning from a march to a dance…We become, as Chesterton said; taller when we bow; we become lowlier when we instruct. It delights me that there should be moments in the services of my own Church when the priest stands and I kneel” (170-171)

I must reiterate that Lewis is not saying that women are “lesser than” men just because they must obey men; they simply occupy diverse but equally important roles. Lewis and the Bible he faithfully read every day say nothing about inherent value associated with gender.  Perhaps our socialization has been historically traditional, but certainly I, as a modern female, do not bristle when such a design is discussed (and I thrive in what most would consider an egalitarian marriage and trust my husband’s leadership). The portrayal of women, even in modern culture, still heavily relies on stereotypes and embellishments. Most women are not opposed to the responsibility associated with their roles, rather to culture’s insistence that all women must conform to (and never deviate from) a specific standard which does not consider their individual talents and abilities. Although many may successfully argue that the women’s movement has made great strides, it can often be difficult to detect in the modern Church, where vestiges of aggressive and unnecessarily restrictive interpretations of the Bible are woefully extant. Some of these interpretations wrongly grant men a license to be habitually cruel, cynical, and intimidating. That is tyranny, not leadership (Trust me, I have a leadership degree!).

For more information on how life was at The Kilns (with wife Joy), read Doug Gresham’s Lenten Lands and excerpts from his Collected Letters.

Opposition to Feminism

When Lewis discusses mixed gender discussions in “Modern Man and his Categories of Thought” that the “Emancipation of Women” is not “a bad thing in itself” but rather intrudes upon male social life by changing the climate from casual conversation to competition:

In modern social life the sexes are more continuously mixed that they were in earlier periods. This probably has many good results: but it has one bad result. Among young people, obviously, it reduces the amount of serious argument about ideas. When the young male bird is in the presence of the young female it must (Nature insists) display its plumage. Any mixed society thus becomes the scene of wit, banter, persiflage, anecdote – of everything in the world rather than prolonged and rigorous discussion on ultimate issues, or of those serious masculine friendships in which such discussion arises. Hence, in our student population, a lowering of metaphysical energy. The only serious questions now discussed are those which seem to have a “practical” importance (i.e. the psychological and sociological problems), for these satisfy the intense practicality and concreteness of the female. That is, no doubt, her glory and her proper contribution to the common wisdom of the race. But the proper glory of the masculine mind, its disinterested concern with truth for truth’s own sake, with cosmic and the metaphysical, is being impaired. (63)

There are a couple of aspects with this passage that modern women may find troubling. First, there is a false impression of female intelligence at play here. How does one determine the intelligence of a female just by simply glancing at her? Why do men assume that they must change to “softer” topics in order to entertain women? This appears to be more of a social defect in individual males than a “bad effect” of the emancipation of women.  Lewis seems to believe this adjustment is quite natural, that beautiful women render the male tongue (and the male brain) inoperable. The woman may not wish to “impose” on the conversation by her presence alone.

Image courtesy of www.askmen.com

Modern women will most likely take offense with Lewis’s claim that women are too “concrete” to discuss “cosmic and metaphysical” ideas. However, we must consider that Lewis is speaking many decades ago. I am not one to blame historical context, but we cannot simply dismiss that Lewis developed in the male-dominated culture of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century with no mother (just nurses). This essay was composed in October of 1946, before he began long and thoughtful correspondences with women AND met and married Joy Gresham.

Lewis did not have a problem with expanding opportunities for women, but he felt that too much liberty would threaten marriage. Lewis is clear in That Hideous Strength that males and females both possess the power to sabotage a relationship (as both Mark and Jane nearly do). I have mentioned in an earlier post that Jane considers leaving Mark because he is too focused on his own career and neglecting his marriage. As Mark drifts away, Jane drifts away under the auspice of desiring independence and bucking tradition. What Jane truly desires, however, is to heal her relationship. She wants to run away and inspire Mark to chase her, not in a selfish way but in a desperate effort to elicit concern from Mark. At the end of the day, she still honors the marriage vow and deeply wishes to reconcile. Lewis points out that full independence is contradictory to marriage. Marriage requires one to make corporate decisions about the direction of a family. Marriage requires a mutual consideration of time and attention towards the spouse and when applicable, children. Total and complete independence, in the context of marriage, may lead unpredictably into the divergent path of selfishness. If one wishes to be completely independent (either male or female), the simple solution is to remain single. Relationships require compromise from both individuals. Lewis is not suggesting that Jane surrender her intelligence, rather she must become a helpmate for her husband who is neck-deep in the corruption of a scientific organization. By being a helpmate, she must also submit to his leadership. Mark now knows that his previous decisions were quite disastrous and that his role as husband demands much more time and attention than he initially perceived. For more on Lewis’s expectation of marriage partners, read “Eros” in The Four Loves.

In “Equality”, Lewis admits that women must be emotionally available in order to be erotically receptive:

Men have so horribly abused their power over women in the past that to wives, of all people, equality is in danger of appearing as an ideal. But Mrs. Naomi Mitchison has laid her finger on the real point. Have as much equality as you please – the more the better – in our marriage laws: but at some level consent to inequality, nay, delight in inequality, is an erotic necessity. Mrs Mitchison speaks of women so fostered on a defiant idea of equality that the mere sensation of the male embrace rouses an undercurrent of resentment. Marriages are thus shipwrecked. This is the tragicomedy of the modern woman; taught by Freud to consider the act of love the most important thing in life, and then inhibited by feminism from that internal surrender which alone can make it a complete emotional success. Merely for the sake of her own erotic pleasure, to go no further, some degree of obedience and humility seems to be (normally) necessary on the woman’s part. (19)

 Lewis makes clear that women are in danger of “shipwrecking” relationships. He is operating on the assumption that feminists have fostered a disdain, a “resentment” which becomes an obstruction to a sexual relationship. Please note the use of semantics: “Feminist” is a term which has altered greatly in the nearly sixty years which have lapsed since the composition of this essay. Lewis is speaking strictly from experience and literature of the day. In my observation, the term has changed; in the evangelical sense, it has been “softened” and typically means “not aggressive or discriminatory toward women”. These linguistic shifts cannot be understated, as they lend us great clarity of the perspective from which Lewis is speaking. Lewis, in many senses, feels sorry for the difficulties women face in culture and relationships in the essay “We Have No Right to Happiness”:

A society in which conjugal infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Women, whatever a few male songs and satires may say to the contrary, are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a  biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits. Also, domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man, their beauty, decreases every year after they have come to maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality – women don’t really care twopence about our looks – by which we hold women. Thus in the ruthless war of promiscuity women are at a double disadvantage. They play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing crudity of female provocativeness. These signs of desperate competition fill me with pity. (519).

Women as Ministers

On this account, we must again defer to the beliefs and traditions of Lewis’s overarching culture as well as his interpretation of scripture. According to 1 Timothy 2:11-12,  A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Lewis promoted the opinion that women could serve in various realms of church life, but the leader must be male. “I have every respect for those who wish women to be priestesses. I think they are sincere and pious and sensible people” he writes in “Women As Priestesses?” from God in the Dock. He mentions that many women performed important tasks in the Bible, but were still prohibited from pastoral duties: “One man had four daughters who all ‘prophesied’, i.e., preached. There were prophetesses even in Old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses” (459).

Lewis clarifies in a later passage:

We are short of priests. We have discovered in one profession after another that women can do very well all sorts of things which were once supposed to belong he power of men alone.  No one among those who dislike the proposal is maintaining that women are less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning, and whatever else seems necessary for the pastoral office. What, then, except prejudice begotten by tradition, forbids us to draw on the huge reserves which could pour into the priesthood if women were here, as in so many other professions, put on the same footing as men? (459)

 Lewis seems almost apologetic in his argument. He is not blind and deaf to the fact that some corrupt, malevolent men make terrible leaders. However, to essentially swap positions and place women above men does not correct the error:

It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity lays upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men may often make very bad priests. that is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dance classes; not that the ballroom should henceforth ignore the distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. (461)


If you checked a dictionary for this term, you probably didn’t find it. What is Bulverism? Lewis, in fact, created this term. Paul Ford defines it as, “the process of suggesting that another person’s reasoning cannot be trusted or respected by calling attention to that person’s motivations…rather than arguing the merits of the issue” (125). Lewis provides the genesis for this idea in his appropriately titled essay “Bulverism” from the collection God in the Dock:

…you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it Bulverism. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father – who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third – ‘Oh you say that because you are a man.’ ‘At that moment’, E. Bulver assures us, ‘there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall. (485)

Notice that this initial example is Bulverism deriving from misconceptions of  gender. Essentially, Bulverism is a last-ditch effort to continue an argument when one has been proven incorrect. It signals that the argument was fundamentally flawed and the only way to maintain discussion is to accuse the opponent of a tainted reasoning.  For Lewis, the problem with accusing one of being subjective is that it NEGATES all arguments (Lewis actually calls subjectivity a poison).  For example, nearly any point can be disputed if you reason out possible malignant motives (i.e. “He is just saying that because he grew up in a poor household” or “She is just saying that because she didn’t have a father growing up”). Truth becomes relative and perspective takes precedence over fact. This is tricky indeed.  This perception is the fertile soil from which moral relativism is nurtured. One wishes for a specific outcome and dismisses the opponent’s argument because he/she is subjective. Lewis writes:

I see Bulverism at work in every political argument. The capitalists must be bad economists because we know why they want capitalism, and equally the Communists must be bad economists because we know why they want Communism. Thus, the Bulverists on both side. In reality, of course, either the doctrines of the capitalists are false, or the doctrines o the Communists, or both; but you can only find out the rights and wrongs by reasoning – never by being rude about your opponent’s psychology. (486)

Thus, one can simply dismiss another’s argument on the grounds that it originates from an individual who endorses a different philosophy. If one is a conservative, this does not mean that every idea which originates from a liberal is corrupt (and vice versa).

Lewis even plants examples of such a logical fallacy in The Chronicles of Narnia. Paul Ford mentions such an instance in The Magician’s Nephew.

Polly, in MN, is not the conventional turn-of-the-century girl. She has made a cave for herself with packing cases, is independently exploring her attic, and keeps treasures that include ‘a story she was writing. Uncle Andrew, the evil magician, is a blatant sexist: He says that morality is for little boys and servants and women and people in general. Later, when Digory’s defense of basic right and wrong gets through to his uncle, Andrew recovers with a perfect Bulverism: You only say that because you were brought up among women and learned this natural morality from old wives tales (391)

Therefore, gender does not automatically invalidate information. Lewis even illustrates in his children’s stories that women possess strength of reason and that the old, sexist attitudes are incorrect.

The last post, which is a wrap-up of the series, is up next week. Will you join me?

Crystal joins the staff of Legendarium!

I am pleased to announce that I have joined the staff of Legendarium! Legendarium is a fantasy/sci-fi site with great articles on all of your obsessions, be they Narnia, Middle-Earth, Star Wars, Doctor Who and more. Plus, the site offers some fantastic work on art, literature, and gaming. My first article is an earlier post from my Lewis and Women series on Narnia.  PLEASE check it out and bookmark the site.  I and some other contributors will be posting weekly, so make sure to stop by often!

Lewis and Women Article on Legendarium is located here:


Legendarium link to bookmark:


Week Eleven- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in Till We Have Faces

Week Eleven- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in Till We Have Faces

Image courtesy of houseoftheinklings.blogspot.com

[Psyche] is in some ways like Christ not because she is a symbol of Him but because every good man or woman is like Christ. What else could they be like?” – Letter to Clyde Kilby 2 October 1957

In the fall of 1923, a young (pre-conversion) Lewis conceived a novel idea – to re-tell the story of Cupid and Psyche, but from a fresh perspective. The next autumn, Lewis attempted to carry the idea out of infancy, but with little progress: “My head was very full of my old idea of a poem on my own version of the Cupid and Psyche story in which Psyche’s sister would not be jealous, but unable to see anything by moors when Psyche showed her the Palace. I have tried it twice before, once in couplet and once in ballad form” (September 9, 1923). The Lewis Papers which are housed at the Marion E. Wade Center (Wheaton College) contain 78 couplets Lewis composed about Psyche, her sisters, and her twin brother Jarvis:

…for across the tale, they bring

Two ugly elder daughters of the king,

Two Cinderella’s sisters, who must come

To visit Psyche in her secret home

And envy it: and for no other cause

Tempt her to break that fairy country’s laws –

Which leads to her undoing. But all this

Is weighted on one side and told amiss.

It’s like the work of some poetic youth,

Angry, and far too certain of the truth,

Mad from the gleams of vision that claim to find

Bye ways to something missed by all mankind.

He thinks that only envy or dull eyes

Keep all men from believing in the prize

He holds in secret. In revenge he drew

 – For portrait of us all – the sisters two,

Misunderstanding them: and poets since

Have followed.

Now I say there was a prince

Twin brother to this Psyche, fair as she,

And prettier than a boy would choose to be,

His name was Jardis. Older far than these

Was Caspian who rocked them to their knees,

The child of the first marriage of the king.

The last lines in one draft claims that male narration has polluted the story:

I’ll guess it’s [Jardis] that taught

The story, as we have it, to the world. 

From C.S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life and Works – Walter Hooper

Decades later, after his project had finally come to fruition, Lewis writes to Christian Hardie that Till We Have Faces had incubated a long time in his creative imagination: “…the idea of re-writing the old myth, with the palace invisible, has been in my mind every since I was an undergraduate and it’s always involved writing through the mouth of the older sister. I tried it in all sorts of verse-forms in the days when I still supposed myself to be a poet. So, tho’ the version you have read was v[ery] quickly written, you might say I’ve been at work on Orual for 35 years. Of course in my pre-Christian days she was to be in the right and the gods in the wrong” – 31 July 1955

Published in 1956, Till We Have Faces is Lewis’s final work of fiction. He considered it his best work and dedicated it to his collaborator, muse, and wife Joy Davidman. For those unfamiliar with the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Lewis recalls the story in a concluding note:

A king and queen had three daughters of whom the youngest was so beautiful that men worshipped her as a goddess and neglected the worship of Venus for her sake. One result was the Psyche (as the youngest was called) had no suitors; men reverenced her supposed deity too much to aspire to her hand. When her father consulted the oracle of Apollo about her marriage he received the answer: “hope for no human son-in-law. You must expose Psyche on a mountain to e the prey of a dragon.” this he obediently did.

But Venus, jealous of Psyche’s beauty, had already devised a different punishment for her; she had ordered her son Cupid to afflict the girl with irresistible passion for the basest of men. Cupid set off to do so but, on seeing Psyche, fell in love with her himself. As soon as she was left on the mountain he therefore had her carried off by the West-Wind (Zephyrus) to a secret place where he had prepared a stately palace. Here he visited her by night and enjoyed her love; but he forbade her to see his face. Presently she begged that she might receive a visit from her two sisters. The god reluctantly consented and wafted them to her palace. Here they were royally feasted and expressed great delight at all splendours they saw. But inwardly they were devoured with envy, for their husbands were not gods and their houses not so fine as hers.

They therefore plotted to destroy her happiness. At the next visit they persuaded that her mysterious husband must really be a monstrous serpent. “You must take into your bedroom to-night,” they said, “a lamp covered with a cloak and a sharp knife. When he sleeps uncover the lamp – see the horro that is lying in your bed – and stab it to death.” All this the gullible Psyche promised to do.

When she uncovered the lamp and saw the sleeping god she gazed on him with insatiable love, till a drop of hot oil from her lamp fell on his shoulder and woke him. Starting up, he spread his shining wings, rebuked her, and vanished from her sight.

The two sisters did not long enjoy their malice, for Cupid took such measures as led both to their death. Psyche meanwhile wandered away, wretched and desolate, and attempted to drown herself in the first river she came to; but the god Pan frustrated her attempt and warned her never to repeat it. After many miseries she fell into the hands of her bitterest enemy, Venus, who seized her for a slave, beat her, and set her what were meant to be impossible tasks. (311-312)

After completing these tasks but one (she opens the box of Beauty from Persephone), Cupid forgives her and Psyche becomes a goddess.

Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid’s Garden – John William Waterhouse (1904)

Image courtesy of http://wannabwestern.hubpages.com/hub/Till-We-Have-Faces

Lewis’s version makes some important alterations. As referenced in his letter to Christian Hardie, the most significant change is the transparency of the palace to all but Psyche. Orual is the “ugly sister” whose worry for her sister’s welfare after her expected “capture by the ShadowBrute” prompts her to travel up the mountain to find her sister. Instead of a suffering, abused, emaciated sibling, Orual surprisingly finds a healthy, content, and joyous Psyche, who speaks highly of her mysterious lover Cupid. Understandably, Orual is suspicious, and insists that Psyche look upon the face of her lover. Psyche is reluctant, but chooses allegiance to her sister over that of her new husband. Cupid flees when Psyche uses the lamp given to her by Orual to gaze upon his face.

Another obvious change is the outcome of the sisters. In the original myth composed by second century writer Apuleius, both of the sisters are jealous of Psyche. Instead of being consumed by a beast, Psyche is carried into Cupid’s Palace by Zephyr (the West Wind). Cupid’s mother Venus is also jealous of Psyche (because her beauty rivals the goddess’s) and wishes to destroy her. Cupid is sent to eradicate her, but when he lays eyes on Psyche, immediately falls in love and secretly makes her his bride. Psyche retaliates by deceiving her sisters; she claims that Cupid wishes to marry them. Both sisters fall off a cliff after Zephyr never arrives to deliver them to Cupid’s palace. In Lewis’s tale, one becomes a powerful Queen, and the other (Redival) happily marries Trunia of Phars. Redival’s son will eventually inherit Orual’s throne.

About Orual

Orual is known as the “ugly” sister while her sister Psyche is revered as a goddess. Psyche’s mother dies shortly after her birth and Orual becomes her surrogate mother.  Orual wears a veil to shield her face. She is ordered to wear a “thick” veil during a ceremony celebrating the goddess of fertility Ungit. Orual laments, “One of the other girls tittered, and I think that was the first time I clearly understood that I was ugly” (11). Orual spends most of the story angry at the gods, especially Ungit whose visage is shrouded in mystery (much like Orual’s). When Psyche is chosen by Ungit to be a sacrifice (a decree which Psyche accepts without fear), Orual’s resentment toward the gods only intensifies. This is also why, when Psyche tells of all of the wonders of the gods in Cupid’s palace, Orual cannot accept it. She has nurtured a disgust for the gods, seeing them as hateful, malicious, and full of vengeance. “If this is true,” Orual exclaims, “I’ve been wrong all my life. Every has to be begun over again” (115). Once Psyche is expulsed from Cupid’s palace, Orual is bitterly remorseful. She is haunted by sounds of a “weeping girl” in the castle. She also “enshrines” Psyche’s possessions and enters a time of deep mourning. Once her tyrannical father passes away, Orual becomes Queen. Not long after her reign begins, Trunia of Phars (a neighboring land) ends up on the doorstep of the palace in Glome. For political protection, he is taken prisoner and a duel is announced for his freedom. Orual fights and wins, earning Trunia’s freedom and illustrating her prowess as a swordsman and protector of the land. Glome prospers under her authority. Although many initially questioned her leadership, she proves herself a worthy Queen. Orual asks, “Nature’s hand slipped when she made me anyway…If I’m to be hard-featured as a man, why shouldn’t I fight like a man too?” What Orual once considered a weakness is now a strength. The title of Queen revealed a confidence that Orual had never known in her life. For the first time, her decrees are followed with respect. No more of the ugly girl cowering under the coarse mutterings of her father. She has entered a new age. Orual now knows that she can live (dare we say thrive?) in Psyche’s absence.

But she still has much to learn.

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The Feminine Voice

Perhaps one of the most fascinating qualities of Till We Have Faces is that Lewis chose a female narrator, a woman who writes candidly about a life of service to Glome as Queen. Orual’s role as storyteller is significant. It provides a thorough examination of Orual’s motives in tempting Psyche. In Lewis’s tale, Orual suffers from jealousy masquerading as concern. Once she leaves Cupid’s palace, she is more motivated to “rescue” Psyche from the clutches of what she believes is a beast: “My heart did not conquer me. I perceived now that there is a love deeper than theirs who seek only the happiness of their beloved. Would a father see his daughter happy as a whore? Would a woman see her lover happy as a coward? My hand went back to the sword. ‘She shall not’…Psyche should not – least of all contentedly  make sport for a demon” (138).  Later Orual becomes resolute; she must save Psyche despite her sister’s bizarre claims. Orual sees herself as a mother and father to Orual and writes that, “my love must be grave an provident, not slip-shod and indulgent, and there is a time for love to be stern. After all, what was she but a child? If the present case were beyond my understanding, how much more must it be beyond hers? Children must obey” (152). Orual deeply cares for Psyche. However, the love is contaminated by an immense possessiveness and is thus transformed into unhealthy obsession. Like Ungit who demands a sacrifice of her people, Orual demands nothing less than complete allegiance from her family and councilors. Lewis writes:

Orual is (not a symbol but) an instance, a ‘case’, of human affection in its natural condition: true, tender, suffering, but in the long run, tyrannically possessive and ready to turn to hatred when the beloved ceases to be its possession. What such love particularly cannot stand is to see the beloved passing into a sphere where it cannot follow…Of course I had always in mind its close parallel to what is probably at this moment going on in at least 5 families in your own town. Someone becomes a Christian, or, in a family nominally Christian already, does something like becoming a missionary or entering the religious order. The others suffer a sense of outrage. What they love is being taken from them! The boy must be mad! And the conceit of him! Or is there something in it after all? Let’s hope it is only a phase! If only he’d listen to his natural advisers! Oh come back, come back, be sensible, be the dear son we used to know.  Letter to Clyde Kilby 2 October 1957

We see this also with Bardia, the faithful guard who teaches Orual swordplay. Orual develops feelings for Bardia and insists that he work late evenings and fight beside her in battle. Orual, again out of jealousy, criticizes Bardia’s wife and knowingly prevents him from returning home. However, when Bardia passes away, Orual realizes that this selfish motive was one of the contributing factors to his early death. Orual visits his home, where his wife educates Queen Orual: “Perhaps you never saw him, Queen, at the times when a man shows his weariness. You never saw his haggard face in the early morning Nor heard his groan when you (because you had sworn to do it) must shake him and force him to rise. You never saw him come home late from the palace, hungry, yet to tired to eat. How should you, Queen? I was only his wife. He was too well-mannered, you know, to nod and yawn in a Queen’s house” (260). In an excellent essay on Till We Have Faces which is included in Volume 2 of C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy (edited by Dr. Bruce Edwards), Karen Rowe mentions that “Bardia is a futile effort to create a pseudo-family, for though she can command his allegiance, she cannot command his affection, and at the end of the day, as long a day as possible, Bardia returns to his home, leaving Orual isolated in the palace. Power is not the answer to a misunderstood love; it merely compounds the effects” (146).

Orual does this also with Fox or “Grandfather”, a slave who trains the girls in the great mythology. As an older man, he asks to be excused from her presence to retire to bed, to which Orual thinks selfishly: “What could I do but send him away? This is where men, even the trustiest, fail us. Their heart is never so wholly given to any matter but that some trifle of a meal, or a drink, or a sleep, or a joke, or a girl, may come in between them and it, and then (even if you are a queen) you’ll get no more good out of them till they’ve had their way. In those days I had not yet understood this.” (149-150)

Rowe also writes that Till We Have Faces was published shortly after Surprised by Joy and shortly before The Four Loves. Orual reflects what Lewis called Need-Love, a love that exhibits a desire so strong, it suffocates its recipient. It is not based upon one’s fondness for another, but the insistence on one’s presence and affection as a prerequisite for happiness (or in some cases, existence). Lewis actually exhibits this with Orual in Till We Have Faces (and also The Great Divorce).

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Joining the Boys’ Club

Because she didn’t possess the beauty of her sisters, Orual (with her infamous veil) adopts male qualities: “My aim was to build up more and more that strength, hard and joyless, which had come to me when I hard of the god’s sentence; by learning, fighting, and laboring, to drive all the woman out of me” (184).  Orual knows that she will never marry or have children. This is another reason Orual is angered by the gods. Why has she been cursed with such ugliness? Why must she wear a veil to elude criticism? Oraul decides to use it to her and her kingdom’s benefit. The veil mystifies many enemies, and remaining a virgin has helped Orual “keep her shape” while others women lost their figures after childbirth. She is a different breed of woman, but a successful woman nonetheless. Lewis reflects on this in a rather humorous letter to a female correspondent:

I think what makes Orual different from the ‘warrior maiden’ Archtype is that she is ugly, represents virginity not [in] its high poetic state but as mere misfortune, and  of course, masculine activities as the pis aller, the thing she is driven into because nothing else is left her. (A bit of ambivalence too. Bardia’s attempt to treat her as a man is agony, yet also to be as much of a man as possible and share his masculine activities is the only thing that links her with him at all and is, in that way, precious to her). Even so, she does feel on killing her first man that she has somehow been debauched…The veil comes in – they are all cryptic in their armour. Is it that enemy and bride are somehow very close together? Both ways (a.) My bride will devour me: all wives are, so far, spiders! (b.) The foe I kill in battle is recognized at the moment of my killing as (souls are all feminine) ‘my sister my spouse’? – Letter to Kathleen Raine  5 October 1956

During her fight to win Trunia’s freedom (a nice switch of traditional roles), Orual struggles with exhaustion and the feeling of being “debauched”: “Yet I felt of a sudden very weak and my legs were shaking; and I felt myself changed too, as if something had been taken away from me. I have often wondered if women feel like that when they lose their virginity” (220). Although she is a virgin, she imagines that the sense of loss in conflict resembles the common female sensation of losing innocence. In this way, she still seeks a connection with femininity.

The celebration of her victory, with a room full of intoxicated men, shows the reader that Orual is indeed still “feminine” in nature: “That night I sat nearly to the end, the only women in the whole mob of them. Three parts of me was a shamed and frightened Orual who looked forward to a scolding from the Fox for being there at all, and was bitterly lonely; the fourth part was Queen, proud (though dazed too) amid the heat and clamour, sometimes dreaming she could laugh loud and drink deep like a man and warrior, next moment, more madly, answering to Trunia’s doffing, as if her veil hid the face of a pretty woman.” (223)

After she leaves the room, she is repulsed by the men: “‘What vile things men are!’ They were all drunk by now (except the Fox, who had gone early), but their drinking had sickened me less than their eating. I had never seen men at their pleasures before: the gobbling, snatching, belching, hiccupping, the greasiness of it all, the bones thrown in the floor, the dogs quarrelling under our feet. Were all men such?” (223-224). Karen Rowe posits that Queen Orual is disappointed that becoming queen and mingling with men still do not satisfy her deeper longings: “Though she initially believes that being ruler will bring her fulfillment, she soon discovers that in spite of her military prowess, she  is not ‘one of the boys’; indeed their behavior often disgusts her. She finds herself set apart by sex as well as by position” (146). Can we dare say that Lewis shines a discouraging light upon men and their unattractive habits?

Orual’s frustration with the gods climaxes in Part II of Till We Have Faces. She writes, “No man will love you though you gave your life for him, unless you have a pretty face. So (might it not be?), the gods will not love you (however you try to pleasure them, and whatever you suffer) unless you have that beauty of soul. In either race, for the love of men or the love of a god, the winners and losers are marked out from birth. We bring our ugliness, in both kinds, with us into the world, with it our destiny. How bitter this was, every ill-favoured woman will know” (282).

Eventually, Orual comes face-to-face with the gods (with a list of complaints in hand). She must remove her veil and appear barefaced. No longer can she remain concealed. However, as readers know, the removal of the veil is symbolic of Orual’s self-knowledge. Now she knows how the gods see her. Now she can accept herself and eschew the idea that her value is contingent upon her beauty. Frivolous assessments are not important. Paramount to Orual’s experience is that she learns to love herself and the gods, to substitute her selfish Need-Love with God’s Gift-Love.


The final depiction of females that Lewis provides in fiction is of a whole different breed than most believe. A content woman who never marries, who rules a kingdom successfully, who can defend herself with courage and confidence, and perhaps most importantly, a woman who comes to terms with herself and her true worth. Despite the possessive love with which she consumes others throughout the novel, she comes to realize that she has searched for a deeper love to consume her. The experience leaves us changed, but not “debauched” and we understand that our relationships (with God and others) grow and change as our wisdom increases- “Nothing is yet in its true form” (305).

Like Orual, Lewis carried this story tucked away in his imagination for many years. As his obedience to Christ increased, so did his understanding and wisdom. What does Lewis teach us through Orual’s tale? That we must approach God with honesty, allow God to search us, look beyond the human, flawed interpretations of gender to discover the reflections of God underneath (“I am Ungit” Orual states). Orual’s final chapter begins with this thought:

The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, “Child, to say the very thing you mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about  joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces? (294)  (emphasis added)

Next week, the final week of the series, we will discuss Lewis’s nonfiction commentary on women. Included in this post will be Lewis’s disagreement with feminism, his rejection of priestesses, and his thoughts on the roles of women.  Join me!

Lewis and Women Series: Portrayals in the Science Fiction (Ransom) Trilogy

Week Ten- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in The Science Fiction (or Ransom) Trilogy

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“Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees…Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex” (Perelandra 200)

The Space Trilogy, written between 1938-1945, chronicles the adventures of a philologist (language expert) named Elwin Ransom. As David Downing points out in his book Planets in Peril, Lewis structures his tale with elements of Classicism and Medievalism. In fact, he echoes the great John Milton in the creation of his universe. In addition, the hierarchical order of species illustrates Lewis’s preference for medievalism and his theological views of the Hierarchical Concept as portrayed in Milton’s Paradise Lost. For more information on Lewis’s hierarchical beliefs, read A Preface to Paradise Lost andMeditation on the Third Commandmentfrom God in the Dock. Lewis’s works explain that the Field of Arbor is a solar system in which the “Bent One” rebelled against Maleldil (son of the Old One) and was punished by being confined to Earth. The Bent One inflicted great evil on Earth and Earth was “cut off” or “silenced” from the rest of the planets, hence the name Thulcandra or “Silent Planet”. Maleldil eventually took a man’s form in order to deliver redemption for the Bent One’s devastation. In the end, all will be made right in That Hideous Strength.

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Out of the Silent Planet

In the first installment Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom is kidnapped (or professor-napped?) by Dick Devine and Dr. Weston and taken to the planet Malacandra, where he is intended to become a human sacrifice (i.e. the name “Ransom”). Devine and Weston’s ultimate goal is to colonize other planets, not for scientific exploration but for financial exploitation. Ransom escapes his captors and eventually learns the language of creatures on the planet, thanks to the hross, sorns (or seroni), and pfifltriggi he encounters. Ransom discovers that these rather innocent species are quite civilized and unacquainted with evil (“bent ones”).  However, Devine and Weston spoil this bliss by killing a hrossa. They are brought before Oyarsa (presiding angel or eldila) to explain/justify this action. Instead of expressing sorrow and remorse, Devine and Weston essentially “sugar-coat” their aims as well-intended, with Ransom serving as an interpreter. When this is ineffective, Devine and Weston resort to insults and threats, describing guns as “Pouff! Bang!”, and therefore, illustrating that the Earthmen are truly the savages. The three men eventually return to Earth, but Ransom’s adventures are not over yet, as we delve deeper into space in Perelandra.  A fictionalized Lewis serves as the story’s narrator.


Perelandra, the second installment of the trilogy, is the first in which females are introduced to the story. Ransom returns to space in a casket (“What’s that coffin affair?” Lewis asks Ransom), and lands on a new planet, Perelandra. With his intelligence and shrewd sense of survival, Ransom acclimates quickly. When he first sees The Green Lady, she is clothed in the beauty of mystery that Perelandra possesses:

The running, the waving, the shouts, had not been intended for him. And the green man was not a man at all, but a woman. It is difficult to say why this surprised him so. Granted the human form, he was presumably as likely to meet a female as a male. But it did surprise him, so that only when the two islands once more began to fall apart into separate wave-valleys did he realize that he had said nothing to her, but stood staring like a food. And now that she was out of sight he found his brain on fire with doubts. Was this what he had been sent to meet? He had been expecting wonders, had been prepared for wonders, but not prepared for a goddess carved out of green stone, yet alive. And then it flashed across his mind – he had not noticed it while the scene was before him – that she had been strangely accompanied. She had stood up amidst a throng of beasts and birds as a tall sapling stands among bushes – big pigeon-coloured birds and flame-coloured birds, and dragons and beaver-like creatures about the size of rats, and heraldic-looking fish in the sea at her feet. Or had he imagined that? Was this the beginning of the hallucinations he had feared? Or another myth coming out into the world of fact – perhaps a more terrible myth of Circe or Alcina?

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When Ransom finally meets the Green Lady, he exalts her calm demeanor and beauty. The animals surrounding her seem to bask in a warm, welcoming glow she emanates. Ransom feels that he has located, even in the vast ethereal enigma of Arbol, a kindred spirit: “Under an alien exterior he had discovered a heart like his own. Was he now to have the reverse experience? For now he realized that the word “human” refers to something more than the bodily form or even to the rational mind. It refers also the community of blood and experience which unites all men and women on the Earth”  (56).  The Green Lady has a strong bond with Maleldil. In obedience to Maleldil, she cares deeply for the creatures who surround her. Ransom talks with her about the discrepancies of Perelandra versus Thulcandra (Earth) which seems to distress her: “I have been so young till this moment that all my life now seems to have been a kind of sleep. I have thought that I was being carried, and behold, I was walking” (68). Although she has access to all of the glory of Perelandra, she has been instructed not to travel to the Fixed Land (she resides on a Xanadu of sorts – a floating island). Meanwhile, Weston arrives. With his indomitable confidence (or more rightly arrogance), Weston whitewashes the evil of the world (there are references to Nazi Germany) and then proclaims that he is now a deity.  After this, Weston contorts and essentially dies, and his body becomes inhabited by an Unman. This being attempts to trick The Green Lady with twisted logic about Maleldil’s purposes. Notice here, the obvious references to Eve and the serpent. The Unman then weaves a deceitful tale in which disobedience leads to “splendor”:

Hardness came out of it but also splendor. They made with their own hands mountains higher than your Fixed Island. They made for themselves Floating Islands greater than yours which they could move at will through the ocean faster than any bird can fly. Because there was not always food enough, a woman could give the only fruit to her child or her husband and eat death instead – could give them all, as you in your little narrow life and playing and kissing and riding fishes have never done, nor shall do til you break the commandment. Because knowledge was harder to find, those few who found it becaoe more beautiful and exelled their fellows as you excel the beasts; and thousands were striving for their love… (120).

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Despite his best efforts, the Unman is unsuccessful in persuading The Green Lady, and unlike Eden, evil does not prevail. Ransom eventually defeats him. The King and Queen take their place upon the throne and all of the creatures of Perelandra bow in respect and reverence to them.

The conclusion of Perelandra contains one of Lewis’s most profound expositions on gender. In his description of the Oyarsa of Mars and Venus, Lewis sees a deep, penetrating love that is liberated from possession and sexual perversion. The sexual element is not neutered or oppressed, mind you (J.K. Rowling accused Lewis of repressing sexuality in Narnia, but it is fully present here). They exude beauty and genuine love. They are a male and female perfectly harmonized, contented and obedient to divine design. It is a love stripped of disrespect, of selfishness, of tyranny, of jealousy, of paranoia, of envy, of the forcing of one’s will upon another. This following quote firmly illustrates that Lewis that although the female is ruled by the male in a tradition hierarchy, both male and female are cherished and of equivalent worth. They are fundamentally different but both exceptionally valuable:

Pure, spiritual, intellectual love shot from their faces like barbed lightning. It was so unlike the love we experience that its expression coul deasily be mistaken for ferocity.  Both the bodies were naked, and both were free from any sexual characteristics, either primary or secondary. That, one would have expected. But whence came the curious different between them? He found that he could point to no single feature wherein the difference resided, yet it was impossible to ignore. One could try – Ransom has tried a hundred times – to put it into words. He has said that Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody. He has said that Malacandra affected him like a quantitative, Perelandra like an accentual, metre. He thinks that the first held in his hand something like a spear, but the hands of the other were open, with the palms toward him. But I don’t know that any of these attempts has helped me much. At all events that Ransom saw at that moment was the real meaning of gender. Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the world. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would simply be meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female or organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity. All this Ransom saw, as it were, with his own eyes. The two white creatures were sexless. But he of Malacandra was masculine (not male); she of Perelandra was feminine (not female). Malacandra seemed to him to have the look of one standing armed, at the ramparts of his own remote archaic world, in ceaseless vigilance, his eyes ever roaming the earth-ward horizon whence his danger cam long ago…But the eyes of Perelandra opened, as it were, inward, as if they were the curtained gateway to a world of waves and murmurings and wandering airs, of life that rocked in winds and splashed on mossy stones and descended as the dew and arose sunward in thin-spun delicacy of mist. (200-201)

There is much to mine here, but Lewis argues that male and female are distinctions of gender, but NOT of value. The value of one sex over another is not a Godly idea, but a product of flawed humanity. We (the humans) have perpetuated stereotypes and oppressive states. Notice that Lewis’s King and Queen do not have sexual organs, which is usually the basic physical distinction between male and female. But Lewis claims that gender is much deeper than our reproductive roles; it is a fundamental and necessary difference which illustrates the beauty of versatility of both genders. By design, males and females have different strengths and weaknesses which are complementary to one another. Even in Lewis’s tale, the Mars and Venus stand side by side. Mars, the leader and protector, stands erect with his spear, while Venus, nurturing and accepting, holds out her hand to Ransom.

That Hideous Strength

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Contrast our image of Venus’s open palm to the metaphorical closed fist of a resentful and neglected modern woman. This is where we begin in Lewis’s final installment That Hideous Strength. The book opens with Jane Studdock, wife of scholar Mark Studdock, talking to herself about the purposes of marriage: “Matrimony was ordained, thirdly…for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other”.  Jane, a promising scholar in her own right, is upset because her marriage is not exactly what she had expected. Her husband, who wishes to climb the social ladder, is off to another college meeting and has left his bride alone again. Jane admits that her experience has not been one of “mutual society” but rather of empty flats and ticking clocks and disappointment:

In reality marriage had proved to be the door out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do, into something like solitary confinement. For some years before their marriage she had never seen so little of Mark as she had done in the last six months. Even when he was at home he hardly ever talked. He was always either sleepy or intellectually preoccupied. While they had been friends, and later when they were lovers, life itself had seemed too short for all they had to say to each other. But now…why had he married her? Was he still in love? If so “Being in love” must mean totally different things to men and women (13)

But just as immediately, Lewis is quick to introduce a young, ambitious husband seeking professional accolades, even if he must sacrifice Truth. Mark Studdock pours all of his time into his job, not necessarily to “provide” for his wife, but to serve his own selfish needs of academic advancement. He joins N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Co-Ordinated Experiments) to please his superiors and ends up entering a “fog” of social and political uncertainty by writing propaganda under curious circumstances. Ultimately, he is simply a tool for their exploitation, a cog in their vehicle of gluttonous power and usurpation.

Here both the husband and wife are in the wrong. It is important to note here that Mark’s neglect of his wife is the source of her resentment. Many of Lewis’s critics wish to paint Lewis as some sort of misogynistic reactionary who preferred women to vacate the classroom and reenter the kitchen. But what Lewis is actually illustrating is how Mark’s gross neglect of his family and thus abandonment of his spiritual leadership has sown seeds of discord. Of course, Jane could have easily controlled her anger and developed lines of communication with Mark, and therefore her response to Mark’s absence is also unhealthy to the marriage.

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It is Jane’s horrible (prophetic) vision of The Head that prompts her to seek out Mrs. Ironwood in nearby St. Anne’s. While waiting to see Mrs. Ironwood, Jane peruses the book shelves and randomly plucks one off. She opens it and is immediately drawn to this passage:

The beauty of the female is the root of joy to the female as well as to the male, and it is no accident that the goddess of Love is older and stronger than the god. To desire the desiring of her own beauty is the obedience of Lilith, but to desire the enjoying of her own beauty is the obedience of Eve, and to both it is the lover that the beloved tastes her own delightfulness. As obedience is the stairway of pleasure, so humility is the… [Jane’s reading is interrupted] (62-63)

Jane is unsure if she can trust the visions, although Mrs. Ironwood tells that her gift is vision is hereditary. Jane wishes to reveal all of this to Mark, and yet something stops her. He seemed so busy with his work and preoccupied with his professional goals:

Men hated women who had things wrong with them, specially queer, unusual things. Her resolution was easily kept for Mark, full of his own story, asked her no questions…She knew he often had rather grandiose ideas, and from something in his face she divined that during his absence he had been drinking much more than he usually did. and so, all evening, the male bird displayed his plumage and the female played her part and asked questions and laughed and feigned more interest than she felt. Both were young, and if neither loved  very much, each was still anxious to be admired. (89)

**Side note: Lewis discusses this concept of males birds displaying plumage in his essay “Modern Man and His Categories of Thought” in Present Concerns).

Later, Jane is propositioned to join a group operated by a “Mr. Fisher-King”. Jane is reluctant, but becomes enraged when they tell her that she must obtain her husband’s permission to join since the head was “old-fashioned”. How ridiculous – these men who wish to use her skills as a seer or her hands to cook meals and wash dishes – all for their own benefit while paying her no mind. Jane sees these men as “complacent, patriarchal figures making arrangements for women as if women were children of bartering them like cattle…she was very angry” (117). Eventually, Jane will join the group, headed by none other than the “Director” Dr. Elwin Ransom. He is now the king of Pendragon and the heir of King Arthur.

In the discussion that follows, Ransom asks if Jane had secured permission to join. Exasperated, Jane replies, “Don’t send me back. I am all alone at home, with terrible dreams. It isn’t as if Mark and I saw much of one another at the best of times. I am so unhappy. He won’t care whether I come here or not. He’d only laugh at it all if he knew. Is it fair that my whole life should be spoiled just because he’s got mixed up with some horrible people? You don’t think a woman is to have no life of her own just because she’s married?” (146). Ransom asks if she is unhappy now to which, after some contemplation, she truthfully responds, “No.” As Ransom is about to send Jane away, she remarks that they “look” on marriage differently, but Ransom states that the important perspective on marriage lies in “how my Masters look on it”. Jane accidentally admits that she doesn’t love Mark anymore. Embarrassed, she worries that she has definitely ruined her chances of joining the group. “I suppose it would depend on how he lost your love”, remarks Ransom. He finally tells her, “You do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because you never attempted obedience”. Thus follows the conversation:

“I thought love meant equality,” she said, “and free companionship.”

“Ah, Equality!” said the Director. “We must talk of that some other time. Yes, we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another’s greed, because we are fallen. Just as we must all wear clothes for the same reason. But the naked body should be there underneath the clothes, ripening for the day when we shall need them no longer. Equality is not the deepest thing, you know.”

“I always thought that was just what it was. I thought it was in their souls that people were equal.”

 “You were mistaken,” said he gravely. “That is the last place where they are equal. Equality before the law, equality of incomes, that is all very well. Equality guards life; it doesn’t make it. It is medicine, not food. You might as well try to warm yourself with a  blue book”

“But surely marriage…?”

“Worse and worse,” said the Director. “Courtship knows nothing of it; nor does fruition. What has free companionship to do with that? Those who are enjoying something, or suffering something together, are companions…”

“I thought,” said Jane and stopped.

“I see,” said the Director. “It is not your fault. They never warned you. No one has ever told you that obedience – humility – is an erotic necessity. You are putting equality just where it ought not to be. As to your coming here, that may admit of some doubt.”

….”But you see that obedience and rule are more like a dance than a drill – specially between man and woman where the roles are always changing.”

**An important note on Lewis’s concept of “Equality” to avoid confusion:

As mentioned in an essay titled “Equality” in the collection Present Concerns, the term “equality” represents a resemblance, not an assessment of value. Therefore, we are not all “equal” because we all exhibit fundamental differences. Equality is often used in political associations to underscore the importance of avoiding discrimination. However, for Lewis, “equal” means “same”.  Consider this illustration: Person A is poor at drawing but an excellent cook. Person B is a promising artist but a culinary failure. By law and before God, these two individuals are “equal”, however, are they similar? Person A cannot help that he/she is a good cook, no matter if the skill was developed through hard work and/or talent. Person B appears to have much talent in the arts, but cannot cook well. There is no doubt that with determination and effort, Person A can improve his/her artistic skill, just as Person B can take cooking classes and practice. However, in their present state, the two individuals are fundamentally different, and therefore “not equal” or “not the same”.  As illustrated by the King and Queen in Perelandra, man and woman are fundamentally different, but that does not make one “better” than the other. The qualifier of “better” or “lesser” is humanity’s perversion of God’s design. We will discuss more on Lewis’s views of women in general (including his opposition to feminism) in the final post in this series.  

Jane leaves the Manor and admits to feeling confused, like “four” different Janes. The first three wrestled with the message of the Director. Is he simply spewing masculine rhetoric to reassert his dominance and secure her subordination? While the three Janes seemed conflicted, the fourth and strongest one was filled with Joy. Just then, Jane is captured by N.I.C.E. officials and interrogated. She eventually escapes and returns to the Manor where Mother Dimble claims that the Director is “a very wise man. But he is a man, after all, and an unmarried man at that. Some of what he says, or what the Masters say, about marriage does seem to me to be a lot of fuss about something so simple and natural that it oughtn’t to need saying at all” (168).

Jane’s next dream involves Mark, which frightens Jane and the party at the Manor. Meanwhile, Mark is shocked to learn that Jane has been questioned. He leaves to head home and is stopped by the incorrigible Ms. Hardcastle, where more trouble ensues as the book reaches its climax.

I urge you all to read the book, so I won’t give away too much more. However, I will tell you that, in the end, Mark returns to St. Anne’s, to the marriage bed that Jane has prepared for him.  As he travels, he fears that he has doomed his marriage:

But then, certain moments of unforgettable failure in their short married life rose in his imagination. he had thought often enough of what he called Jane’s “moods”. This time at last he thought of his own clumsy importunity. and the thought would not go away. Inch by inch, all the lout and clown and clod-hopper in him was revealed to his own reluctant inspection; the coarse, male boor with horny hands and hobnailed shoes and beefsteak jaw, not rushing in – for that can be carried off – but blundering, sauntering, stumping in where great lovers, knights and poets, would have feared to tread. An image of Jane’s skin, so smooth, so white (or so he ow imagined it) that a child’s kiss miht make a mark on it, floated before him. How had he dared? Her driven snow, her music, her sacrosanctity, the very style of all her movement.. how had he dared? And dared too with no sense of daring, nonchalantly, in careless stupidity! The very thoughts that crossed her face from moment to moment, all of them beyond his reach, made (had he but had the wit to see it) a hedge about her which such as he could never have had the temerity to pass. Yes, yes – of course, it was she who had allowed him to pass it: perhaps in luckless, misunderstanding pity. And he had taken blackguardly advantage of that noble error in her judgment; had behaved as if here native to that fenced garden and even its natural possessor. All this, which should have been uneasy joy, was torment to him, for it came too late. He was discovering the hedge after he had plucked the rose, and not only plucked it but torn it all to pieces and crumpled it with hot, thumb-like, greedy fingers. How had he dared? And who that understood could forgive him? He knew now what he must look like in the eyes of her friends and equals. Seeing that picture, he grew hot to the forehead, alone there in the mist.  The word Lady had made not par to his vocabulary save as a pure form or else in mockery. He had laughed too soon. Well, he would release her. She would be glad to be rid of him. Rightly glad. It would now almost have shocked him to believe otherwise. Ladies in some noble and spacious room, discoursing in cool ladyhood together, either with exquisite gravity or with silver laughter – how should they not be glad when the intruder had gone? – the loud-voiced or tongue-tied creature, all boots and hands. whose true place was in the stable. What should he do in such a room – where his v very admiration could only be an insult, his best attempts to be either grave or gay could only reveal unbridgeable misunderstanding? What he had called her coldness seemed now to be her patience. Whereof the memory scalded. For he loved her now. But it was all spoiled; too late to mend matters.

This long passage illustrates Mark’s sincere regret for neglecting his family. Jane returns home and begins to clean up. Both have experienced significant shifts in perspective and now realize that marriage requires the work of BOTH INDIVIDUALS to succeed. Both spouses must be open and forgiving. Mark and Jane can now heal their relationship and continue on with renewed enthusiasm.

Here Lewis presents us with two very different portrayals of women: one is a new “Eve” and the other is a reformed, educated modern woman. Neither of these women is demonized in the stories, nor are they the only characters who “learn a lesson”. Lewis is careful to craft a story that reveals the true affliction as one that infects all of humankind, that does not discriminate by gender. The Green Lady and Jane Studdock are protagonists who do not surrender to impending evil; in contrast, they represent and fight for good.  The Green Lady revels in the beauty which comes from obedience to Maleldil, and Jane is the character who possesses vision. She can detect what her husband cannot.

Lewis presents very complex, and still yet benevolent, women in the space trilogy. A thorough read of the texts show that Lewis was far from misogynistic. Rather, he shows that the traps of evil are obstacles for both men and women. This is a more holistic view, and one which, I feel, greatly strengthens the argument for women in his other fictional works (Narnia included).

Next week, we will end our literary analysis with  Til We Have Faces. Lewis considered it one of his best works of fiction. This book is critical in examining and dismantling the assertion that “Lewis hated women”. It is a pivotal text and denying its exploration will greatly impoverish my argument.  Join me, will you?

A Year in Review

Image courtesy of http://www.rockingwallpaper.com

Last year on December 31st, I wrote a post about spending time with my grandmother at the retirement home. Hospice was called in, and as my parents met with them to discuss treatment options, I fed my dear Granny small dollops of pureed food on the end of a spoon. Delicately, quietly, she ate and I contemplated how life would be when this woman, a candle flickering so proudly throughout my life, would finally pass and her light would be extinguished.

Just a few weeks later, on January 27, she passed peacefully on a Sunday morning. At that same hour years ago, she would have been readying herself for church, curling her golden hair, applying powder to her cheeks, clinging to her Bible with the marked-up passages. But this particular Sunday she lay silent, her vitality tamed by disease and her body conquered by death.

But the story doesn’t end there. Our faith claims that I will see her again without the burden of noisy oxygen machines and frequent morphine injections and the painful experience of blown veins. I will see her triumphant with all of the joy she once knew, but not on this side of eternity.  In the meantime, I realized how life could be when a great light has gone out.  I mourned but then I was motivated. I simply poured my energy into others, exercised the contagious generosity she possessed.  I encouraged my students to live out their dreams of becoming writers. I celebrated authentic friendships. I nurtured and rekindled relationships that are valuable to me. The contemplation catalyzed by her death has enabled me to  ultimately improve my life.  I take better care of myself and in the absence of her light, I feel that I have inspired many other flames to flicker on boldly against the intimidating darkness and uncertainty of our world.

Perhaps this year, you or someone you know lost someone special. I urge you allow yourself time to grieve, remember those times you spent fondly, give yourself permission to cry, but most importantly, honor the individual by spreading goodness to the world he/she left behind. Let the legacy be one of indomitable goodness, forgiveness, and mercy. There is much evil in the world, but also much good.  Understand that you contribute to that balance and make an intentional effort to chase despair out of the dark places.


I fear that I will disappoint you if I don’t list some of the highlights of the past year.  Many wonderful things happened in 2013, but I will post just six so the list doesn’t get too tedious:

1) In 2013, I became a leadership mentor for the non-profit organization Develop Africa. Develop Africa sponsors scholarships, microfinance loans, and occupational training for residents in Sierra Leone. I met an amazing group of girls through this program. As I watch them learn, grow, and celebrate milestones, it warms my heart. It is an abiding joy to work with these young women. The program has now expanded into Kenya. I look forward to more work with these wonderful ladies and with the fantastic organization.

If you would like to contribute to the stellar work that Develop Africa is doing, please consider making a donation to the organization. I can tell you firsthand that the financial support touches the lives of so many people. It is truly changing lives. To support Develop Africa, please visit http://www.developafrica.org.

2) One of the joys of this year was co-hosting the Narnia podcast with William O’Flaherty and Paul Martin.  I include The Silver Chair two-part series in this as well (which made the “All About Jack” podcast top ten!).  I had a wonderful time rereading the series and discussing it with some of the most respected and admired scholars in the Lewis field. If you haven’t treated yourself to this series, please visit www.narniacast.mymiddleearth.com and download the nine-part series.

3) I continued contributing to Kelly Belmonte’s fantastic blog All Nine Museswww.allninemuses.wordpress.com. I thoroughly enjoy writing for Kelly (who, by the way, published her excellent first book of poetry Three Ways of Searching available through Finishing Line Press). This year, I became a contributor for Islands of Joy (http://islandsofjoy.blogspot.com), a blog maintained by my friend and fellow Inkling scholar Sorina Higgins.  She is the mastermind behind the fantastic webpage The Oddest Inkling, dedicated to Inkling Charles Williams. Like Kelly, Sorina is also a published poet, with her collections Caduceus and The Significance of Swans.  Both are available on Amazon.

4) I met three wonderful people I really admire this year:

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm taught courses at the C.S. Lewis Foundation Fall Conference (a PURE JOY I experienced last month!). He is an absolutely brilliant, thought-provoking speaker. He signed my copies of his poetry collections – Sounding the Seasons and The Singing Bowl. In addition, I interviewed him for the All About Jack podcast – http://lewisminute.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/aaj-podcast-the-singing-bowl-malcolm-guite/. For more info on this interesting individual, visit the reflection I composed at Islands of Joyhttp://islandsofjoy.blogspot.com/2013/11/there-are-few-moments-in-your-life-when.html.

Karen Prior

Dr. Karen Prior is a writer and English professor at Liberty University. I met Karen on Twitter (@LoveLifeLitGod) and thoroughly enjoyed her writing on various websites (Christianity Today, Relevant, Breakpoint, and The Atlantic among others). I purchased her memoir Booked last year (2012), a narrative which explains how books have shaped her physical, emotional, and spiritual development. It is a fascinating, informative, and entertaining read that I HIGHLY recommend.

Photo courtesy of http://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com

I finally met her when she conducted a course on writing memoir in Roanoke. Afterwards, we had coffee and enlightening conversation. She is currently working on a biography of Hannah More. She is also a snazzy dresser!

Douglas Gresham

Douglas Gresham is the step-son of C.S. Lewis. In September, I was invited by Lewis scholar Devon Brown to hear Gresham give three different talks at Asbury University. Gresham far exceeded my expectations. He is a warm, friendly gentleman who embodies the tenets of Christianity and demonstrates a lifestyle of generosity and compassion. If you wish to hear more of my day with Gresham, read my reflections on Islands of Joy –  http://islandsofjoy.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-day-with-douglas-gresham.html.

5) Speaking of awesome people, I attended the C.S. Lewis Foundation Fall Conference in November.

My friend and fellow Muse Becka Choat and her bookstore Books by Becka

There I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I treasure the friendships I make at Lewis-related events. There’s nothing like great conversation with a bunch of Narnians. I also attended a family reunion in August where I reconnected with members of my grandmother’s family. Both weekends were wonderful and nostalgic.

6) Finally, I returned to Europe. I have openly admitted to being an Anglophile (is that unpatriotic?).

This year, we spent four days in London, visited my ancestors’ homestead in Nottinghamshire, and spent two days in Edinburgh, Scotland (and toured the castle!). London is absolutely my favorite place to visit. While there this year, I visited the home of Charles Dickens, the Tower of London, the home of Benjamin Franklin (my husband is directly descended from him), the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and H&M.  😉

I’ve had a blessed year indeed.

There are many wonderful things planned for 2014.  Among them, I, along with Lewis scholar Will Vaus, will be reading through the C.S. Lewis Bible in a year. The plan is simply reading four chapters a day, with reflections and journaling to follow on our respective blogs.  I urge you to join us (even if you don’t have a Lewis Bible!). Will will be blogging at http://willvaus.blogspot.com.

Wishes for a wonderful, healthy, prosperous New Year from me, Aaron, and the puppies!!