Thirty Days with C.S. Lewis: A Women’s Devotional is now available!


On Amazon!

Hello all!

I know I have been quiet recently, but I have been hard at work on some projects for the last few months. This has limited my ability to write blogs on a regular basis.

One of the projects that I have been working on is a women’s devotional. Several months back, I was approached about doing a devotional, and chose to do a “woman-themed” Lewis devotional thanks in part to the research I did for the Lewis and Woman blog series. I am happy to report that as of this morning, the devotional is now available for purchase on Amazon!  It is only available through e-book right now, but will be offered as a physical copy in late spring. I will keep you updated.

The quotes from this devotional represent a wide spectrum of Lewis writings. Included are verses from “Dymer” (pre-conversion Lewis), quotes from Mere Christianity, a miscellany from essays and sermons, and nuggets from works like The Four Loves, inspiring comments from The Collected Letters, and fiction excerpts from The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space (or Ransom) Trilogy, and Till We Have Faces.

If you are a shrewd consumer (like I am) and want to check it out before you buy, you can sample it on Amazon. I will include one here for your consideration:


Day 19: Seventy Times Seven

“As far as weakness allows I hope, now that you know you are forgiven, you will spend most of your remaining strength in forgiving. Lay all the old resentments down at the wounded feet of Christ.” – Letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, June 25, 1963

Every time I read the story of the prodigal son, I wonder how the image appeared. The heartbroken father trudging through his daily tasks. Although he is prosperous, he feels as if a fundamental piece of him is missing. Then one day, from afar, he sees a slumped figure hobbling down the road. Limping toward home is his prodigal son. He has squandered his father’s fortune and worked as a pig farmer, where he felt he was treated worse than the pigs. He is tired and broke. He worries that he will return only to be shunned and turned out. They will laugh at him, at his disdain for propriety, at neglecting his family to chase those misleading dreams which were merely fantasies of emptiness. Despite his reservations, he has nothing left. He cautiously approaches home.

Then his father sees him. His eyes are wet with tears of joy. The air is thick with reconciliation. He begins to stride, then run, towards his son and embrace him. No, you are not a lost cause. You are my son. I will always love you. A grand party is held to celebrate his return.

And in the corner, burning with resentment, is another brother. He never ran off to disgrace the family, never disobeyed his father’s commandments. What is all this fuss about? He never left and father would never slaughter a fatted calf for him. While others around him rejoice, while the evening is filled with laughter and happiness, this brother still considers his pathetic sibling a traitor.

Here we see clearly what it is like to live with and without forgiveness. Notice how the father is jovial and incandescent. He is beaming. One of his own has returned home and he wants nothing more than to spread the joy. In contrast, the begrudging brother conceals himself among the throng. He has allowed the hurt to injure his would-be contentment. Instead of considering his father’s happiness, he focuses conceitedly on his own. It ruins his evening, preventing him from engaging in the festivities. It creates a barrier which ends up isolating him from the rest of his family.

We are flawed beings, and forgiveness is required for all of us. I cannot withhold forgiveness while others forgive me. In doing so, I impoverish my life – substituting anger and sadness for joy. Let’s be honest, some people are difficult to forgive. Some people may even appear to be persistent prodigals. But God has commanded us to love, not to judge.

Today, choose to forgive others and nurse old resentments. God is offering happiness. Will you embrace it or cross your arms in resistance? What benefit do the old hurts give you? On the other hand, what benefits will forgiveness grant you?

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Thanks readers! More news coming soon!


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Just head over to Bandcamp to purchase the series and support EssentialCSLewis.Com!

Lewis and Women Series – Conclusion and Discussion

The C.S. Lewis and Women Series – Conclusions and Discussion

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The genesis of this series began with a offhand comment uttered during my doctoral defense.  It was tossed carelessly into the air by an uninformed spectator and quickly disregarded by my committee members. It could have easily evaporated as I emerged from the defense triumphant. Yet secretly, I was deeply wounded. I could not reconcile the assumption of a misogynistic Lewis with the writer who led me through the wardrobe into Narnia, to the Christian who helped me better understand and appreciate my faith, to the one who granted me permission to mingle intellectual inquiry and spiritual belief. Surely this man, who had an extraordinary grasp of the human creature, could not espouse such rigid, biased, and archaic views of women.

 Now here I am, nearly two years later, spurred by that comment into a curious investigation (and personal journey) into the meaning of gender through the lens of C.S. Lewis. I have looked at his early relationships with women to his friendships with poetesses and female correspondents. He has written a wide range of female characters, from timid queens to strong-willed, independent female scholars. These complex characters are as lovely as they are diverse and each flourishes in a plethora of environments – by a snowy lamppost, walking confidently among the citizens of a distant planet, ruling a kingdom beneath a mysterious veil, or cowering under the oppression of a malicious organization. I firmly believe that Lewis’s characterization is not always a critique of the female population, rather an earnest look about the proclivities of human nature (human = male AND female).

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Do I agree with everything Lewis said about women? Well, no. I believe that Lewis’s perspective matured as he was exposed to more women as an adult. When I first read “Modern Man and His Categories of Thought” (1946), I was disturbed by his shallow knowledge on female topics of conversation. I credit Mrs. Moore, Ruth Pitter, Joy Davidman, and Dorothy Sayers with assisting Lewis in a better understanding of women. As a female Lewis scholar, I have come to a better understanding of my own gender through Lewis’s eyes. For example, I was completely arrested by the scene at the end of Perelandra in which Mars and Venus, stripped of their reproductive organs yet still essentially and thoroughly gendered, rule differently yet peacefully.

No matter your personal opinions on Susan’s loose end in The Last Battle, we cannot ignore his compassion and kindness to women. In his marriage, he was a consummate gentleman. He sought a poetic mentor in Ruth Pitter. He lauded the works of Dorothy Sayers. He was consistently encouraging and receptive with his female correspondents. Through his private responses, Lewis reveals a true curiosity and genuine concern for people which extends far beyond the socially reductive suppositions of gender.  His works illustrate a growing understanding of God and man, climaxing with the piece of fiction in which all is revealed after we have the courage to lift our veils and come face-to-face with God unarmed. We must strip away all of the veils and robes that hinder us (yes, even our sexual trappings) and bow in God’s presence unfettered by burdens of our own creation.

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Through this series, I honestly sought to prove people wrong, people like J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman and every scholar who wrote biased articles indicting Lewis as a misogynist without giving his corpus a thorough read. It was a romantic notion, the thought that an indignant fan could come to Lewis’s aid (I chuckle at the thought now) in some display of heroic devotion. But this is a ridiculous notion. I certainly hope that I have corrected false assumptions on Lewis, but the truth is, I did not need to save him. If a rescue occurred, surely it was Lewis grabbing me by the collar in the margins of my misunderstanding in an imaginatively-barren world and galloping swiftly toward Truth and Beauty, toward Light, toward a God who created and loved me. I am not deifying Lewis, rather he is simply the messenger, the conduit – my humble version of Hermes. He helped me draw away my veil, like Orual, and find the fallacy and beauty underneath.

Through Lewis, I have learned to stop boxing shadows. There is no reason for lingering resentment about being female, about apologizing for “not having kids”, about screaming at glass ceilings. Do unfair discrepancies exist between males and females in culture? Absolutely. I am often faced with them, and find myself rather unhappy when I do. But these are human constructs, obstacles which Lewis would argue have haunted us since The Fall. It is not assent, it is not acceptance or surrender.  I wash clothes and cook food and read books and write papers. Wife and scholar are not mutually exclusive.  I will continue to pursue my dreams and explore different aspects of Inkling scholarship.  I am a woman, but more importantly, I am a child of God. I may continue to confound collective reasoning and long-cherished tradition but I cannot, in good conscience, continue to grumble about my perceived limitations. Taking a cue from Lewis’s Venus, I wish to embrace life with an “open palm” (as opposed to Jane’s clinched fist) and move beyond my frustrations. Essentially, I am a miscellany, many of Lewis’s beloved (and hated) characters rolled into one. One moment, I am Eve (the Green Lady), the next Jane Studdock, the next day Susan, the next week Lucy.  I am Psyche and Orual.

Throughout my enigmatic existence, God is the one constant.

And this is where the journey leads us…to a better understanding of God and of ourselves. Ironically, studying Lewis’s work has surprisingly blurred the definition of gender and tempered my own enmity. These were not my intentions when I started; my initial goal was to build a formidable defense of Lewis’s female portrayals. Fifty years later, the don is still instructing. Thank you Jack!

Would you like to see this series expanded to a full-length work? Please comment below. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

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

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

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[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)

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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?

The Lewis and Women Series Resumes! Now…Narnia

Dear readers,

My sincerest apologies for the long delay in completing this blog series. My husband and I have both experienced health issues (aside from very busy schedules). Thankfully, we are both recovered. I now present you with the much-awaited post on Narnia, perhaps the most controversial works concerning Lewis’s portrayal of women. Thank you for your patience (and continued encouragement!).  I appreciate your kindness.  🙂

Happy Reading!

Week Nine- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in The Chronicles of Narnia

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What is disturbing in the Narnian Chronicles, as well as in the whole range of Lewis’s literary corpus is the way in which ultimate good is depicted as ultimate masculinity, while evil, the corruption of good, is depicted as femininity” – Kath Filmer from the chapter “Masking the Misogynist in Narnia and Glome” from The Fiction of C. S. Lewis

“Boys are better than girls; light-colored people are better than dark-colored people and so on…Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up” – Phillip Pullman, interview in The Guardian 1 October 1998

There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that” – J.K. Rowling interview in Time Magazine 17 July 2005

“Lewis had no difficulty mating beavers happily, but whenever we find him placing a man in proximity to a woman, or in situations that might suggest a muse relationship it is to expose the pairing as unnatural and wicked… Lewis feared women and disliked them categorically… The actual provocation for executing these seven novels sprang from his need to put a woman in her place—or two women, perhaps, or all of them” – John Goldthwaite, The Natural History of Make-Believe

Only one of the children from the original quartet is excluded from heaven. This is Susan. She has committed the unforgivable sin of growing up” – A.N. Wilson, C.S. Lewis: A Biography

“[Narnia] is monumentally disparaging of girls and women. It is blatantly racist. One girl was sent to hell because she was getting interested in clothes and boys.”  – Phillip Pullman, interview in The Guardian 3 June 2002**

**On a side note, if a text is “disparaging of girls and women”, it isn’t “racist”, it’s sexist. Secondly, Susan was not “sent to hell”; she did not die in the accident which killed her siblings, which means she still lives in the real world and thus, can still choose to enter Aslan’s Country later.

A special thanks to Lewis scholar Devon Brown for the references to several of these quotes, found in his exceptional essay: “Are The Chronicles of Narnia Sexist and Racist?”


My, my. What vitriol and calumny is this?

Perhaps no other work of Lewis’s has drawn more criticism on gender than The Chronicles of Narnia. Any causal reader could make the argument that some of the females are typecast (“‘Just like a girl,’ said Edmund to himself, ‘sulking somewhere, and won’t accept an apology'” LWW 33). Perhaps the strongest evidence is Susan’s exclusion from Aslan’s Country in The Last Battle. For those who are unfamiliar with Lewis’s larger body of work, this may appear to be a plausible argument. However, most critics (perhaps intentionally) eliminate or ignore specific characters which, upon further analysis, completely dismantle the old arguments that Lewis is a misogynist.

When I hear or read negative gender criticisms on Lewis, my first thought is that a close reading has not been given to the text. There are not simply two female characters (queens) in Narnia. Some are quick to add, “Yes, there are also two witches”.  But what of Polly from The Magician’s Nephew, or Jill from The Silver Chair, or (my personal favorite) Aravis from The Horse and His Boy? And shall I dive further into other great female animals, such as Mrs. Beaver?  These females present a wide spectrum of personalities and with further examination, illustrate Lewis’s range in writing women characters.

Recently, several fascinating articles have been written on the subject. Back in June, Matthew and Joy Steem wrote a compelling piece titled “Finding a Feminine Theology in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia” for Christianity Today (link here).  In the article, the authors reference an excellent book composed by Monika Hilder which has reconceptualized the lens with which we analyze Lewis and gender.  Hilder’s scholarship is also featured in the upcoming collection of essays on Perelandra, edited by the insightful and erudite Judith Woolf (e-reader edition available here).

Here we see, slowly, the tide of popular opinion beginning to turn.

If you are persuaded by data, notice that Lewis wins that argument outright.  Take for example, Lewis’s choice of protagonists.  He maintains a steady balance of both male and female lead characters throughout ALL of the stories. Abbreviations of the titles will be used for the remainder of this article.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe [LWW]and Prince Caspian [PC]= two male and two female monarchs, Caspian in PC

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader [VDT] = One male monarch and one female monarch (Lucy and Edmund) 

*King Caspian and Eustace also serve as protagonists. Because the setting of this tale is on a ship, there is a noted absence of females. However Lewis places Lucy and later Ramandu’s daughter into the story.

The Silver Chair [SC]= Eustace and Jill

The Horse and His Boy [HHB]= Shasta and Aravis

The Magician’s Nephew [MN]= Digory and Polly

The Last Battle [LB] = Return of all male and female protagonists except for Susan

For the sake of argument, I will provide a summary of the major and minor female characters in Narnia and divide them into “positive” and “negative” categories. I do this simply to illustrate the absurdity of the accusations against Lewis, a man who has been, in many other works, lauded for his precision and accuracy in capturing the human condition. Some scholars, such as Mary Stewart Van Leeuwan, posit that Lewis’s portrayal of  women shifts throughout the Narnian chronicles.  The merit of such arguments can surely be justified with a close reading of the text, but I aim to show that Narnian females are not initially displayed in a negative light. Paul Ford in his Companion to Narnia concurs with this observation:

It must be said that in the final phase of the creative energy that produced the Chronicles -the phase that produced the last three books – Lewis’s female characters, Jill and Polly, reflect a writer more in touch with the reality of women and therefore more willing to see them as free individuals, capable of exploding cultural strictures and stereotypes. This must be attributed to his growing correspondence with women readers, especially  those seeking his advice in spiritual matters; to his firsthand relationships with female students and coleagues and with the wives of his male students and colleagues; and to his female friends, especially Pauline Baynes, Dorothy Sayers, Stella Aldwinckle, Ruth Pitter, Joy Davidman (later Lewis’s wife), and Lady Dunbar of Hempriggs (Mrs. Moore’s daughter Maureen, Lewis’s “foster-sister,” who is only eight years Lewis’s junior and with whom he lived from late 1920 to the summer of 1941, the year of her marriage. (393)

Ford is also quick to point out that Lewis places “stock responses to women in the mouths of fools” such as Rabadash (390). Young Edmund also illustrates a gross misunderstanding of women, which causes some arguments among his female siblings. Several of the Narnian girls/women possess what would be considered conventionally feminine qualities, but these are not interpreted in Lewis’s text as weaknesses. In contrast, male and female characters use their various strengths to cooperatively solve issues, illustrating how males and females roles are complementary.  As I will point out in the summaries, Lewis crafts diverse, complex female characters.  Some characters are reprimanded by Aslan for their stubbornness and pride, some for their mistaken presuppositions, some for their gluttony and greed; it is significant to note that Aslan does not distinguish  between males and females when he delivers this wisdom. Lewis does not discriminate when placing characters in situations in which they must be admonished, corrected, and ultimately forgiven.


 Lucy Pevensie

The Pevensie children (and by extension, you and I) would not know the joys of Narnia without the indomitable faith of Lucy Pevensie.  It was Lucy who innocently explored an empty room of the Professor’s massive manor and, during a game of hide-and-seek, pushed aside fur coats and tree limbs to discover a snowy landscape at Lantern Waste. It was her cheerful disposition which prompted Mr. Tumnus’s remorse after he reported her presence to the White Witch. Throughout the stories, her faith in Aslan is a constant source of inspiration and a testament to the power of perseverance. In Prince Caspian, Lucy is the only monarch to detect Aslan’s presence in the forest and later lead the group by Aslan’s shadow (this is after the group discusses holding a democratic vote among them to determine which route to take – Peter later wrongly vetoes this decision and leads them astray). Even as she ages and trips over the obstacles of late childhood/early adolescence, Lucy illustrates her undying devotion to Aslan.  I refer specifically to a passage in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. While perusing the Book of Incantations, Lucy stumbles upon spells which exploit her nagging inadequacies – “An infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals” and another “which would let you know what your friends thought about you”.  When Lucy contemplates reciting the first spell, Aslan appears and growls at her. Lucy declines the first spell, but recites the second and is terribly disappointed when her supposed friend admits that she was “getting pretty tired of [Lucy]”.  Some critics state that Lewis is being stereotypical, but as a female, I can attest that young girls often concern themselves with beauty and popularity. And if we all would admit it, young men do as well. As a high school teacher, I observe this on a daily basis. Lewis submits an honest portrayal of the complexities of childlike faith tangled with the human desire for attention and acceptance.

 Susan Pevensie (Yes, I believe she’s benevolent!)


Photo courtesy of

 Ah, here we arrive at the crux of the argument. Most of Lewis’s critics cite his expulsion of Susan as the ultimate insult – a woman who is too interested in nylons and lipstick to return to Aslan’s Country.  Most of the dissenters focus solely on Susan’s absence, however, she plays a vastly important role throughout the Chronicles. She matures into a beautiful woman, one who is described in HHB by Corin as “more like an ordinary grown-up lady. She doesn’t ride to the wars, though she is an excellent archer” (290).

Several passages note Susan’s desire to be “grown up”. Susan often attempts to mother her siblings in the absence of their parents, feeling that she and Peter should exercise that responsibility as older siblings. However, Susan is still a girl in many ways, and struggles with the transition to adulthood. Ford mentions, “As a girl moving into young womanhood, never an easy time, Susan is caught between the conflicting desires to be always a child and to be completely grown-up. She is neither here nor there, and the ecstatic side of life would be too much for her to deal with, were it not for Aslan” (417).  Her beauty is mentioned many times; Lucy aspires to be as beautiful as Susan in VDT. Her mothering instinct is evident when she attempts to decide what is best for them, saying “I told you so” when bad judgment is exercised, yet she wrestles internally with fear and a severe lack of confidence. However, Susan still possesses a deep compassion and concern for her brothers and sisters, and by extension, all of the creatures they meet in Narnia. She eschews killing anything, even a bear that nearly attacks her. Like Mary Magdalene(s), Susan and Lucy are present when Aslan is slain on the Stone Table and also are the first to see him after the Deep Magic resurrects him.

In LB, a somewhat awkward, uncomfortable conversation takes place about Susan’s absence. Some characters express distaste at Susan’s decision (ironic when one considers her refrain “I told you so”). It is imperative that people understand that Susan DID NOT DIE in the railway accident that claimed the rest of her family. Therefore, she still has an opportunity to enter Aslan’s Country at a later time, when she is ready and has perhaps matured past the frivolous distractions which absorb her time and attention. She is not “lost”, she is not “condemned to hell”. She continues to exist in England. Hopefully, in the shadow of tragedy, Susan will again return to Aslan and wish to enter His country, but her moment has not yet arrived. Although the decision to keep Susan out has prompted much scrutiny for Lewis, perhaps it shows us the innate power (and consequently the isolation) of our decisions, of forking paths carved carefully by our choices. There is still another chapter awaiting us, a great reunion is being written.

Maybe it illustrates that she is not beyond redemption.

*All illustrations are photos taken from my copy of first edition reprints of The Chronicles of Narnia (Pauline Baynes, illustrator).

 Jill Pole

When we first meet Jill, she is weeping behind the schoolhouse, a victim of vicious bullying by mean schoolgirls. Eustace, who seems to have improved some after his first trip in Narnia in VDT, attempts to comfort her. Both wish to escape the nasty environment of Experiment House and when the bullies begin the pursue them, Jill and Eustace run away and find themselves in Narnia. They argue often, and in an effort to illustrate her comfort with heights, Jill accidently prompts Eustace’s fall off a cliff (and into a cloud – don’t worry!). Jill then meets Aslan and is given the important task of remembering four important signs which will help them in uncovering the lost Prince Rilian:
1) Eustace will meet an old friend and must greet him at once

2) They must journey north of Narnia to the land of ancient giants

3) They will find writing on a stone in the ruined city and they must do what the writing instructs

4) They will know who the lost prince  because he will be the first one to ask them to do something in Aslan’s name.

Indeed, the whole outcome of the adventure rests securely on Jill’s shoulders. Eustace is not present when Aslan makes Jill memorize the signs and Jill struggles throughout the story to remember what the great lion has told her. With Jill’s final recognition of the signs, the heroes defeat the Queen of the Underland and rescue Prince Rilian. Although she struggles with fear, uncertainty, and lack of confidence, Jill eventually overcomes these insecurities and succeeds in following Aslan’s commands. With this surge of assurance, the children return to defeat their schoolyard enemies. They pursue and overtake the bullies, who cry “Murder! Fascists! Lions! It isn’t fair“.

By the time Jill returns to Narnia at sixteen in LB, she has developed into a competent, trustworthy leader. Gone is the girl who upbraided herself for forgetting Aslan’s signs; here is a young woman who helps lead her friends through the forest by learning the compass points, who rescues Puzzle, and kills and prepares a rabbit for sustenance. Puzzle’s absorption into the army of true Narnians is poignant as Jill realizes that Puzzle, although initially an enemy, was actually being exploited by the selfish ape Shift. By rescuing him, she illustrates the warmth of her character, extending forgiveness and protection from Shift and his minions. Concerning the rabbits, Ford recalls that this is the first instance of a woman hunting in Narnia. She cannot carry a sword, but handles a knife well. When she admits her weaknesses in archery, Eustace believes Jill to be modest and disagrees, saying that her skills are “about as good” as his. Because of her excellent skills, Jill is chosen to cover for the company as they “made a preemptive strike” which shows that the group entrusts Jill with their lives. She is saddened at Narnia’s destruction but passes happily into Aslan’s Country.

Polly Plummer

Polly is the first female to enter the Wood Between the Worlds. Polly and Digory are bored and curious children. Polly comes across as a bright, independent female who wishes to lift Digory from depression (his mother is very ill). After snooping around the attic rooms (by Polly’s initiative), they find Uncle Andrew’s strange rings and are transported to the Wood Between the Worlds. She is careful to not become too distracted by the promise of adventure and comfortably takes charge with cautious optimism. Paul Ford writes, “Even here her rationality and leadership prevail: She becomes absorbed in Digory’s explanation of the place and gives it its name; she takes charge of the situation because of her instinctive sense that Digory isn’t very prudent when his curiosity is aroused; she insists that they test a sure way back before they continue their explorations, and that she be the one to signal when they should end their experiment”. Time and time again, Polly displays a clearer state of mind and better judgment. Unlike Digory, she is not tempted by the mysterious bell or the frozen Queen’s beauty. She also illustrates keen insight, immediately recognizing Jadis as a “terrible woman”. The creation of Narnia delivered through Aslan’s song is told from Polly’s point-0f-view and she remains a benevolent character throughout the story. She even accompanies Digory on his journey to retrieve the silver apple. She becomes quick friends with Queen Helen. In LB, she perishes in a railway accident while attempting to get the rings so Jill and Eustace can return to Narnia, but she is reunited with all in Aslan’s Country. In both Narnia and England, Polly remains unmarried, although she is happy and satisfied with life. Ford states that Polly “never does fulfill the traditional  female role” but is portrayed as a positive character throughout. She is referred to in LB as “Lady Polly”.


Paul Ford states that Aravis is “the pivotal female character in Lewis’s growing insight into the feminine character” (388). When we first meet Aravis, she is dressed in her brother’s armor in the dead of night. Aravis is what we would consider a “tomboy” who is “an equestrienne of great competence”. When she first meets Shasta and Bree, she is not frightened; in fact she illustrates a formidable confidence. Shasta first mistakes her for a man “with no beard”, but as she nears, he surprisingly proclaims, “Why, it’s only a girl!”. Without hesitation, Aravis quickly replies, “And what business is it of yours if I am only a girl…You’re only a boy: a rude, common little boy – a slave probably, who’s stolen his master’s horse” (218). Ironically, Aravis and Shasta collaborate to unravel the Calormene plot and eventually defeat the army, but this first exchange is indicative of future “quarrelling and making up” which later leads to their “marrying so as to go on doing it more conveniently” (310).

Her first decisions show how inconsiderate and rash she is, although it simultaneously illustrates her intelligence through stealth and strategy. When she is betrothed to the deplorable social-climber Ahoshta Tarkaan by her father, Aravis strongly considers suicide, but then elects rather to run away. In her plan, she drugs her nurse’s wine, causing her to oversleep so Aravis can sneak out undetected. Aravis admits that the nurse will most likely be beaten for oversleeping, but that she was a “a tool and spy of her step-mother’s” and that she would be “very glad” if she suffered a beating. Next Aravis doctors a letter from “Ahoshta” stating that he had already married Aravis.  Later, while trying to remain anonymous in Tashbaan, she is recognized by her superficial pal Lasaraleen. Lasaraleen and Aravis have a meeting later in which Aravis explains why she left. However, Lasaraleen is so self-absorbed and tempted by the idea of wealth that she tunes out Aravis’s tale and questions why her friend would abandon such great luxuries:

Although Lasaraleen had said she was dying to hear Aravis’s story, she showed no sign of really wanting to hear it at all. She was, in fact, much better at talking than listening. She insisted on Aravis having a long and luxurious bath (Calormene baths are famous) and then dressing her up in the finest clothes before she would let her explain anything.  The fuss she made about choosing the dresses nearly drove Aravis mad. She remembered now that Lasaraleen had always been like that, interested in clothes and parties and gossip. Aravis had always been more interested in bow and arrows and horses and dogs and swimming. You will guess that each thought the other silly. But when at last they were both seated after a meal (it was chiefly of the whipped cream and jelly and fruit and ice sort) in a beautiful pillared room (which Aravis would have liked better if Lasaraleen’s spoiled pet monkey hadn’t been climbing about it all the time) Lasaraleen at last asked her why she was running away from home.

When Aravis had finished telling her story, Lasaraleen said, “But darling, why don’t you marry Ahoshta Tarkaan? Everyone’s crazy about him. My husband says he is beginning to be one of the greatest men in Carlormen. He has just been made Grand Vizier now old Axartha has died. Didn’t you know?”

“I don’t care. I can’t stand the sight of him,” said Aravis.”

“But darling, only think! Three palaces, and one of them that beautiful one down on the lake at Ilkeen. Positively ropes of pearls, I’m told. Baths of assess’ milk. and you’d see such a lot of me.”
“He can keep his pearls and palaces as far as I’m concerned,” said Aravis.

“You were always a queer girl, Aravis,” said Lasaraleen. “What more do you want?” (251-252)

It is important to note that Lewis is not presenting Lasaraleen as a “typical woman” but as an almost comic foil to Aravis (similar to Eustace in VDT). Lewis is showing how not to act with the character of Lasaraleen, but illustrating how petty and foolish she is. Aravis is focused solely on survival, while Lasaraleen is intoxicated by the allure of wealth and power. Lasaraleen will see for herself when she and Aravis hide behind a couch pursued, they believe, by the Tisroc. While concealed, the women overhear a discussion between Prince Rabadash (who wishes to marry Susan), the Tisroc, and the Grand Vizier. The marriage between Rabadash and Susan would give Tisroc an opportunity to invade Narnia and bring it under Calormene rule. Aravis will eventually tell the plan to Shasta and become a harbinger for the upcoming war against Narnia and Calormenes. It is Aravis’s inside information which greatly assists the Narnian victory.

 Ford also argues that Aravis makes impressive strides to become “true Narnian nobility” which is characterized by “humble and compassionate leadership”.  When she faces Aslan, she is humbled, her arrogance dissipates. In the story, she is chased and severely scratched by a lion. Later, Aslan informs Aravis that HE was the lion and the marks on her back are the same ones that her nurse received after Aravis left. Shortly after this, Aravis apologizes to Shasta for being “such a pig” to him. By the end of the story, she has grown into a truly remarkable leader and, more importantly, an obedient servant of Aslan.

Helen, first queen of Narnia

Named after Lewis’s wife (Helen) Joy Davidman Lewis, Helen is the humble cabbie’s wife who is pulled into Narnia with a strange cast of characters. Through Aslan’s decree, she is transformed from a lowly worker to Narnian royalty. Before being pulled into Narnia, her name was Nellie. Both Helen and Frank question their qualifications to rule Narnia, and Aslan tells them that their humility and honesty in admitting their uncertainty further confirms their readiness to lead.

Photo from an earlier post on Joy Davidman Lewis

Ramandu’s Daughter


 Although a minor character, Ramandu’s daughter plays an important role in two of the Narnian Chronicles. She serves as a guide in Prince Caspian, leading the travelers to Aslan’s Table. After meeting her, Price Caspian is smitten with her and later marries her. She is the mother of Prince Rilian, who sets out to avenge his mother after she is killed by an evil serpent. While attempting to recover her, Rilian becomes a prisoner of The Queen of the Underworld in The Silver Chair.


 The White Witch

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Chronologically, the White Witch is first known as Jadis. She is the offspring of a Giant and Lilith and is the last queen of Charn. It is revealed in MN that she has defeated her sister with the Deplorable Word. When Digory and Polly first encounter Jadis, she is frozen, but has placed a cryptic, yet tempting message on a bell. Digory rings the bell to satisfy his curiosity, and thus “unfreezes” Jadis so she can continue to pollute the remains of Charn. Although the children don’t like her, she clings to Polly as they clasp the magic ring and returns to London with the children. Once there, she is as tyrannical and ridiculous as ever; she receives a very cold welcome from Aunt Letty who, in a comical scene, questions why her brother has brought a strange, beautiful (and arrogant) woman into their home. When the motley crew returns back to Narnia, Jadis refuses to bow to Aslan and throws a metal bar at him. The bar bounces off of Aslan’s face and where it lands, a lamp emerges. This becomes Lantern Waste. Aslan succeeds in keeping Jadis out of Narnia  by a Tree of Protection, however, by the time of LWW, Jadis has not only returned, but reigns over Narnia, prompting the hundred years of winter. She famously tempts Edmund with Turkish Delight and hot chocolate and Edmund foolishly trusts her. However, when he returns to her castle, he is imprisoned and has essentially endangered his siblings. The White Witch (as she is known in LWW) is now knowledgeable in the “Deep Magic” and announces to all that Edmund must die. Aslan negotiates to substitute for Edmund, taking the punishment upon himself. In a sad, stirring scene, the White Witch orchestrates Aslan’s death as her minions look on and laugh. Eventually, Aslan kills her himself and peace is restored.

Notice here that the White Witch possesses no “feminine” qualities throughout. She is deceptive, selfish, greedy, and lustful for power. She is a foil to the more compassionate Queens Lucy and Susan. This is significant to note, as some critics claim that Lewis only places evil women in power. There are myriad examples throughout The Chronicles of Narnia in which gentle, intelligent women rule with justice and compassion, in the name of Aslan. Lewis has noted before that leadership uninformed of ethics is vulnerable to corruption. The White Witch (no matter her gender) attempts to rule against the Good, against Aslan. Her flagrant disobedience, not her sex, is the reason for her failure as a leader.

Queen of the Underland (or Lady of the Green Kirtle)

The Queen of the Underworld first appears to the children of SC as a beautiful mistress with a long, flowing gown. She appears with “helpful advice” and a musical voice, suggesting that the tired travelers visit Harfang for warm beds, good company, and sustenance. What the gang does not know is that they are the intended meal. This mysterious beauty has intentionally led them astray. Thankfully, the group is much smarter than the giants they encounter, and they escape without becoming an appetizer. When they head underground led by one of Aslan’s signs (the message reads “UNDER ME”), they meet a new species of underground men and encounter a confused stranger who turns out to be the one they seek, Prince Rilian. However, he is under a curious spell and cannot remove himself from a silver chair. The Queen enters and throws powder of the fire. The room fills with a thick fog, which is both physical and metaphorical. As the Prince attempts to discuss Narnia, the Queen tells him that there is no such thing. She questions the existence of Narnia and tells the Prince that it and “the Overworld” simply do not exist:

You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. This lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story…I see that we should do no better than your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You’ve seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to be called a lion. Well, ’tis a pretty make-believe, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe  without copying it from the real world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my lord Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan.  And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow” (631-632)

Those who have read the story know what happens next. Puddleglum, the consummate pessimist, defeats the Queen’s argument by claiming that if they had indeed made up all of these things, the pantomime is much more convincing than the supposed “real thing”: “Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one” (633). Puddleglum extinguishes the fire by stamping on it and restoring clarity to the room (and the conversation). The Queen takes the form of a serpent and the men attack and kill her.

Interestingly enough, Lewis puts the words of the intelligentsia, the rationalists into the mouth of a female queen. The strongest arguments that Lewis encountered against Christianity are seamlessly interwoven into SC and are not spoken by a man, but a woman. Does Lewis portray women as weak and helpless? No, here he crafts a female with a strong intelligence. Most critics are quick to point out that Lewis makes “a smart woman” an evil woman, but this is a logical fallacy. Throughout the Chronicles, many of the females are headstrong, intelligent, confident women.  Are they flawed? Yes, but all of the characters are flawed, men included. Peter, Edmund, and Prince Caspian struggle with a “royal ego”, Eustace from a poor attitude. King Miraz and Glozelle, masculine characters, are examples of corrupt leadership.

 The Head of Experiment House

 Although a very minor character, the Head of Experiment House represents all that is wrong (in Lewis’s perspective) with education. If you are interested in examining further, simply read The Abolition of Man, his essay “Democratic Education” and selected correspondence.  It is only parenthetically mentioned that she is a woman when, at the end of SC, the characters return from Narnia and wreak havoc on their bullies. She is surprised to see a lion with the children, and immediately phones the police. Lewis then provides comical commentary on what I interpret as the state of education, not a scathing critique of feminine leadership:

When the police arrived and found no lion, no broken wall, and no convicts, and the Head behaving like a lunatic, there was an inquiry into the whole thing. And in the inquiry all sorts of things about Experiment House came out, and about ten people got expelled. After that, the Head’s friends saw that the Head was no use as a Head, so they got her made an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.


There is much more to explore in Narnia, but most of these criticisms concern misunderstandings by the opposite sex. In a future post, I will explore further some significant themes that make up the tapestry of Lewis’s thought on male and female roles, including some important information on Bulverism, and his issue with feminism.

Next week, we will discuss Lewis’s space trilogy, including The Green Lady and Jane Studdock.  Won’t you join me?

It’s good to be back folks. Thanks again for your patience.  🙂



Lewis and Women: Portrayals in The Pilgrim’s Regress

Week Eight of the C.S. Lewis and Women Series

Portrayals in The Pilgrim’s Regress

Photo courtesy of

This week, we will begin a literary exploration of Lewis’s female characters. Lewis’s first fictional prose text was titled The Pilgrim’s Regress, published in 1933.  The story is an allegory of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which John, the protagonist, is fascinated by an “island” and endures a philosophical maze, fights a dragon, and stumbles upon a new realization about himself, humanity, and “The Landlord”.

There are four main female figures in the book which I will outline today. PLEASE understand that this is allegory, therefore, the characters are essentially symbols. In this work, Lewis does not patronize women (Lewis would have never been foolish enough to operate on such shallow generalities), rather, he utilizes feminine characters as representative of an overarching concept.  For example, Walter Hooper tells us in C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide that Mother Kirk actually symbolizes “Traditional Christianity”.  If Lewis casts a female character in an unflattering light, he is not criticizing her specifically, rather he is criticizing the idea(s) which she represents.  In the beginning of the book, John sees a vision of an island, an image which inspires much delight and curiosity. John then spends his life chasing the island, seeking an avenue to lead him back to his cherished vision.  Throughout this narrative (which Hooper categorizes as “autobiographical”), John strives to reach the island, but is told by various individuals that the island is a mirage and doesn’t exist at all or that it is a misplaced desire for sex. Although John is strongly persuaded at times, eventually he perseveres and finds contentment, but only after he relinquishes the perceived power over his own life. Cumulatively, the women in this story are typically positive characters. Most of the religiously ambivalent characters are, in fact, male characters.

Let’s briefly explore the four female characters (one which is included in a larger group) John encounters on his journey, which intentionally parallels Lewis’s own conversion experience:

Brown Girl(s) & Media Halfways

“It was me you wanted…I am better than your silly Islands”

In Chapter four of Book One, in a section appropriately titled “Leah for Rachel”, John peers out a window in the wall in search of the island. Eventually, John gains the courage to explore the forest, but all the while he is questioning its existence and considering that the island could be “a feeling” instead of a reality.  Then John is stirred from contemplation when he hears a voice.  Lewis writes, “It was quite close at hand and very sweet, and not at all like the old voice of the wood.  When he looked round he saw what he had never expected, yet he was not surprised.  There in the grass beside him sat a laughing brown girl of about his own age, and she had no clothes on.  ‘It was me you wanted,’ said the brown girl. ‘I am better than your silly Islands.’ And John rose and caught her, all in haste, and committed fornication with her in the wood” (16).

John begins a long tryst with the “brown girls” but is surprised to find himself still unsatisfied. After time, John begins to loathe her, as she comes to represent his unfulfilled desire and unrelenting frustration:

The girl was still there and the appearance of her was hateful to John: and he saw that she knew this, and the more she knew it the more she stared at him, smiling. He looked round and saw how small the wood was after all – a beggarly strip of trees between the road and a field that he knew well. Nowhere in sight was there anything that he liked at all.  ‘I shall not come back here,’ said John. ‘What I wanted is not here.  It wasn’t you I wanted, you know.’

John is soon a slave to his own pleasures.  He is haunted by the “brown girl” and the “children” they bore. They appear everywhere, visible only to him.  He is continually tormented by their presence. As he creeps off to bed after a hard day, he finds the brown girl inescapable and has “no spirit to resist her blandishments” (17).  Later, in Book Two, Chapter Three, John meets an intriguing woman who is “young and comely, through a little dark of complexion” (25). She is also “friendly and not frank, but not wanton like the brown girls” (25). Her name is Media Halfways.  In the next chapter, John and Media are walking through the lane, listening to the enchanting bells of the city. John is moved by the music and soon, John and Media become more affectionate:

As they went on they walked closer, and soon they were walking arm and arm. Then they kissed each other: and after that they went on their way kissing and talking in slow voices, of sad and beautiful things. And the shadow of the wood and the sweetness of the girl and the sleepy sound of the bells reminded John a little bit of the Island, and a little bit of the brown girls.  ‘This is what I have been looking for all my life,’ said John. ‘The brown girls were too gross and the Island was too fine. This is the real thing.’  ‘This is Love,’ said Media with a deep sigh. ‘This is the way to the real Island’.

Media’s father, Mr. Halfways, sings and plays the harp for John. In musical rapture, John is swept up in a vision of the island, and begs for Mr. Halfways to repeat the song.  Mr. Halfways, doubtful of the Island’s existence, tells John that he is found the island “in one another’s hearts”.  However, the infatuation is short-lived. Media’s brother, Gus Halfway, interrupts the lovers’ conversation: “Well, Brownie, at your tricks again?”  Media flees the room, telling John, “All is over. Our dream – is shattered. Our mystery – is profaned. I would have taught you all the secrets of love, and now you are lost to me forever. We must part.”  Gus then reveals that his sister is a “brown girl” and that his father has “been in the pay of the Brownies all his life. He doesn’t know it, the old chucklehead. Calls them the Muses, or the Spirit, or some rot.  In actual fact, he is by profession a pimp” (29). Gus then proceeds to persuade John that science is the new “Island”. He states, “Our fathers made images of what they called gods and goddesses; but they were really only brown girls and brown boys whitewashed – as anyone found out by looking at them too long. All self-deception and phallic sentiment. But here you have the real art. Nothing erotic about her, eh?” [points to his bus].

As most can contrive, the brown girls represent LUST. They are poor substitutes for John’s Island (hence the Old Testament reference “Leah for Rachel”).  John ultimately transforms his desire for the (intangible) Island into sexual gratification and longing. However, the fix is only temporary, leaving John confused and irritated that his philosophical itch remains unscratched.  Why do the brown girls leave him so empty?

It is also important to note that Lewis is NOT patronizing dark-skinned women.  This is not Lewis’s reiteration of the “Eve” or “temptress” complex. If this were so, John would be written as more the victim of the vicious brown girls.  John is illustrating a young man’s insatiable lust, which leads him to fornicate. John is not a victim, he is a co-conspirator.  He is morally culpable for his behavior. Metaphorically the brown girls are no more than a perceived facsimile, John’s failed attempt to discover the Island.

By employing the color brown, Lewis is noting the condition of the brown girls’ souls – brown representing a faint hue of darkness. This is reflected in a conversation John has with his friend and travelling companion Vertue:

John: “There was a great deal to be said for Media after all…It is true she had a dark complexion. And yet – is not brown as necessary to the spectrum as any other colour?”

Vertue: “Is not every colour equally a corruption of the white radiance?”

John: “What we call evil – our greatest weaknesses – seen in the true setting is an element in the good.  I am the doubter and the doubt.

Vertue: “What we call our righteousness is filthy rags.” (105)

Contemplation (Daughter of Wisdom)

Although she makes a brief appearance, Contemplation’s key role is to assist John as he travels toward his ultimate destination. In Book Seven, she wakes John up and beckons him to continue his travels. When they reach a crevasse, she inspires him to jump. John “felt no doubt of her” and leapt. Instead of landing, John flies with Contemplation to the top of the mountain. Contemplation travels with him and states that when he “learned to fly further, we can leap fro here right into the Island” (92).  When he awakes the next morning, Contemplation is absent. Later, in Book Nine, Contemplation returns to lead John through the darkness to the castle gates. John claims that she is a different Contemplation, to which she replies that the former Lady was ” one of my shadows whom you have met” (124). Contemplation leads John through heavy rain and across a dark sea. When he struggles to release her grip, John finds that he has been dreaming and wakes up back in the cave.  Contemplation is a guide, but she does not, like so many of the male characters, crowd John with her  philosophy/theology.  On the contrary, she guides him to search deeper for meaning and fulfillment.

Mother Kirk

“‘The art of diving is not to do anything new but simply to cease doing something.  you have only to let yourself go”

As Walter Hooper mentioned, Mother Kirk represents Traditional Christianity.  John and Vertue first meet Mother Kirk as they plan to scale the mountain. Her dress is tattered and John’s first instinct is to consider her insane.  Mother Kirk offers to carry the men up, but as it is late, Mother Kirk invites them to her home. There she tells a modified version of “The Fall”, a dark narrative in which the Landlord is forced to evict a “tenant” due to disobedience. Then the spurned individual enticed others to stray, including the wife of a young couple.  The evil entity persuades the farmer’s wife to eat a nice mountain-apple, and a large canyon formed in the land. It’s name –Peccatum Adae (Sin of Adam).  John, still intrigued by the idea of the Landlord, inquires further about the rules established by the Landlord.  Mother Kirk replies, “For one thing, the taste created such a craving in the man and the woman that they thought they could never eat enough of it; and they were not content with all the wild apple trees, but planted more and more, and grafted mountain-apple on to every other kind of tree so that every fruit should have a dash of that taste in it.  they succeeded so well that they whole vegetable system of the country is now infected…” Later Mother Kirk claims she will carry the men down in the morning, but they must strictly follow her instructions. John replies,

“I am afraid it is no use, mother…I cannot put myself under anyone’s orders. I must be the captain of my soul and the master of my fate” (60).

This represents Lewis’s refusal to surrender to Christian principles. He is told what path is best, but refuses to acknowledge it.  He is told by others that Mother Kirk was respected, but was regrettably out of date. By his own volition, John chooses the long and complicated journey to arrive back with Mother Kirk. This time, she informs him that he must surrender to reach the Island: “It is only necessary…to abandon all efforts at self-preservation” (128). John undergoes a baptismal scene (similar to what Eustace experiences in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).  He hears the voices of others, discouraging him from diving in. But at last the moment of decision had been reached: “And with that he took a header into the pool and they saw him no more. And how John managed it or what he felt I did not know, but he also rubbed his hands, shut his eyes, despaired, and let himself go. It was not a good dive, but, at least, he reached the water head first” (129).

Here, even in Lewis’s first work, we see that women are playing a variety of roles. They are not demonized, nor are they portrayed as saints (a literary characteristic of which Lewis is often accused). His women are dimensional, beautiful, but most importantly, authentic. From the sin and squalor of the “brown girls” to the reverence inspired by Mother Kirk, John’s journey explores the complicated journey of faith and the characters present in our narratives.

Next week, we will tackle the collection of stories which have, single-handedly, contributed to the perception of Lewis’s “misogyny”.  However, I will illustrate that Lewis crafts several complex and beautiful female characters who inhabit a magical land only entered by a wardrobe.  One neglected scene from The Horse and His Boy will give us great insight into Lewis’s complicated, but unprejudiced perspective of women.

The Chronicles of Narnia will be discussed next week.  Join me!

C.S. Lewis and Women: A New Blog Series

“Who said I disliked women?  I never liked or disliked any generalisation.”

Letter to Margaret Fuller, April 8, 1948

Last March, I stood before a committee of academics, my husband, and a few strangers and defended my dissertation on C.S. Lewis as Transformational Leader.  As I discussed how Lewis’s beliefs inspired his leadership, a member of the faculty who was there to ensure “protocol was followed” listened intently while scribbling furiously on a notepad.  This individual had never read my manuscript, nor was he informed about leadership principles.  He was a member of the science faculty with no prior knowledge of my research. During my presentation, I explained how Lewis concurred with John Milton’s Hierarchical Conception, that God created a necessary hierarchy to establish order.  I utilized this quote from his essay “Membership” (located in The Weight of Glory):

I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world.  I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple to have been as much of a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast.  

After my presentation, I answered all questions from my committee and felt a surge of relief.  I was ready to indulge in a congratulatory burrito. And then, the quiet, contemplative scientist spoke.  What followed was a 15-minute diatribe on how Lewis condoned domestic violence because he was a spokesman for “Western Christian tradition” which encouraged misogyny and the oppression of women.  Furthermore, he refuted my claim that Lewis served as a leader (although he was uninformed of leader scholarship).  In retrospect, he reminded me of many passages from That Hideous Strength.  My committee and I both rose to the challenge and finally, the man relented after several minutes (that’s why they call it a “defense” right?).  I emerged victorious, but slightly wounded.  How could anyone portray Lewis that way?  It was evident that the man had never read Lewis, based upon his assessment and assumptions.  How could anyone deduce that Lewis hated all women from two measly sentences? It had never surfaced during months of research and composition. In fact, the new chair of Women’s Studies was a critical member of my committee.

If he had asked for the rest of the quote, he would have found that his absurd assumption that Lewis “condoned domestic violence” was flawed logic.  Just because one suggests order, does not mean he/she supports tyranny (or a corruption of order).  Lewis continues:

I believe that if we had not fallen, Filmer would be right, and patriarchical monarchy would be the sole lawful government.  But since we have learned sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that “all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The only remedy has been to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of equality.  The authority of father and husband has been rightly abolished on the legal plane, not because this authority is in itself bad (on the contrary, it is, I hold, divine in origin), but because fathers and husbands are bad.  Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us. Even the authority of man over beast has had to be interfered with because it is constantly abused.

Long after that afternoon had passed, I searched for more information on Lewis’s view of women.  What I found was, for the most part, harsh criticism from many females in the academic community.  This partially orginates from Lewis’s strong opposition to feminism (which will be explored later).  The more I searched, the more I discovered that some women harbored resentments toward Lewis and his “misogynistic tendancies”.  As a female Lewis scholar, I wish to explore Lewis comprehensively and illustrate that Lewis did not “hate women”.  On the contrary, Lewis perceives women as multi-faceted beings.  He presents very different, yet realistic (if somewhat exaggerated) portrayals of women in his various works of fiction. For example, many readers are livid that Susan does not cross into Aslan’s Country in The Last Battle because she is preoccupied with “nylons and lipstick and invitations”.  However, these same individuals fail to mention that Lucy, the youngest female, is the most faithful of the Narnian monarchs; she is the one who first believed in Narnia and whose faith help lead the others through the wardrobe (and the painting in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).  Her indomitable faith in Aslan helps lead them through the forest (as she insists on following Aslan) in Prince Caspian. Here, we see an exclusivist technique of critiquing Lewis, a “picking and choosing” of specific passages while blatantly ignoring others.  What I hope to illuminate is that Lewis’s female characters represent a wide spectrum of women, just as his male characters represent a wide spectrum of males.

Over the next twelve weeks, I will examine Lewis’s encounters and literary portrayals of women.  The first six weeks will explore biographical aspects of Lewis, from his mother (whom he lost at a young age) and his female correspondents, to his budding friendships with Ruth Pitter and Joy Davidman.  The latter, of course, would become his wife in 1956.   The second six weeks will discuss Lewis’s literary treatment of women, along with some commentary on the roles of women.  Every weekend, I will post a new installment of the series.

Week One –  The Sinking of Atlantis: Flora Lewis

Week Two – Light in the Darkness: Miss C., the Matron

Week Three – Furlough and Fascination: Mrs. Moore

Week Four  – Ladies and the Letters: Lewis and His Female Correspondents

Week Five  –   Iron Sharpens Iron: Elizabeth Anscombe

Week Six –  Hunting the Unicorn: Lewis and Ruth Pitter

Week Seven – “My Mistress”: Joy Davidman


Week Eight- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in The Pilgrim’s Regress

Week Nine- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in The Chronicles of Narnia

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

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

Week Twelve- Commentary in various works of nonfiction

Conclusion and Discussion

I promise that it will be an enlightening (and perhaps for some, redeeming) account of the beloved Lewis.  Will you join me?  Please spread the word!


The Importance of Dymer in Lewis’s Literary corpus (Northwind Theological Seminary)

This talk is adapted from a lecture on Lewis’s Narrative Poems for Northwind Theological Seminary’s program in Romantic Theology and Inklings Studies during the winter of 2021. I currently serve as Visiting Faculty for this wonderful program. For more information on how you can earn a master’s or doctorate in Romantic Theology, visit the Northwind site:

Dymer: Hamilton, Clive, Publications, CrossReach: 9781973248200: Books
First Edition cover for Dymer

C. S. Lewis’s development as a writer has a long and varied history. His first stories involved anthropomorphic characters from Animal-Land, known collectively as Boxen. These stories feature Lord Big, a character that Lewis later reflected bore a strong resemblance to Churchill. Imbued with an uncanny knowledge of local politics most likely influenced by Albert’s domestic conversations, Boxen illustrates the imaginative prowess of both Lewis boys.

The Window in the Garden Wall--A C.S. Lewis Blog: Are Writers Born, Not  Made?
The inimitable Lord Big
Boxen | A Day with C.S. Lewis
The Lewis boys wrote and illustrated stories from Boxen (Jack illustrated)

Due to the Irish damp, Jack Lewis was often kept inside. This led to an exploration of his father’s bookshelves and, once the family was established at Little Lea, an attic space that young Jack claimed as an “office.” The world seemed to bound to expand off of the page. Warnie wrote a Boxonian journal. Jack constructed a map for the world. The few fragments of story and illustration survive in Boxen: Childhood Chronicles Before Narnia co-authored with Warnie.

Here lies Jack’s first attempt to tackle adult issues in childhood narrative form, a skill that would become quite valuable when he would pen his Narnian Chronicles decades later. Some of the stories involving Lord Big are quite sophisticated for a young man to be exploring. Perhaps this is Jack’s precociousness, but equal credit should be given to Albert for introducing (despite his sons’ ire) mature conversations about the social and political swirl of Belfast. Although his sons hated to hear remnants of Albert’s day at Little Lea, it cannot be denied that Albert’s introduction gave his sons a proper perspective on understanding two sides of an argument and also the complexities of compromise. This would assist Lewis in writing some of his greatest works (like Narnia) and provide Warnie with an intimate knowledge of politics that he would capture later in his French history works.

And yet, Lord Big was a hero, Dymer more of a villain.

Lewis was an early admirer of poetry, citing poetry as a driving influence in his search for Joy, namely through Longfellow’s translation of Saga of King Olaf and Tegner’s Drapa (the unrhymed translation, no less). It was there that a young Jack Lewis’s imagination grasped the immense sorrow of Balder’s death, of a voice lifted clear against a pale sky in the northern regions which would haunt him the rest of his life. Even though he was unfamiliar with the Norse myth at the time (“I knew nothing of Balder”), Jack was immediately transformed.

Thus soon after, Jack Lewis began to write poetry. Early attempts at poetry survive in the Family Papers, although most are included in Don King’s The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis: A Critical Edition. Walter Hooper cites several early drafts of poems such as a poem inspired by Nibelung’s Ring (1912), Loki Bound, Metrical Meditations of a Cod (later known as Spirits in Bondage), The Quest for Bleheris (now published in Volume 14 of Sehnsucht: The C.S. Lewis Journal – 2021) and Medea’s Childhood. All of these were written before Lewis’s entrance to Oxford University (Hooper viii). In the introduction to Narrative Poems, Hooper also mentions other poetic fragments such as Wild Hunt, Foster, Helen, and Sigrid.

Lewis struggled to become a poet in his youth, finally publishing Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics after the First World War. It is important to note that the Lewis we meet in Spirits in Bondage is a far cry from the one we admire in Mere Christianity. Early Lewis is hardened, bitter, disenfranchised. He seems, despite his towering intellect, to be a total disaffected and jaded snob. He has long since discarded his robes of religion, a deep ambivalence that Albert and Warnie detected in Jack’s first poetry collection.

14 Things You Probably Didn't Know About C. S. Lewis
Young Jack

Dymer started out as prose and was later adapted in rhyme royal (ABABBCC rhyme scheme) with nine cantos. Strangely enough, Lewis’s final work of fiction, Till We Have Faces, began its life as a poem, later abandoned in verse if not in concept. If Spirits in Bondage was meant to be autobiographical, so would, to an extent, his next published poetry collection–a long narrative poem called Dymer. Published in 1926, Dymer was written over a period of several years. The idea had festered in his mind for that time, during Lewis’s time at Oxford as a student. J.M. Dent offered the young poet an acceptable amount for the text, which was presented under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton (his first name and mother’s maiden name). During the period of 1922-1925, Lewis worked almost daily on the poem, discussing it generously in his diary All My Road Before Me.

Lewis signed his contract for Dymer on March 25, 1926. According to the agreement, Lewis was to receive 10 percent royalties on copies sold outside the U.S.A., 12.5 percent “on the second thousand copies sold,” 15 percent on all copies over 2,000. If any copies were sold in the U.S., Lewis was to receive 10 percent of the American royalties. Included in the contract was the possibility of “two [additional] books of poems on the same terms as those set forth in this agreement.” The bottom right corner bears Lewis’s signature.

However, despite some positive reviews, Dymer’s sales were dismal. For one, modern poetry–spearheaded by the likes of T. S. Eliot–was gaining momentum in literature and culture. Old poetic traditions were being discarded, rhymes ignored, iambs abandoned. Suddenly, “a patient etherized on a table” was good poetry. Jack had missed the boat. Dymer was an echo of the old era. Jack would later declare himself a dinosaur in “De Descriptione Temporum,” his inaugural address at Cambridge. He replied to one correspondent that he couldn’t rightly judge the present when his back was always to the engine.

Dymer captures the angst of a young man born in The Perfect City. Here, all aspects of life are regulated. Dymer peers out of the window during school and becomes enchanted by the melody of a songbird. Frustrated, Dymer approaches and assaults his lecturer, killing him instantly while the other students look on in horror. Dymer then leaves the city, sheds his clothes (a metaphorical Adam), and heads for the woods where the wild, untamed wilderness awaits him. It is fascinating to note that Dymer’s name was changed at one point to Ask, as in Ask and Embla (the “Adam and Eve” of Norse mythology). In the forest, Dymer finds a luxurious wardrobe (with a mirror) and clothes himself while partaking in a mysterious feast laid out for him. He enters a mansion and meets a strange woman, beds her, and awakens in the morning. His lover is gone; he has forgotten, in all of his selfish reveling, to ask her name. He exits the palace to meet the morning and discovers that, upon his return to the palace, all entrances are barred by an old she-monster/hag. He threatens to move her, but he finds himself limping out later. As a rainstorm begins, Dymer wanders in the forest until he meets a wounded man. This man explains to Dymer that he had unknowingly started a great revolution in the City: “… Once the lying spirit of a cause / with maddening words dethrones the mind of men, / They’re past the reach of prayer” (IV. 29). Many were killed and wounded. Dymer is frightened to know that these atrocities are being done in his name.

“And we had firebrands too. Tower after tower / Fell sheathed in thundering flame / The street was like / a furnace mouth. We had them in our power! / Then was the time to mock them and to strike, / To flay men and spit women on the pike, / Bidding them dance. Wherever the most shame / was done the doer called in Dymer’s name” (IV.30)

The man, not realizing that he is talking to Dymer, states that he wish he could kill Dymer for the trouble he has caused in the city. Soon after, the man dies, and Dymer begins to understand the domino effect of his one foul decision on the City at large. A totalitarian leader named Bran rises up as part of the rebellion. His leadership, we are led to believe, is just as corrupt as the previous leadership in The Perfect City. He turns on his soldiers and scares all of them who dare to defy him.

“Pack up the dreams and let the life begin”

“…how soon it all ran out! And I suppose / They up there, the old contriving powers, / They knew it all the time–for someone knows / And waits and watches till we pluck the flowers, / Then leaps. So soon–my store of happy hours / All gone before I knew. I have expended / My whole wealth in a day. it’s finished, ended.

And nothing left. Can it be possible / that joy flows through and when the course is run, / It leaves no change, no mark on us to tell / its passing? And as poor as we’ve begun / We end the richest day? What we have won, / Can it all die like this?…Joy flickers on / the razor-edge of the present and is gone” (V.9, 10).

Dymer nearly falls from a cliff, but he is awoken to a new life in Canto VI stating, “I’ll babble now / No longer…I’m broken in. Pack up the dreams and let the life begin'” (VI. 2).

Dymer hears the report of gunfire and finds a man shooting a songbird (the same kind that enchanted Dymer in the classroom): “They sing from dawn till dark, / and interrupt my dreams too long,” the man replies (VI.9). The man is called The Master, who has built his land up to protect his “dream state.” The Master destroys anything that disrupts his dreams. Dymer informs The Master about his lover and claims that “she was no dream.” But he soon realizes that his recall has been drenched in desire: “‘But every part / Was what I made it–all that I had dreamed– / No more, no less” (VII.20). In dreams, men have all that they desire, no difficulties, no scorn or criticism. Yet dreams can return to us the dust of long buried sins. Dymer realizes that dreams are only temporary joy; ultimately dreams and terror are mingled. Can we not remember Eden without the tang of forbidden fruit, the shame of our nakedness? Dymer understands that his dreams of joy have been immature fancies, and real life is a sober awakening.

“That I was making everything I saw, / Too sweet, far too well fitted to desire / To be a living thing? Those forests draw / No sap from the kind earth: the solar fire / And soft rain feed them not: that fairy brier / Pricks not: the birds sing sweetly in that brake / Not for their own delight but for my sake! “(VII.8)

Dymer recalls to the Master his experience with his lover, stating “her sweetness drew a veil before my eyes” (VII.21). Yet his desire for her is simply a selfish desire. He speaks of her as though she had fooled him into believing the dream, blaming her like Adam blamed Eve in the Garden of Eden:

She said, for this land only did men love / The shadow-lands of earth. All our disease / Of longing, all the hopes we fabled of, / Fortunate islands or Hesperian seas / Of woods beyond the West, were but the breeze / They blew from off the shore: one far, spent breath / That reached even to the world of change and death. ‘ She told me I had journeyed home at last / Into the golden age and the good countrie / That had been always there. She bade me cast / My cares behind forever: –on her knee / worshipped me, lord and love — oh, I can see / Her red lips even now! Is it not wrong / That men’s delusions should be made so strong?” (VII.22-23).

The Master turns on Dymer for admitting his dream was farcical. This revelation is a threat to all the Master has been attempting to preserve: a state of pure bliss devoid of pain, harm, and compromise. Angered, the Master raises his gun, and Dymer runs for his life.

“You should have asked my name”

In Canto VIII, Dymer finally reunites with his lover, but she is cold and distant: “You should have asked my name,” she states. Dymer then realizes that she is, like the snake in the Garden, a hidden form of the gods who has come to fool Dymer. He feels betrayed, cheated. “You came in human shape, in sweet disguises / Wooing me, lurking for me in my path, / Hid your eternal cold and with woman’s eyes, / Snared me with shows of love — and all was lies” (VIII. 13).

“Must things of dust / Guess their own way in the dark?” She said, “They must.” (VIII.12).

Dymer cries, speaking to the gods (and echoing Jesus), “Why hast Thou forsaken me? / Was there no world at all, but only I / Dreaming of gods and men?” (IX.5) A sentry appears right before Dymer discovers that he has fathered a beast with his lover. Borrowing the sentry’s armor and spear, Dymer fights the beast. Dymer is slain. The sun rises. Around his body bloom flowers, and the beast/son transforms into a god “towering large against the skies / A wing’d and sworded shape, whose foam-like hair / lay white about its shoulders, and the air / That came from it was burning hot” (IX. 34).


Dymer is relatively obscure in the vast bibliography of C. S. Lewis. Most of his fame, of course, derives from his post-conversion apologetic works (of which I include The Chronicles of Narnia). Certainly, Lewis’s Christian writings is what he is remembered for, yet there are kernels of our beloved Lewis in this early and frustrated atheist. Many of the ideas that later bloomed into stories are here, if in “seed” form, just awaiting the moment to bloom. In his 1950 preface, Lewis writes that Dymer is “an extreme anarchist.” He continues to state that he “put into it my hatred of my public school and my recent hatred of the army. But I was already critical of my own anarchism” (3)

Lewis writes that his hero was a man “escaping from illusion.”

He begins by egregiously supposing the universe to be his friend and seems for a time to fine confirmation of his belief. Then he tries, as we all try, to repeat his moment of youth rapture. it cannot be done; the old Matriarch sees to that. On top of his rebuff comes the discovery of the consequences which his rebellion against the City has produced. He sinks into despair and gives utterance to the pessimism which had on the whole, been my own view about six years earlier. Hunger and a shock of real danger bring him to his sense and he at last accepts reality. But just as he is setting out on the new and soberer life, the shabbiest of all brides is offered to him; the false promise that by magic or invited illusion there may be a short cut back to the one happiness he remembers. He relapses and swallows the bait, but he has grown too mature to be really deceived. He finds that wish-fulfilment dream leads to the fear-fulfilment dream, recovers himself, defies the Magician who tempted him, and faces his destiny. (5-6)

I wish to examine a few aspects of Dymer which are echoed in one of Lewis’s later works.

Till We Have Faces

Dymer and Lewis’s last (and self-declared best) work of fiction have several things in common. Dymer is “wooed” by the pantheistic call of nature into a mansion where he takes a lover. The atmosphere is both “holy and unholy.” The lover, we learn later, is a shape made by the gods to fool Dymer. Until Canto IX, Dymer does not know the identity of his lover. His belief in her and the dreams she inspires enchant him, but lures him away from TRUTH.

In Till We Have Faces, Psyche is wooed by Cupid to his secret mansion as a married coupling. Psyche knows his name, but is forbidden to see him. Both Dymer and Psyche must meet in the dark. Yet, Psyche’s belief in her lover makes her stronger, wiser. It is her sister Orual’s unbelief that is Psyche’s undoing, more specifically, her sister’s selfish desire to possess her. Like Dymer, Orual will only have her sister on her terms, thus she calls Psyche’s reality a farce. Notice that young Jack uses the term “veil” twice in describing the dream to the Master. He felt that his lover deceived him by drawing a “veil” over his face. Symbolically, this is to avoid facing the truth of his dream state, as Orual wears a veil to hid her physical and spiritual “ugliness.”

Much of Lewis’s work revolves around the theme of uncovering the truth about ourselves. Characters struggle with masks, with identity crises. And each time, it is intense self-reflection that the character requires to grow. Consider Mark and Jane Studdock from That Hideous Strength. Both spouses must discard their social notions of husband and wife, but learn to consider each other and rid themselves of vanity and selfishness. Only then can true harmony be achieved. It is the “drowsy half-waking” of forgetting ourselves that provides us with unrelenting joy, a joy that cannot be replicated or stolen or facsimiled by the shallow world.

It isn’t that your dreams are broken and shattered; it is that your life surrendered to Christ is far more adventurous than the one you ever intended. Chasing joy and discovering Joy. HIS reality > your dreams

Lewis mentions here the term “shadow-lands,” a term used to represent a passing from “reality” to “dreams”; yet his meaning from The Chronicles of Narnia is the reverse: a passing from dreams dark and tainted to a reality unlike anything our minds can fathom.

There is so much more to explore here, but I will defer to Jerry Root’s fantastic annotated edition of Dymer: Splendour in the Dark: C. S. Lewis’s Dymer in His Life and Work. This work not only explores Dymer as a stand-alone poem, but situates it in context with the rest of Lewis’s life and work. As a poem, it is fascinating and brilliant; as Jack’s first published “story” (in poetic form), it is brimming with insights and future glimpses into Lewis’s literary journey.

The Young Lewis Series: Aunt Lily, the Suffragist


Flora Lewis

In my last post, I discussed C.S. Lewis’s parents: Albert and Flora. Today, we will examine the role of one particular family member in Jack’s early life – Aunt Lillian “Lily” (Hamilton) Suffern. Lillian Hamilton (1860-1934) was Flora’s older sister and the first child of Thomas and  Mary Hamilton. Lily, unlike Flora, was considered a “favorite” child by her parents. She was married to William Suffern. In 1886, William was sent to an asylum in Peebles, Scotland. Later, in 1900, he was declared insane and spent the rest of his life there, dying in 1913 and leaving Lily a widow with no children. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Aunt Lily was her prodigious intellect, which allowed her to wax philosophical on varied subjects. Many people would be surprised to know that Lily was a suffragist, consistently speaking her mind (even if one didn’t care for her opinion). She was known as rather cantankerous. She moved several times after her husband’s death, and was incredibly fond of her nephew Jack, whom she called “Cleeve.” Aunt Lily was something of a character; while she spoke out against women’s rights (including birth control) and animal rights, she never hesitated to cross anyone who dared to contradict her. In the letters and diary, Jack discusses how smart and engaging she was. Warren provides a portrait of her in Volume 2 of The Lewis Papers, included with the following description:

“Lily was a clever, but eccentric woman, handsome in her youth. Her cutting insolence and her extremely quarrelsome disposition made her the stormy petrel of the family, with all or several of whose members she was perpetually at war. Albert [Lewis] never forgave her for the arrow she launched at him in writing to another member of the clan on a legal problem, when she observed of him in an airy parenthesis, ‘for poor Allie is so ignorant.’ The good nature of her nephew Clive Lewis…enabled her for many years in later life to conduct a pseudo-metaphysical correspondence which bears melancholy evidence of a good brain run to seed” (AMR 471). Jack writes that Aunt Lily “talked all the time, with her usual even, interminable fluency, on a variety of subjects. Her conversation is like an old drawer, full of both rubbish and valuable things, but all thrown together in great disorder” (CL, I, 127).

Jack continues, “She has been here for about three days and has snubbed a bookseller in Oxford, written to the local paper, crossed swords with the Vicar’s wife, and started a quarrel with her landlord” (AMR 127).

Indeed, Aunt Lily didn’t mind to get in a scuff with any clergyman nor did she attend church, despite the fact that she grew up the daughter of Reverend Hamilton: “Being asked why, she said she had vowed never to enter any church until the clergy as a body came out in defense of the Dog’s Protection Bill. ‘Oh!’ said the priest’s wife in horrified amazement. ‘So you object to vivisection?’ ‘I object to all infamies,’ replied Aunt L. Nevertheless the Vicar and the wife came to her all humble at the journey’s end and said, ‘Even if you don’t come to church, will you come to our whist drive?’ She says all parsons look like scolded dogs when you challenge them on this subject” (CL, I, 127).

Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions

Title page for Spirits in Bondage – 1919

Jack also found Aunt Lily a fine judge of literary works. He often shared drafts of works in progress with her. After publishing his poetry collection Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics, Jack writes that Aunt Lily “put several people on” to it, “recording many nice things said” (AMR 21). However, she had strong opinions about Jack’s drafts of Dymer: “She strongly disapproved of ‘Dymer’ which I had left with her last week. She called it brutal. She said, ‘Where has all your old simplicity and rightness of language gone?’ She said I seemed to be deliberately slipshod and wrong in my words…She also said I ‘must not describe.’ When she came to a description of a wood in a poem – whether in Keats or me!! – she gave it up. She didn’t mind a man writing a poem just about a wood: but to have a wood flung in your way when you were reading about a man – !…I asked her if she disliked Dymer himself: she said, no, it was me: Dymer was just a young animal let loose” (AMR 132).

Jack continued to take poetic criticism from Lily, who adored poet Robert Browning: “The coarseness of ‘Dymer’ depended apparently  on the word ‘wenched’ in the first canto. She took this very seriously: excused me on the ground of having no mother or sisters and because Oxford men were notoriously coarse – coarser than those of Cambridge. I reminded her that it was the Cambridge undergraduates  who had torn down the gates of women’s colleges and jeered at them. She replied without hesitation, ‘The young men are quite right to defend themselves.’ She then told me a very disgusting story of two medical students here in Oxford, who she had seen dragging off a dog into the laboratories: and they were laughing together as they talked of the old man who had sold it making them promise to give it a good home and be kind to it. After that, I no longer defended Oxford  again not ever shall” (AMR 143).


A copy of Dymer. Like Spirits in Bondage, it was published under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton

Lily and Jack often exchanged their work. Jack read an essay by Aunt Lily in 1922 and “thought it was great literature.” He continues, “You can see at any rate that she’s a real, convinced prophet and not a bit of a quack. Her absolute inability to take in anything that cannot be used as fuel for her own particular fire is also a prophet’s characteristic fault” (AMR 131).

Aunt Lily, as a suffragist, fought tirelessly for women’s rights, including reproductive rights. In one story Jack recalls in his diary, Aunt Lily argues with a woman over her children and then vows to distribute “leaflets issued by the C.B.C. (Constructive Birth Control”:


Dr. Marie Stopes was called an “early sex reformer who devoted herself to birth control” (CL 557).

Jack makes a passing (and rather comical) reference to her in a letter to Warnie on 1 July 1921

“There was one inexplicable anecdote. She had been held up by a crush of prams at Carfax and had asked one obstructive woman to take her pram off the pavement. The woman replied that she had a right to be there. Aunt Lily retorted that she had no right to bring these children into the world for other people to look after and still less to block up the pavement. The woman said she was shopping. Aunt Lily said it was bad for the child to be taken shopping and the only good thing was that it killed some of them off.

“I asked her why on earth she said such a thing. ‘I was angry,’ she answered. I replied, quoting Plato, that anger was an aggravation, not an excuse. She added that she had a lot of leaflets issued by the C.B.C. (Constructive Birth Control): and she was going to drop one into every pram the next time she went into Oxford” (emphasis added, AMR 153).


“Pram” = baby carriage

Additionally, Aunt Lily, speaking of a wife who had left a bad husband, claimed, “Her consolation is that she stopped a bad heredity from perpetuating itself: her strain and her bringing up has made good the children, so that particular man is done with – biologically” (AMR  131-132).

Due to Lily’s frequent moves, Jack had to often find her new residence. On a bus ride to her new cottage, he gave the bus driver her address: ‘The conductor did not at once understand where I wanted to stop, and a white bearded old farmer chipped in, ‘You now, Jarge – where that old gal lives along of all them cats.’ I explained that this was exactly where I did want to go. My informant remarked, ‘You’ll ‘ave a job to get in when you DO get there.’ He was as good as his word, for when I reached the cottage I found the fence supporting a wire structure about nine feet high which was continued even over the gate. She does it to prevent her cats escaping into the main road” (CL, I, 626-627).

Interestingly enough, Aunt Lily often told Jack family stories. Jack admitted to her that the reason he wished to finish his degree in English in one year (as opposed to three) was to save his father’s expenses, as Jack’s scholarship had expired (as noted in my last post, Jack’s budget, coupled with his strange living arrangement, was a cause of disagreement with his father): “I remarked, in answer to some question, how rushed I had been by the shortened time in wh[ich] I had taken this School. She said, ‘Why did you?’ and that it wasn’t fair either to my father or myself, who had nothing to do with his money and only wanted to keep me there. I said that, on the contrary, he wanted to retire: she said that W and I had been provided for and my father had been in a position to retire long ago before my mother’s death but she (my mother) had persuaded him to continue his police court work and make more. Who knows?” (AMR 246)

Jack continued to visit Aunt Suffern when his studies and domestic responsibilities permitted it. It is important to note that Aunt Lily never visited Jack at his home, and was thus ignorant of the living arrangement he had with Mrs. Moore. Perhaps Jack felt that in his aunt he could recover a small piece of his mother.

Aunt Lily died in 1934.