Jun 6, 2015

Shocking the Nazarenes with C. S. Lewis

When I was growing up, the Nazarene church disapproved of reading almost anything except the Bible and some religious books.

Beliefs that Matter Most, by the Nazarene W. T. Purkiser?  Ok.

The Late Great Planet Earth, by the evangelical Hal Lindsey?  Ok, but be careful.  Some false teachings might creep in.

The Gospel According to Peanuts, by the Presbyterian Robert L. Short?  Maybe, if it doesn't try to brainwash you into believing in secular humanism and evil-lution.  Better let your Sunday school teacher review it first, to be sure.

Mere Christianity, by the Anglican C.S. Lewis?  Are you crazy?  Anglicans are like Catholics!

But the Campus Crusade for Christ crowd at Rocky High was all agog over C.S. Lewis.

Besides, I knew that he and J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, were friends, all members of a literary club called the Inklings.  I imagined intense afternoon buddy-bonding over discussions of Beowulf.

So with some trepidation, I started reading his books.

The Chronicles of Narnia was great, if a little too preachy.

Out of the Silent Planet was ok.  No hetero-romance, but not a lot of gay subtexts, and the weird alien planet that Ransom goes to sounds very allegorical.

Perelandra was awful.  Adam and Eve on Venus.

That Hideous Strength: I didn't get farther than the first few pages, when the protagonist's young wife Jane is in the hospital and requests a copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets, and mulls over an arcane passage in Love's Alchemie for her doctoral dissertation.  Yawn.

The Screwtape Letters: Letters from the senior demon Screwtape to his inexperienced nephew, Wormwood, explaining how to tempt his human subject.  Ok, if a little preachy.

The Great Divorce: I always liked the word "divorce," from when  I thought it was a loophole in the "find the right girl" litany of the adults.  But there's actually no divorce.  A guy is trapped in a weird gray city with ghosts.

Till We Have Faces: it said "a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche."  I knew that was all about hetero-romance, so I avoided it.

Overall a disappointment.  But it was still fun to say "I've been reading The Screwtape Letters" in Nazarene Young People's Society or Afterglow, and watch everyone's jaws drop, as if I said I had been reading the Satanic Bible, or the letters of Pope Paul.

See also: The Chronicles of Narnia


  1. I wouldn't be so dismissive about "That Hideous Strength," if I were you. Yes, it starts off with a "yawn" - Jane actually turns out to have some special psychic ability, she's not really getting along all that well with her husband, Mark, a young junior professor at a small college, which has its share of squabbles and professorial "office politics" and even a seemingly boring proposal to sell a small parcel of fictional Bracton College's land, a proposal which has its own politics and seems like not that big of a deal really, but has incredible unforeseen ramifications for the rest of the book. Keep reading past the first few pages - it quickly sucks you in to a supernatural mystery thriller that has elements of mystery, horror, incredible humor and satire, science fiction, all the pantheon of Greek gods, and the return of the physical Merlin - yes, that Merlin - to modern-day! The novel is so fantastic and so rich and has so much going on - it needs several read-throughs to really grok what's happening! It's a somewhat apocalyptic tale, set in post-war Britain, sometime slightly after World War II (but, in fact, written by C.S. during the war years in 1943!) and yet has Britain turning fascist. While there is no male-male buddy-bonding, there is a thinly disguised sadistic lesbian-coded character named - of all things - Fairy Hardcastle (!!!!). And we even do meet that Ransom from the first 2 books. The thing about "THS" is that it is a stand-alone, completely unlike the first two books in C.S.'s science fiction trilogy (which I do agree are quite boring). I am a big fan of "THS," and it's quirkiness has grown on me through the years and several readings. I have not read any other C.S. Lewis yet, but at the very least, of C.S. Lewis's science fiction trilogy, "THS" is, in my opinion, C.S. Lewis's magnum opus. C.S. calls "THS" his "fairy tale for adults," and it is that and more, but takes you in many baffling and completely unexpected directions. If anything, I would give "THS" another chance - it does get much better, very quickly, beyond those first few pages.

    1. I actually haven't picked up the book since high school, so I was recounting my impressions as a 16 year old -- over 40 years ago! Isn't there a guy who gets his head cut off to see if it can survive without a body, except some demonic being moves in?


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