Friday, August 5, 2016

Using Five-Point Covenant Structure to Identify a Theme

 

Today I'm taking a quick break from reviewing books to discuss a useful tool for identifying theme in storytelling. Whether you're a reader trying to engage with the deeper messages of someone else's story (or even History!) or a writer looking to strengthen and reinforce a theme in your own story, having a quick, comprehensive set of worldview questions to apply can really help.

THEOS

The model I want to discuss today is based on a particular stream of covenant theology most recently developed by theologians like Ray Sutton and James Jordan. I have to admit I haven't studied this indepth, but it's a view of Biblical covenants (and, more generally speaking, all ancient Near-Eastern covenants), that breaks the terms of any given covenant down into five headings, which are easily summarised with the acrostic THEOS.

T = Transcendence (Who's in charge here?)
H = Hierarchy (To whom do I report?)
E = Ethics (What are the rules?)
O = Oath or Sanctions (What do I get if I obey or disobey?)
S = Succession (Does this outfit have a future?)

Now: I haven't studied this explanation of the covenant in enough depth to say whether I think it's a good expression of what actually is in Scripture. However, I've recently been playing with it as a tool to help me identify and evaluate themes in my own stories, as well as in history, and I've been very impressed with the results. The reason is that the considerations listed above are all considerations which every worldview must answer. Too often, whether we're authors or readers, our attention to the worldviews and themes we're faced with is limited to Transcendence, with sometimes just a bit of attention to Ethics or Oath. Apply all five points, however, and you get a much more full-orbed worldview that can be expressed in a much more powerful, reinforced way.

So how exactly does this model help? Let's look at two well-known fantasy epics, the Star Wars Original Trilogy and CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, to find out.

Transcendence

Of course, as Christians, we recognise that God is the ultimate transcendent authority in every situation. However, when we're talking about non-Christian worldviews, or literature with allegorical or symbolic overtones, the transcendent authority may look a little different. If you're trying to discover the transcendent authority in any given story, try asking these questions:

Who is the creator?
Who is the redeemer?
Who is the lawgiver?
Who is the revealer of truth?

In Star Wars, the answer to the first question is the Force - it creates and sustains all life. Redemption is brought to the world by bringing balance to the Force. The Force communicates with those who are attuned to it, by listening to their feelings: this shows them what to do (law, or a kind of lite law substitute) and reveals truth to them. So in Star Wars, the Force, as mediated through personal feelings, is the transcendent reality.

In CS Lewis's Narnia books, by contrast, all these questions are answered in the character of Aslan, who both creates and redeems Narnia. Unsurprisingly, Aslan was intended as a very clear allegory of Christ. In a story I'm currently working on, on the other hand, this position of transcendence is occupied not so much by God or a Christ-figure, as (focusing on just one of God's attributes) divine law and justice.

Hierarchy

This is where things start to get interesting. Hierarchy is all about representation. Who represents the transcendent authority to the main characters of this story? Or which character most consistently embodies the story's worldview? This, obviously, is where all the doomed yet kindly elderly mentor figures come from.

In Star Wars, it's Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and other Jedi masters who train their apprentices in the ways of the Force. They have evil--or "dark" counterparts in the Sith lords who train evil apprentices. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf does substantially the same job, representing a more personal creator.


In Narnia, by contrast, the main characters interact with Aslan personally. In a sense Aslan fits into the hierarchy too, being himself the son of the Emperor-over-the-sea. However, there's a great deal of discussion in the books about the fact that only Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve - Men - can be kings and queens in Narnia. Like the original Adam and Eve, they're given the care and protection of the whole nonhuman, plant and animal world of Narnia. So the main characters themselves represent Aslan to Narnia, and Narnia to Aslan. Which may, in fact, be a distinctively Protestant way of seeing things--it's a kind of fictional expression of the priesthood of all believers.

Ethics

Ethics is all about rules, which is to say, the basis upon which the characters make their moral decisions.


In Star Wars, the characters solve moral dilemmas through emotional intuition. But, there's a dualism in emotions as well as in the Force. You know the line: "Anger, fear, aggression, the Dark Side are they!" Oddly, the Light Side does not draw on the contrasting "positive" feelings. In the prequels, it's the main character's love that is his Achilles heel, eventually corrupting him. Rather, the "feelings" that can be trusted as inspired by the Light, apparently resemble a sort of passionless Zen state.

On the other hand, in Narnia, much is (again) made of the Emperor's laws and rules. It's these rules that demand Aslan die in Edmund's place in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; later, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan reminds Lucy that he obeys his own rules. In The Silver Chair, Jill is given a set of explicit instructions by Aslan, which leads directly into the most memorable moral dilemma in the whole Narniad--free the dangerous madman, or ignore Aslan's orders?

Oath (Sanctions)

Here's where we look at what happens to the characters as a consequence of their actions. You might think this is a no-brainer, but some stories exist merely to prove that no matter what you do, the consequences don't matter--that was, after all, the big problem I had with Rebecca, where the protagonists get away without significant consequences for their wrong actions. This can go the other way, too: you can imagine a story where no matter how hard the protagonist tries to be good, he can't prevent awful things happening to him, the obvious inference being that they are pawns of Fate in a brutal and random universe (hello, Candide and Oedipus!)


In Star Wars, however, this is probably the most conventional aspect of its whole thematic structure. People who commit mass murder and extortion die nasty deaths. People who sacrifice themselves for others' lives and freedoms are honoured. Heroes who resist tyranny must battle through dark times, but come out all right in the end thanks to the helping hand of the screenwriters--I mean, the Force--and are rewarded with way awesome telekinetic laser sword powers. Villains who repent and join the goodies come to a satisfyingly bittersweet end, not reaping the full benefits that accrue to those who have been heroic all along, but dying well and joining the Light Side after death. All this is relatively Judeo-Christian.

Now bear with me, because I'm going to argue that on this point, the Chronicles of Narnia are seriously lacking. In the first six Chronicles of Narnia, there's no issue: at the end of each book, faithfulness triumphs and is blessed, while evil loses and is judged. The stories are satisfying--right up to the final book, where this pattern completely upturned, owing to CS Lewis's depressing premillennial eschatology. In this sense, Star Wars could actually be said to be the more Christian of the two stories! Like the Narniad, Star Wars has its dark, Saturnine chapter; but unlike the Narniad, it puts that chapter right in the middle of the trilogy, not at the end of the whole series. (The Empire Strikes Back is one of my favourite movies, but imagine if that had been the end of the whole story?) In Star Wars, the characters battle through the darkness in the faith that their obedience will be rewarded. In Narnia, the pattern of covenantal blessings and curses, which holds steady all the way through the first six books, is suddenly, jarringly, and (in-universe) inexplicably abandoned. The Last Battle is not without its own good points, and it is in itself somewhat internally consistent; but I'd argue that not only is it a deeply unsatisfying story, it's utterly out of keeping with every other story in the series.

Don't be premillennial, folks. It's bad storytelling.

Succession

According to this model, the final provisions of a Biblical covenant usually have to do with succession--what happens in the future. So ask yourself: What provisions do the characters of this story make for the future?

This is also quite conventional in Star Wars. Luke ends the Original Trilogy a fully-tested Jedi Knight ready to revive the lost Jedi Order and the ways of the Force in the newly-freed galaxy. Han has left his irresponsible scoundrel ways behind him and seems ready to settle down with Leia. They've proven themselves good leaders for new adventures in the galaxy's new future.

By now you're aware that The Last Battle is the caterpillar in my Narnian salad, so I'll try not to labour this too much. In one sense, The Last Battle does a fair job of depicting the time when the heavens and earth are wound up, when succession will entail eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth, which Lewis does gloriously depict. What I'm not at all keen on is the fact that the story ends in a final defeat in the physical world. In this sense, succession is brought to a full stop, since all the faithful main characters are raptured away from their homes in a terrible train crash (except Susan, but that's a discussion for another time). And this too is inconsistent with the rest of the series. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan tells Lucy that she'd been brought to Narnia so that she would learn to know him better in her own world; there is a telos of maturity here, with Narnia's purpose being to equip adults for the "real" world. In The Last Battle, that telos of maturity is abruptly reversed. Instead of going on to disciple their own world, everyone returns to Narnia and then goes to heaven, leaving no-one behind in their own world (not even Susan, whose Narnian discipleship has failed) to bear witness to what has been learned in Narnia.

Conclusion

So there's a quick critique of two major twentieth-century fantasy epics according to the five-point covenant model, with apologies to those among my readership who really love The Last Battle or happen to be premillennial. (I love y'all as brothers & sisters in Christ! Really!) I'm sure there's far more that could be said about both stories (and I want to acknowledge that CS Lewis has probably thought far more deeply and rigorously than I have about just about everything), but as you see, this is a really helpful way to evaluate some of the themes and internal inconsistencies of a story's worldview.

Which is why I'm so excited about using this model to help build the themes in my own stories. Applying this to a work-in-progress recently helped me to get my mind around how I could strengthen the story's theme by paying more attention to ethics and also succession--ending the story in a way that reinforces (rather than subverting) the main theme.

What do you think? Do you have an alternative view on The Last Battle? How do you evaluate or build thematic structure in your stories?

19 comments:

Hannah A. Krynicki said...

Some good food for thought! I have never enjoyed The Last Battle, mainly because of the scene where Aslan pardons a Tash-worshipper as one of his own servants; that's a bit too universalist for me. Actually, my brothers just rewatched the last Star Wars film. I can see what you mean: Star Wars ends on an almost-Christian note, while Narnia doesn't. Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that Lewis didn't originally write the first few Narnia books to be allegorical?

Victoria Marinov said...

This really hit home for me. Firstly because even when I was a wee eleven- or twelve- year old, The Last Battle was largely unsatisfying. The ape and the donkey felt so lame, the atmosphere of the book wasn't the inviting feel I had grown used to with the Narnia books, and while Lewis does paint a beautiful picture of the new heavens and earth, the whole thing with the Pevensie children dying in our world was the most disappointing part. I mean, shouldn't the whole point be the real world and their job in it to spread truth? I haven't read the book since, and friends I have think I'm weird that I don't like it. It's nice to find someone who shares my feeling. This post really helped me understand more why I didn't like it.

(Also, I don't know if you've heard of it, but there's a series by John White called The Archives of Anthropos. It's the same concept [children from this world going to another one] but the ending of the last book is so much more satisfying than Narnia.)

Also just your whole exploration of the five points of the covenant and how they relate to storytelling really added depth to something I've been thinking about lately. Specifically concerning moral and ethical-judicial elements and clear lines because good and evil in stories. Thanks so much for this post. ^_^

John Dekker said...

"CS Lewis's depressing premillenial eschatology" - I assume you're using this in a metaphorical sense; you're not saying Lewis actually adopted premillennial theology, do you? (And yes, you had a series of typos there.)

Hayden said...

Well, I am a "premillennial"- but I also find the last Narnia book unsatisfying (and boring, honestly) It didn't seem fully in tune to the rest of the novels, I disliked the ape and the donkey though I understood their role, and I was always a bit disappointed with the lack of time spent on the characters from our world. I have heard a rumor though-I have no idea if it's true- that CS Lewis had actually planned another book, "Susan of Narnia" or some such thing, that was to happen after The Last Battle. I have doubts that this is true, as I'm not sure how it would work within the Narnian chronology, but if The Last Battle *wasn't* meant to be the last book, I wonder if it would take on a new spin on the whole series.

(Also, The Empire Strikes Back *is* the best Star Wars movie. Definitely)

Hayden said...

Whoops. I think I hit "reply" rather than "comment!"

Suzannah said...

Hannah: Emeth's character is another problem I have with THE LAST BATTLE, though I don't think it's actual out-and-out Universalism, especially in the context of the rest of the book. Now as far as the later Narnia books becoming more allegorical, I don't think you could get much more allegorical than the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe--though perhaps Lewis would have used the term "supposal" rather than, "allegory". I think the main difference is in his theology. In my view, he had a more Scriptural, better theology of the Redemption than he did of the Last Things.

Victoria, I'm so glad this post was helpful to you! I would love to hear about your own thoughts on good and evil in stories, so let me know if you ever write about it! I was also traumatised by THE LAST BATTLE as a child, and I've also never relished reading it. That said, even when I disagree with his overall point, Lewis is still Lewis. There are some magnificent things in THE LAST BATTLE, which as an older reader I'm sure you'd appreciate more, so I hope you give it another read eventually :).

Hello, John! I must confess I used the word "premillenial" somewhat unadvisedly, having assumed that it was the closest thing I knew to the overall pessimistic eschatology depicted in The Last Battle as well as the Cosmic Trilogy. Perhaps that's just me being ignorant about the details of other positions. Would you tell us more about Lewis's eschatology?

Hayden, it's OK to be premillenial. Many good friends of mine were once premil too ;). Joking aside, I've never heard the rumour you mention, and it doesn't sound very convincing to me, but I always assumed that eventually Susan would come to her senses, if the "once-a-queen-in-Narnia-always-a-queen-in-Narnia" refrain was any good at all. But in THE LAST BATTLE, where it counted most, Lewis never gave us even a breath of hope that that would happen.

I totally agree with you that THE LAST BATTLE is unsatisfying and not in tune with the optimistic (postmillenial!) tone of the previous novels. As someone with a basically optimistic doctrine of the last things, however, I would also add that I find the premillenial and amillenial accounts of history itself imaginatively unsatisfying and Scripturally inconsistent in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reasons. :)

*whispers* Y'all should look into postmillenialism. It's worth it being able to laugh at stuff like ISIS, Obergerfell, and the Hillarump.

Hannah A. Krynicki said...

Ah, of course Lewis opposed universalism. He would be the first to say it, I think; but one way or another his theology was questionable on that point.

I also remembered this afternoon how Lewis said in Mere Christianity that, next to monotheism, dualism is probably the closest worldview to the truth. Star Wars gives a good example of what he meant, I think: a very clear battle between right and wrong with direct consequences and legacies.

Joseph J said...

Wow, very interesting indeed. I will have to keep this in mind for analyzing future stories.

I actually really liked the Last Battle as a kid, but as a kind of horror novel. The scene when the children glimpse the god Tash moving through the woods is still the most poignant depiction of Satanic paganism I have encountered in literature. Pauline Baynes' illustration still makes me shudder.

But you bring up a very important matter. I find that most Catholics I know tend not to think much about the future of the Church, but we seem to possess vaguely in our minds the plot of the Last Battle. And you’re right, it’s depressing and dispiriting! And now that I think about it, I wonder how much Lewis isn’t to blame for spreading this perception. Lewis seems to have been thinking of the spiritual triumph of the Cross, and the end of the Book of Revelations where Gog and Magog surround the camp of the saints (along with other elements of that book of course). But there is so much more to it than that!

Only in recent years have I learned that it’s perfectly compatible with our doctrine to believe in a Christian renaissance and period of triumph. The Church merely denies that Christ will come down bodily to reign on earth, believing that will happen only at the end of the world. “If before that final end there is to be a period, more or less prolonged, of triumphant sanctity, such a result will be brought about not by the apparition of the person of Christ in Majesty but by the operation of those powers of sanctification which are now at work, the Holy Ghost and the Sacraments of the Church.” —The Teaching of the Catholic Church: A Summary of Catholic Doctrine [London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1952] p. 1140

In fact, I’ve learned that there are many mystics and prophets who have foretold a coming ‘Era of Peace’. This discovery has been so invigorating to me. It just didn’t make sense to me that Christianity was supposed to straggle on for centuries, fragmented and broken, to be attacked by the Enemy, and die… ‘victoriously’. A true victory over Satan would mean a significant victory here, in this world (though of a primarily spiritual nature), as well as in the new heaven and earth.

In fact there is one man I follow who believes that we are entering a world-wide crisis this year, and that we will experience what he calls ‘The Rescue’, the intervention of Our Lady in world events at the end of 2017, which will herald a revival and reunification Christianity. The point is that we have solid reasons to hope for a better world before the world ends!

On another point, not to nitpick, but the Catholic church also believes in the common priesthood of all believers. But maybe you just meant that Protestant spirituality emphasizes it more, which makes sense.

No one writes better theological speculative fiction than Lewis, but it is an area fraught with peril!

Paul Leavitt said...

Wow wow wow! You did a fantastic job of articulating what I never really have been able to accomplish: why I never liked the Last Battle. Ever since when I first read it when I was 12 or so, I didn't like it. It was depressing, sad, defeatist. All the work goes into Narnia, only to have it spin down, burn, and disappear. It wasn't until I became post-mil (or at least a-mil) and realized how Lewis's eschatology affected his story writing that I realized, at least in part, why I disliked it: no victory!

I'll have to keep the five point system in mind. It's really helpful, and seems to do a stellar job of explaining/breaking down the major elements of a stories main components.

John Dekker said...

Just in case I was too subtle before, Suzannah - premillennialism and postmillennialism are both spelt with two "n"s.

Andrew of the House of Lacey said...

Fascinating post. Thanks so much for sharing this system to analyse themes in stories!

I must confess that I have always enjoyed the Last Battle. The clear representation of a false messiah and a false prophet has been a source of much enjoyment to me when looking at the Christian allegory (supposal) of Narnia. Not to mention all the 'further in and further up' stuff. However, after reading through this article, and the comments, I am wondering if the ending could have been a little better done. A trace of hope for our own world would have been satisfying. I love books that end with hope!
But then, I think that Lewis may well have wanted to end Last Battle the way he did, drawing all the characters together and sending them off to live happily ever after. He WAS finishing his series after all. Perhaps he felt that it would have given the impression of loose ends lying about to have left Peter, Edmund, and Lucy in England while everyone else from the whole series was in 'Heaven.' To me, is seems like he conveniently had them die at just that time, (death comes to all), so as to have everyone meet up in the True Narnia at the same time. Perhaps.
Still, I have never really been struck by the 'defeatism' of the Last Battle. I know that the earthly kingdom does get destroyed, but it never seemed to matter, since it took place at the end of the world. Our own world will get destroyed after all. Since it is a fallen world, no matter how good we are able to make it, the flaws still remain, until the coming of HaOlam HaBa, the world to come, or the new heavens and new earth of Church terminology. I thought that the joy and reward of the Inner Narnia was a good picture of believers' future reward in the perfect world that God has coming.

I have never looked at Post-millennialism before. At least, not very much. Thank you for the link to the diagram. It helps me understand it much better. Though, I thought from my readings of Revelation, that Satan is supposed to be bound, after the great Tribulation? The diagram seems to suggest that he was bound after Messiah died on the cross?

Suzannah said...

So much good discussion! :D

Joseph, what interesting comments! I agree with them insofar as a good Protestant may do so :). That is exactly what I believe: that the Holy Spirit will fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord like the waters cover the sea. It's great to know that some of you across the Tiber are also recovering the eschatology of hope which I do believe is taught in Scripture!

Paul - glad you enjoyed the post! Covenant theology is a whole area of study that I'm sure should not be relegated only to areas of popular culture, but it's definitely a help ;).

Oh dear, John--I can't believe I misspelt those. Thanks for pointing it out. How embarrassing!

Hello, Andrew! I should say that I too appreciate a lot of aspects in THE LAST BATTLE and that I think it probably draws equally on the Norse Ragnarok myths which Lewis loved so much, and which I also understand to be moving and powerful, though fundamentally inconsistent with the Christian worldview.

Concerning postmillennialism, you can't do better than read David Chilton's book Paradise Restored, which lays out the basic case from Scripture. We would, of course, agree that Satan is bound after the Great Tribulation; only in the postmillenial timeframe, we see the Great Tribulation as having happened in 70AD at the fall of Jerusalem (as Jesus says, his generation would not pass away until the tribulation had taken place). There's a final tribulation when Satan is loosed at the end of history, but we consider him currently bound (as did Augustine, I might add!)

Ecclesia superabit!

Kate said...

I've always loved The Last Battle, and still do.

I think the bit about going back and bearing witness in our world isn't actually a strong part of what Narnia is. We basically never see it happening. I think Narnia is more like glimpses of heaven.

Also, I think that a lot of The Last Battle is clearly drawing from Dante's Paradise (the image of something that is bigger the farther you go in, the idea of the pagan who loves justice being found in heaven which is found in Dante as well as various other medievals, and so on) much as The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe draws from Plato's Republic or The Magician's Nephew draws from Milton's Paradise Lost.

Suzannah said...

Hello, Kate! :) It's always so good to hear from you. And I can't believe it--we're finally disagreeing the other way about a book than what we usually do!

I agree that what I call "the telos of maturity" in Narnia isn't strongly emphasised in the books. However, it would take a serious upheaval in my whole conception of Narnia to see the books as less training for everyday life in the twentieth/twenty-first century, than a forward look to heaven. So I can't evaluate that idea right now; it's so foreign to me; I should have to think about it in depth and at length. But I always saw that conversation in DAWN TREADER as being somewhat meta: Aslan tells Lucy that she's going to grow up and know him better in the real world, and I always saw that as being a message to the reader as well: "Narnia is great but we're pointing beyond to a reality that you need to discover outside the book." I think it's very well-attested that Lewis saw the Chronicles' purpose in this way. Which, to me, makes that aspect, even though it's not emphasised in the stories themselves, a faint but discernible overarching purpose, which again, I find that THE LAST BATTLE contradicts.

Fascinating thoughts on THE LAST BATTLE drawing on the Paradiso. (I really need to re-read that, but I'm sure you're right). I actually really appreciate the "further up and further in" section, and as I've grown older I've also come to love the things Lewis says in the earlier segment of the book about courage in the face of defeat. "Remember that all worlds come to an end, and that noble death is a treasure no one is too poor to buy" - terrific, and if Lewis is right about the Last Things, that's the attitude to have.

Let me say once more that I'm keenly aware how much more rigorous, deep, and smart a thinker Lewis was than I am. By token of which, can you point me in the direction of any resources discussing how these stories draw on classical literature? :)

Sophia White said...

This has nothing to do with anything in this post, but I've been reading your blog for a while and I thought perhaps you might like Meredith Nicholson's books. He wrote at least four, The House of a Thousand Candles, Rosalind at Red Gate, The Port of Missing Men, and A Hoosier Chronicle, all in the early twentieth century. They're mostly adventure with a bit of romance on the side, but nothing this romance-scorner can't stand.

Kate said...

I think Lewis is doing multiple things with Narnia. And, as you point out, one of them is saying that the children need to go back to England and learn who Aslan is. But in the Last Battle, Lewis makes it very clear that all the Pevensies and so on are already dead. That's how they can be in Narnia when Aslan said that that they wouldn't come back. And note that it isn't just Narnia that they find through the door, but England as well. And all those countries are "only spurs jutting out from the great mountains of Aslan."

I also think it is odd to say that The Last Battle ends in a defeat of the physical, when the Narnia inside Narnia is really more physical. This bit "they ran faster and faster till it was more like flying than running, and even the Eagle overhead was going no faster than they" always reminds me of the bit in scripture where it talks about how 'they will mount up on wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not faint.' And then of course right after that we find the walled garden on a hill (clearly the same garden from the Magician's Nephew), which is sort of the beginning of things, much in the same way as Dante puts the garden of Eden at the top of the hill of Purgatory, as sort of the entry to paradise.

In any case, I think this is Lewis' point: "When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the door. And of course it is different, as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking dream as from life." (emphasis mine) I don't think Lewis is interested in strictly allegory, but in capturing the imagination, and giving an image of a new heaven and a new earth (and his image is quite clearly influenced by both Plato and Dante).

I wish I could point you in the direction of something discussing how these draw on classic literature, but sadly, I haven't found anything. All my thoughts come from various discussions with other people who've read many of the same things I have. (And I don't know if I mentioned it, but one of my friends has some fascinating thoughts about the influence of Dante's Purgatory on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Basically, Dawn Treader seems to be about images and the cleansing of the soul in very similar ways to Dante's Purgatory.)

Suzannah said...

Hello, Sophia! Thanks twice over--once for delurking and saying hi and again for the recommendation. Those books look like lots of fun; I'll make sure to take a look.

Kate, I appreciate the Platonic themes in THE LAST BATTLE, which I think do in fact (just as you point out) make the ending much less depressing than it otherwise would have been. Lewis's depiction of the new heavens and new earth, the "real Narnia" and also the "real England", is full of hope and beauty. What I find depressing is that fact that the old shadow Narnia and the old shadow England are written off and abandoned; I also object to it on theological terms, since my view is that Scripture teaches that the present heavens and earth will be the arena not of defeat but of victory.

I would also be reluctant to say that the real archetypal Narnia is "more physical". If I am correct in summarising him in this way, in Plato's Form/Matter dualism, Form was the ultimate reality, not Matter, and the ambition was to escape from Matter back into Form. I would not dare to say to what extent Lewis accepted any of this; you probably know better than me. But if the Further-In-and-Further-Up is supposed to be a Platonic Ideal Narnia, it is more real (as the characters are told that it is), but not necessarily more material. Or even if it is: Lewis's Christian theology would very properly have told him, of course, as it told Augustine, that the material could not be ultimately evil, contrary to the Platonists. But I would be prepared to suggest that Lewis may have come to the conclusion that the material is somehow inferior and that it's the spiritual realm that ultimately counts. The ultimate victory in THE LAST BATTLE is on the spiritual level; it doesn't play out in time and history, in the Shadowlands where we spend all our time, our work, and our sweat.

Similarly, Christianity has today by and large accepted the idea that all the covenantal promises of victory and salvation in Scripture apply on a purely spiritual level and cannot be trusted or accepted on the physical/material/historical plane. My own position (to clarify) would be that the spiritual and the physical are both equally real and equally important--and equally subject to grace.

Kate said...

On the point of Plato, I think that Lewis was certainly not a Platonist, that is, believing in the idea of the Forms existing in and of themselves. He may have been a neo-Platonist, but I don't really know enough to say. When I was saying he was drawing from Plato, I think Lewis does use particular images (coming out of the shadows into the real world, which is straight out of Plato), but he is giving them a distinctly Christian perspective. I do apologize that I wasn't clear on this point.

Actually, if Lewis is drawing from anything in the Last Battle, it is from Dante, because the idea of 'further up and further in' and each layer being bigger the closer you get to the center is very Dante. But Dante also is very clear that our bodies and the physical world will be redeemed.

I think our fundamental disagreement is what Lewis meant when he said that this is the "real Narnia." I think that he meant a Narnia that was more real in both a physical and spiritual sense, but it sounds like you think that he meant less physical. But I think that if Lewis somehow thought the physical was less, he wouldn't have emphasized it as much. The mountains are taller, they can run faster, and swim more swiftly. The physical house of Professor Kirk is found not to have been torn down after all.

And, if I may bring in some of Lewis' other works, in The Great Divorce (also meant to be a picture and not a direct representation of Lewis' beliefs), everything is more real in a physical sense. The grass is like knives. The apples are too heavy to lift. Even people like we see today seem almost like shadows.

Essentially, if Lewis is trying to say that the physical is less, he seems to be going about it a very strange way, because he uses imagery that is both distinctly physical (as opposed to some vague notion of spirits floating about) and emphasizes the physicality of things.

It also seems important to me that, in the above quote, "All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the door." Some of the people and animals physically walked through the door.

Also worth noting that I don't think that The Last Battle is Lewis' ideas of how the end times will actually play out, any more than the Magician's Nephew is Lewis' ideas about how the world was created.

Suzannah said...

Yep, good points - Lewis did make an effort to portray his heavens as physical, and I'm sure that's a great example of his Christian faith trumping his other influences. I was forgetting THE GREAT DIVORCE. My distaste for the sad fate of the Shadowlands, however, remains :).

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