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April 30, 2015


It seems like Mr Ringo needs to go read some James Schmitz. Stories written well before Social Justice Warriors came on the scene. Female protagonists. Non-human (essentially non-white) protagonists.

Maybe start with Agent of Vega. Might be a revelation for him.

I do like your reading. It's just not at all how I remember reading the book.

Wasn't Lewis saying (among the many things he was saying!) that Queen Orual's love for her sister was destructive?

It's been a few years since I read it, but I recall his point being that her bitterness about being ugly warped her ability to love her sister.

This was part of his banging on about all mortal love being corrupt and selfish, how only God's love was real love, that whole bit.

As I recall, Lewis suggests that Orual's love is actually envy -- envy spiteful enough that it causes her to destroy her sister.

And this is what he suggests *all* mortal love really is, as I recall: just envy sublimated. Only God's love is really love. (I might be misremembering, I'll admit.)

I really should read the book again.

Oh! I meant to say: Love the covers.

I also loved "Till We Have Faces"--it was the first Lewis book I ever stumbled across and is still my favorite. I'm really surprised that almost everyone in that class hated it and find Kelly James's reaction to it perverse. To me she is projecting the worst possible interpretation on the book--I for one sympathized with Orual all through the novel. It's true that Lewis exposes her flaws at the end, but the point there is not that Orual is some terrible person--she is in fact a remarkable woman and her realization of her sins didn't make me admire her any less. Lewis is just making the traditional Christian point that all of us are sinners, even the best. Is he manipulating the characters? I didn' think so. He is showing how different people who mean well can hurt each other without realizing it. Orual, her Greek tutor, and Bardia all wound each other without realizing that they are doing it. The same is true of Orual and Psyche.j

And gosh, who would ever imagine an ugly princess with a beautiful sister in an Iron Age barbarian kingdom might find her life somewhat difficult.

I've always loved reading, but always hated reading books for a literature class. This reminds me of why-- the pleasure is spoiled if you have to listen to someone teach a book that they seem to be willfully misreading. In my experience, literature classes seem designed to make reading a painful chore.

I also have no idea what James means when saying that no one would act the way the characters acted. I thought Orual's fears for her sister were logical-- if I were going to criticize any character or characters in the book it would be the gods. But Lewis seems to be saying that religions are often a mixture of darkness and light--the priests who try to rationalize their faith are leaving something out. I'm not sure what Lewis means, but whatever theological point he is trying to make he makes by having his gods behave inscrutably.

I would bet that this is what some of the evangelical students disliked.

It's 'Jennings', not 'James', Donald.

Sorry, Kelly--I should have realized you might show up in this thread. If I had thought about it, I would have written that a little differently. Take it as the irritated reaction of someone who loved a book and finds someone else saying it was terrible.


Thank you for stopping by.

I think he was suggesting that all human love is *imperfect*, yes, but not that it's all envy, specifically.

One of the most Christian parts of the book, IMHO, is the title, which I think is supposed to make us think of I Corinthians 13:12. So Orual's love is imperfect, mortal, and human -- which means it's sometimes destructive, too, because human love can be like that.

I think Orual's experiences are also supposed to remind us of Job -- not the Job of the beginning and end of the book, but the one who argues with G-d and who comes to acceptance not through logic, but through face to face experience.

As I said, I came to the book as someone who'd always been deeply unhappy with the "ugly is wicked" trope, and I found TWHF a satisfying exploration of it. Do you think that your students (and you) didn't start from that point -- that the meta-premise wasn't resonating with you? Or what?

Thanks for the correction, Jake. I'm feeling more guilty about my bad tempered reaction than about getting her name wrong, so I will take the opportunity to apologize again for my sarcasm and go to bed.

To be nasty, I thought 'plot-rigging' is what Lewis is about in general.
I have not read that particular text but half a shelf of others by C.S.Lewis and this always seemed (to me) to be his greatest flaw, characters acting not the way that I'd consider natural (for them) but according to the message they are supposed to send. He CAN create characters that feel real and that makes it even more annoying when they suddenly start to behave and talk out of it with the obvious intent to push 'the message'. I dislike that even more than some authors' habit to dispose of characters that have outlived their usefulness to them (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YouHaveOutlivedYourUsefulness with the author as the one doing the disposing).

"Man merkt die Absicht, und man ist verstimmt" (The intent shines through, so one is displeased)[Goethe*].

*in the most popular form of the quote, slightly deviating form the original. Cf. 'Beam me up Scotty' and 'Luke, I am your father'.

"He CAN create characters that feel real and that makes it even more annoying when they suddenly start to behave and talk out of it with the obvious intent to push 'the message'."

Yes, indeed. That's one of things which make Lewis essentially unreadable for me, because even when I'm jogging along nicely with the story and enjoying what I'm reading, I've read enough Lewis to be waiting for him to start preaching at me.

I can't stand that; it's like having Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons coming to the door and asking me if I'm saved.

I suppose my atheism makes this kind of thing grate on me more than it would someone else, but I don't think I'm alone.

I can put up with preaching when it's openly declared and fits the characters (and is well-written). Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's School Days is the prime example*. His successors and imitators (there were lots of those) did for the most part not manage that. Kipling, no friend of 'Muscular Christianity' he, wrote very scornfully of those, their hypocrisy and their awful writing' but I cannot remember him attacking Hughes. Just take his frequent barbs against Farrar's Eric in Stalky&Co (and Farrar was still open about his preaching, just godawful as a writer).
Lewis' 'Screwtape Letters' sheds the pretense and is imo quite readable as a result.

*I would not call it a literay masterpiece but solid enough. The movies often fall short (nothing new there. I have yet to see a film version of Hugo's Hunchback that does not reduce it to a cliche-ridden 'cloak and dagger' dime novel level; it's likely impossible).

"..deeply unhappy with the "ugly is wicked" trope."

That may well be it. I read the book well after my feminist awakenings (imagine me saying this with a slight ironic smirk). But I never really attached much credit to the notion that a woman's value lay in her looks.

I mean, I knew that was supposed to true, but it seems such an obvious scam -- so many women around me who weren't beautiful were so obviously happy and worthwhile and living good lives, that I knew it couldn't be true. (I remember rolling my eyes in exasperation at the bits in L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time and other books where she keeps insisting that Meg's mother is not JUST a brilliant scientist BUT ALSO beautiful. Oh, come on. WHO CARES.)

ANYWAY. Yes: my reading of it probably did focus more on what Lewis was doing with the mortal-love-is-corrupt-love bit, which, as I've said, I found disturbing.

If he'd just been saying, look here, *this* person's love is flawed; look here, *some* people have problems loving well -- that would have been one thing. But Lewis was saying all human love is corrupted by our fallen human nature; all human love is self-love, and sinful, at its root.

And then he manipulated his characters and his plot to "prove" that.

(Or I so I recall. Again, I haven't read this book in a couple of years. I might be remembering it entirely wrong!)

Oh -- Donald: thanks for the apology. It's fine. Different people like different books!

As I said over on Making Light, I really had expected to like Till We Have Faces. I wouldn't have chosen it for the class otherwise. I had read several of C.S. Lewis's non-fiction books, including Screwtape Letters, and liked them a great deal. And I generally do like books that have a mythic background. (It was a class on mythic fiction.)

I think that Lewis intended us to take at face value Arnom's judgment of Orual as "the most wise, just, valiant, fortunate and merciful of all the princes known in our parts of the world", and to see her self-blame as the torment that a great heart must inflict on itself to be worthy. (Worthy of God, I suppose Lewis would say.)

That's not my kink; but I believe that to Lewis, all the litany of Orual's failings she records in Part II are supposed to make us admire her more.

Thanks Kelly. My bad tempered reaction to one side, it startled me to read that about "Faces". He is of course preaching, but I thought the characters all acted the way one would expect them to under the circumstances. I was a fourteen year old when I read the book and identified completely with Orual and her actions seemed logical to me. I read it again now and then and for me it still holds up. Orual and the people she loved all seemed to keep hurting each other unintentionally and that seemed, well, realistic. I thought Lewis even did a good job portraying Orual's father--you see his warts and his bullying and cowardice from the viewpoint of Orual and the Greek tutor, but Bardia says he does better with soldiers and hunters and is frightened by women and intellectuals (people he doesn't understand). It humanized him without excusing his actions. For me the whole book was like that. The most intriguing part which I couldn't figure out is what exactly was going on with the gods and priests. It sort of reminded me of Flannery O'Connor, who seemed to be saying that sometimes those crude weird fundamentalists understand something that rationalists don't, but getting back to "Faces"' I wasn't sure how Ungit and the Priest fit in with Psyche's husband. Lewis thinks Orual had enough clues to see the beautiful reality underneath all the ugliness of the religion she was raised with, but I think he was honest enough to write the story so that the reader will side with Orual.

I think a lot of what we consider "reasonable" choices by characters is governed by those around us. If you can say "I can see people I know who would act like that" (even if you wouldn't do it yourself), then the characters are behaving realistically.

But if nobody you know would make those kinds of choices, then they are not. Not matter how many other people in the world would do the same thing.

To take a personal example, when I was growing up and reading SF and fantasy, I would have considered it amazingly weird if a story had some people choosing to join a group marriage (or even a homosexual one) -- simply because I had never encountered, or even heard of, such a thing.

Now, having see it happen multiple times with people I know, I can find it realistic and reasonable it when I see it in a story. I may still think it is a bad idea, but it isn't unrealistic.

Oh, John Ringo, no...

Rather randomly, did anyone else read "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe?" I'm trying to decide if I should recommend it to an English teacher of my acquaintance. (And in a thread about Redshirts and CS Lewis, I figure I have a good chance...)

Is it anything like the Evil Overlord checklist?

No, apparently not, checking the wikipedia article on it. Too bad. I feel roughly the same disappointment as when I found out "The Life of Pi" wasn't a documentary about trigonometry.

when I found out "The Life of Pi" wasn't a documentary about trigonometry.

Movie critic 1: "It just goes on FOREVER!"
Movie critic 2: "But at least it never gets repetitive"
Movie critic 3: "The book was better, but I never finished it.."

Movie critic 3.1: "reminds me of the life of Fibonacci, parts 1, 1, 2 and 3."
Movie critic 3.14: "The cinematography was great, but the plot was irrational"
Movie critic 3.141: "I liked the XKCD version better"

I could go on and on...

Hm, I'm pleased to see there's also a movie or two called E.

"I'm pleased to see there's also a movie or two called E"

Yes, but the second one was derived from the first, and exactly identical.

Obviously Movie Critic 3.141 is the only one worth paying any attention to.

The others are just so derivitive....

E is rumored to be appearing on a double bill with M, in hopes of raising money for filming Sea Squared.

Damn, I'm disappointed too, Brett. I was hoping for the SF version of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

That does sound like fun.

"Exactly identical" strikes me as redundantly repetitive.

"Exactly identical" strikes me as redundantly repetitive.

I might like Till We Have Faces if it were a stand-alone narrative and not a retelling of Eros and Psyche. Lewis' biggest failure, for me, is not his allegorical urges, but rather his complete inability to understand and connect with the pagan material that he borrows and adapts. He does not seek to understand it, only to co-opt it. It makes his writing feel procrustean in a way that his more purely Christian allegories do not.

Identical twins are not fully identical, so 'exactly identical' is not necessarily redundant.

That makes "identical twins" oxymoronic at some level of detail, no?

Identical twins pose a lot of other problems too. If the soul enters at conception, i.e. the single cell stage, are there up to the split two souls in one body or does the soul split too. What if the split is artifically prevented in the former case or how does a split soul differ from a normal one in the latter? How can it be an individual (lit. a non-split-able) from the start when it splits up shortly after. A question for Catholic theologians and GOP lawmakers to answer without the usual cop-out of 'the L#rds's ways are...'.
The old solution of some tribes to kill identical twins as a matter of principle is unlikely to catch on again.

the single cell stage, are there up to the split two souls in one body or does the soul split too.

That's why there's *always* an evil twin...


I don't think Lewis had a failure to connect with the pagan material, I think maybe he connected too much.

In some ways I, like Lewis, received a "classical education". When we were growing up, my father read my brother & me the stories of the Greek myths the way other kids get fairy tales.

And whaddaya know, we especially got re-tellings by Roger Lancelyn Green, who was a student of C.S. Lewis'.

Anyway, when Greek & Roman myths are familiar to you from youth, you don't think of them as coming from a different mind-set to your own. They become part of your mental furniture, and you blend them in with the rest.

Which is my way of saying that yes, Lewis didn't really understand the original myth. But he didn't really co-opt it, the story was familiar to him long before he did anything as conscious as co-opting to it.

I read Assop fabels to my boy and then advanced to Calvin & Hobbs. He turned out to be a smart lad with a good sense of humor.

Loved 'Tales of the Greek Heroes' as a kid.

I have big thunbs and a small smart phone

I suspect Lewis understood how pagans understood the Cupid and Psyche story as well as any modern could. He was a classics scholar in part. But he is writing his re-interpretation of the story based on his pet theory that God smuggled in some divine revelation about Himself into pagan mythology. Of course if he is wrong about what God was doing than he misunderstood. I think the story works fine both in The Golden Ass ( which I read long ago) and in Lewis's version. People are always reworking old stories.

Lewis connected with pagan myth in an Edith Hamilton sort of way, not in a Jane Ellen Harrison sort of way, or even a Sophoclean sort of way. He didn't so much absorb the stories as he colonized them.

(In much the same way that Alan Watts Beyond Theology is an interesting meditation on Christianity from a Buddhist perspective, but is not a book about Christianity.)

My feeling is that it's rather difficult for 'moderns' to get inside the head of ancient peoples; to understand their view of their world and its relationship to their beliefs.

It's not just reading mythology, even in the original language, but more an exercise in anthropology.

This comment applies both to 'classical' mythology and early christian/jewish practices.

It's hardly surprising. It appears to be almost impossible for "moderns" in developed countries to comprehend what things are really like in undeveloped countries.

Try to tell them that someone would work in a sweatshop because it was better than staying home doing subsistance agriculture, and they look at you in blank incomprehension. It's not so much a problem of isolation in time as one of serious cultural isolation.

It is difficult to bridge that gap, but for many academics working in the humanities today, historicism and the "anthropological turn" are second nature, and a first step towards understanding older material.

Lewis read as a classicist but found his chair in English Lit as a Medievalist. Today, with the same type of scholarship, he'd likely find a home in a department of Comparative Religion as a specialist in Christianity with occasional teaching in medievalism and chivalric romance. His readings of classical material are all shaded by medieval retellings and allegory anyway.

I'll freely admit that I have a bias towards a more modern approach to pre-Christian material and that Lewis' work is quite accomplished. I just don't think that when he was reading older versions of Eros and Psyche that he ever really grokked the original.

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