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Charlie Starr Arts and Humanities of the Western Culture 12 May 2009 Light in the Shadows of C.S. Lewis In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5 New International Version) In the Christian faith, light and shadows are often used as symbols of life and death, of good and evil, and of angels and demons. The Bible demonstrates and explains that shadows are a corruption of the light and that darkness cannot overcome the light. In fictitious literature light is also portrayed as something pure and holy. Darkness is almost always portrayed as evil, sinister— basically something you just don’t want to mess with. But what is a shadow, really? What is light? As you can see from the verse from Genesis, darkness is the absence of light, the corruption of light. Darkness depends on the light, that is, without light somewhere there is no darkness. However, it is entirely possible to have light without darkness. C.S. Lewis makes it obvious in his stories that he follows the Augustinian view of good and evil— that evil is the utter absence of good, just as darkness is the utter absence of light. “Images of light and darkness in the fiction of C.S. Lewis denote the spiritual merit of an individual, entity, locality, or event” (Cook 252). C.S. Lewis paints pictures with high contrasts of light and dark in most of his stories. In doing that he follows the normal theological relations
(Box 670) Walz 2 to the themes of light and shadow. For example, light is associated with deity, redemption, godliness, truth, heaven and beauty. Darkness symbolizes the utter “absence of God and godliness, […] hell, Satan, disobedience, evil, and sin” (Cook 252). I believe that Lewis uses the theme of light and dark across all of his works of fiction including The Great Divorce, The Pilgrim’s Regress, “The Man Born Blind”, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle. His stories also typically close with defeat of evil and darkness and the appearance of the image of light, which tends to evoke rebirth or renewal and an imminent glory. In The Great Divorce we find that “the grey town” is simply that. It is dark, devoid of light, and everything is translucent and thin. This city is grim and joyless and yet no one realizes that it has in fact an absence of life, light, and solidarity. The pastoral landscape and population of heaven, the bright place, is one that is bright, beautiful, solid, and glowing with radiant light. Everything there is real and “the grey town” and its inhabitants are only mere shadows of what is in the “real kingdom”. At the end of the book, the “apocalyptic dawn, following the end of Time, is drenched in the light of the morning” (Cook 253). The narrator on the last page of The Great Divorce says: I stood at that moment looking at [the Teacher’s] face, I saw there something that sent a quiver through my whole body, I stood at that moment with my back to the East and the mountains, and he, facing me, looked towards them. His face flushed with a new light. A fern, thirty yards behind him, turned golden. The eastern side of every tree-trunk grew bright. Shadows deepened. All the time there had been bird noises, trillings, chattering, and the like; but now suddenly the full chorus was poured from every branch (Lewis, Divorce 127-128). C.S. Lewis draws this parallelism to the world in which you and I live. We, on earth, are actually just mere shadows of another reality, cast by the light in heaven; we are mere profiles
(Box 670) Walz 3 and simple two-dimensional circles compared to the spheres in heaven. As Dr. Charlie Starr states in his paper entitled “C.S. Lewis’s Vision of Heaven”, “We are ghosts and shadows and our world but a cheap copy of the heavenly one to come, like a landscape painting compared to the real place.” This idea of our temporary world being referred to as just shadows is the same technique that Lewis employed in his Narnia works in which he referred to our world as the “Shadow-lands”. This vision of heaven and earth is in line with the Platonic “Allegory of the Cave” in which Plato explains his theory of life by illustrating that we are all prisoners inside a cave who have been chained up and forced to stare at a wall since childhood. The prisoners can only see the shadows on the wall in front of them that are cast by objects, animals or people moving in front of the light from a fire that is behind them. All the prisoners know are the shadows on the wall in front of them, and to them that is reality, for they know nothing more. If one of the prisoners were to break loose and discover life and light outside of the cave and come back to tell the other prisoners, it would be impossible for him to describe it to them and utterly unfathomable for them to understand. They would think that he was a lunatic! The Great Divorce’s vision of heaven and hell (or of what seems to purgatory) could also be a indirect reference to the Bible where, in the book of Hebrews, it is said that the law is merely a “shadow” of the good things that are coming and that it is not itself the real deal (NIV 8:5, 10:1). “Lewis's point is that our sight has been adjusted to life on earth; although heavenly forms are more substantial, it is hard with our limited vision to see them that way” (Hinten and Edwards 374). C.S. Lewis’ allegorical work and first religiously themed work, The Pilgrim’s Regress, contains a large number of references to light and darkness (or shadow), and luminosity or the absence of it is a major recurring theme (Schakel 162). For instance, light follows all of the important moments in the protagonist’s spiritual journey. As he gets closer to his conversion he travels in a large sphere of light (Lewis, Regress 161). Light and large amounts of noise (like we
(Box 670) Walz 4 see at the end of The Great Divorce) appear in the scene that immediately follows his conversion and his subsequent death (when he crosses the brook) (Regress 197) (Cook 253). There is also the theme of “seeing” and “sight” in the book that parallels the theme of “light and shadow”. For, as the commonly heard idiom says, “There are none as blind as those who will not see.” In Book Four, chapter one, the prisoners in the dungeon are freed by the heroic attempts of Reason (Regress 57). However, when Reason calls for them to come out of the dungeon, none of them come. “They believe that what they see is not real, merely the vision of what they hope for; they do not wish to be tricked or fooled, and so they do not gain their freedom” (Dunckel 42). This again is another allusion to the “Allegory of the Cave”. These prisoners only knew the absence of light and the shadowy forms, and to believe in something other than that was foolery to them. In many of his works, Lewis associates God and heaven with the Biblical imagery of light (1 John 1:5, 1 Timothy 6:16 NIV). The search for light is a major theme of C.S. Lewis’ originally unpublished short story, The Man Born Blind (Sammons, “Light in C.S. Lewis” 1-7). In this story we find that a man who was born blind has recently had surgery to restore his vision. While he was blind he has always wondered about light and thought about how he would find it. When his vision is finally restored spends his life trying to catch light. He is very confused about what is light, how to see it, and how to catch it: Then where is the light itself? You see, you won't say. Nobody will say. You tell me the light is here and the light is there, and this is in the light and that is in the light and yesterday you told me that I was in your light, and now you say that light is a bit of yellow wire in a glass bulb hanging from the ceiling. Call that light? Is that what Milton was talking about? What are you crying about? If you don't know what light is, why can't you say so? If the operation has been a failure and I can't see properly after all, tell me. If there's no such thing -- if it was all a
(Box 670) Walz 5 fairy tale from the beginning -- tell me. But for God's sake –. (Lewis, “The Man Born Blind” 100-101) In the last scene of the story, Robin, the man born blind, is walking around outside, interested by the mist all around. He comes upon a man who is painting at the top of a hill. Robin asked the man what he was doing and the man responded by saying, “I’m trying to catch light, if you want to know […]” (“Blind” 103). Robin, of course, is incredibly excited by this because he believe he has found man who truly knows how to find light, for he says that the light he sees is truly solid. It is light that you can drink up and light in which you can bathe (“Blind” 103). Robin runs toward the mist which he believes to be solid light and ends up falling blindly down a cliff to his death (“Blind” 103) . We realize at the end of this story that light and warmth are also symbolic of beauty for which (Lewis says) we all have a longing. You see, Robin’s search for light (beauty) was his downfall. He was looking so hard for light that he was “blinded” (yet again) by the “solid” light of the mist (Myers 157). In The Magicians Nephew, the creation of Narnia is begun, just like the creation of our world, with light. Blazing stars fill the sky, a brilliant sun is formed, and Aslan is so bright that Digory could not take his eyes off of him (Lewis, Nephew 69). “Though Digory could no longer hear the Lion, he could see it. It was so big and so bright that he could not take his eyes off of it” (Nephew 69). Aslan takes on several forms in The Horse and His Boy, to protect Shasta. One of those forms is actually a giant shadow keeping to his left the entire time Shasta is at the cliff, wandering about in the darkness. Later on, the shadow appears again to Shasta. Although Shasta realizes that there is no moon out that night, when the Lion, Aslan, is revealing himself to him he notices that there is a shining whiteness, and a golden glowing light emitting from Aslan himself (Lewis, Horse 282-283). Light is also found at the end of The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”. When the children come upon Aslan’s Country they are greeted with a “whiteness, shot with
(Box 670) Walz 6 faintest colour of gold, spread round them on every side” (Dawn Treader 536); a “brightness you or I could not bear even if we had dark glasses on” (Dawn Treader 539). The imagery of gold and light, as C.S. Lewis uses them, is prevalent throughout the entire book of The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” (Ward). According to Michael Ward, the author of Planet Narnia, “C.S. Lewis designed The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”so that it would embody and express Sol's (the medieval cosmos of the sun) qualities.” This book is filled with the occurrences of the words “gold” and “sun”. The world gold or variations of appears thirtyfive times in the 190 page book, while the word sun or a version of it appears nearly sixty times (Ward). Sight is also a major theme of this book. Prince Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, and their cousin Eustace go on a voyage to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia, and to find “the utter east”, the end of the world and where the sun (light) sets. On the last part of their voyage, they even find that they are sailing on sweet waters which they describe as “drinkable light”. On their journey they end up an island covered in darkness where “dreams come true”. But, unfortunately the dreams that come true are not the wants and desires of the cast and crew of the Dawn Treader, but their horrific nightmares. This island is called the Dark Island. On their way into the darkness of the island, they are greeted by one of the seven lost lords. They quickly then realize what is happening to them when their most awful nightmares start to become reality and they begin to rapidly sail back towards the light, where they will hopefully find safety and refuge from the horror of the shadows. Unfortunately, on their attempt to flee the darkness, it overcomes them and they become lost. Much to their great surprise and astonishment, however, a tiny speck of light appears: There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched, a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship. It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight. Caspian blinked, stared round, saw the
(Box 670) Walz 7 faces of his companions all with wild, fixed expressions. Everyone was staring in the same direction: behind everyone lay his black, sharply edged shadow. (The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” 510-511) The image in that short paragraph is terrific. It shows the powerful effect of the tiniest amount of light on darkness. We know for the crew to have a “black, sharply edged shadow” means that the source of the light must have been getting pretty bright and direct. In fact, the light source became a beam of light that Lucy at first recognized as what looked like a glowing cross of light, then an airplane, and then she realized just what it really was—it was a bird; an albatross. The bird was in fact, Aslan, in the form of an albatross. He began to lead the ship out of the darkness and before they knew it, the shadows became grey, and then light prevailed again. This is reminiscent of a scene in Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner when the ship in the story is driven off course during a storm and an albatross leads them back to their course. Later in the Dawn Treader’s voyage, the crew also meets a figure on the Island of the Star. This figure is Ramandu, a fallen star who “carried no light but light seemed to come from [him]” (Dawn Treader 520). Again, the ending of this book is filled with the imagery of an overwhelming, powerful light which casts out all darkness: Then all in one moment there was a rending of the blue wall (like a curtain being torn) and a terrible white light from beyond the sky, and the feel of Aslan’s mane and a Lion’s kiss on their foreheads and then –the back bedroom in Aunt Alberta’s home in Cambridge. (Dawn Treader 512) Just as the sun is the controlling image in The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”, the moon, darkness, and shadows are the controlling ideas in The Silver Chair. The moon is pale and paleness is a frequent descriptor of everything in the Underland, the place in which the heroes and heroine find themselves separated from Narnia and light. They unexpectedly find themselves
(Box 670) Walz 8 in this underworld by hiding in a cave from some evil giants. They explore the cave and find themselves falling down a long slope into the Underland. The entire time they are in the underworld they (and we) don’t see any bright pure light or color. Everything is pale, dark, and dim, and if light is mentioned it is dim and is either a greenish or bluish light. This world is most assuredly the perversion of the real world of Narnia. When the heroes and heroine enter Underland they are taken prisoner by disturbed looking gnome-like creatures who row them across the underground “Sunless Sea” for what seems like an endless amount of time (Duriez 211). After reaching the city and rescuing the prince, the Lady of the Green Kirtle appears. She tries to convince them that the sun, light, Aslan, and Narnia never existed and that it was all a figment of their imagination: 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. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story. […] There is no sun. There never was a sun. (Lewis, The Silver Chair 631) This scene I also see as another reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which I previously mentioned. The protagonists get out of this enchantment through the stubborn resilience of Puddleglum who tells them that they are being tricked and reminds them of the light, the sun, of the stars, and of Aslan. In Matthew 24, Jesus warns his disciples of the signs of the end of the age: Immediately after the distress of those days “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his
(Box 670) Walz 9 angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31 NIV) The final days of Narnia are very similar to what Jesus foretells will happen in the final days of earth. The Last Battle is the seventh and last of The Chronicles of Narnia series. This book is filled with mystery and has a close resemblance to that of the book of Revelation in the Bible. The Last Battle follows the theme of the medieval planet of Saturn which embodies the traits of pestilence, treachery, disaster, and death, or godly sorrow, penitence and contemplation (Ward). The children from the previous books (all seven of them, except Susan who is no longer “a friend of Narnia") suddenly find themselves in Narnia, and we find out later that it is because they all have died in a train wreck and that they are no longer living in our Shadowlands. Some of the evil characters found in this book are the Narnian dwarves. They are depressing, pessimistic, and dark, and they distrust the entire world. And just like the prisoners in the dungeon that we saw in the scene from The Pilgrim’s Regress, these dwarves have chosen to live in darkness and shadows by refusing to see the good and the light around them. They refuse to see that Aslan can bring light into their lives and rescue them from their self-imposed darkness and misery (Sammons, Guide Through Narnia 46). Near the end of the book, a few of the children see a bunch of dwarves huddled together inside of a Stable which the evil, demonic god, Tash, has created (Lewis, The Last Battle 742). However, the inside of the stable is much larger and much more beautiful and amazing than it looks on the outside. When they approach the dwarves to ask what they are doing, it is obvious that the dwarves are not seeing the same things that the children are seeing. The dwarves are only seeing the inside of a pitch-black, dark, smelly stable, filled with manure, while the children are seeing the outside of a huge, bright, deliciously fragrant world, filled with wild violets and other flowers. When Aslan appears in a great flash of light he attempts to help rescue the dwarves from their blindness and gives them a delicious feast
(Box 670) Walz 10 (Battle 746). However, to the dwarves the scrumptious meal is only a bunch of rotten turnips, hay, and manure. Aslan says that he cannot help them (Battle 747). Aslan informs the children that life on the other side of the stable door, Old Narnia, as it is now called is in its last moments, is coming to an end. Father Time is awakened to blow his horn and to call all of the living stars to fall from the heavens to the ground. The moon and the sun burn up, all of the vegetation is destroyed, and all of the Narnians line up in front of the Stable door to encounter Aslan to be judged (Battle 750). Those who remained faithful to Aslan and love him pass in front of him and into the Door, and those who hate and fear him loose their ability to talk and pass to his left, into his enormous, dark, and looming giant Shadow. At last, Peter closes the Stable door to the old, cold, shadowy, and lifeless Narnia as Aslan leads them “further up and further in” to the Real Narnia, Aslan’s Country (Battle 758). This land is filled with light and there is not a bit of shadow or darkness (Guide Through Narnia 47). In fact everything is quite solid compared to their previous worlds. There they discover everything they have ever longed for and they meet all the people they have ever known (except for Susan). They find that they are renewed and filled with new life, light, and vigor: As the good characters of Narnia wander around Aslan's country, they keep seeing reminders of their former worlds, but they finally realize that their old worlds were simply "shadows" of the real worlds within Aslan's country; thus, when they find the real heavenly equivalent of England, they refer to it as "the real England. (Hinten and Edwards 373) Eternity has begun in Narnia, as the shadows have disappeared and the Light is victorious. The Psalmist says: The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley
(Box 670) Walz 11 of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23 NIV) I believe that the theme of light and shadow in the fiction of C.S. Lewis is a very powerful and too often overlooked theme in Lewis’ work. Both the imagery of light and the absence of it seem to be a very controlling factor in most of his work. His work reflects, in a powerful way, a truth that is very much evident in our lives today. What we discover from the works of C.S. Lewis is that it is very clear that we have a choice to make. We can either see and respond to the light that Christ makes plain for us to see, or we can sit in the dungeon, in our blindness, in the cave, in the dark stable, and in our self-imposed darkness and remain unwilling to see the beauty and light around us. We all must walk through some “valley of the shadow of death” in our lives but we must choose to believe that there will be that Albatross leading us through the darkness. We must choose to follow It, that is, we must choose to follow the light of Christ.
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Works Cited Cook, Alice H. "Light and Darkness." The C.S. Lewis Readers Encyclopedia. Ed. Jeffery D. Schultz and John G. West. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998. 252-253. Dunckel, Mona. "C.S. Lewis as an Allegorist: The Pilgrim's Regress." C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy. Ed. Bruce L. Edwards. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2007. Duriez, Colin. The C.S. Lewis Encyclopedia: A Complete Guide to His Life, Thought, and Writings. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000. Hinten, Marvin D. and Bruce L. Edwards. "Shadowlands." The C.S. Lewis Readers Encyclopedia. Ed. Jeffery D. Schultz and John G. West. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998. 371-375. Lewis, C.S. The Horse and His Boy. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. —. The Great Divorce. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1946. —. The Last Battle. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. —. The Magicians Nephew. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. —. "The Man Born Blind." The Dark Tower and Other Stories. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1977. 99-103. —. The Pilgrim's Regress. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981. —. The Silver Chair. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. —. The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Myers, Doris. C.S. Lewis in Context. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1998.
(Box 670) Walz 13 New International Version. The Holy Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1974. Sammons, Martha C. "The Man Born Blind; Light in C.S. Lewis." CSL: The Bulletin of The New York C.S. Lewis Society. 9 (December 1977): 1-7 —. A Guide Through Narnia. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing. 2004. Schakel, Peter J. The Longing For a Form: Essays on the Fiction of C.S. Lewis. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1979. 159-168. Starr, Charlie. "C. S. Lewis’s Vision of Heaven." CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society July 2004. Ward, Michael. Personal interview. Mark D. Walz, Jr.. 30 April 2009. —. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.