Saturday, August 13, 2005

Lewis and Pullman

Terry Teachout noted in his August 11th entries in regard to choosing to keep up with new things, or not:
C. S. Lewis said it better than I can: "If we have to choose, it is always better to read Chaucer again than to read a new criticism of him."

I’ve been reading a book called, Beyond the Shadowlands, by Wayne Martindale, and in the preface to it, Walter Hooper notes something along the lines of the book inspiring him to go back and read the Lewis canon over again. While this would be something of a task (a pleasurable one, mind you) because Lewis was certainly prolific, to go back and read the Narnia stories, the three fantasy-cum-sci-fi books, and some of the other titles such as The Great Divorce and the Screwtape Letters, would be infinitely better than reading many of the less well-thought-out books that currently inhabit Christian bookshop shelves. The mere thought of the last chapter of The Last Battle always makes my heart leap – if ever there was a more wondrous picture of Joy, and of Heaven, I don’t know of it.

Beyond the Shadowlands takes as its main theme Lewis’ treatment of Heaven and Hell, and it’s intriguing to see just how much his best-known books focus on these two subjects. Alan Jacobs, in a recent book, Shaming the Devil, mentions Lewis in contrast to Philip Pullman, and the latter’s theological trilogy, His Dark Materials. Pullman, who seems to loathe Lewis – I gather this from at least two interviews with him that I’ve read, and Jacob's own comments – equally loathes the idea of Heaven as it’s generally been thought of. I felt, in reading Pullman’s second and third episodes in the trilogy, that the man hated Hope, hated Joy, and felt that children’s delight should be dashed as often as possible: his inexcusable killing off of the father in The Subtle Knife nearly made me refuse to read the third book. And when I did read the third book in the series, The Amber Spyglass, I was more than puzzled that Pullman could think that the spirits stuck in his version of hell - or was it purgatory? - could possibly feel happier floating off into dissolution than being given some kind of new life.

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