Wednesday, May 03, 2006

C.S. Lewis

I finished teaching Till We Have Faces yesterday.

And I did a hella job, I have to say, considering how angry the book made me.

Here's what's wrong with that book: it may be what's wrong with all of Lewis's work. I would have to go back and do a systematic study of Lewis's work to be certain, so I don't know this for a fact, but it is certainly what is at the root of what I have read of Lewis's work while I have been working on Till We have Faces.

It's not badly written, and it contains some nice bits -- nearly all his books do. I liked many parts of Four Loves, for instance, and his autobiographical book, and some of his short stories weren't impossible. But nearly all of them, including the autobiography, are flawed, and with the same flaw: they're dishonest. The Screwtape Letters is most thoroughly flawed this way, but Till We Have Faces has this flaw at its very center.

Lewis has this myth that he wants to believe is fact. Well, I suppose he believes it is fact.

Actually, he has several that he believes is fact. One is the Jesus myth. Another is the women are inferior myth. Another is the homosexuality is selfish myth. Another is that all human love is, at its root, corrupt, myth.

I've got no trouble with him having these myths wrapped up in his worldview. That's his issue. Whatever. The trouble arises when he writes fiction that pretends to represent reality, and then distorts reality to make it match these myths, while representing himself as an authority on how things really are, and tells (Christian) children they should believe him.

Here is how human love actually is, in reality, he says, in Till We Have Faces: It is corrupt, and evil, and selfish, and destructive. If you trust in human love, it will kill you, to keep you from Christ. Only Christ's love is any good at all.

That's the message of the text. Only God's love is any good. Human love is evil.

To present this message, he must, of course, lie about human love -- because of course human love, while sometimes destructive, is also the source of everything decent in the world, as even C.S. Lewis must have, from time to time, noticed, and as even his text notices. He must, that is, be dishonest.

He must present us with a woman who is ruined by an ugly face (as all ugly women are ruined by being ugly, right, I notice that all the time in the real world -- so if you are an ugly woman, Lewis tells all his girl children? Give it up, your life is ruined, it is useless, no one will ever love you, it's hopeless, you are of no value) and a woman who loves her beautiful sister so much that she would rather kill her than see her happy (all right, possible, I admit, but not, as Lewis claims, universally true of human love), and a Greek philosopher who turns from his Greek philosophy to admit the truth of Christianity based on, uh, well...nothing that I saw, exactly....yeah, that will happen. I guess the spirit of Jesus just overcame him. I guess Jesus is just all right with him. Happens all the time to us reality-based people when we get faced with the real power of the Lord, don't you know.

He must, that is, distort the world, to make it match the lie he wants to tell: the myth he wants to be true.

I did my best, as I said, to give the book a fair presentation while I was teaching it, because I see that as my job, and because it was a class in mythology in literature, which Lewis's book was doing, so.

But on the last day I couldn't help sputtering a bit over the "trial" scene, and the misogyny -- not my fault, one of the students brought it up, thinking he had me cornered, insisting a certain passage "proved" Lewis wasn't a misogynist, and I tried to let it go, but he wouldn't, so I had to point out -- as gently as I could, I swear -- how it proved exactly the opposite -- anyway, where was I?

Glad to be done with Lewis, that's where.

This is the guy the Fundies in America love so much.

No comments: