Wednesday, June 1, 2016

C. S. Lewis, the Thief

This book brought to you by Paradise Lost (among others).


If you want a really boring drinking game, read modern Christian non-fiction and take a drink every time one of the authors quotes C. S. Lewis.

It’s boring for two reasons: first, because they all do it. So there’s really no suspense. But it’s also boring because they’re only going to do it every few chapters, and so you’re going to stay stone-cold sober.

Now, if you want an interesting drinking game, read the old Western canon of classics and take a drink every time you find something that was stolen by C. S. Lewis.

You’ll still be sober (‘cause the classics take a good long while to read) but you’ll come away astonished by what a thief Lewis was.

Make that: what a skilled thief.

My favorite is probably his theft from Milton. You know that memorable passage in The Magician’s Nephew where the lion, Aslan, sings Narnia into creation? The dirt around him starts bubbling like an unwatched pot and out of each bubble springs a new animal: an elephant, a dog, a jackdaw.
It’s such a beautiful passage, and such a beautifully odd passage. Very Lewisian.

And he completely lifted it from Milton’s Paradise Lost.  My jaw dropped when I stumbled across that one.

It’s like that for a lot of Lewis’ brilliant passages.

I remember reading through Aristotle for the first time, and thinking, Oh, this is where Lewis got his stuff about habits, and about what a thing is vs. what it’s made of. When I got to Boethius, I realized, Oh, this is where Lewis learned that it is the person we become that is more permanent and important than the hardships we suffer. When I read Plato…

Well, it’s all in Plato, isn’t it? (Bless me, what do they teach them in these schools? DRINK.)

Once I saw it in Lewis, I started seeing it other places, of course. Authors have been stealing from each other forever and—even better—riffing off each other. (“Oh, you liked Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, did you?” asks Sir Walter Raleigh. “Wait till you read my The Nymph’s Reply!”) Once you twig on to it—and I imagine most readers do somewhere around high school or college—playing “find the stolen source” can liven up just about any reading experience.

But Lewis thefts are still my favorite. Maybe it’s because he’s the best at integrating everything he takes into one, coherent worldview. (And aren’t we all going for that? Hoping to make sense of the world on that level?) Maybe it’s because being already familiar with his work when I approached those daunting, dusty Greek and Roman texts made them feel almost homey, and I’ll never cease to be grateful for the help.

Or maybe it’s just because he’s the author who seems to be having the most fun doing it. I mean, lifting the phrase “for tool, not toy meant” out of a serious, devout poem by a Roman Catholic priest and then placing those same words (slightly twisted!) into the mouth of Father Christmas in a fairy tale for children?

That’s skill. That’s delight.

So, try the Lewis game! But remember, to really play it right, you have to read lots of books. And lots of your lots of books should be old books. Always remember, as the great writer C. S. Lewis said:  “to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds…can only be done by reading old books.”


(And that was a freebie for you: me quoting Lewis to give you more points. DRINK!)


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell




p.s. The drinking game suggestion is a joke, folks, don't yell at me...

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2 comments:

Esther Snell said...

We could drink grape juice?

Esther Snell said...

Creativity is not making something NEW. It is taking elements from others and synthesizing them into something different, or for a different purpose, or into a different perspective. The more creative people are the ones who have found the more profound elements of others and/or used them in a more profound way. Our creativity is a major way in which we were created in the image of God, but HE is the only one who creates from nothing.