Thursday, September 29 | 2:45-4:30 pm
OF GOOD + EVIL | Room 201
“Looking along” and “Looking at” as a Key to Understanding C.S. Lewis’s Evangelism
John P. Bowen
In 1924, C.S. Lewis read the introduction to Samuel Alexander’s Space, Time and Deity (1920). Alexander’s distinction between “enjoyment” and “contemplation”—which in Meditation in a Toolshed Lewis calls “looking along” and “looking at”—became for Lewis “an indispensable instrument of thought.” It underlies his understanding of such diverse topics as joy, mythology, liturgy, friendship, humility, metaphor, originality and evangelism.
In Surprised by Joy, he explains that making this distinction catalyzed his conversion. He realized that he had been “looking at” his experiences of joy, trying to analyze and recreate them; then came the realization that joy was rather something to be “looked along”—and that when one did so, what one “saw” was God who is the true source of joy. Tolkien’s comments about myth, similarly, opened Lewis’ eyes to see that myth was not merely a subject for academic study (to be looked at), but a gift of God to be looked along in the direction of myth’s fulfilment, pointing to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This paper considers how Lewis employs these two modes of perception in his evangelistic writings. In his directly apologetic works, particularly Mere Christianity, he invites the reader to look “at” Christian faith and to assess its credibility on rational grounds. More often, however, and particularly in his fiction, his strategy is to create scenarios in which the reader is encouraged to look “along” Christianity, thus creating an environment in which we may experience firsthand what it feels like to meet Aslan (The Chronicles of Narnia), or to stand on the edges of heaven (The Great Divorce), or to walk in a sinless world (Perelandra).
Through Lewis’ fiction, therefore, he recreates the path by which he himself came to Christ, enabling the reader, if she so chooses, to “look along” the experiences of faith in Lewis’ fiction and to follow Lewis into Christian commitment.
John P. Bowen is former Professor of Evangelism and Director of the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College in the University of Toronto. He is author of Evangelism for ‘Normal’ People: Good News for Those Looking for a Better Way (Minneapolis MN: Augsburg Fortress 2002); The Spirituality of Narnia: The Deeper Magic of C.S.Lewis (Vancouver BC: Regent College Publishing 2007); Growing Up Christian: Why Young People Stay in Church, Leave Church and (Sometimes) Come Back to Church (Vancouver BC: Regent College Publishing 2010); and the editor of The Missionary Letters of Vincent Donovan1957-1973 (Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock, 2011); and ofGreen Shoots out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church in Canada (Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock, 2013).
“A Wrap of Horror”: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sub-creations of Evil
Richard Angelo Bergen
[E]very romance that takes things seriously must have a wrap of fear and horror (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 120).
Most writers of fiction dabble in the “dark arts,” partly because of the decorum of literary precedent, and partly because all have to generate antagonists and plot conflict. The Inklings, champions of Christian faith, virtue, and good scholarship are understandably imagined to be “good guys,” but a fruitful mode of inquiry into their particular ideas and values can be discovered in an analysis of their representations of evil. Charles Williams’ supernatural thrillers are peopled with ghosts, memorable sorcerers and talismanic objects. Some of Lewis’s evil creatures and creations are likewise great successes, such as the Un-man and uncle Screwtape. However, it is J.R.R. Tolkien that has long been known to outdo horror authors at their own game. He garnered a reputation among critics for his monsters; and indeed, his most famous essay was entitled “The Monsters and the Critics.” In this vein, a 1937 letter concerning the publication of The Hobbit contains Tolkien’s insistence to Stanley Unwin that the scariness of the story must be preserved: “The presence (even if only on the borders) of the terrible is, I believe, what gives this imagined world its verisimilitude. A safe fairy-land is untrue to all worlds.” A particularly remarkable “note to self” in an early draft of The Lord of the Rings reads as follows: “Minas Morgul must be made more horrible. The usual goblin stuff is not good enough here.” Reflecting on these quotations, a question arises: if Tolkien was very good at portraying the horrible, what were his guiding aesthetics of evil characters and settings? My paper seeks to address questions such as this one, generalizing about the Inklings’ general attitudes toward evil, but focusing on Tolkien’s fictional works. I will argue that there is a significant strain in Tolkien which artistically aims to present evil as having an overwhelming presence and power, but this does not signify a latent Manichaeanism in Tolkien’s mythology.
Richard Angelo Bergen, a graduate from Trinity Western University who has completed a BA (Hons.) in English Literature and a MA in Interdisciplinary Humanities, is now a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia (English). He won a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council award for his MA research, and holds the Joseph-Armand Bombardier scholarship for doctoral studies. His research focuses on allegory, religion and literature, and the use of setting in fiction. During his MA, he was research assistant for the Inklings Institute of Canada. He has been inspired by the Inklings since a child, and resonates with C.S. Lewis that the central experience of life is Joy, or longing for the infinite.