The Wizard of Oz and the Removal of Chests

Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from The Wond...

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The Wizard of Oz seems to be a fine movie from all I can tell, but the book strikes me as exactly the sort of thing that CS Lewis was talking about when he spoke of making “men without chests.”

Chapter XXI is called “The Lion Becomes the King of the Beasts.” After seeing the wizard and being given courage, the lion arrives, with the Woodman, the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and Toto at a forest that the Scarecrow finds gloomy but the lion finds “perfectly delightful.”

“I should like to live here all my life,” he says. See how soft he dried leaves are under your feet and how rich and green the moss is that clings to these old trees. Surely no wild beast could wish a pleasanter home.”

Leaving aside the question of whether a lion who has just received a chest (courage) would even notice a home with soft dried leaves underfoot and the nostalgic moss clinging to old trees rather than an opportunity to show off its newly gained courage, I proceed to tell you that, in spite of the fact that “no wild beast could wish a pleasanter home,” they don’t see any.

The next day, however, they resume their journey and soon hear a “low rumble, as of the growling of many wild animals.” (Baum seems to do this a lot: raise a problem that ends up not mattering, that demands nothing of the characters but the passing of time, that has nothing more than an accidental significance if any at all.)

And indeed the animals have gathered in a clearing where they came across hundreds of beasts in council. He quickly determines that they are in great trouble. But when he appears, the assembly falls silent and a tiger approaches him.

“Welcome, O King of Beasts, you have come in good time to fight our enemy and bring peace to all the animals of the forest once more.”

When he asks what their trouble is, the tiger tells him that they are threatened by a fierce spider-like monster, as big as an elephant, with eight legs as big as tree trunks. It has eaten every other lion in the forest, but none of them had been “nearly so large and brave as you.”

Then the newly brave lion asks, “If I put an end to your enemy, will you bow down to me and obey me as King of the Forest?” When they gladly agree, he heads off to “fight” the great monster.

“He bade his friends good-bye and marched proudly away to do battle with the enemy.”

In all the foregoing, I admire some of Baum’s story-telling tactics, though he is no Grimm. I have problems, but most of them can probably be responded to. But in the last paragraph of the chapter, he describes this battle, and I will tell you right now, I think it is badly done, and I think Baum betrays a harmful frivolousness that reminds me of Lewis’s opening words in Abolition: “We are not attentive enough to the importance of elementary text books.”

The great spider was lying asleep when the Lion found him, and it looked so ugly that its foe turned up his nose in disgust. Its legs were quite as long as the tiger had said, and its body covered with coarse black hair. It had a great mouth, but its head was joined to the pudgy body by a neck as slender as a wasp’s waist. This gave the Lion a hint of the best way to attack the creature, and as he knew it was easier to fight it asleep than awake, he gave a great spring and landed directly upon the monster’s back. Then, with one blow of his heavy paw, all armed with sharp claws, he knocked the spider’s head from its body. Jumping down, he watched it until the long legs stopped wiggling, when he knew it was quite dead.

The Lion went back to the opening where the beasts of the forest were waiting for him and said proudly, “You need fear your enemy no longer.”

Then the beasts bowed to the Lion as their King, and he promised to come back and rule over them as soon as Dorothy was safely on her way to Kansas.

Compare this “battle” with any other encounter in any other fairy tale or folk tale or fable and see if you can justify it.

The Lion is practical, he achieves his end. But he is not courageous, he is not noble, he is not worthy of a story for the simple reason that nothing worth learning about him or about virtue was displayed. It is not fitting to the world of fairy tales or children’s literature to read about such a conquest. We have had one more piece of our chests removed by reading and not resisting this story.

Give me Reepicheep, whom I can welcome into my soul with joy.

Magic, Science, and Man

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious.

CS Lewis
The Abolition of Man

The Church that Abolished Man

Dr. Richard Gamble spoke at the SCL conference last week about The Abolition of Man. I was pleased to see that someone who has spent a lot of time reading this book and contemplating its message was asked to develop his thoughts on that message.

Man, we must understand, has been abolished. The world we live in, its institutions, habits, practices, and attitudes, is opposed to mankind in virtually every way. Individuals occasionally burst through to do some good, but for the most part man has been abolished and we live in what Lewis called a “post-human world.”

What humbles me is the extent to which the American Christian church has been manifestly and continually involved in this abolition, from the manner of worship to the way they run youth groups to the way they study the Bible.

Here, I suggest, is one simple way to think about it. Biblically, man is composed of heart, soul, mind, and strength. For modern man – the product of naturalistic materialism, the divine image has been removed and, please note this, is therefore neglected.

The heart has been reduced to emotions and feelings. The soul has been declared “an unnecessary hypothesis.” The mind is a complicated bag of neurons and synapses. We are left with the mortal body and its desires (the common translation for “desires” is “lusts,” but that word has come to have only negative connotations, which the Biblical usage does not).

You might say that the Divine Image theory of man includes reason and will in addition to bodily appetites, while the post-human theory of man includes only the senses and the appetites attached to them.

Reason, not being believed in, is neglected, so things like grammar, music, logic, memory, math, formal literature, etc. are neglected. Since reason is fulfilled in wisdom, this neglect results in a foolish culture.

The will, not being acknowledged, is neglected, so discipline is set aside for more pleasant things, in disregard of Hebrews 12 (and the rest of the Bible, all of which is oriented toward the healing of the will). The will perfects itself in virtue, so we have cultivated a selfish, appetite driven, literally vicious culture.

Christian schools are just as guilty of teaching to the appetites as every other variation. The neglect of the reason and the will, and the appetite driven worship of the contemporary church, are their own judgment.

In the end, freedom, which requires wisdom and virtue, is lost.

May I suggest to you that you join us for the 2010 CiRCE conference where we will explore the impact of this naturalistic materialist mindset on education as it relates to freedom and how our country has lost its freedom because it stopped cultivating wisdom and virtue?

If you can’t make it, you can pre-order the conference recordings for an astounding $50 off (1/3). The 30+ CD’s should be ready for distribution by Sept 15.

One last thing: If you haven’t read The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis, PLEASE read it. This is the most important book he wrote and the most important book written in the 20th century.

CS Lewis on Nature and Freedom

The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so long as we are subject to one law. But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his own creation.

CS Lewis: The Poison of Subjectivism (an essay included in Christian Reflections)

Lewis shows the necessary tie between natural law and freedom that was broken in the 20th century, a break that threatens our freedoms today.

I’m not sure there’s a clearer explanation of why our 2009 conference theme, nature, so easily led to our 2010 theme, liberty, though we had not so planned it.

In an astounding development, the 2010 conference is already 40% full. I hope you can make it!

Click HERE to learn more.

What is Literature, Part II: Grammar

Some reflections on what people have meant by the term grammar, from CS Lewis’s The Discarded Image, page 185 ff. in my Canto edition

To give an educational curriculum a place in the Model of the universe may at first seem an absurdity; and it would be an absurdity if the medievals had felt about it as we feel about the ‘subjects’ in a syllabus today. But the syllabus was regarded as immutable…; the Liberal Arts, by long prescription, had achieved a status not unlike that of nature herself.

‘Grammar talks’, as the couplet says; or as Isidore defines her, ‘Grammar is the skill of speech’. That is, she teaches us Latin….

Grammar… sometimes extended far beyond the realm it claims today. It had done so for centuries. Quintilian suggests literatura as the proper translation of Greek grammatike, and literatura, though it does not mean ‘literature’, included a good deal more than literacy. It included  all that is required for ‘making up’ a ‘set book’: syntax, etymology, prosody, and the explanation of allusions. Isidore makes even history a department of Grammar. He would have described the book I am now writing as a book of Grammar. Scholarship is perhaps our nearest equivalent.

I like all that because it is informative and helpful. I add what follows because it is amusing.

In popular usage Grammatica or Grammaria slid into the vague sense of learning in general; and since learning is usually an object both of respect and suspicion to the masses, grammar, in the form grammary comes to mean magic…. And from grammary, by a familiar sound-change, comes glamour — a word whose associations with grammar and even with magic have now been annihilated by the beauty-specialists.

One of the things that bothers me about contemporary language is the contradiction between text books and reality. If you study language in the books it tells you two things: 1. language is conventional, and 2. it is formed by the usage of the common people.

I deny both, at some level, but especially the second. It is disgusting the extent to which language is altered and manipulated by advertisers who are professionally indifferent to anything without a utilitarian defense (they would lose their jobs if they submitted to nature). Meanwhile, the human mind, human communities, and human souls deteriorate because the most powerful tool they have for development and growth is stolen from them.

Lit Quiz 2: Who said this?

Wisdom must provide counsel that is consistent with the good. Knowledge severed from goodness is too dangerous – and even foolish; almost certainly fake.


Answer below

That’s JK Rowling. Yes sirree. These are the words of Albus Dumbledore.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader relaunches

Perhaps you’ve heard Disney dropped the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, choosing rather to panic than to learn their lesson from that mega-disappointment, Prince Caspian (the lesson is, don’t destroy Lewis’s characters and values). However, it has been picked up and will be released in December of 2010.

The writer of this article makes a strong case for the value of the Voyage and the regret the Disney heads are likely to feel.

CS Lewis had style

Since I care so much about writing, and since one of the greatest pleasures in life is a well-tempered sentence, I have been reflecting quite a bit lately on what makes for good style. I’ve been asking how to improve my own style as well as reviewing some writers whom I particularly love reading, among whom I’ll mention Wendell Berry, C.S. Lewis, and Evelyn Waugh.

We remember CS Lewis as a saint of apologetics; perhaps the greatest apologist since St. Augustine according to some. One reason he was so great as an apologist was because he could express his thoughts with such astonishing clarity. I used to imagine I could write like him if I just imitated his form. Maybe so, if I’m going to write about the rules of a baseball game.

But Lewis could write so clearly because he understood so clearly; because his mind was so orderly. He had a place for every idea that entered his mind, and those places highlighted relationships among the ideas rather than obscuring and concealing them. As a result, he could write with precision when precision was called for, analogy when analogy was called for, and beauty – well, always, it seems, with beauty.

Let me illustrate with a more or less randomly chosen passage from Lewis’s Medieval and Renaissance Literature:

The infinite, according to Aristotle, is not actual. No infinite object exists; no infinite process occurs. Hence we cannot explain the movement of one body by the movement of another and so on forever. No such infinite series could, he thought, exist. All the movements of the universe must therefore, in the last resort, result from a compulsive force exercised by something immovable. He thought that such an Unmoved Mover could move other things only by being their end or object or (if you like) target–what he calls their ‘Final Cause’–not as one billiard ball moves another, but as food moves the hungry man, as the mistress moves her lover, as truth moves the philosophical inquirer. He calls this Unmoved Mover either ‘God’ or ‘Mind’.

The more I read that passage the more it amazes me – the balanced phrases, the logical clarity, the sensitivity to the reader, the hesitation at just the right moment (or… or… (if you like)…), the perfectly suited analogies. Perhaps if we would read him more we would learn to think more clearly. Perhaps if we would learn to think more clearly we would be able to write better.

That is my aspiration.

A Pretty Relevent Application from the Same Essay

If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion. While we believe that good is somehting to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as ‘vision’, ‘dynamism’, ‘creativity’, and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial — virtue, knowledge, diligence, and skill. ‘Vision’ is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.

CS Lewis: Christian Reflections: The Poison of Subjectivism

The Poison of Subjectivism

Correct thinking will not make good men of bad ones; but a purely theoretical error may remove ordinary checks to evil and deprive good intentions of their natural support. An error of this sort is abroad at present… I am referring to Subjectivism.

After studying his environment man has begun to study himself. Up to that point, he had assumed his own reason and through it seen all other things. Now, his own reason has become the object: it is as if we took out our eyes to look at them. Thus studied, his own reason appears to him as the epiphenomenon which accompanies chemical or electrical events in a cortex which is itself the by-product of an evolutionary process. His own logic, hitherto the king whom events in all possible worlds must obey, becomes merely subjective. There is no reason for supposing that it yields truth.

CS Lewis, Christian Reflections: The Poison of Subjectivism

This essay by Lewis he develops into The Abolition of Man and into the novel That Hideous Strength, both of which I urge you to read. Here is the crux of the matter. Put Dewey against Lewis and you see the conflict that is determining and will determine the path of our age: will we cast aside civilization and its discontents along with its contents, or will we rediscover the belief in truth that serves as the only tenable foundation for ethics and politics – for the right ordering of soul and society.

Read these essays. I’ll try to find a link to a carrier as soon as I get a chance. Read these texts!!