Thursday, July 16, 2009

More Revealing Than He Realized?

So, this may be a case of 'too much information'.

This morning I had to look something up in C. S. Lewis's autobiography, SURPRISED BY JOY, which I haven't read all the way through in a while. I was struck, and not in a good way, by the following passage:

". . . in the hive and the anthill we see fully realized the two things that some of us most dread for our own species -- the dominance of the female and the dominance of the collective" (CSL, SURPRISED BY JOY: THE SHAPE OF MY EARLY LIFE, pages 8-9; emphasis mine).

That Lewis includes himself ("us") and uses the present tense, I have to conclude that this was still his position in his late fifties, after he'd written TILL WE HAVE FACES and less than a decade before his death --either just before or more likely between his two marriages to Joy Gresham. I know I've seen several attempt to defend Lewis against charges of misogyny, but this particular example seems particularly egregious to me.*

One other passage, a little earlier in the same paragraph, is of interest for another reason. Here's how Lewis describes the nightmares brought on by his childhood fear of ghost and phobia about insects:

"My bad dreams were of two kinds, those about spectres and those about insects. The second were, beyond comparison, the worse; to this day I would rather meet a ghost than a tarantula. And to this day I could almost find it in my heart to rationalize and justify my phobia" (SURPRISED BY JOY, page 8; emphasis mine).

If we were to grant Diana Pavlac-Glyer's argument that (1) Tolkien's having Lewis to read aloud chapters of THE LORD OF THE RINGS to as he wrote them (2) must therefore have influenced what Tolkien wrote to take Lewis's likes and dislikes into account, then (3) it could be argued that scenes such as The Paths of the Dead and especially Shelob's Lair must have had quite an impact on CSL. Interesting.

In any case, the 'dominance of the collective' passage in the first quote above works very well as a gloss on THE DARK TOWER, where it finds vivid expression in the sinister world of the Stingermen seen through the chronoscope, where ordinary folk are subjugated to a sort of group mind when they are turned into the Jerkies. And the 'dominance of the female' might tie in to Hooper's guess that the aggressive, assertive Camilla of our world might turn out to have been a changeling for the passive, submissive Camilla that Scudamour meets in the otherworld, both of whom, in the end, might wind up exchanged to their proper worlds. Again, interesting.

--John R.

*though not as bad as his description of one of his students, to whom he owed his discovery of E. R. Eddison's work, as "som poore seely wench that seeketh a B.Litt or a D.Phill, when God knows shad a better bestowed her tyme makynge sport for some goodman in his bed and bearing children for the stablishment of this reaulme or els to be at her beads in a religyous house" (CSL, writing to ERE in pseudo-middle english, letter of November 16th 1942; COLLECTED LETTERS, Vol. II, page 535).

1 comment:

David Doughan said...

Interesting! Another instance, again from 1955 (just pre-Joy Gresham)comes from Dorothy L. Sayers, writing to Brabara Reynolds:
"One just has to accept that there is a complete blank in his mind where women are concerned. Charles Williams and his other married friends used to sit around him at Oxford and tell him so, but there really isn’t anything to be done about it."