Monday, February 20, 2017

Loren Eiseley on Lewis

Loren Eiseley on Lewis

So, in addition to the references to Dunsany and Tolkien, I also found that Eiseley was conversant with C. S. Lewis's work as well (specifically, his science fiction trilogy). The allusion to Lewis appears in the next-to-last essay in the second volume of COLLECTED ESSAYS ON EVOLUTIOIN, NATURE, AND THE COSMOS, Volume Two (Library of America, 2016): "The Lethal Factor", part of THE STAR THROWER (1978) —in fact, just before the essay mentioning Tolkien.

Here the topic is extinction, and the cavalier attitude some scientist have, or had, towards it (an attitude I hope has largely changed since Eiseley's day). Eiseley writes

"In one of those profound morality plays which C. S. Lewis is capable of tossing off lightly in the guise of science fiction, one of his characters remarks that in the modern era the good appears to be getting better and the evil more terrifying. . ."

Eiseley then goes on to discuss the calculations of 'technicians' over the purely military results of fall-out from nuclear war and regrets that

"Nor, in the scores of books analyzing these facts, is it easy to find a word spared to indicate concern for the falling sparrow, the ruined forest, the contaminated spring . . .
   "One of these technicians wrote in another connection   involving the mere use of insecticides, which I here shorten and paraphrase: 'Balance of nature? An outmoded biological concept. There is no room for sentiment in modern science. We shall learn to get along without birds if necessary. After all, the dinosaurs disappeared. Man merely makes the process go faster. Everything changes with time.' And so it does. But let us be just as realistic as the gentleman would wish. It may be we who go. I am just primitive enough to hope that somehow, somewhere, a cardinal may still be whistling on a green bush when the last man goes blind before his man-made sun . . . it seems a pity that we should involve the violet and the tree frog in our departure.
   "To perpetrate this final act of malice seems somehow disproportionate, beyond endurance . . .
   "It is for this reason that Lewis's remark about the widening gap between good and evil takes on such horrifying significance in our time." (p. 424-425)

current reading: JRRT, A SECRET VICE (expanded edition)
current gaming: CALL OF CTHULHU (Pulp Cthulhu), D&D (Ravenloft)

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