Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Click to enlargeJon Kennedy's
'C. S. Lewis Overflow
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

C.S. Lewis and 'romance'; sweet desire

After his conversion to belief in Christ at age 30, C. S. Lewis's first literary endeavor was a recasting of John Bunyan's Puritan classic epic allegory, The Pilgrim's Progress, in a Twentieth Century setting as The Pilgrim's Regress. His first work of prose fiction and the one that took him the least time to write (two weeks), it deals with the philosophical, religious, and political trends of the time and, in an apparent parallel to his own journey from childhood exposure to an unfriendly and illogical presentation of Christianity in his grandfather's Anglican parish through various influences away from believing in the Christian God (called "the Landlord" in the book), the story's protagonist is lured by sweet desire to find a mystical island he glimpsed in his travels, a parallel to Lewis's youthful quest for joy or sehnsucht.

Only about 650 copies of the book were sold after its first printing, but it was taken up by a Catholic publisher who mistook the book's allegorical "Mother Kirk" to be the Catholic Church (Lewis later explained that Mother Kirk was more akin to what he is famous for calling "Mere Christianity"). But when the Catholic audience became exposed to it, The Pilgrim's Regress picked up sales momentum and has remained in print ever since.

In a preface to a second edition of the book in 1944, Lewis says that he regretted that in the hasty preparation of the book he made a couple of errors. One was that the tone of the book is sometimes angry when a more charitable approach to the material and its representatives (his contemporaries) would have been more Christian and more effective. And he also regretted that he had dealt with "romance" and "romanticism" broadly in the book without adequately defining his terms. It seems that he did not realize that the public's definition of "romance" is almost entirely a matter of "falling in love" and keeping romantic love alive. In the preface he gives seven alternative definitions of romance, none of which have anything especially to do with finding love and keeping it alive.

Instead, he said, his use of romance/romanticism had to do with types of literature. All adventures and books about sailing the high seas, are romantic in the traditional definition, he said. So are all books of fantasy, which was the category closest to The Pilgrim's Regress, books about war, and books, in any sense, about "sweet desire." It almost sounds like Lewis is saying that whatever appeals to the reader's fancy is, to that readership, a romance. Romance, as he understood it and used it in the book, seems to be another word for the pursuit of joy, longing, or sehnsucht.

So in these senses, most of Lewis's fiction works are romances, though they are never mainly about falling in love and keeping a loving relationship going. The Horse and His Boy, one of the Narnian Chronicles, does have a pair of lead characters, one male and the other female, who could be called star-crossed and inevitable lovers, but it is much more apparent to the readers of the book than any of its characters. Only in a summary paragraph or two at the book's conclusion does Lewis mention that Shasta, the boy, and Aravis, the girl, despite their constant disputes and disagreements, came to realize that life together would be better than living apart, and so they were wed in some indeterminate past time.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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