Lewis's baptized imagination
Jonal entry 1021 | October 3 2007
I've interrupted my reading of Lewis's letters to turn to a short book given me last week by a friend, Bright Shadow of Reality: Spiritual Longing in C.S Lewis, by Corbin Scott Carnell. Originally published in 1974 as Bright Shadow of Reality: CS Lewis and the feeling intellect, it was republished in 1999 by Eerdmans. The title is taken from a description Lewis wrote of his discovery of George MacDonald's fairy tale, Phantastes: "...now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow." Later he wrote that, though he didn't know it when he saw it in MacDonald's writing, he came to realize that the "bright shadow" was holiness, a dimension that hovered over MacDonald's writing even when that book was not, like most of MacDonald's works, overtly Christian.
Carnell's thesis is that Lewis's longing for melancholy joy in his childhood and pre-Christian youth, discussed in this series of reflections several times as sehnsucht, found its fulfillment in Christ through his conversion at age 30. This is also the point of Lewis's autobiography of his early life, Surprised by Joy, but Carnell's treatment of sehnsucht is more academic, discussing its appearance in literature going as far back as the ancient Greeks and into modern times in Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, or, I would add, Jack Kerouac's writings, especially On the Road. And Carnell has led me to a deepened understanding of my own taste in music, which I described in one of the earliest Jonals in 2001 as "joyful sorrow."
One of Carnell's chapter titles is "The Baptized Imagination," in which he extols Lewis's gifts for creating fantasy worlds through highly evocative, even sublime, descriptive narration. The unfallen planet Perelandra, with landscapes, vegetation, and luscious fruits that transport readers across deep space to an imagined paradise; his creation narration on how Narnia came into being in The Magician's Nephew; Aslan's land in The Silver Chair; the smokey hell and the piercingly bright heaven of The Great Divorce, and pre-eminently the masterly painting of Real Narnia and even Real England in the closing chapter of The Last Battle are perhaps the best examples, all speaking of how baptized imaginationa creativity transformed through the regeneration of the artist's heartcast bright shadows of holiness everywhere they fall.
Shadows were, as his references in The Last Battle call Narnia the shadowland, foreshadowing the real, heavenly, Narnia are expressions of Lewis's great appreciation of Plato, whose philosophy suggests that life is a shadowplay on the wall of the cave we all live in, just hinting of what the real prototype of creation must be like. And "baptized imagination" is Lewis's most succinct contribution to a Christian worldview, in which he has written and spoken at length about the Lordship of Christ changing everything in life, especially creativity or, that which preceeds human creativityimagination.
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