Tor.com content by

Matt Mikalatos

Colonization, Empire, and Power in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet

I was going to start out this article by saying that early science fiction was shaped by colonialism, but that’s probably understating it. Many of the tropes of science fiction and—going even further back—adventure novels are centrally located in colonialism. It’s not a huge surprise given that many of the authors were from colonizing culture or, as science fiction spread, in countries that were doing their best to get in on the colonization game. Out of the Silent Planet is no exception to this and, in fact, the book is largely shaped around a critique of H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon.

Lewis doesn’t disguise this at all. He lays all the cards out on the table that this is a novel about imperialism, colonialism, and seeing others as subhuman. We get some indications of this early on. Weston and Devine, the main antagonists are practically colonialism incarnated. Weston’s name comes from Old English, meaning “settlement.” Devine says he doesn’t care a bit about science or first contact (later we will learn he’s all about the abundant gold), but he does pay lip service to “the white man’s burden” and the “blessings of civilization” (encouraged by Kipling and critiqued by Twain).

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Bent But Not Yet Broken: C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet

When we started this series nearly two years ago, we started with the story of two friends, Jack and Tollers, walking through the woods and deciding together that if they wanted books they would enjoy—speculative fiction, essentially, but with a worldview more in line with their own—they would have to write those books themselves. They flipped a coin to see who would write about space travel, and who would write about time travel, and it was Jack who got “space.”

That’s the origin story of what would become C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy and also a little clue as to why the main character, Dr. Elwin Ransom—a professor and philologist with a fondness for long walks—resembles J.R.R. Tolkien so much.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Ordinary Saint in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

This past weekend a “worship leader” from out of town came to Portland, where I live, to hold a big open air praise and worship service (for those not from the Christian culture, this mostly means singing and some prayer). Before the event he posted a note on Twitter about how he had a big volunteer security team (there was a lot of noise about how the evil people of Portland were supposedly going to come and threaten them). There was an American flag emoji and a strong arm emoji for emphasis. The security were described as “ex-military, ex-police, private security” and also “lovers of Jesus and freedom.” And, most disturbingly, the tweet ended with the words, “If you mess with them or our 1st amendment right to worship God—you’ll meet Jesus one way or another.” An actual threat of violence against those who would oppose them…the polar opposite of how Jesus, who this person claims to follow, would interact with anyone.

I couldn’t help but think about the two chapters of The Great Divorce we’re going to look at this week. It’s when we see at last what it looks like to meet a soul that has turned itself over to God… someone who has inhabited Heaven truly and is coming to greet one of her beloved from Earth (her husband, as it turns out). Her husband is a grotesque little spirit with a chain attached to a sort of gigantic puppet that Lewis calls The Tragedian. An actor, always trying to make the most dramatic responses to small things, a sort of mask for the person it represents.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Comforts of Hell: C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce

Hell is referred to as “home” eight times in The Great Divorce.

It’s not so bad, after all. You can make a house appear just by imagining it. If you need something, you can bring it to mind and it will materialize. There are little shops, even book shops, and there are “cinemas and fish and chip shops and advertisements and all the sorts of things they want.”

Sure, the grey rain never really ends, and the houses don’t seem to quite keep it out. But there’s plenty of space if one wants to be alone…which most people do.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Choosing Hell: C.S. Lewis, the Great Divorce, and Human Freedom

When Lewis finds the queue for the bus he has been walking in endless rain in a twilight town that is ever expanding but mostly empty. The line for the bus is something different than the monotonous city blocks, and he joins it as two others—a couple, apparently—end a disagreement by leaving the line. Others are fighting, jostling for position. Still others are disgusted by the class (or lack thereof) of the people in line. There’s a moment where someone cheats their way to a place further up in line. There’s a fistfight. Through it all there’s a sort of certainty that there won’t be room for everyone on the bus. And yet, when Lewis finally boards there’s plenty of room…indeed, it could have held every poor soul who had initially been in the line.

Lewis has made his choice and joined the tour, and others have made their choice and stayed in the grey city. The story of The Great Divorce hinges on this precisely: the choices that human beings make, and how those choices may or may not influence their place in eternity.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Hell or Something Like It: C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce

This week in Portland, Oregon, where I live, temperature records were broken multiple times. Portland, typically the home of mild, pleasant summers, was suddenly one of the hottest places on the planet, with the temperature in my back yard reaching 114 degrees Fahrenheit. I couldn’t help but wish for our more typical grey, rainy days. Which, as I sat down to write this article, seemed ironic given that Lewis doesn’t give us a burning Hell with flames and undying worms, but rather a soggy city with roofs that don’t keep out the wet and unpleasant, unhappy people waiting to board a bus.

“Who goes home?”

In other words, Who goes to Hell? Who goes to Heaven? Who gets in? Who’s out?

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Story King: How The Chronicles of Narnia Shapes the Worlds We Create

Our journey began with two friends—Jack and Tollers—walking together, and reflecting that if they wanted to find stories they loved—the kind of stories they wanted to read—then they themselves would have to write them. They went on to create a variety of works that caught our imagination and set us out walking through the woods and saying to ourselves, well, if I want more of what I love in stories I suppose I’ll have to write it myself…

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Worlds Beyond: How The Chronicles of Narnia Introduced Us to Other Authors We Love

I had come to Narnia as a kid after spending an entire year working my way through the Fellowship of the Ring. When I said “more!” to my dad, he took me to the living room and showed me seven books in a box set. I sat down and immediately thought, “Well, these are easier to read” and devoured them over the course of that summer. It had been very much like discovering a magical wardrobe in the guest room. I kept thinking, those were sitting in the living room the whole time! When I finished Narnia, I demanded to know what would be next and set out to find more books about magic or space or talking animals or time travel.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Problem(s) of Susan

C.S. Lewis failed. He failed to clearly say what he was trying to say. He failed his readers. He failed Susan.

When I read The Last Battle as a kid, and got to the moment when Susan was “no longer a friend of Narnia” I was shocked. Well, I thought, there are still some pages left to go. I’m sure she’ll be back before the end. But she wasn’t. And all of her siblings and friends, her cousin, even her parents, were romping along through New Narnia without ever mentioning her again.

It felt strange, and dismissive, and horrible. Much of the end of the book is about catching up with old friends, with cameos and reunions with beloved companions from previous books, even those who were dead—Reepicheep and Fledge and Puddleglum and Caspian—and yet somehow Susan never gets a moment. We don’t even peek in on her back on Earth, and no one thinks to ask, “Is Sue alright?”

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

A Short Detour: C.S. Lewis’ “The Shoddy Lands” and “Ministering Angels”

Seven months before The Last Battle was published, C.S. Lewis had a short story appear in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was called “The Shoddy Lands,” and—believe it or not—it and another short story are key pieces in understanding what exactly is happening with poor Susan Pevensie in The Last Battle. Our next article in the C.S. Lewis Reread is going to be about “the problem of Susan” so first, we need to take a little detour and explore these two stories.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Stumbling Into Heaven: Emeth, Aslan, and The Last Battle

I grew up in Christian church and Christian school, and although I was still in grade school when I read the Narnia books, there was one particular piece of theology I knew very well: It’s easy to get to Hell, and hard to get to Heaven.

In fact, the year I read The Last Battle, I was going to a school that taught you could lose your salvation, too. Meaning that if you died at the wrong moment—sometime between messing up and asking for forgiveness—you were still going to Hell, even if you believed in Jesus and had all the right theology and so on.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Calling Evil Good, and Good Evil: Spiritual Abuse in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle

Content warning: This article discusses manipulation, emotional, and spiritual abuse.

Shift was already a manipulator and an abuser when they found the lion skin. But it was the lion skin that opened up a new and more powerful tool for his abuse: the devotion of the Narnians to Aslan.

In the book’s first paragraph we get a good idea of the abuse that Shift is piling on his “friend” Puzzle the donkey. They were neighbors, we’re told, but Puzzle was treated more like a servant than a friend. Puzzle did all the work, at Shift’s direction. When Puzzle brought home food, Shift took his pick of all the best things first. If Puzzle objected Shift would tell him it was “only fair” that Shift should get the first pick, since (poor Shift!) he couldn’t eat all the same things that Puzzle could. If Puzzle persisted, Shift would shame or humiliate or insult Puzzle, and remind him that he “wasn’t clever” which Puzzle would eventually agree to, sigh, and then do what Shift said.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Better Things Ahead: The Last Battle and the End of Narnia

We’ve been doing the C.S. Lewis Reread here at Tor.com for over a year, and I’ve felt mounting dread about re-reading The Last Battle. As a kid it was my favorite of the Narnia books, and one that—even though I read it when I was eight—has shaped some significant theological thought in my life that still has an impact on me today. On the other hand, there’s the “problem of Susan” (and don’t worry, we’ll definitely be looking at this aspect of the book in detail). There’s the reality that the Calormenes play a significant role in this book, which means we’re going to see the worst of Lewis’ ethnocentrism (and, let’s be frank…racism) on display.

So, for me, it’s the most troubling of the Narnia books but also one that has been the most transformative for me personally. So I picked it up last week with a decent amount of trepidation. I was afraid that the wonderful things I remembered would be worse than I remembered, and that the troubling things would be worse than I remembered, too.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, and The Magician’s Nephew

Before we dive in this week, make sure to check out last week’s article by author Ferrett Steinmetz, who asks the question, “Is there such a thing as a necessary prequel?” Some great thoughts about prequels and, of course, focusing on The Magician’s Nephew as an example of a prequel that gets it right!

In 1958, C.S. Lewis recorded a series of radio interviews about love. These would go on to become the basis of his 1960 book, The Four Loves. The Narnia series were all in print by this time, so I’m not going to pretend here that The Four Loves was in any way in the back of Lewis’s mind as he wrote The Magician’s Nephew. However, what is clear is that The Magician’s Nephew is also intended as a sort of “tour” through the world of love as well. It’s not surprising that some of Lewis’s core insights and thoughts about love exist in both books (in fact, as we’ll see when we get to Perelandra and again in ‘Til We Have Faces, some of these themes are touchstones he returns to over and over again in his work).

So, I thought it would be interesting to use Lewis’s later thoughts as a framework to explore what he’s up to in this one. Being Lewis, of course he’s going to use ancient Greek concepts of love as the basis for his philosophical experiments…

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

“Would You Like Wings?”: An Invitation to Transformation in The Magician’s Nephew

It was the horse who chose Narnia, that much is clear.

His name was Strawberry, and he had been in the middle of a long and troubling day. First he had been out doing his daily work with his cabby on the streets of London when an otherworldly half-giantess had taken control of him and made him her “royal charger” and then it was all galloping and crowds and shouting.

Then a moment of rushing speed, and Strawberry and a number of human companions (and the otherworlder) found themselves in the wood between worlds. And it was there that Strawberry “shook his head, gave a cheerful whinny, and seemed to feel better.”

[Then he stepped into one of the pools…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.