The new and improved defender of RPGs!

Thursday 5 March 2015

Famous Pipe Smokers

Today's celebrity was famous for enjoying a good pipe; alongside his equally-famous buddy who was also mainly famous for smoking a pipe.   Both of them ended up producing two of the most famous and widely read fantasy worlds of the 20th century.  One was a tremendously clever Christian allegory about the value of the human soul, about the divine plan in the world, how very small people can make great differences in the world, and about corruption and redemption.  The other was Narnia.

Yes, today's famous pipe smoker was C. S. Lewis, who unlike his friend (Tolkien) never saw a religious allegory he didn't want to drive home with a sledgehammer.  Which has, in this modern age, made him the perfect almost-intellectual for the U.S. Christian Fundamentalist.  Shit, do they love themselves some C.S. Lewis!  Along with Chesterton, he's the guy they all like to quote and hold up as the "smart guys" of the type of all-or-nothing Christianity they adhere to, when they're worried that quoting Reverend Billy-bob "jimbo" Bunkum of the Reformed Evangelical Church of Snake-Handling Inbred Creationists just isn't going to make them sound sufficiently sophisticated.

Poor Lewis.  The guy was kind of an asshole, but The Screwtape Letters were really some brilliant propaganda and excellent writing, and I'm sure he would have been a bit appalled to be mainly a tool for the kind of absurd theocratic yokels who hold him up now as though he was one of the greatest minds of last hundred years.  I'm pretty sure that Lewis was the type of guy I'd have been able to talk to (ideally alongside the equally-religious Tolkien, who was so good and subtle at writing Christian Allegory that most fans of LoTR don't realize that's what it is) over a few pipes and some tea; while I'm fairly sure most of his "fans" today (at least, the ones who go around quoting him on facebook to try to push their religion on atheists) are people I couldn't stand being in the same room with for more than ten minutes.

Anyways, C. S. Lewis was a pipe smoker.


Currently Smoking: Masonic Meerschaum + Image Perique


  1. Well, I was about to hit the +1 until I actually read the content; you really seem to have a mad on for some reason, as subtly hidden in your left-handed compliments as Lewis's allegory, which he never meant to be hidden. It's almost like you're being a deliberate contrarian. I always wonder at this criticism of him, as though people feel they were duped when he never even tried to hide his intentions.

    All that said, you know I'm down with that whole crew! Definitely some of the finest minds of the 20th century, Lewis included; he single-handedly changed the nature of apologetics for laypeople, and transmitted an authentic love of Christ that is a great witness, particularly since he was an atheist intellectual who converted.

    And I'm pretty sure you could stand being in the room with me for at least ten. :)

    1. I don't have a big issue with Lewis per se. I think he wasn't a great writer (though he was an acceptably good children's author; and again, Screwtape Letters was a particularly clever work of his), but I largely have a problem with the type of people (especially in the U.S.) these days who use lewis as a bludgeon to go around promoting their particularly aggressive brand of protestant Christianity.

    2. I agree that he was not a great writer overall, but he was a great apologist. I haven't actually noticed any of the people you're referring to; it seems that most modern protestants prefer to quote more recent authors. However, I'm not a protestant and don't really travel in those circles.

      But I am the type to quote Lewis against an atheist promoting his aggressive brand. :) This is mainly because Lewis knew most of the great atheist arguments and exposed them very skillfully and thoroughly.

  2. Also, Tolkien's work is not allegory. It is complementary.

    1. I'm not sure about that distinction. It's really incredibly catholic when you look into it carefully.

      Anyways, I would think you'd feel more kinship, from the Orthodox perspective, with Tolkien's formula of "trying to be virtuous when surrounded by evil + small people being able to do great things because of caritas" rather than Lewis' much more Protestant formula of "just believe/be a witness for the Magic Lion and he'll solve everything".

    2. Though it may be tiresome to do so, I'll make use of Tolkien's oft-quoted words on the subject of allegory:

      “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

      So, by complementary I mean that the story is consistent with Christianity, but not a direct allegory, which would require a one-to-one relationship of events and characters in the "secondary world" with those in the "primary world" (Tolkien's terms). Another couple quotes from the master will illustrate:

      "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism."

      Tolkien was essentially the first DM, laying down the ur-example for all sub-creators that would follow. As with all of us, he was unable to create a world that didn't make sense to him, so it began with creation, swelled with rebellion, and finished with redemption. Other than that there really are no point-for-point allegorical events or characters in Arda.

      People always talk about Gandalf or Frodo or Earendil as "Christ-types" and to a degree they are, and consciously so. But they are not the Christs of Middle-Earth, as Aslan is overtly the Christ of Narnia. This is mostly down to completely different approaches by both men. Tolkien was personally put off by Lewis's stuff. Lewis did not reciprocate, being (along with W.H. Auden) one of the truly great Tolkien champions in the press and in his personal life. But the Christ of middle-earth is...Jesus Christ. But He's a long way off yet.

      As to the expression of their Christianity and the kinship I feel, well. Lewis has the enthusiasm of a convert, which is something I recognize well. Tolkien has the quiet reserve of a "cradle" as we say; someone raised in the Faith, and by a priest no less. His view was one of Christianity as a whole life lived, rather than as something new and wonderful. Both men saw it both ways, but their native temperament and differing tastes and areas of focus produced different results.

    3. Actually the closest Christ-type in LotR is Aragorn. "The hands of the King are the hands of a healer". And of course in Old English (Tolkien's great love) the word "hælend" means both "healer" and "savior", and is synonymous with Christ. There are lots of these little OE references and winks in there, but this is probably the most overt.

    4. I think you're getting hung up on the whole "allegory" definition. It doesn't matter. My point is Tolkien wrote a totally (Catholic) Christian story, intensely Christian, and he did it so well that many of its greatest fans, who's personal world-view, and sometimes even morality has been affected by these novels, don't actually realize they are fundamentally a Christian story.

      On the other hand, Lewis sucked at it so badly that it feels ham-handed to an 8-year-old.

      A few days ago I posted the Hank Hill cartoon shot where he tells the "Christian Rocker" that what he doesn't get is that he isn't making christianity any better, he's just making rock worse. That's how I feel about Lewis and fantasy-worlds.

      As for Lewis' comments to atheists, I'm sorry but they're not that great. They're really good at impressing people who are ALREADY christians because it plays on their feelings of how atheists are wrong. But it won't do very much at all to convince most atheists, and will especially be torn to shreds by "new atheists" who don't give a fuck about philosophy or meaning or spirit or purpose or anything else because they're just fucking material positivists, philosophical arguments just don't process against them at all because they're not actually intellectuals (in the sense that they can't really process abstract concepts, everything needs to be physically substantive for them to even understand it).

    5. The one place lewis was really great was where he was talking about hope, sin, faith, etc. from the point of view of Protestantism. Truly good at that.

    6. As to the idea that they're not that great, I don't think that's true. I think in fact that they were so great that they moved the entire conversation forward, so that now we're in a world where we've heard all those arguments and perhaps they seem old hat. But you never know who's going to be ready to hear something that seems new to them.

      And as with all ongoing societal debates, sometimes it is indeed about convincing and strengthening those who are inclined to agree.

      And I'm not sure it's fair to say Lewis sucked at "it", because that implies that he and Tolkien were trying to do the same thing when they really weren't.

      Lewis didn't suck at making this particular kid and many like me feel a sense of wonder at something we had grown up with and thought we knew. He showed us what it felt like to see it for the first time; a feeling he spent the rest of his life attempting to communicate in one form or another.

      There is great irony of the relationship between Tolkien and Lewis. Tolkien helped Lewis to see Christ as mythology that really happened. This excited Lewis to such a degree that he was inspired to make a fairy tale about exactly that, which Tolkien ended up not appreciating; possibly because his tastes are more similar to our own.

      But without Lewis's encouragement, Tolkien would never have completed LotR, and we wouldn't know how much greater he is than Lewis.

    7. Also, to be totally fair you should really say "from the point of view of mid-20th century high-church Anglicanism". He has too much reverence for the sacraments, and for the Virgin Mary and the saints, to be saddled with "Protestantism", though it is broadly factual. He's not too far off when he says "Mere Christianity"...but he's not entirely on either. :)

  3. Well, I agree that his arguments are unlikely to sway any atheists... Though I think someone with an active interest in theology can find value in much of his work. They just can't really be seen as successful in converting anyone. As far as his fiction goes, are his narnia works what your primarily familiar with? I've found some of his other works more interesting, such as his Space Trilogy, and Til We Have Faces.

    1. I haven't read any of his fiction outside of Narnia. Only his non-fiction (well, I guess Screwtape counts as a sort of "fiction", though I think it's more of a philosophical piece than anything).

  4. Yeah Pundit, you might like the Space Trilogy. It's not at all hidden in its themes, which are overtly Christian, but it's a pretty beautiful meditation on things like space travel, angels, and looking at them from a whole new perspective.