Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Problem is Inklingism?

Mark Shea linked an editorial in the magazine Image which asserts that the problem with Christian literature "is not the Inklings, but Inklingism".

I love the line, but I think I disagree with the article.

I do think that there is far too much attempt to immitate the Inklings, which is odd, because they themselves were quite original. One should not imitate the original by being derivative. It seems often that some of the most interesting and charismatic Christian writers of our century have developed somewhat insular and annoying followers. Dawson, Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien all seem to be troubled with there problem. There's nothing wrong with their writings, and a great deal that is very good. But (without devoting the time to do a great deal of thinking about what exactly it is) there is often something a little "off" about their too enthusiastic followers. Indeed, for the longest time I resisted reading any Dawson, because I found myself so put off my the self-proclaimed Dawsonists that I knew.

That said, Mr. Wolfe's editorial strikes me as very much off base. I do not see much basis for his contention that "realism" as a literary style stretches back to antiquity. Nor do I think he is well on the mark in asserting that Tolkien and Lewis sought to marry Romanticism and Christianity. Rather, I would say (and it seems to me that they themselves did say) that what they were trying to do was rescue to fantasy and mythic styles and story elements from the mess that the Romantic movement had made of them.

I certainly can't see his contention that the fantasy elements in the Inkling's writing represent an attemt to remain in personal or spiritual childhood. And his analysis of the character of Susan in the Narnia books strikes me as being wrongheaded, perhaps by being too clever. Why must one necessarily assume that Susan is condemned for "entering the adult world" rather than for being shallow. Is her condemnation really that much different than that laid upon the party attendees in Elliot's The Cocktail Party? Despite the semi-childish description of Susan's fall (it is, after all, a children's book) it seems clear to me that the problem with Susan is not that she has entered the social whirl of "adult society" but rather that in doing so she had denied that anything other than the social whirl exists. The same message is sent my more "realistic" writers such as Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell, but because in The Last Battle it appears in a children's fantasy novel, Wolfe seems to entirely miss the message.


Anonymous said...

This is perhaps somewhat off-topic, but what exactly is Romanticism? I've never been able to get a good grasp on it.

Mesmacat said...

My reading of Susan from a metaphysical point of view has always been that she comes to represent materialism as versus spirituality, which certainly seems to be borne out by her being excluded from the journey into the onion skin worlds of the afterlife that the rest of her family enters after their train crash. After all the Pevensey parents are adults and make it into the heavenly Narnia despite their age. It is their attitude to life which seems key.

She is basically left in the physical world weighted down and forgetful of the after life or spiritual world of narnia by her attachment to material concerns, to dressing up and make up and being seen at parties etc.

I have always felt that Lewis was a little too hard on her, that she is sacrificed, abandoned by him for philosophical completeness, to help his morality play become more salient by creating an other. Essentially he kills her off to help the plot that mattered to him.

Looking back with adult eyes, rather than the child's eyes without I first read the book, the last battle is for me in retrospect ultimately about them and us, which for me is its weakness however much its has to mirror the last judgement.

What exactly the film makers, should they decice to go that far with the series, will make of the quite obvious codemnation of the entire islamic world in this book in the light of current world events is some that makes the mind boggle.

But back to Susan, she would I think, in the manner of a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, make a fascinating subject for a novel to herself. What would she be like in her 60s or so in the current world, a woman who lost her entire family and has troubling memories or dreams of a childhood in an other world, trying to make sense of what the world has become. She would I suspect be a far more interesting and philosophically engaging character than the rest of those in the books put together

John Farrell said...

That's funny what you note about Dawson. I had friends back in college like that about him "you gotta read, you gotta read..."

That said, I did and still do enjoy reading his work.

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with you on the Inklings. For lots of laughs, I would suggest going to and reading one of her "best of" articles on Chesterton's ghost appearing to a fan telling him to "get other interests." (The whole site is side-splitting!)

Steve Hayes said...

I had some difficulty in finding Wolfe's article (a search for "Inklingism" found your blog, but didn't get me there.

I've put some comments here:

But who the heck is Dawson?