Back of the North Wind

Discussions of theology, philosophy, religion and life inspired by the writings of George MacDonald (and perhaps others such as CS Lewis) posted by "recovering fundamentalists".

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I am a "recovering fundamentalist". The trick is to figure out how not to throw out the Baby with the bathwater. I learn through dialogue, and so invite commentary on my posts to Back of the North Wind.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Avengers: GMD-->CSL?

CS Lewis wrote that he had never written a book without quoting from George MacDonald. When I first read that, before I had read any George MacDonald, I assumed Lewis was using hyperbole. Once I began to read MacDonald, I realized that, if anything, Lewis was understating the case.

I ran across what appears to be another example of MacDonald inspiring Lewis during this evening's nightly reading with my son from George MacDonald's The Princess and Curdie. In the chapter, The Vengeance, several "cob's creatures" -- misshapen beasts bred by the goblins in the mines, but now allied with Curdie, wreak vengeance upon the dishonest and faithless servants of the palace household:

The rest of the creatures now came stalking, rolling, leaping, gliding, hobbling into the room, and each as he came took the next place along the wall, until, solemn and grotesque, all stood ranged, awaiting orders.
'Go at them,' he [Curdie] said.
The whole nine-and-forty obeyed at once, each for himself, and after his own fashion. A scene of confusion and terror followed. The crowd scattered like a dance of flies. The creatures had been instructed not to hurt much, but to hunt incessantly, until everyone had rushed from the house. The women shrieked, and ran hither and thither through the hall, pursued each by her own horror, and snapped at by every other in passing. If one threw herself down in hysterical despair, she was instantly poked or clawed or nibbled up again.
There they were beginning to congratulate themselves that all was over, when in came the creatures trooping after them, and the second act of their terror and pain began. They were flung about in all directions; their clothes were torn from them; they were pinched and scratched any- and everywhere; Ballbody kept rolling up them and over them, confining his attentions to no one in particular; the scorpion kept grabbing at their legs with his huge pincers; a three-foot centipede kept screwing up their bodies, nipping as he went; varied as numerous were their woes....

This storyline seems to me strikingly similar to CS Lewis' Banquet at Belbury chapter of That Hideous Strength. In that chapter, an entire zoo of animals which had been caged and tormented at the NICE (National Institute for Coordinated Experiments) is released by Merlin and sent to wreak vengeance upon the hapless members of the institute as they finish their evening meal. Here are some extracts from that chapter:

Out of that confusion, with a howl of terror, broke the tiger. It happened so quickly that Mark hardly took it in. He saw the hideous head, the cat's snarl of the mouth, the flaming eyes ....

Then he caught out of the corner of his eye a glimpse of something smaller and greyer. He thought it was an Alsatian. If so, the dog was mad. It ran along the table, its tail between its legs, slavering. A woman, standing with her back to the table, turned, saw it, tried to scream, next moment went down as the creature leaped at her threat. It was a wolf ....

Something else had darted between his feet. Mark saw it streak across the floor and enter the scrum and wake that mass of interlocked terror into new and frantic convulsions. It was some kind of snake ....

Thud--thud--thud; the door was being battered from the outside ... At last the door gave. Both wings gave. The passage, framed in the doorway, was dark. Out of the darkness there came a grey snaky something. It swayed in the air; then began methodically to break off the splintered wood on each side and make the doorway clear. Then Mark saw distinctly how it swooped down, curled itself round a man ... and lifted him bodily high off the floor. After that, monstrous, improbable, the huge shape of the elephant thrust its way into the room: its eyes enigmatic, its ears standing stiffly out like the devil's wings on each side of its head....

In general, my desire here is to look at content discussed by GMD and others, rather than doing some sort of literary dissection (for which I am not qualified!). However, I couldn't help noticing the similarity here, and wondered if any other students of Lewis or MacDonald had noticed this?

The Princess and Curdie is a fairy tale, while Lewis writes in the introduction to That Hideous Strength that he intended the book to be a "modern day fairy tale" as well. One difference between these two episodes is that Lewis' account is far more lethal than MacDonald's: the cobs creatures kill no one, leaving open the possibility of their future reformation. Lewis' avengers kill ruthlessly. Could it be more than a coincidence that this difference is analogous to the difference between the two of them on mankind's eternal destiny? Lewis postulates the possibility, or even the likelihood, that eternal death is the final fate of many, while MacDonald seems unwilling to grant that even the devil is completely beyond the possibility of eventual redemption.