Nay, I cannot give you that key. I cannot unlock for you the way that leads to Lantern Wood; nor lead you up to Cair Paravel of the four thrones, and bring you into its court, so grave and gay; nor show you the ship that rides at anchor, soon to depart for the uttermost East. I cannot do these things…

The key I offer is a humble key of knowledge, opening the secret meaning of the books. The seven books evoke the seven spheres: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Jupiter; The Horse and His Boy, Mercury; The Magician’s Nephew, Venus; Prince Caspian, Mars; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Sun; The Silver Chair, the Moon; The Last Battle, Saturn. Lewis himself said there was a meaning behind the series, and wondered whether anyone would find it. Now they have – some years ago, in fact, but it is perhaps still not well enough known.  Read the book, and discover the proofs.

For obvious reasons, C. S. Lewis’s book That Hideous Strength has never received the praise it deserves.  I cannot agree with A. N. Wilson’s assertion, in his entertaining but tendentious biography of Lewis, that the novel is too long.  For me, in fact, it ends too soon: its principal flaws are that the descent of the Oyeresu is described too briefly, and that the reconciliation of Mark and Jane Studdock is left to the imagination.
Most of all, I should like to have heard more from Merlinus Ambrosius, that is, Merlin, who irrupts into the book half-way through. The enemy planned to use him as a tool for evil, but he turns out to be a Roman Christian gentleman who puts himself at the service of Ransom, the Director of St Anne’s and true Pendragon in the line of Arthur. For my money, the best parts in the story are those in which Merlinus is commenting on the mid-twentieth century world into which he has been revived, after his long sleep beneath the turf of Edgestow.
Sometimes his observations pertain only to the stranger manners of the latter days:
“Sir,” said Merlin, in answer to the question which the Director had just asked him, “I give you great thanks. I cannot, indeed, understand the way you live, and your house is strange to me. You give me a bath such as the Emperor himself might envy, but no one attends me to it: a bed softer than sleep itself, but when I rise from it I find I must put on my own clothes with my own hands as if I were a peasant. I lie in a room with windows of pure crystal so that you can see the sky as clearly when they are shut as when they are open, and there is not wind enough within the room to blow out an unguarded taper; but I lie in it alone, with no more honour than a prisoner in a dungeon. Your people eat dry and tasteless flesh, but it is off plates as smooth as ivory and as round as the sun. In all the house there is warmth and softness and silence that might put a man in mind of paradise terrestrial; but no hangings, no beautified pavements, no musicians, no perfumes, no high seats, not a gleam of gold, not a hawk, not a hound. You seem to me to live neither like a rich man nor a poor one: neither like a lord nor a hermit. Sir, I tell you these things because you have asked me. They are of no importance.”
Morals, however, he recognises as infinitely more important than manners:
She did not understand the words: but Dimble did, and heard Merlin saying in what seemed to him a rather strange kind of Latin: “Sir, you have in your house the falsest lady of any at this time alive.” 
And Dimble heard the Director answer in the same language. Sir, you are mistaken. She is doubtless like all of us a sinner: but the woman is chaste.” 
“Sir,” said Merlin, “know well that she has done in Logres a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of the stroke that Balinus struck. For, sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years.”
“She is but lately married,” said Ransom. “The child may yet be born.” 
“Sir,” said Merlin, “be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva [the moon] were so common among you. For a hundred generations in two lines the begetting of this child was prepared; and unless God should rip up the work of time, such seed, and such an hour, in such a land, shall never be again.” 
“Enough said,” answered Ransom. “The woman perceives that we are speaking of her.” 
“It would be great charity,” said Merlin, “if you gave order that her head should be cut from her shoulders; for it is a weariness to look at her.”
Merlinus is surprised, too, that the little company at St Anne’s do not  see the justice of treating self-sterilization as a capital offence:
“The Pendragon tells me,” he said in his unmoved voice, “that you accuse me for a fierce and cruel man. It is a charge I never heard before. A third part of my substance I gave to widows and poor men. I never sought the death of any but felons and heathen Saxons. As for the woman, she may live for me. I am not master in this house. But would it be such a great matter if her head were struck off? Do not queens and ladies who would disdain her as their tire-woman* go to the fire for less? Even that gallows bird (cruciarius) beside you – I mean you, fellow, though you speak nothing but your own barbarous tongue; you with the face like sour milk and the voice like a saw in a hard log and the legs like a crane’s – even that cutpurse (sector zonarius), though I would have him to the gatehouse, yet the rope should be used on his back, not his throat.”
He finds the changes in geo-politics, too, hard to grasp:
“Mehercule!” he cried. “Are we not going too fast? If you are the Pendragon, I am the High Council of Logres, and I will council you. If the Powers must tear me in pieces to break our enemies, God’s will be done. But is it yet come to that? This Saxon king of yours who sits at Windsor, now—is there no help in him?”
“He has no power in this matter.”
“Then is he not weak enough to be overthrown?”
“I have no wish to overthrow him. He is the king. He was crowned and anointed by the Archbishop. In the order of Logres I may be Pendragon, but in the order of Britain I am the King’s man.”
“Is it, then, his great men – the counts and legates and bishops – who do the evil and he does not know of it?”
“It is – though they are not exactly the sort of great men you have in mind.”
“And are we not big enough to meet them in plain battle?”
“We are four men, some women, and a bear.”
“I saw the time when Logres was only myself and one man and two boys, and one of those was a churl. Yet we conquered.”
“It could not be done now. They have an engine called the Press whereby the people are deceived. We should die without even being heard of.”
“But what of the true clerks? Is there no help in them? It cannot be that all your priests and bishops are corrupted.”
“The Faith itself is torn in pieces since your day and speaks with a divided voice. Even if it were made whole, the Christians are but a tenth part of the people. There is no help there.”
“Then let us seek help from over sea. Is there no Christian prince in Neustria or Ireland or Benwick who would come in and cleanse Britain if he were called?”
“There is no Christian prince left. These other countries are even as Britain, or else sunk deeper still in the disease.”
“Then we must go higher. We must go to him whose office it is to put down tyrants and give life to dying kingdoms. We must call on the Emperor.”
“There is no Emperor.”
“No Emperor . . .” began Merlin, and then his voice died away. He sat still for some minutes wrestling with a world which he had never envisaged.
Here, as I think Christopher Derrick pointed out, the story suffers from Lewis’s own lack of Catholic faith.  The real Merlinus Ambrosius would doubtless have also asked about the Pope of Old Rome. And he would have wanted to know more about the ‘pieces’ into which the Faith had supposedly been torn, to discover whether he was sitting with Catholics or heretics (Warren Carroll pointed out in an unforgettable passage in his History of Christendom that in the later 5th century, all the kings in Europe were either pagans, heretics or schismatics, with the single exception of Arthur, who alone stood with the pope.)
This flaw apart, the conversation is excellently well done:
Presently he said, “A thought comes into my mind and I do not know whether it is good or evil. But because I am the High Council of Logres I will not hide it from you. This is a cold age in which I have awaked. If all this west part of the world is apostate, might it not be lawful, in our great need, to look further . . . beyond Christendom? Should we not find some even among the heathen who are not wholly corrupt? There were tales in my day of some such: men who knew not the articles of our most holy Faith but who worshipped God as they could and  acknowledged the Law of Nature. Sir, I believe it would be lawful to seek help even there – beyond Byzantium. It was rumoured also that there was knowledge in those lands – an Eastern circle and wisdom that came West from Numinor. I know not where – Babylon, Arabia, or Cathay. You said your ships had sailed all round the earth, above and beneath.”
Ransom shook his head. “You do not understand,” he said. “The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus.”
In other words: just as it is a good discpline for the mind to translate one’s words into a foreign language, especially if it be very foreign, such as Latin or (I suppose) Chinese, since that forces one to think more clearly about what one really means, so it is a good discipline for the soul to explain one’s own times to someone from ages past, and so begin to see them as they really are.
* I had to look up tire-woman.  It means lady’s maid, tire being short for attire.

A Confession

I am so coarse, the things the poets see
Are obstinately invisible to me.
For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
To see if evening–any evening–would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn’t able.
To me each evening looked far more
Like the departure from a silent, yet a crowded, shore
Of a ship whose freight was everything, leaving behind
Gracefully, finally, without farewells, marooned mankind.

Red dawn behind a hedgerow in the east
Never, for me, resembled in the least
A chilblain on a cocktail-shaker’s nose;
Waterfalls don’t remind me of torn underclothes,
Nor glaciers of tin-cans. I’ve never known
The moon look like a hump-backed crone–
Rather, a prodigy, even now
Not naturalized, a riddle glaring from the Cyclops’ brow
Of the cold world, reminding me on what a place
I crawl and cling, a planet with no bulwarks, out in space.

Never the white sun of the wintriest day
Struck me as un crachat d’estaminet.
I’m like that odd man Wordsworth knew, to whom
A primrose was a yellow primrose, one whose doom
Keeps him forever in the list of dunces,
Compelled to live on stock responses,
Making the poor best that I can
Of dull things . . . peacocks, honey, the Great Wall, Aldebaran,
Silver weirs, new-cut grass, wave on the beach, hard gem,
The shapes of horse and woman, Athens, Troy, Jerusalem.


Emeth is a character in The Last Battle the seventh and final volume in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. He is a Calormene. That is, he belongs to the human southern desert nation opposed to the heroic Narnian talking beasts of Lewis’s stories and to their human allies in Archenland. Allegory in C.S. Lewis is a lot more prominent than in Tolkien. Tolkien only really employs allegory in Leaf by Niggle and officially disapproved of the form. Certainly, a lot of the Chronicles of Narnia is non-allegorical but it is hard to deny that some elements, and they are key elements, cannot be classified any other way. This is especially true of The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Last Battle which provide the creation narrative, the salvation narrative and the eschatological climax to the series. (Incidentally, I can never quite escape the suspicion that Prince Caspian is intended as a pro-Anglican parable about the Reformation). The Last Battle describes the Narnian end of the world in ways that clearly imitate classical Christian eschatology. There is a false prophet (a monkey called Shift) and an (oddly invincibly ignorant) Antichrist (a donkey called Puzzle). Key to the narrative is the infiltration and conquest of Narnia by the Calormenes. The Calormenes are pretty transparently based on the Muslims. This is one reason why I doubt very much that either The Horse and His Boy or The Last Battle will ever be adapted for film. The central role of Islamic conquest in Lewis’s view of the end times is very interesting, especially as it must have been far less obvious that this was at all likely when he wrote in the nineteen fifties. The Calormenes worship a god called Tash who is quite obviously Satan. They sneak into Narnia disguised as merchants and seize control of the country under the auspices of the monkey Shift who persuades his dim-witted friend Puzzle to dress up in a lion skin and pose as Aslan (the Lion who in the Chronicles of Narnia symbolises Christ). It seems from this that Lewis believes that the deception of the Antichrist will be a treason from within Western culture by non-believers posing as believers and manipulating the credulity of the mass of the people but that it will be accomplished in alliance with and ultimately to the profit of Islam. This is very interesting especially when one reflects upon the alliance between Liberalism and Mohammedanism in contemporary Western culture.

Emeth is among the Calormene soldiers who enter Narnia in disguise to assist Shift in his overthrow of the legitimate king Tirian and establishment of an indifferentist pseudo-theocracy centred on the government and worship of Tashlan. Emeth is naturally virtuous sincere believer in Tash and is sickened by the duplicity of the methods by which the conquest of Narnia is to be accomplished and sickened by the suggestion that Aslan and Tash are one and the same. In the event, the conspiracy issues in the destruction of the the entire Narnian world, the defintive expulsion of Tash, and the second coming of Aslan. Emeth, however, is saved and finds himself in heaven. Emeth encounters Aslan, is ravished by his beauty, confesses his lifelong worship of Tash and awaits death at the hands of the true God. He is told instead that every sincere and naturally virtuous act he performed for the sake of Tash (who Aslan describes as his ‘opposite’) was in fact done in honour of Aslan and all evil acts done in Aslan’s name are really done for Tash. For this reason Emeth, as an anonymous worshiper of Aslan, is saved.

“Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

This seems like pretty pure Pelagianism. In fact, it helpfully illustrates how utterly Pelagian the Implicitist heresy is. A determination to worship God in whatever manner God has appointed is a requirement of natural reason. If natural moral virtue combined with a determination to worship God in whatever manner He has established, combined with error of fact as to what this religion is, can save us then nature and reason alone suffice for the forgiveness of sins and participation in the divine nature. This is not just heresy it is the central claim of Satan in his rebelion against God. Is Lewis then, ironically, preaching the greatest of all deceptions in a work supposed to warn us about the Antichrist?

I think it may be possible to save Lewis from this most serious charge. I do not deny that Lewis’s theology is often sloppy. Without the solemn defintions of Councils and Popes to guard him against rash speculations and unable, as a Protestant, to submit to the consensus of the Fathers, he often strays too far and entangles himself in positions he probably would repudiate if baldly stated. He also has an odd tendency to fall into dualism (displayed here in the reference to Tash as Aslan’s ‘opposite’) and an unhealthy fascination with platonic angelology probably derived from Charles Williams. Nevertheless, it is not clear that there has been any kind of fall in Narnia or that the Calormenes are descended from Adam. It may be that the non-earth descended inhabitants of the Narnian world have a purely natural end and that if they do receive supernatural beatitude it is by a purely gratuitous elevation at the end of time, not because they possessed supernatural grace (or original sin) during their lives. Furthermore, it is not altogether clear that Emeth is even dead when he meets Aslan.

Of course the entire premise of the story is impossible. It is not possible for there to be non-human rational animals. There are no rational animals who are not descended from Adam. There have not been and will not be multiple incarnations. Furthermore, it is hard not to conclude that Lewis did have a rationalist Pelagian understanding of salvation as the story is almost certain to be taken this way by any ordinary reader. The Last Battle was published in 1956 and Lewis is generally seen as a champion of classical conservative western Christianity against liberalism. The problem of Emeth shows how much the Implicitist error already went by default on the eve of the Neo-Modernism revolution.

“People shouldn’t call for demons unless they really mean what they say.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

I heard a conversation the other day between two Catholics about whether the earth is in the centre of the universe or not. The first one argued that it was reasonable to suppose that God would have placed the earth in such a special position, since mankind is uniquely valuable in this visible universe, and since earth was destined to be the venue for the Incarnation. He thought that the popular modern idea that earth is not in a spatially central position would have been very distressing for people at the start of our modern period, and must have led to a decline in Christianity.

The other speaker disagreed with this. He said that contrary to common belief, people in the middle ages had not thought that there was anything favourable about living at the centre of the universe. On the contrary, the centre was seen as a particularly unfavourable location: it was the sub-lunar sphere, the place of change and decay, so bad in fact that at the very centre of the centre was hell itself. This is the idea that C. S. Lewis develops in his book The Discarded Image, in which he explains that to the mediaeval mind, to live on earth was to be ‘outside the city walls’: an exile or a barbarian. St Thomas Aquinas says in his commentary on the De Caelo et Mundo (I wish I’d noted down the reference) that the centre of the universe is the least noble part because it is the least ‘formal’ part. The outermost sphere, he explains, contains everything else and so it is the most formal part – that is, it acts on the other parts, at least in the rarefied philosophical sense in which to contain is to exercise an act. The central spheres both contain and are contained. Only our sphere is contained and does not contain. Therefore because form is better than matter, the centre is the least noble location.

I don’t see why one shouldn’t hold both positions at the same time. That is, one could hold that philosophically speaking the centre is the least noble place, and thus suitable for a race under probation and for the punishment of sins, while also holding that given the way man spontaneously thinks, it would be a striking sign of God’s loving care for earth to be in the middle – a sign that we are the apple of His eye. Likewise we could contemplate the fittingness of the Incarnation from both perspectives: considering the earth as in the least noble place, we would see a new sign of the ‘condescension’ of the divine Word, who humbles Himself to live even here; considering our tendency to place a dramatic event in the midst of the crowd watching it, like a great wrestling match in a ring in the middle of the wrestling hall, it would be a sign of the unique greatness and drama of the Incarnation, that it should happen in the midst of the universe, while the angelic powers spread throughout the universe look on in wonder.

Of course, this all supposes that one is able to accept the statement of the Catechism of the Council of Trent that God placed the earth in the middle part of the universe, in media mundi parte…

I have just finished reading the Latin correspondence between C.S. Lewis and St Giovanni Calabria (1873-1954). Although it has a certain charm, both from the personalities of the authors and from the use of the ancient tongue, it is theologically rather jejune. There is very little discussion of doctrine; much of it is taken up with expressions of good will and desire for unity, and assurances of prayers. One wonders if anyone ever explained Catholic doctrine to Lewis, or if he himself ever took the trouble to read a papal encyclical or a manual of scholastic theology. Despite his great general erudition, his theology is strangely parochial: the Anglican prayer-book, odd pieces from the Anglican divines, George MacDonald and Milton tend to dominate, with some Dante thrown in. He said of himself that he was a very poor Thomist; I don’t know that he was much better as a patrologist. I don’t remember him quoting anything even from St Augustine apart from sayings that are part of general culture, such as ‘love and do as you will’. Perhaps he was warned off much theological study by Newman’s saying about what happens to those who go deep into history…

The other thing that strikes you in the correspondence is how confident Fr Calabria is about Lewis’s present spiritual position. He writes to him for example, ‘I call you blessed and shall do so in the future, because God wants to use you to carry out His works’; and again, ‘In heaven with God we shall see each other by the mercy of the Lord who has redeemed us’. This was written in 1953, not long after Pius XII had warned against reducing the axiom ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ to a meaningless phrase. I think a little more caution would have been in order. However,  the Italian was clearly a holy man, who apparently offered his life for the pope’s recovery when the latter was gravely ill in 1954. Pius suddenly recovered and lived another 4 years.

The last line of the collection is the most moving. Lewis wrote in 1961 to Fr Calabria’s successor after the death of his own wife:-

Scio vos preces effundere et pro desideratissima uxore mea et pro me qui jam orbatus et quasi dimidatus solus hanc vallem lacrimarum peragro (I know that you pray for my wife whom I so miss and also for me, as now bereaved and, as it were, halved, I journey on in solitude through this valley of tears.)

Let us hope St Giovanni’s prophecy has been fulfilled.

The names of the 4 children were surely not chosen at random. Peter is a natural choice for the chief vicegerent of Aslan/Christ, as is Lucy for the youngest child who yet enlightens the others about the existence of Narnia (before the 16th century reform of the calendar, St Lucy’s day was the shortest, while her name, of course, means light).

Why is Susan chosen for the one who is eventually excluded? Because Susannah was excluded from the Protestant canon? I wouldn’t put it past him!

That leaves Edmund. I have no clear idea why this was chosen. To English ears the name has a chivalric sound. Possibly it was intended to suggest the insufficiency of natural virtue.