People love CS Lewis; and with good reason, the man smoked a pipe, and was chummy with J R R Tolkien, of Lord of the Rings fame. They may also like him because of his fancy British fairy world of everyday kings and queens and his insistence on the importance of the nobody.* He feeds the desperate Gen Y desire for nobility and value.
After all, any sense of real specialness has been deflated by the 21st century with its Twitter feeds and Facebook scrolls and so many other people whose lives make yours seem less noble or even noteworthy on the one hand, and its inordinate glorification of self-belief on the other.
It’s this theme of our enormous specialness, of our great destinies, which C S Lewis puts so alluringly.
Take this exchange between Psyche who is about to be killed, and Orual, the sister, who will mourn for her, from “Till We Have Faces.”
I have always — at least, ever since I can remember — had a kind of longing for death.”
“Ah, Psyche,” I said, “have I made you so little happy as that?”
“No, no no,” she said. “You don’t understand. Not that kind of longing. It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine … where you couldn’t see Glome or the palace. Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking at the Grey Mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to.
It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home.The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.
And of course, there’s Narnia. Its Kings and Queens have lived as mere children, estranged from their true country. Shasta from the “Horse and his boy,” (the fifth book in the Narnia series) has lived as a peasant his whole life. Here, he is awed by the noblemen who he so resembles, only to find that he is one of their kin,
It was quite unlike any other party they had seen that day. The crier who went before it shouting “Way, way!” was the only Calormene in it. And there was no litter; everyone was on foot. There were about half a dozen men and Shasta had never seen anyone like them before.
For one thing, they were all as fair-skinned as himself, and most of them had fair hair. And they were not dressed like men of Calormen. Most of them had legs bare to the knee. Their tunics were of fine, bright, hardy colours-woodland green, or gay yellow, or fresh blue. Instead of turbans they wore steel or silver caps, some of them set with jewels, and one with little wings on each side of it. A few were bare-headed. The swords at their sides were long and straight, not curved like Calormene scimitars. And instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders free, and chatted and laughed. One was whistling.
You could see that they were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly and didn’t give a fig for anyone who wasn’t. Shasta thought he had never seen anything so lovely in his life. But there was not time to enjoy it for at once a really dreadful thing happened. The leader of the fair-headed men suddenly pointed at Shasta, cried out, “There he is! There’s our runaway!” and seized him by the shoulder. Next moment he gave Shasta a smack-not a cruel one to make you cry but a sharp one to let you know you are in disgrace and added, shaking:
“Shame on you, my lord! Fie for shame! Queen Susan’s eyes are red with weeping because of you. What! Truant for a whole night! Where have you been?”
And finally, C S Lewis’s musings on heaven in the Problem of Pain are heart breakingly awesome. Sit down first,
“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you’ve been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw – but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realize that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you were transported.
Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of – something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cutwood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water aginst the boat’s side?
Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it – tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear.
But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’
We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.”
and, on this secret longing,
“But it is also said ‘To him that overcometh I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.’ (Revelation 2:17) What can be more a man’s own than this new name which even in eternity remains a secret between God and him? And what shall we take this secrecy to mean? Surely, that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can.
Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all blessed creatures for one another, the communion of the saints. If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note. Aristotle has told us that a city is a unity of unlikes, and St. Paul that a body is a unity of different members. Heaven is a city, and a Body, because the blessed remain eternally different: a society, because each has something to tell all the others – fresh and ever fresh news of the ‘My God’ whom each finds in Him whom all praise as ‘Our God.’ For doubtless the continually successful, yet never completed, attempt by each soul to communicate its unique vision to all others (and that by means whereof earthly art and philosophy are but clumsy imitations) is also among the ends for which the individual was created.”
C S Lewis speaks to that ineffable longing for home, and of the certain value of each human soul.
*People also like him because of all the talking animals