Morning reading today with Shawn (-Thank you, dear!), CS Lewis sharing his thoughts on Allegory and suppositions with Mrs. Hook – great read and aid in defining terms and understanding the mind of CS Lewis as an author. Also loved his small reference at the end to playing with “Old Solar” words to infuse planetary sub-imagery into certain of his works.

To Mrs. Hook (W):

Magdalen College


29 Dec 1958

By an allegory I mean a composition (whether pictorial or literary) in which immaterial realities are represented by feigned physical objects e.g. a pictured Cupid allegorically represents erotic love (which in reality is an experience, not an object occupying a given area of space) or, in Bunyayn, a giant represents Despair.

If Aslan represented the immaterial deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents Despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and he chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as he actually has done in ours?’ This is not an allegory at all. So in ‘Perelandra’. This also works out a supposition. (‘Suppose, even now, in some other planet there were a first couple undergoing the same that Adam and Eve underwent here, but successfully.’)

Allegory and such supposals differ because they mix the real and the unreal in different ways. Bunyan’s picture of Giant Despair does not start from supposal at all. It is not a supposition but a fact that despair can capture and imprison a human soul. What is unreal (fictional) is the giant, the castle, and the dungeon. The Incarnation of Christ in another world is mere supposal; but granted the supposition, He would really have been a physical object in that world as He was in Palestine and His death on the Stone Table would have been a physical event no less than his death on Calvary.

Similarly, if the angels (who I believe to be real beings in the actual universe) have that relation to the Pagan gods which they are assumed to have in Perelandra, they might really manifest themselves in real form as they did to Ransom.

Again, Ransom (to some extent) plays the role of Christ not because he allegorically represents him (as Cupid represents falling in love) but because in reality every real Christian is really called upon in some measure to enact Christ. Of course Ransom does this rather more spectacularly than most. But that does not mean that he does it allegorically. It only means that fiction (at any rate my kind of fiction) chooses extreme cases.

There is no conscious connection between any of the phonetic elements in my “Old Solar’ words and those of any actual language. I am always playing with syllables and fitting them together (purely by ear) to see if I can hatch up new words that please me. I want them to have an emotional, not intellectual, suggestiveness: the heaviness of glund for as huge a planet as Jupiter, the vibrating, tintillating quality of viritrilbia for the subtlety of Mercury, the liquidity (as I thought) of Maleldil. The only exception I am aware of is hnau which may (but I don’t know) have been influenced by Greek nous.

Thank you for the kind things you say about my other works.

Yours Sincerely,

C. S. Lewis

Nous: The intellectual faculty of the natural man … employed in practical judgement, being capable of good or evil, and of being regenerated, the mind, the reason, the reasoning faculty.

(From CS Lewis Collected Letters, III)


     ~ Watergirl


Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s