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One of the Many Reasons I Like Ross Douthat…

12/09/2013 Comments (38)

......is this fine piece on C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley, who also died 50 years ago on November 22.

In effect, both Huxley and Lewis looked at a utilitarian’s paradise — a world where all material needs are met, pleasure is maximized and pain eliminated — and pointed out what we might be giving up to get there: the entire vertical dimension in human life, the quest for the sublime and the transcendent, for romance and honor, beauty and truth.

Two passages from their work illustrate this point — that comfort purchased by sacrificing transcendence might not be worth the cost. The first comes from Lewis’s Narnia novel “The Silver Chair,” in which a character named Puddleglum confronts a queen who has confined the heroes in an underground kingdom, and lulled them with the insistence that the underground world is all there is — that ideas like the sun and sky are dangerous wishful thinking, undermining their immediate contentment.

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things,” Puddleglum replies — “trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones … We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.”

I give Douthat extra points for instinctively zeroing in on one of the finest and most heroic figures in children's literature: Puddleglum. He was based on Lewis' gardener and Lewis loved him for his irrepressible doom and gloom. When Lewis left on his honeymoon, the gardener waved Lewis' car to stop and, by way of wishing the happy couple joy, reminded them that a plane like the one they were about to take to Greece had crashed recently and "everyone aboard was burnt beyond recognition! Think of that! Burnt beyond recognition!" The car sped off with Lewis in tears of laughter at the man's ability to find the dark side--even to a honeymoon.

Puddleglum's greatness is that, despite his constitutional gloom, he is nonetheless fundamentally ordered toward hope. He's ready to--and assumes he will--go down fighting. But he will never willingly go down fighting for the wrong side.  Puddleglum's mood comes to him from his nature.  His will, however, is his own and he uses it to honor Aslan.  He gives what he has and is rewarded accordingly.  As another great character from another great series of profoundly Christian children's books will later observe: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.