Friday, August 5, 2011

Good and Evil in The Space Trilogy (as explained by an orthodox rebel)

The following is from an e-mail I sent to one of my fellow church members. Her book club is reading C.S. Lewis' The Space Trilogy over the next couple of weeks, and she asked if I could send them some starting points for discussion. This is what I could come up with. Enjoy, Lewis fans!

For Lewis, moral goodness was bound up (at least in part) in the concept of hierarchy. Now, hierarchy is a word that is looked down on these days, mainly because the 20th century associated the word solely with tyranny and oppression. However, for Lewis "hierarchy" simply meant that God created the universe in such a way that a particular order is inherent in it. Each created thing has its place in that order, and until it finds that place it will never truly be itself (and thus never "find" itself, "know" itself, etc.). Exactly how Lewis structured this order is up for debate; but it is sufficient enough to say that he (and traditional Christianity) believed in it, and that he also believed that (however else it may be structured) God was at the top, and everything else was below Him. Perhaps the best expression of this order was Lewis' term "The Great Dance" (a concept that he delved into beautifully at the end of Perelandra): everyone has their place and turn in the dance, and it is to their greatest glory and delight that they find that place and dance therein.

If moral goodness for Lewis is bound up in the concept of hierarchy (i.e., finding your place in the dance), then moral badness is bound up in what can be called anarchy (i.e., abandoning your place and/or usurping the place of another). All evil springs from an attempt to upset (and even dissolve) the order; and since it is God who established the order, all attempts to upset/change it are (in effect) an attempt to be God, which is the most primal temptation of man (Gen. 3:5) and the very heart of Satan's fall (Is. 14:12-14).

This contrast between hierarchy and anarchy plays out in every book of The Space Trilogy. In fact, a good place to start studying them would be to see how ":good" characters seem willing to accept the order (to "dance the dance") and how "evil" characters (including "the Bent One" himself) are always trying to upset the order (i.e., to try and "play God," so to speak). Each book present this in its own unique way. For your benefit, however, I will give you a small taste of this theme from the first book, Out of the Silent Planet.

The final scenes of Out of the Silent Planet (where Weston and Devine are brought before the angelic guardian of Malacandra) are some of the most significant scenes in the whole book. There the contrast between hierarchy and anarchy is uniquely expressed in this fact: humanity has a fear of death. Now, fearing death may seem natural enough, but it has apparently so dominated the hearts and minds of men (like Weston) that they seek to defeat death at all costs (even if it means causing more death in the process). For the sake of "Life," and out of a so-called "loyalty to humanity," they will kill and destroy and conquer so that the human race may cheat death and live on forever. The anarchy should be obvious: they are trying to conquer death and control life, two things that only God can do, being the master of both life and death (Deut. 32:39). Since such things are ultimately beyond humanity, those who seek them will succeed in only destroying themselves and others. But the dance will go on.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

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