“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, October 25, 2008

C. S. Lewis on Death and Rebirth: “Christ Figures” in Perelandra and Narnia

...The theme of death and rebirth can also be identified in Lewis’ works of fiction. In Perelandra, Dr. Ransom is a Christ figure of sorts, passing through suffering to new life in order to bring salvation to Venus. David Downing, an expert on Lewis’ “Ransom Trilogy,” writes:

“Ransom’s adventure on Perelandra offers a number of parallels with Christ’s mission on earth. He enters a world to fulfill God’s purpose for it; he is tempted to give up his mission; he undergoes a kind of Gethsemene of anxiety and loneliness the night before he must suffer; he experiences a symbolic death and rebirth in being dragged below the surface and spending three days there; he reemerges to have his mission celebrated by others.” (“Paradise Retained” 44)3
The most transparent instance of death and rebirth in Lewis’ fiction is Aslan’s sacrificial death and return to life in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Many details of Aslan’s killing at the hands of the White Witch, such as his silence in response to the mocking of his enemies, and his return to life, such as his resurrection appearance to female characters, parallel events in the Gospels (Clark, Theology 59-66). Although these two characters are Christ figures in very different ways (Aslan being a “supposal” of Christ in another world and Ransom being a participant in Christ’s death and resurrection and a means of redemption in another world), both demonstrate the same “key principle.” In fact, C. S. Lewis scholar David Clark writes that “If we combine the two accounts [of Ransom’s struggle with the Un-man and Aslan’s sacrificial death], nearly everything [pertaining to Christ’s passion] in the gospels is accounted for” (Theology 71).4 It is also worth noting that Psyche plays a somewhat similar role in Till We Have Faces; she is bound to a tree as a sacrifice but passes through the experience and attains a new divine life. Each of these stories is saturated with mythical components as well; thus Lewis crafts his own myths with elements of death and rebirth as signposts of the true myth for readers and as “supposals” of what the true myth would look like in different contexts...

3 Downing also notes the similarity between Lewis’ imagery of the descent and reascent of a deep-sea diver in Miracles and his description of Ransom’s nearly fatal descent into the ocean at the hands of the Un-man (Downing 44).
4 Clark notes that there is little overlap between the two accounts. It appears that Lewis’ own stories reflect his idea that God does not repeat himself (Clark 71): “All his acts are different, but they all rhyme or echo to one another” (God in the Dock 37).

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