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A Celebration of Joy: Christian Romanticism in the Chronicles of Narnia, by Mike Bellah
Abstract and Table of Contents
Myth and Imagination
Children's Stories
The Ideal Reader
Fantasy and Realism
Friendships: Love in Narnia
Quest and Adventure
The Eucatastrophe
Romanticism in the Chronicles
The Failure of Romanticism
The Triumph of Chrisitian Romanticism
The Baptized Imagination
Works Cited


What are the Chronicles of Narnia? What are romance and romanticism? How does the romantic form differ from the romantic vision? The Chronicles of Narnia contain not one book but seven. They are (in order of their publications): The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), Prince Caspian: the Return to Narnia (1951), The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and His Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955), and The Last Battle (1956). Without question, the Chronicles are Lewis's best-known and most influential books. According to Peter Schakel, "they outsell the rest of C. S. Lewis's works combined, at a rate now of several hundred thousand volumes per year" (xi), quite a feat when one considers the voluminous nature of Lewis's other works and that they include such perennial best-sellers as The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and The Problem of Pain. Coming as they do near the end of Lewis's life, and representing the last and most complete of his romances, the Chronicles present Lewis's final word on life in the ideal. They form his quintessential romantic vision.

What is a romantic vision? What are romance and romanticism? The Oxford English Dictionary gives eight definitions for the first term and only three for the second. But the numbers are misleading. Romance is much more easily defined than romanticism.

The word romance comes from the root word roman and first referred to those languages which sprang from the Roman tongue (or Latin). Later, romance came to represent a genre of literature written in the romance languages (especially French) and concerned with knightly adventure and chivalry. Still later, the genre expanded to include any "extravagant fiction," and narratives where "the scene and incidents are very remote from those of ordinary life" (Thrall 376-77). Certainly the Chronicles fit this definition.

If one term can be used to describe the forces that have shaped the modern world, it is Romanticism. So potent has Romanticism been since the late 18th century that one author has called it "the profoundest cultural transformation in human history since the invention of the city." (Romanticism, Compton's Encyclopedia 280)

While scholars agree on the impact of romanticism, they differ greatly on its definition. As a movement, Romanticism is not hard to define. The New Encyclopedia Britannica calls it a "sweeping revolt against authority, tradition, and Classical order that pervaded Western civilization over a period that can be roughly dated from the late 18th to the mid-19th century" (Romanticism, 160). Romanticism affected literature, art, music, and politics. But the Romantic movement was propelled by romanticism the philosophy, and it is the philosophy or vision of romanticism that defies definition.

In 1924 philosopher Arthur Lovejoy proposed abandoning the expression "romantic" since it "was without meaning" (De Man 49). In 1963 F. L. Lucas counted 11,396 books on romanticism, yet, wrote Lucas, "no one knows quite what it means" (8). M. H. Abrams adds "Romanticism is no one thing" (29 emphasis added). And Northrop Frye in Romanticism Reconsidered warns against oversimplification (1). Corbin Scott Carnell writes, "Romanticism seems to be a genus with many species" (25). Thus, Professor Lovejoy suggested that one speak of the term only in the plural: romanticisms (qtd. in Carnell 24). According to Colin Duriez, "C. S. Lewis [himself] wished for the word `romantic' to be banned as it now had so many usages as to be virtually useless" (176). Yet Lewis failed to find another term to characterize his own central preoccupation in life, unless it was the word joy itself (Duriez 176).

The definition of romanticism must, then, be broad enough to include not just one but many things. Neither can it, as a philosophy, be tied to only the vision of the Romantic movement, for the romantic tradition in literature both precedes and succeeds the 18th and 19th centuries. One can find romantic elements in Homer or Virgil and in modern writers like Thomas Wolfe or Katherine Mansfield.

Perhaps the most succinct summary is offered by Corbin Carnell. He lists five definitions of romanticism along with the scholars who have suggested them:

1. An emphasis on emotion rather than reason, the heart opposed to the head (this idea having been set forth by George Sand, Cazamian, Thrall, and Hibbard).

2. A desire to find the infinite within the finite (Fairchild).

3. A liberation of the less conscious levels of the mind; an intoxicated dreaming (Lucas).

4. A revival of the sense of wonder (Watts-Dunton).

5. Vague aspiration (Phelps). (26)

Carnell goes on to say that what unites these elements is a sense of "aspiration and longing for what we may call, for want of a better word the infinite--that which transcends everyday finite experience" (26). Carnell identifies this longing with the concept of "sehnsucht" (a word used by the German romantics) which he defines as "that sense of separation from what is desired, the longing which always points to beyond" (23). Elsewhere he calls it "bittersweet nostalgia" and "piercing stabs of happiness" (143). Lewis called it, quite simply, joy, a word that summarized his romanticism. By itself, however, joy is too broad a concept. It fails to separate romanticism from its succeeding and preceding philosophies.

In Reading with the Heart: The Way into Narnia, Peter Schakel develops a thought first put forth by Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism. Frye likened romance to the season of summer and said that it presented "an idealized world" (Schakel 11). Schakel points out that the Chronicles are like that. Through the use of the ideal form (the romance) they present an idealized picture of life (romanticism). So romanticism differs from the later philosophies like realism or naturalism by being more idealistic about life.

To joy and idealism one more concept must be added. Romanticism is not tame. There is a wildness about it. To Lewis's romantic predecessors this wildness resided in intense human passion or in the mysterious wonder of nature. For Lewis himself it was more likely found in the sense of the numinous. This wildness is what separates romanticism from its immediate predecessor, neoclassicism. The neoclassicists were much too organized to accept the unpredictable, much too knowledgeable to allow mystery, and much too controlled to sanction intense passion.

Thus, romanticism in this thesis will be defined as that philosophy or vision which encompasses all the things one considers essential to ideal life. It will include a sense of wildness and will produce moments (however fleeting) of joy.

So on some points Lewis agrees with the 19th century romantic poets and includes things like the primacy of imagination and love of nature in his romanticism. On other points his Christianity separates him. He balances feelings with reason. He embraces but does not worship nature. He puts ultimate joy in Heaven, not on earth. Most importantly, Lewis shares with his romantic predecessors the passion that caused romanticism to be so pivotal in human history--call it the passion for all that delights humans as humans--call it a celebration of joy.

C. S. Lewis was a Christian romantic: romantic because he wrote romance and believed in romanticism, Christian because he claimed a personal experience of faith in Christ and believed in a biblical world view. Yet, to Lewis, Christian romanticism cannot be defined simply as the sum of its parts. Rather, it is the effect of the two on each other that found a unique home in Lewis. Lewis was a romantic before he was a Christian, and it was his romanticism, he claims, that led him to faith in Christ (Surprised by Joy 238). On the other hand, Lewis's Christianity did more than redeem his romanticism, it sanctified it. It "baptized" his imagination and gave romanticism a new seriousness, almost a sense of holiness.

In Essays Presented to Charles Williams Lewis explains this interdependence of Christianity and romanticism. In this work designed to honor his recently deceased friend, Lewis shows the effect of the one on the other. Williams was one of Lewis's close friends and, along with J. R. R. Tolkien, a member of the renowned Inklings. The Inklings was an informal literary group that, among other things, "seemed to try to redeem the romantic tradition which had been distorted by the Romantic Movement . . . ." (Duriez 92). Wrote Lewis of Williams,

A romantic theologian does not mean one who is romantic about theology but one who is theological about romance, one who considers the theological implications of those experiences which are called romantic. The belief that the most serious and ecstatic experiences either of human love or of imaginative literature have such theological implications, and that they can be healthy and fruitful only if the implications are diligently thought out and severely lived, is the root principle of all his work. (vi)

Lewis could have said the same for his own work. As a Christian he believed that joy itself "is the serious business of Heaven" (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer 93). In the Chronicles of Narnia he made it the serious business of his fiction. The result is that (if only for a moment) Heaven touches earth, and the reader experiences a celestial joy.

In A Preface to Paradise Lost Lewis states "the first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is--what it was intended to do and how it is meant to be used" (1). In An Experiment in Criticism Lewis explains that every work of literature can be identified in two ways: one, poiema (something made), and two, logos (something said) (82). The poiema of a work answers the question asked in A Preface to Paradise Lost: what is this work? How is it made? It is a question of form. The logos of a work answers a question not of form but of content. What does the work say? What message does one receive from it?

Using these terms, the poiema of The Chronicles of Narnia is romance, and the logos is romanticism. Or, to reiterate a former analogy, the waters of romanticism in the Chronicles are contained in the pitcher of romance. Chapters Three through Nine of this thesis will deal with the form of the Chronicles. Chapter Ten will examine its content. For it is both form and content that unite, like Christianity and romanticism, to produce the unique delight of Lewis's tales. Finally, chapters Eleven through Thirteen will show why the chronicles succeeded where others have not. Why must pure romanticism ultimately fail? Why does Christian romanticism succeed? Why did Lewis succeed in the Chronicles?

To chapter 3

Respond to my thesis. I'd like to hear from you.