Losing Self in Great Literature

Bodleian-Library’s

The Bodleian Library in Oxford

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  – C.S. Lewis

It is often said that reading literature helps cultivate empathy.  In particular, literary fiction is said to be of great importance in this regard:  “Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy -The types of books we read may affect how we relate to others”

I love it when modern science spends time and money to “prove” knowledge that human cultures have already intuitively grasped for centuries.  Just another example of what “chronological snobbery” will get you, I guess.

C.S. Lewis would agree about the snobbery and, more importantly, about the value and power of great literature.  I have been reading a bit from his collection of essays in An Experiment in Criticism for my graduate work.  Below is a passage that resonated deeply with me.  As a child, my parents encouraged us to read and they made sure to have a host of great books about the house from which to choose.  I am so thankful for this. My husband and I are trying to continue that wonderful tradition for our daughters.

Lewis wrote that “those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors.”  So much of who I am is a result of the books I have been exposed to throughout my life.  Here is Lewis:

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“The Four Loves” and Thoughts on Charity

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The sumptuous Botanical Gardens in Oxford.

The Four Loves has to be one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis, right along with its fictional counterpart, Till We Have Faces.  It is a highly convicting read, though, and my first exposure to it this past Spring for a class in my graduate program was quite challenging for me, to tell the truth.  I am one of those affectionate sorts who can sometimes pride themselves on being able to love even the most unlovable people.  Some things that Lewis wrote in this book pierced my heart to the core.  It was a good thing for it revealed the painful truth that my love is nowhere near as unselfish as I would like to think.  Oh, how easily we deceive ourselves!

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The Daughter of Saturn Arrives at Jupiter

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“What we need for the moment is not so much a body of belief as a body of people familiarized with certain ideas.  If we could even effect in one per cent of our readers a change-over from the conception of Space to the conception of Heaven, we should have made a beginning.”  Dr. Ransom of C.S. Lewis’s “Out of the Silent Planet”

On July 4, 2016, NASA’s space probe JUNO successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit.  It  was the second spacecraft ever to do so after the Galileo probe which orbited from 1995–2003.

For me, it is beyond ironic that NASA chose to name the probe JUNO and I think C.S. Lewis would have been delighted that they a chose pagan myth to tell the story of their scientific endeavor.  Here is the thinking from NASA:  “In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief. It was Jupiter’s wife, the goddess Juno, who was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature. The JUNO spacecraft will also look beneath the clouds to see what the planet is up to, not seeking signs of misbehavior, but helping us to understand the planet’s structure and history.”

The stated mission?  They hope to improve the understanding of our origin.  JUNO will spend twenty months orbiting the gas giant, peering into its clouds with the hope of penetrating the myriad of mysteries that mask its making.  JUNO hopes to pull back the colorful veil of gases behind which the king of planets hides his truth from us.

This is exciting, indeed, but even if JUNO is able to expose all her beloved’s secrets, will we truly be closer to knowing all there is to know about our origin?  Perhaps.

What about the “why” of our existence?  Can science alone answer such a question?

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Lion’s Business and the Problem of Animal Pain With C.S. Lewis

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Owl at The Kilns, the home of C.S. Lewis.

“Tu-whoo, tu-whoo! Wake up, Puddleglum. Wake up. It is on the Lion’s business.”

We were in Oxford on the Lion’s Business.  Our daughter’s stuffed owl got to visit C.S. Lewis’s house since she and her sister did not join us this time.  Here is the report our daughter received from her favorite owl:

Owl found the house to be welcoming and cozy and he thought the grounds were quite lovely and perfectly wild.  In particular, he enjoyed the picture of Paxford in the kitchen with one of Lewis’s favorite cats named Tom on the counter.  Paxford reminds him of his favorite Marshwiggle named Puddleglum. Of course, he plans on returning in the evening when he hopes to catch the Parliament of Owls in session.  Tu-whoo!  

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