Monday, September 25, 2023

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Source of book: Borrowed from the library


This was the month’s selection for our “Literary Lush” book club. While this book was not one I had heard of, or had on my list, it turns out that my second kid, the one who is double-majoring in Japanese (and Environmental Science), had heard of the author and wanted to read a different book she wrote. 


First of all, let’s get this out of the way: 


The title is egregiously mistranslated.


The original Japanese title is more accurately translated as “Secret Crystallization.” 


I believe that this makes a tremendous difference in how this book can be read, and what it might ultimately mean. If “meaning” is even the right category here. 


Also of interest, the book was originally published in 1994, but was not translated into English until 25 years later, which suggests an interesting backstory I was not able to find online. 


A brief search of reviews suggests that there are multiple ways of understanding this book, or of perceiving its potential meanings. Oddly enough, my particular view is apparently not one that other reviewers saw. I think my view is defensible, however, and I hope to explain that a bit in this post. 


Part of the problem in analyzing this book, of course, is that it is simply not an American or English-language book at all. As Silvia Moreno-Garcia at NPR put it, the author is playing with a deck of cards from a different game altogether. 


The easiest surface reading of the book is, as the many reviews attest, about totalitarian government surveillance. For American readers, this makes the book incredibly frustrating. Let me explain. 


The basic framework is that there is this island (somewhere) where things are “disappearing” one at a time. Birds disappear, roses disappear - all kinds of things, gradually. But by “disappear,” the author doesn’t really mean that they vanish. Rather, the memory of them, the knowledge of what they are and what they do and what they are for disappears. Then, under the orders of the “Memory Police,” the people then toss the objects in the ocean. 


For Americans, this seems to lack all credibility. Who would just go and toss something from their lives forever at a command? And, this does indeed reflect a certain part of our national character - we are and remain rebels at a really deep level. (Observe the insanity of our response to Covid, where basic public health measures were widely ignored.) This can be a problem sometimes, but it also is a bit of a bulwark against government coercion. 


It is fair to ask about whether the book then reflects a difference in national culture or character. Perhaps - Haruki Murakami wrote about the Aum terrorist attacks, and I do think that some parts of the response would have been handled better here. (And others a lot worse - this is definitely a good with the bad situation.) 


I also think that the author had the idea of government surveillance in mind for a few reasons. One is the obvious parallels with 1984 by George Orwell - and other dystopian novels. Another is her fascination - some might say obsession - with Anne Frank. The secret hiding room is very Anne Frank, of course. 


However, I think that to reduce this novel to just another spin on that theme is to miss a number of important facets of the book. 


Another member of our book club suggested that it could be about the loss of cultural memory - particularly for indigenous peoples conquered and assimilated. Gradually, all we are left with are the artifacts and a language nobody can speak anymore. 


That’s not a bad lens to see this book through. 


My own view?


I believe this book is a metaphor for dementia and aging.


Here is why: When things “disappear,” they do not literally vanish. Neither is the disappearance triggered by the Memory Police - who, by the way, seem like brainless automatons with no actual human intellect. 


What actually happens is that the memory of things disappears first. And then the people purge the thing itself because they no longer recognize it as existing. And, with the exception of those few people who can remember, nearly everyone is unable thereafter to recall anything. This includes the unnamed narrator, by the way. 


This is hardly a case of totalitarian government brutality. There is something very odd going on inside the minds of the people themselves. Again, with just a few exceptions. 


This “forgetting” eventually extends to people’s body parts as well, and the Memory Police seem to simply fade away and become important to the story. 


And then there is the title. 


Alzheimer’s Disease is the development of plaques and tangles in the brain that sever connections. Hmm. Kind of a….silent crystallization, one might say. The formation of hard, inflexible barriers to memory, to understanding, to the very way we perceive the world as it relates to us. 


In addition to these observations, I noted that the writing itself reminded me so much of my own professional experience in working with clients with various stages of dementia. The descriptions of seeing an object yet not being able to understand its use. The way people “disappear” from one’s memory - the book says they are taken by the Memory Police, but they also disappear from the memories of those around them. 


The way that, at the end, bodily function gradually ceases, is also fascinating. From stroke victims, I have heard that at first, the affected limb feels like it isn’t real, or isn’t connected to the body anymore. Which is exactly how that is described in the book. 


Also interesting is the “story within the story.” The narrator is an author, and continues to try to write even after books “disappear.” Her story initially is of a typing student who loses her voice, but it goes down a really dark hole, becoming kind of a rapey horror story. But that too seemed to me to be somewhat amenable to the dementia interpretation. She loses her ability to communicate, gradually, and then altogether. She ceases to understand what is going on, or advocate for herself. 


So, as I mentioned, I absolutely could be wrong about my interpretation - this is, after all, a book that does not feel compelled to “explain” the way we American readers so often expect. Just like Kafka feels no need to give a reason why things happen, or tell his readers what the hell his books are “really” about; Ogawa refuses to explain what is behind the disappearances, or tell us what ultimate meaning she intends. With Kafka, I ultimately found the “explanations” offered as to the meaning to be unsatisfying. And perhaps so with this book. 


But, just as with Kafka, the question of “meaning” may itself be meaningless. Regarding the former, the most plausible “explanation” for me was ““it’s a work of art that speaks for itself and thus needs no meaning.” And likewise for this book - I have the meaning I saw in it, but the book stands alone as a work of art, love it or hate it.


I haven’t given a lot of detail or spoiled the plot, because I think this book operates at a level different from the literal events recounted. Read the book yourself, and let me know what you think. 


As a final word, I will offer this passage, the discussion between the narrator, her friend the old man, and her editor (who she and the old man are hiding from the memory police, because he is one of the few who remember things.) 


“If we do remember something,” said the old man, struggling to find words, “what do we do with them?”

“Nothing in particular. We’re all free to do as we choose with our own memories.” 




A book that somewhat resembles this one is Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, which I highly recommend. You have the island, and disappearances - but of letters, not objects - and a totalitarian police force. However, it is far more “American” in that it has an actual explanation (a weird cultic religion) and people who actually resist what is happening. It also is a heck of a lot of fun, because the book itself loses letters as it goes along. 


I was wondering if the two books had any connection, but I think it is highly unlikely. The Memory Police wasn’t translated into English until several years after Ella Minnow Pea was written, and I have no reason to think Mark Dunn read the original in Japanese. So maybe just two writers playing with some similar ideas. 




If you want to see what I have read in translation since I started this blog, that list is here


Thursday, September 21, 2023

Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker

Source of book: I own this. 


One of my goals this year was to read something from my collected Dorothy Parker poems and stories. I decided to go with poetry first. 


It is easy to admire someone like Parker, even while being glad to have never been the subject of her acid tongue and pen. (When informed that President Coolidge had died, she quipped, “How could they tell?”) She was an anti-fascist her entire life, which naturally drew the ire of Joseph McCarthy, who labeled her a communist. And she had male critics dismiss her as a “flapper poet” even as her works sold well. 

Enough Rope contains over 80 short poems, most of them on the subject of love gone bad. In that sense, the collection did feel a bit repetitive by the end - Parker never tired of her subject, apparently.


If one were to summarize the ideas, they would be roughly as follows: Men and women are very different, and have different goals for relationships. Society reinforces this by rewarding promiscuity in men and punishing it in women. Thus, it is to be expected that men will want to play with women, love them and leave them, never actually giving of themselves. Women will want commitment and love, but men will never give it to them. And yet women will keep looking for love and not finding it.


It’s a pretty bleak picture, and if it was indeed Parker’s life experience, it is a sad one. 


I don’t think it is particularly accurate, as plenty of women like to toy with men’s hearts, and plenty of men want commitment. But there you have it. 


I would also put the poems themselves in the category of good, but not great. They never quite rise to the highest level, the poems that make you gasp. Rather, they are competently written, and enjoyable to read. At their best, they display the poisonous wit that Parker was best known for. 


In general, the poems are in traditional forms, from rhymed couplets to sonnets. Parker shows good technical skill throughout. 


I selected a few of the best, spanning a range of topics. 




Lilacs blossom just as sweet

Now my heart is shattered.

If I bowled it down the street,

Who’s to say it mattered?

If there’s one that rode away

What would I be missing?

Lips that taste of tears, they say,

Are the best for kissing.


Eyes that watch the morning star

Seem a little brightened;

Arms held out to darkness are

Usually whiter.

Shall I bar the strolling guest,

Bind my brow with willow,

When, they say, the empty breast

Is the softer pillow?


That a heart falls tinkling down,

Never think it ceases.

Every likely lad in town

Gathers up the pieces.

If there’s one gone whistling by

Would I let it grieve me?

Let him wonder if I lie;

Let him half believe me. 


A “threnody” is a poetic lament for the dead. In this case, it is Parker’s dead love that she mourns. 


The False Friends


They laid their hands upon my head,

They stroked my check and brow; 

And time could heal a hurt, they said,

And time could dim a vow.


And they were pitiful and mild

Who whispered to me then,

“The heart that breaks in April, child,

Will mend in May again.”


Oh, many a mended heart they knew,

So old they were, and wise.

And little did they have to do

To come to me with lies!


Who flings me silly talk of May

Shall meet a bitter soul;

For June was nearly spent away

Before my heart was whole. 


The twist at the end is fun. 


A Very Short Song


Once, when I was young and true,

Someone left me sad - 

Broke my brittle heart in two;

And that is very bad.


Love is for unlucky folk,

Love is but a curse.

Once there was a heart I broke;

And that, I think, is worse.


Many of her poems have this twist in the last few lines, or the last stanza. Here is another. 


Somebody’s Song


            This is what I vow:

He shall have my heart to keep;

Sweetly will we stir and sleep,

            All the years, as now.

Swift the measured sands may run;

Love like this is never done;

He and I are welded one:

This is what I vow.


This is what I pray:

Keep him by me tenderly;

Keep him sweet in pride of me,

Ever and a day;

Keep me from the old distress;

Let me, for our happiness,

Be the one to love the less:

This is what I pray.


This is what I know:

Lovers’ oaths are thin as rain;

Love’s a harbinger of pai - 

Would it were not so!

Ever is my heart athirst,

Ever is my love accurst;

He is neither last nor first:

This is what I know. 


Poor Dorothy Parker. Even love itself hates her. 




So silent I when Love was by

He yawned, and turned away;

But sorrow clings to my apron-strings,

I have so much to say.           


And this one to go with it:


For a Sad Lady


And let her loves, when she is dead,

Write this above her bones:

“No more she lives to give us bread

Who asked her only stones.”


There are several sonnets in the book, and I think they are arguably her best poems, with a bit more nuance. I liked this one best.


I Know I Have Been Happiest


I know I have been happiest at your side; 

But what is done, is done, and all’s to be.

And small the good, to linger dolefully - 

Gayly it lived, and gallantly it died.

I will not make you songs of hearts denied,

And you, being man, would have no tears of me,

And should I offer you fidelity,

You’d be, I think, a little terrified.


Yet this the need of woman, this her curse:

To range her little gifts, and give, and give,

Because the throb of giving’s sweet to bear.

To you, who never begged me vows or verse,

My gift shall be my absence, while I live;

But after that, my dear, I cannot swear.


Again, the last two lines. She saves that twist until the last, the refusal to promise not to haunt her faithless lover. This is the first of a series of sonnets that have to do with mortality. Here is another I liked:




They hurried here, as soon as you had died,

Their faces damp with haste and sympathy. ,

And pressed my hand in theirs, and smoothed my knee,

And clicked their tongues, and watched me, mournful eyed.

Gently they told me of that Other Side - 

How, even then, you waited there for me,

And what ecstatic meeting ours would be.

Moved by the lovely tale, they broke, and cried.


And when I smiled, they told me I was brave,

And they rejoiced that I was comforted,

And left, to tell of all the help they gave.

But I had smiled to think how you, the dead,

So curiously preoccupied and grave,

Would laugh, could you have heard the things they said. 


Not all of the poems are about human things, although she doesn’t write of nature per se. This one made me laugh. 


Verse For a Certain Dog


Such glorious faith as fills your limpid eyes,

Dear little friend of mine, I never knew.

All-innocent are you, and yet all-wise.

(For heaven’s sake, stop worrying that shoe!)

You look about, and all you see is fair;

This mighty globe was made for you alone.

Of all the thunderous ages, you’re the heir.

(Get off the pillow with that dirty bone!)


A skeptic world you face with steady gaze;

High in young pride you hold your noble head;

Gayly you meet the rush of roaring days.

(Must you eat puppy biscuit on the bed?)

Lancelike your courage, gleaming swift and strong,

Yours the white rapture of a winged soul,

Yours is a spirit like a May-day song.

(God help you, if you break the goldfish bowl!)


“Whatever is good” - your gracious creed.

You wear your joy of living like a crown.

Love lights your simplest act, your every deed.

(Drop it, I tell you - put that kitten down!)

You are God’s kindliest gift of all - a friend.

Your shining loyalty unflecked by doubt,

You ask but leave to follow to the end.

(Couldn’t you wait until I took you out?)


All of us who love our furry creatures understand this poem all too well. 


Here is another of her more humorous poems.


Song of Perfect Propriety


Oh, I should like to ride the seas,

A roaring buccaneer;

A cutlass banging at my knees,

A dirk behind my ear.

And when my captives' chains would clank

I'd howl with glee and drink,

And then fling out the quivering plank

And watch the beggars sink.


I'd like to straddle gory decks,

And dig in laden sands,

And know the feel of throbbing necks

Between my knotted hands.

Oh, I should like to strut and curse

Among my blackguard crew . . .

But I am writing little verse,

As little ladies do.


Oh, I should like to dance and laugh

And pose and preen and sway,

And rip the hearts of men in half,

And toss the bits away.

I'd like to view the reeling years

Through unastonished eyes,

And dip my finger-tips in tears

And give my smiles for sighs.


I'd stroll beyond the ancient bounds,

And tap at fastened gates,

And hear the prettiest of sounds -

The clink of shattered fates.

My slaves I'd like to bind with thongs

That cut and burn and chill . . .

But I am writing little songs,

As little ladies will.


One can all too easily imagine Parker as a buccaneer. 


I’ll end with another song about bad love. 


Love Song


My own dear love, he is strong and bold

And he cares not what comes after.

His words ring sweet as a chime of gold,

And his eyes are lit with laughter.

He is jubilant as a flag unfurled - 

Oh, a girl, she’d not forget him. 

My own dear love, he is all my world - 

And I wish I’d never met him. 


My love, he’s mad, and my love, he’s fleet,

And a wild young wood-thing bore him!

The ways are fair to his roaming feet,

And the skies are sunlit for him.

As sharply sweet to my heart he seems

As the fragrance of acacia.

My own dear love, he is all my dreams - 

And I wish he were in Asia.


My love runs by like a day in June,

And he makes no friends of sorrows.

He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon

In the pathway of the morrows.

He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start

Nor could storm or wind uproot him.

My own dear love, he is all my heart - 

And I wish somebody’d shoot him. 


That is about as Dorothy Parker as Dorothy Parker could ever be. 


My volume has her other two major collections of poetry, as well as her short stories. I am looking forward to reading more. 


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

Source of book: I own this as part of a hardback set of the trilogy - my wife got it for me some years ago. 


When I was a kid, one of the books my dad read to us was Out of the Silent Planet. I then read Perelandra on my own, but never got to the third book in the trilogy. One reason was that I didn’t own the book, but another was that my dad said it was weird and he wasn’t sure he understood it even as an adult. 


Once my wife gave me the set, I decided I should just start again at the beginning, and read the whole thing. When I posted about the first two books, a couple of online friends who had already read the three books suggested we have an ongoing discussion about That Hideous Strength. We did, and I will be including parts of our discussion - and their insights - in this post as well. 


 Ah, those classic Sci-Fi pulp-era covers. Those are the ones I remember from my childhood.


Just a few observations at the outset. 


First, the third book seems to flesh out some of the ideas that Lewis introduces in the first two books, particularly about sex and gender (a lot more on that later) and human politics. On the first, I think he gets some things right, and other things badly wrong - probably in part due to the fact that he was a lifelong bachelor at that point, and also because of a bad theological error that has plagued much of the history of Christendom. On the second, however, I think he actually counteracts some of the things in the first book that bothered me - he not only walks back the hint of colonialism, but he also pushes back really hard against the British Empire and European chauvinism. 


Second, my friend Katy discovered a line in the book which was stolen by the ever-loathsome theobro bully, Doug Wilson, in one of his most notoriously misogynistic posts. Naturally, he didn’t attribute it, and changed it to somehow be even worse than the original, while taking it out of context. Because of course he did.


But I was startled at just how much of this book seems to have had an influence on the rhetoric used by theobros generally and by the culture warriors in particular. To do so, they have had to pick and choose from this book, take things out of context, and flip them to mean things Lewis never intended. 


So, rather than an anti-industrial, anti-totalitarian, anti-colonialist, rather universalist book, it has managed to become a misogynist, anti-contraception, anti-egalitarian book, justifying a scorched-earth culture war on anyone who is outside of the narrow political and theological tribe. 


Which, well, that is the problem with Evangelicals and the interpretation of everything, right? Old odd ends of the holy writ, taken out of context, isolated from other passages on the same topics, interpreted in the most unkind way possible, and wielded as a weapon against others. 


I recently saw a meme which noted that Evangelicals treat scripture like Amelia Bedilia. Which is both funny and someone true - they take things so literally they miss the meaning. Except that Amelia Bedelia is goofy and silly and good hearted, while Evangelical interpretations are coldly calculated to exclude from the Kingdom just about anyone who isn’t white, middle to upper class, cishet, Republican, and in many cases male. (At least if you want to be treated as fully human.) 


So, after reading this book, I could both see exactly where some of the worst rhetoric of the Culture Wars™ was stolen from, but also truly appreciated what Lewis was saying, even if I will always disagree with him on Gender Essentialism. 


I also think that the weaknesses of this book and of the series in general can be largely attributed to the time in which Lewis lived. They are the parts of the book that look a good bit different in the 21st Century than they did back in the 1930s and 40s. Cultural and political change giving women far more flexible lives make his dichotomy of work or children a false one, while the political alliance between the retrogressive right and totalitarianism in our own time tends to obscure the more complicated links of the past - where eugenics and “progress” were both seen as modern leftist ideas. I mean, the Nazis were right-wing, but they also used the language of progress and modernity and shaking off the shackles of the past even as they sought to return to past glories and social hierarchies. 


This post will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book, you might want to stop at this point and return later. 


Out of the Silent Planet introduces the main protagonist of the first two books, professor Elwyn Ransom - based, according to Lewis, on J. R. R. Tolkien. It also introduces the primary antagonists of the first two books, Weston, and Devine. One of the things I felt was a weakness of the third book (which is, in my opinion, the weakest and most uneven of the series, for reasons I will discuss throughout this post), is that Ransom is relegated to a kind of sainthood, and all of the delightful internal struggles and mysteries that make him such an excellent character are gone. Now, he is a demi-god, and no longer has any need for growth. He has gone from a delightfully dynamic hero to a flat and static decoration. 


Instead, we get Mark Studdock, who is an annoying douchebag. As my friends pointed out, he is the Edmund/Eustace character of the series, the insufferable jerk who undergoes a conversion experience and is reborn. And, apparently, Mark is Lewis himself. (This tracks: Lewis was always self-deprecating, and tended to write his own failures quite convincingly.) 


Mark is obsessed with “fitting in” to some sort of in-group. Which is, literally, the sort of person who annoys me most. The shallow status-seeking, which so often is inseparable from bullying behavior toward others as a means of gaining status. 


The problem with Mark, though, is that he is boring. Edmund is immature, and gets off by bullying his younger sister. Magical things give him his just deserts, humbling him before his conversion. Eustace is one of Lewis’ greatest creations, and his conversion story simply incredible in its imagination - while remaining so emotionally realistic. 


Mark? Not so much. Because this series is “realistic” science fiction, and Mark is a grownup, he can’t have the truly exaggerated personality or magical conversion process. Everything has to be in his own head and seem realistic and believable. 


That isn’t to say that Mark’s conversion feels unrealistic or unsatisfying - actually the last 20 pages are about the only time he isn’t insufferable and boring. In fact, I would say his character arc is handled better than that of his wife, Jane. (More on that later.) He just isn’t nearly as compelling of a protagonist as Ransom or any number of other Lewis characters. I would say Lewis would have been better off making Jane the protagonist - she would have been far more active and interesting had she been the one to be in contact with N.I.C.E (the nefarious organization that is the enemy of all that is good), and her superior sense of morality would have made this a different book. (Think about how Lucy is such a great protagonist in the Narnia books, for example.) 


Just as Ransom is sidelined in favor of Mark, Dick Devine becomes a bit of an afterthought in this book. He starts off in the role of recruiting Mark to N.I.C.E., then mostly bows out until the end. Which is too bad, because he is the best villain in the series - not the pure evil of Weston, or the various academic types that serve various roles in this book. 


The basic idea is that the extraterrestrial issues from the first two books - the attempted colonization and exploitation of Mars in the first, and the attempt to corrupt Venus in the second - have now led to a battle on Earth. 


A group of leftist (although that term isn’t the same as it is in our time) have made common cause with the fallen angel of Earth (essentially Satan) to form N.I.C.E., and are engaging in their plans to take over the planet. 


The “leftist” nature of the group is shown through a few things which seem oddly anachronistic now. Eugenics is a big part of the program, of course - something both “left” and “right” back then were in favor of to varying degrees back then. (Hence the connection of white feminists to the eugenics movements at the same time that open Fascists espoused those ideas.) There is also the idea of rehabilitation of criminals rather than punishment - again, something that was very much of its time - this was long before the explosion in mass incarceration here in the US, for example. “Leftist” also seems to mean a belief in scientific progress (and science generally), an anti-environment movement (yeah, that is different now), and a materialist/secularist taken to an extreme not really seen in our modern leftist movements. 


In fact, what I was struck by is how much the leaders of N.I.C.E. appear to be what we now call Transhumanists. Including the belief that we can do away with biological life and retain the pure mind. If you think of the tech-bro billionaire class and their quest for immortality for the few, and the expendability of most of humanity, well, you have N.I.C.E. - Lewis was incredibly prescient on this. 


Which is why it is clear that the theobros have missed the point of the book entirely. 


To further their vision, the N.I.C.E. folks need some way of bridging the gap to tap into the power of the supernatural - in this case, the demons. One means is through the re-animation of the severed head of an executed French criminal. The other is resurrecting Merlin. 


Yeah, we are getting into really weird territory here. 


And this leads into what I think is the greatest weakness of the book - as a book. 


Lewis is trying to do too many things in this book. Whereas I felt each of the first two books held together as stories quite well, this one has too many ingredients and a lack of focus. 


The first 5 or so chapters are all about academia and the behind-the-scenes stuff. I feel like Lewis was venting his spleen about the cliques and politics and all that of institutions like Oxford and Cambridge (both of which he was connected to by that time.) Which was occasionally interesting, but mostly…not. And it didn’t really help with understanding the plot later, even though he thought it did. You had to have been there, I suspect. Likewise, while his satire on the different kinds of academic sorts and their stuffy, content-free ways of talking was funny, it also tended to get in the way of the story. Likewise for what were essentially philosophical digressions. They slowed the pace but never seemed entirely at home in the narrative. 


The Merlin/angels plot fits the best with the rest of the series, and I suppose the gender and sex issues are sort of connected to the first two books, but they also seem separate from what is happening. N.I.C.E. isn’t all that concerned with gender roles - indeed, with the exception of the stock character of the hard-ass lesbian cop Fairy Hardcastle (subtle…), it seems to exclude women from all important roles. 


These various elements tend to make things a muddle, and I think Lewis would have written a better book if he had settled on one central point, and saved the others for a different book. 


Don’t worry, I will get to the great things in this book - because it does have some transcendent moments, some great writing, and some ideas that are worthy of consideration. And these are the things that the theobros ignore completely. 


Before that, though, I do want to go ahead and dive into the gender issues. 


Lewis had a number of well-known issues when it came to his beliefs about women. The “women are not to be in combat” thing, for example, despite the fact that Susan was a badass, and saved the guys on a few occasions. And that Lucy had the most level head of any of the kids in the Narnia series. 


And speaking of Susan, Lewis threw her under the bus at the end of the Narnia series. She had the audacity to grow up, for one thing. And to become a sexual being - interested in men and a human life and not just the fantasy world of Narnia. Neil Gaiman wrote an incredible short story on the subject, by the way. 


Lewis did write decent female characters, but he always seems to have stopped short of realizing that he wrote them as the equals of men, but denied them the full agency and opportunity his male characters got. 


I have thought about this a lot, and I think this book helped me realize what the problem was and is at its root. 


Lewis sees God as masculine. 


This is the central heresy - and it is very much a heresy - that plagues Lewis’ writing in general, this book in particular, and in a broader sense, the trajectory of Christianity since Jerome and Augustine. 


Here is the thing: God does not have sex or gender. 


This shouldn’t really be in dispute. In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, God is often described in feminine terms, not just masculine. If we believe that both male and female are created in God’s image, then that image must by definition include the feminine equally with the masculine. 


And, if you think about it, the entire idea of creation ex nihilo is an inherently female act. Giving birth to the universe. 


My friend Breanna pointed out that this idea of God as masculine stems from the idea that maleness is the default setting of the universe - and this IS the central idea of Patriarchy. Being male is the norm, females are a lesser form of being. (Aristotle, for example, believed that fetuses that didn’t fully develop became female, while the fully developed ones became male.) 


This is, biologically speaking, ludicrous. As we now know, the default setting for living organisms is female, with males existing solely for the purpose of genetic diversity. Ouch. 


So Lewis is on the wrong track from the beginning. From this, every other error flows. If God is masculine, then the essence of masculinity is rule - that is, power over others - while the essence of femininity is submission and obedience. And therefore to be a woman is to learn to submit. (To be fair, Lewis also says that all humans take the feminine role in relation to God, submitting and obeying that “higher” form of masculinity.) 


This is a difference that I will forever have with Lewis - and indeed with many theologians and writers who I otherwise admire. You can blame the culture of the time if you wish, but it is frustrating how hard it seems to be for the males of the past to grant females full humanity and self-determination. 


Also corresponding to this, and connected with the other books is Lewis’ belief (at the time - remember he wasn’t married) that sex was for procreation only. So both sex for pleasure alone, or the use of contraception, was sinful. (As I said, the theobros took the worst parts of this book.) 


Keep these ideas in mind until the end of this post, because they find expression in various ways. 


Okay, with all of that, I’d like to dive into some quotes, and see what sense I can make of things. I am mostly arranging these by topic, not chronology like I most often do when blogging.


The book opens with a quote about marriage - Jane quoting part of the traditional marriage service. 


“Matrimony was ordained, thirdly, for the mutual society, help, and comfort that one ought to have of the other.”


Hmm. Interesting.


“Mutual society, help, and comfort,” said Jane bitterly. In reality, marriage had proved to be the door out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do, into something like solitary confinement. 


Lewis is so damn close to the truth here. He isn’t wrong: for many women like Jane - intelligent, educated, driven, energetic - marriage does remove them from society in a way it does not for men. His description of how this happened is correct: Mark now sees Jane as that little “helpmeet.” She takes care of the infrastructure of his life at home, while he goes out in society and employment. No wonder she is bitter about this. Rather than gain a friend, she has been handed drudgery. 


If only Lewis had been able to see that the cure for this was a re-ordering of gender roles, not a return to them. 


Several passages throughout the book also betray this kind of casual sexism that is Lewis at his worst. This line from Mother Dimble, for example:


“Husbands were made to be talked to. It helps them to concentrate their minds on what they’re reading - like the sound of a weir.”


Gah! Or this one, which is the one stolen by Doug Wilson, from the mouth of Ransom to Jane. 


“No one has ever told you that obedience - humility - is an erotic necessity. You are putting equality just where it ought not to be.” 


Wilson changes it, of course from obedience and humility to “true authority and true submission” - which significantly alters Lewis’ meaning. (Later in the book, we find out that the humility is mutual, not one sided, and it isn’t about power.) 


Even with Lewis’ deeper and more complex meaning, this still rings false. Many of us find equality to be more erotic than obedience. Your mileage may vary, of course - sex is complicated and varies by person - but I would suspect that for a lot of women in particular, being “obedient” does not turn them on. (Just as one example, Shannon Harris… maybe she would have initiated sex more if it hadn’t been pushed on her as a duty…) 


There is also some really weird stuff when it comes to N.I.C.E. and sex. This is part of a very odd conversation (which really shows the Transhumanist views of the organization), in which Professor Filostrato expounds on the abolition of biological life. He says that part of that process will be to build bodies without eating dead things, and reproduce without sex. 


“My friend, you have already separated the Fun, as you call it, from fertility. The Fun itself begins to pass away. Bah! I know that is not what you think. But look at your English women. Six out of ten are frigid, are they not? Nature herself begins to throw away the anachronism. When she has thrown it away, then real civilization becomes possible. You would understand if you were peasants. Who would try to work with stallions and bulls? No, no; we want geldings and oxen. There will never be peace and order and discipline so long as there is sex. When man has thrown it away, then he will become finally governable.”


So many things to unpack here, of course. The theobros have taken what they want from it, naturally. The assertions are of dubious truth - and given the speaker, I wouldn’t consider them necessarily Lewis’ own views. And then, there is the fact that this sure seems to be a very phallocentric viewpoint. 


I can say from personal experience that keeping sex and reproduction completely linked does not in fact make for more passionate sex. Rather the opposite. A mother of a number of very small children may in fact not want sex at all if it meant a further burden at a time when adding more to the brood would be unsustainable. Sex for pure pleasure and bonding, without the fear of pregnancy, often is less inhibited for that reason. 


Finally, I want to mention Lewis’ issue with what I will call “assertive women.” And by that, I don’t mean in the spunky way, but in the sense of asserting authority over men. Here is his line when Mark first meets Fairy Hardcastle:


It would be misleading to say he liked her. She had indeed excited in him all the distaste which a young man feels at the proximity of something rankly, even insolently sexed, and at the same time wholly unattractive. 


Yeah, nothing like a buxom, obviously female human who is also brash and vulgar and pushy - clearly not attractive - and of course, not interested in fucking him. 


I am also reminded of John Piper and his bizarre rant against women at gyms who were strong. I get the feeling Lewis and Piper both were having issues with their own arousal in such circumstances. Maybe they should just admit they have fantasies about being dominated by women. There is nothing inherently shameful about that. 


Now, all of the above is undeniably in the book. But there are also moments that at least add a lot of nuance to these ideas - in fact, in some cases, they outright undermine them. 


For example, in his utopian community (headed, more or less, by Ransom), gender roles are not really observed. 


“There are no servants here,” said Mother Dimble, “and we all do the work. The women do it one day and the men the next. What? No, it’s a very sensible arrangement. The Director’s idea is that men and women can’t do housework together without quarreling. There’s something in it. Of course, it doesn’t do to look at the cups too closely on the men’s day, but on the whole we get along pretty well.” 

“But why should they quarrel?” asked Jane.

“Different methods, my dear. Men can’t help in a job, you know. They can be induced to do it: not to help while you’re doing it. At least, it makes them grumpy.”


Leaving aside the fact that some of us can in fact be helpers to women without getting grumpy, and my cups are pretty darn clean when I do the dishes, this is actually pretty progressive and egalitarian. One of the ways that you remove the stigma of “women’s work” is to insist on equal responsibility for the task. Men don’t “help” with the housework - they are equally responsible to see it gets done. 


On the issue of overlooking some slack work, this certainly applies to kids. If you expect them to do it like adults from the outset, you will be disappointed. A 1940s British male might be in a similar situation, perhaps. However you look at it, this is by no means the Patriarchal view of housework. 


Also unexpected and fascinating is that in a scene near the end, when the mythical gods corresponding to the planets come to earth (arguably the most gorgeous writing in the entire book - so poetic and evocative), Lewis mentions that there are seven genders - two of which roughly (but not exactly) correspond to human sex. 


Yeah, that’s not exactly the rigid sex/gender binary is it? I also couldn’t figure out the math on this one. The planets/gods that materialize on earth are Mercury (Hermes), Venus (Aphrodite), Mars (Ares), Saturn, and Jupiter - in that order. That’s five. If you count Earth, which is ruled by the fallen Lucifer, you have six. So we are missing one or two there. Questions abound. 


But I think it is fair to say that Lewis envisioned a lot more gender diversity than Fundamentalists and Evangelicals do today. Something I would love to ask him if we meet in eternity. 


And finally, there is the return of Mark to Jane. Remember the “humility” thing? Well, Mark has to learn humility. Far from returning as the conquering hero, ready to force himself on a submissive wife, he spends a good bit of time processing his shame over his treatment of her. He has taken her for granted, insisted on his rights, and utterly failed to see her true beauty and value. 


Um, that doesn’t sound very patriarchal. 


And Lewis makes it clear that when he approaches her bed, he knows it must be with humility and even awe at the incredible gift her love is. 


Yeah, that’s actually…pretty great. That’s why Mark’s salvation or conversion or whatever you want to call it is so convincing. It’s not even 100% clear that he believes in God by the end, but he has had a true inner transformation that compels him to demonstrate and receive love. 


Unfortunately, Jane’s conversion fails to have the same resonance. Her mystic experience is weirder to begin with, but it also seems to have a nebulous and unsatisfying result. Since she already is moral and admirable, she can’t flip the same way Mark (or Eustace) does. 


So instead, we are given this impression that she has decided to give up her academic ambitions and have a child with Mark instead. At least, that’s how I read it. She suddenly becomes okay with all of this subsuming herself in her role. 


This is something that I think is of its time. In 1945, in England. 


Here in the US, we had Rosie the Riveter. In England, not quite as much, unfortunately. More like sewing circles. One reason that the 1950s were so brutal for a lot of suburban women in the United States was that they were forced out of well-paying jobs so that the returning soldiers could have them instead, forcing women back into domestic drudgery. 


So, it makes sense in the context, for Lewis to see motherhood and a career as incompatible - his inclination toward egalitarianism in utopia apparently extended only so far. 


Again, this is different in 1st Century America: 3 in 4 mothers work outside the home, and an increasing number are the higher earning spouse. (My wife has worked since we married, and earns more than I do these days - I earned more when she was working part time when we had infants. We are pretty much the norm too.) 


Really then, the idea that Jane had to drop out of society to reproduce the human species seems really dated. Which is why the theobros chose that to latch on to. (Yeah, I’m plenty pissed about that given my family history.) 

Related and also a bit outdated is this line:


In his company she had that curious sensation which most married people know of being with someone whom (for the final but wholly mysterious reason) one could never have married but who is nevertheless more of one’s own world than the person one has married in fact.


I feel this is related to the fact that Mark and Jane cannot be both colleagues and lovers. It goes beyond the phenomenon of a “work spouse” in the context of this book, to be something…different. And it feels to me rather like the idea that we must compartmentalize romance from friendship.  


So there you have it with the complexities of gender in this book. I was actually expecting it to be a lot more sexist. But the thing with Lewis is that he is never all that simple. Things are nuanced, and complex, and sometimes even contradictory in a way. That is one reason that I admire him both as a person and as a thinker. Even when I disagree with his conclusions. 


There is so much more in this book to talk about too! 


Next up: Lewis briefly breaks the fourth wall a bit.


I remember thinking, “This is the sort of place which, as a child, one would have been rather afraid of or else would have liked very much indeed.” A moment later I thought, “But when alone - really alone - everyone is a child: or no one?” Youth and age touch only the surface of our lives.


Dang, that is an incredible line. I feel that way too. 


Lewis can be wickedly funny at times too - for a fairly serious book, it is laced with laugh out loud lines. How about this one for anticipating a certain kind of “reality television” show? 


Then he rose again to read another letter. This was from a society of Spiritualists who wanted leave to investigate the “reported phenomena” in the Wood - a letter “connected,” as Curry said, “with the next which, with the Warden’s permission, I will now read to you.” This was from a firm who had heard of the Spiritualists’ proposal and wanted permission to make a film, not exactly of the phenomena, but of the Spiritualists looking for the phenomena. 


That’s comic gold right there. Or how about this description of the “witchcraft” of the past?


The whole Renaissance outburst of forbidden arts had, it seemed, been a method of losing one’s soul on singularly unfavorable terms.


I snorted so hard at that one. 


Returning for a minute to Fairy Hardcastle, there are a pair of perceptive observations that Lewis makes. First is that (whatever you think of the stereotype of the nefarious hardass butch lesbian villain), Hardcastle is correct when she says, “You won’t find anyone who can do a job like mine well unless they get some kick out of it.” That is the mentality you need for your henchman who tortures and brutalizes others. Hardcastle may get her rocks off by abusing delicate female bodies - as did plenty of male Nazi guards - but everyone who is good at brutality gets off on it one way or another - whether it is about sex, power, violence, or some other gratification. 


The other entirely realistic scene with Hardcastle is when the shit hits the fan at the end, her response is that of a hell of a lot of cops: pull the gun and start shooting people. Which ends, predictably, with her shooting herself, whether accidentally or intentionally. We never really find out. 


Speaking of oddly perceptive lines from villains, how about this gem from Filostrato?


“All that talk about the power of Man over Nature - Man in the abstract - is only for the canaglia. You know as well as I do that Man’s power over Nature means the power of some men over other men with Nature as the instrument.”


Ah yes, back when “conservative” and “conservation” weren’t antonyms. Lewis (and Tolkein) were foes of industrial capitalism, lest we forget. He is spot-on with this line. From slavery to the Native American Genocide to today’s addiction to fossil fuels, “dominion over nature” is a way of justifying the power of certain men over everyone else. 


Another fun line from one of the N.I.C.E. bosses to a subordinate:


“My dear young friend, the golden rule is very simple. There are only two errors which would prove fatal to one placed in the peculiar situation which certain parts of your previous conduct have unfortunately created for you. On the one hand, anything like a lack of initiative or enterprise would be disastrous. On the other, the slightest approach to unauthorized action - anything which suggested that you were assuming a liberty of decision which, in all the circumstances, is not really yours - might have consequences from which even I could not protect you. But as long as you keep quite clear of these two extremes, there is no reason (speaking unofficially) why you should not be perfectly safe.”


Welcome to authoritarianism…


I mentioned earlier the incredible scene when the gods descend to earth. I think the writing is as imaginative as the best passages in Perelandra, and represent what Lewis could do when he stopped trying to be realistic and just let the emotional-poetic part of his subconscious play on myths. 


There are two parallel scenes. Ransom and Merlin meet each of the gods in turn in Ransom’s room, while the other members of the utopian society are downstairs experiencing the intoxicating effects of the visitations. 


The description of the influence of Mercury - the messenger god of speed and wit:


Now all of a sudden they all began talking loudly at once, each, not contentiously but delightedly, interrupting the others. A stranger coming into the kitchen would have thought they were drunk, not soddenly but gaily drunk: would have seen heads bent close together, eyes dancing, an excited wealth of gesture. What they says, none of the party could ever afterwards remember. Dimble maintained that they had been chiefly engaged in making puns. MacPhee denied that he had ever, even that night, made a pun, but all agreed that they had been extraordinarily witty. If not plays upon words, yet certainly plays upon thoughts, paradoxes, fancies, anecdotes, theories laughingly advanced, yet (on consideration) well worth taking seriously, had flowed from them and over them with dazzling prodigality. 


Lewis compares the experience of the Divine in this way with poetry and music and art. This too is my experience of transcendence. As Lewis puts it, art - and particularly poetry - trains the self in the “counterpoint of the mind,” the ability to see and hold multiple threads of truth and paradox. It is such a beautiful scene. 


After the slow and unfocused start, the story really picks up speed at the end, and, had Lewis not tried to fit so many things in, it would have been quite something. As it was, I actually liked the ending, and didn’t find it particularly confusing. After the drier stuff at the beginning, it felt like Lewis was finally able to return to writing science fiction and adventure, able to see the wonder again, after a bit too much earthbound thought. 


There are a few scenes in sequence worth mentioning. I liked the way that Mark sees the light, not least because he sees through the supposed “objectivism” of N.I.C.E. It becomes clear that, for all of their talk about removing emotions and other biological human stuff from pure thought, it really is just about hate. 


This is where Lewis cuts through a lot of the dated politics to see things more clearly. The scene that spoke to me the most was where, as part of Mark’s “training,” he is asked to stomp on a crucifix. Mark, still an atheist at this point, understands what is going on. 


“This is all surely a pure superstition.”


“Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn’t it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean - damn it all - if it’s only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?”


If you have ever wondered why totalitarian Fascists resemble totalitarian Communists so much, or ever have wondered why Movement Atheists so closely track with the same attitudes as Fundamentalists Christians and Muslims, this is why. If something truly doesn’t matter, it is beneath any need to react. It is just as “subjective” and emotion-driven. I’m not saying that is a problem - I am hardly an “objectivist” in that sense at all. But recognizing that all reaction to something tells a truth about the effect of that something. 


When Mark realizes that N.I.C.E. is in reaction against Christianity, rather than being independent of it, it allows him to reconsider so much. Just like understanding that Fascism is a reactionary response to increased equality (and other circumstances), explains why it has to target things like books and minority voices. 


For Lewis, he eventually - in one of the climactic scenes - reveals the true worldview underlying the book. And it really isn’t about gender, and it really isn’t about “leftism” or anything like that. 


It is about two kingdoms - the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of the World. And by that, I do not mean an expressly “christian” view, but one looking at ultimate values that transcend any one religious tradition. 


It is easy to forget that Lewis was by no means a Christian chauvinist. From Narnia on down, he clearly believed that salvation was not only possible, but common, outside of Christendom. It transcends time, place, tradition, culture, and theology. 


Mark has the epiphany that, whether or not Christianity was true in the literal sense, in the greater sense, Christ was true - and he was executed by the N.I.C.E. of his time. It does not even take a literal person of Jesus Christ to understand that the Christs of this world - those who stand up to the unholy marriage of legalistic purity culture and violent power will be murdered for it. And then this:


Mark made no reply. He was thinking, and thinking hard because he knew, that if he stopped even for a moment, mere terror of death would take the decision out of his hands. Christianity was a fable. It would be ridiculous to day for a religion that one did not believe. This Man himself, on that very cross, had discovered it to be a fable, and had died complaining that the God in whom he trusted had forsaken him - had, in fact, found the universe a cheat. But this raised a question that Mark had never thought of before. Was that the moment at which to turn against the Man? If the universe was a cheat, was that a good reason for joining its side? Supposing the Straight was utterly powerless, always and everywhere certain to be mocked, tortured, and finally killed by the Crooked, what then? Why not go down with the ship? 


That’s literally Mark’s salvation moment. No “sinner’s prayer.” No embrace of the fucked-up doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. He doesn’t even decide God exists. 


But what he DOES do is decide that even - especially - if being on the side of good is doomed because evil is destined to win - it is right to be on the side of good no matter what. 


Oddly, this is also the reason so many of us leave organized religion, from Huck Finn to Isaac Asimov to, well….me. Even if I am damned, I will not sell my soul to evil. 


The final moments of N.I.C.E. are a tour-de-force of self-destruction. After Merlin puts the “curse of babel” on them, so that they speak nonsense like “The madrigore of verjuice must be talthibianised,” they hardly even need the wild beasts to polish them off. The leadership self-immolates figuratively and in one case literally. 


For Wither, essentially the leader of the group (unless you count Satan, of course), his own suicide in the face of eternity is particularly striking and chilling. He knows everything has gone to hell, but he has so hardened his heart that he cannot even consider an alternative.


It was incredible how little this knowledge moved him. It could not, because he had long ceased to believe in knowledge itself. What had been in his far-off youth a merely aesthetic repugnance to realities that were crude or vulgar, had deepened and darkened, year after year, into a fixed refusal of everything that was in any degree other than himself. He had passed from Hegel into Hume, thence through Pragmatism, and thence through Logical Positivism, and out at last into the complete void. The indicative mood now corresponded to no thought that his mind could entertain. He had willed with his whole heart that there should be no reality and no truth, and now even the imminence of his own ruin could not wake him. The last scene of Dr. Faustus where the man raves and implores on the edge of Hell is, perhaps, stage fire. The last moments before damnation are not often so dramatic. Often the man knows with perfect clarity that some still possible action of his own will could yet save him. But he cannot make this knowledge real to himself. Some tiny habitual sensuality, some resentment too trivial to waste on a blue-bottle, the indulgence of some fatal lethargy, seems to him at that moment to be more important than the choice between total joy and total destruction. With eyes wide open, seeing that the endless terror is just about to begin and yet (for the moment) unable to feel terrified, he watches passively, not moving a finger for his own rescue, while the last links with joy and reason are severed, and drowsily sees the trap close upon his soul. So full of sleep are they at the time when they leave the right way. 


That’s just an amazing passage. And I wonder greatly that white Evangelicalism cannot see its face in that mirror. For so long, they have refused truth, knowledge, and indeed reality itself. And, as they teeter on the brink of extinction, they seem completely unable to lift one finger in the direction of positive change. 


And likewise, my parents, who profess to be “devastated” at our estrangement, and yet utterly refused to do even the most minimal, basic thing to repair it, particularly with my wife. 


Returning to Ransom and his companions while N.I.C.E. is imploding, Ransom takes the last of his time on earth, before he is “taken away” like Elijah and Enoch, to instruct his followers in his vision of the great conflict. 


He asserts that England is the site of an eternal struggle between Logres (aka Camelot - the utopia of Arthur’s kingdom) and Britain - the Evil Empire, so to speak. 


Say what? 


Yeah, Lewis was no fan of the British Empire, as he makes clear soon thereafter. 


Here are some of the passages, which I have combined, in this section on the subject:


"How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven't you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers: the home of Sidney - and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? ... There's no special privilege for England - no nonsense about a chosen nation...[I]f one is thinking simply of goodness in the abstract, one soon reaches the fatal idea of something standardized - some common kind of life to which all nations ought to progress. Of course, there are universal rules to which all goodness must conform. But that's only the grammar of virtue. It's not there that the sap is. He doesn't make two blades of grass the same: how much less two saints, two nations, two angels. The whole work of healing [earth] depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every real people, and different in each."


Oh my. 


You want to take a hack at that? Let’s see, he considered Cromwell, the ur-Puritan, evil. He was suspicious of “shopkeepers” - that is, capitalism and consumerism. He called out brutal colonialist Cecil Rhodes by name. 


And he utterly rejects the idea that there is anything special about European Christianity. Every nation, every culture, has its expression of goodness. Every nation, every culture, has a different path to God, even if Lewis believed it would all end up with Jesus Christ (although He probably wasn’t anything like any particular denomination imagined him.) 


It isn’t ultimately the theology that Lewis thought mattered, but the practice of Christ-following. Are we on the side of Good, or the side of Evil. The side of the Crooked or the side of the Straight (in the moral sense)? Are we on the side that is willing to stand up against dehumanization and oppression even if we know we will lose? 


That’s Christianity, not this toxic brew of white nationalism; cultural chauvinism; hierarchies of race, class and gender; American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny; environmental degradation; and the rest of the Fascist horseshit that has appropriated the name of Christ in this country. 


That is why I actually ended up liking this book, despite its issues with sexism and lack of focus in the plot and its other flaws. It’s not Lewis’ best book, but it might just contain his clearest vision of what a genuine Christianity looks like. 


Unsurprisingly, the theobros have misunderstood this book (and Lewis generally - see Screwtape) just as they have completely misunderstood Jesus Christ and what it means to be a Christ-follower. Ultimately, more and more of them will have to jettison Christ himself as being “too woke.” 


This is why, in the era of Trumpist idolatry, and vicious cruelty in the supposed name of Christ, I have found that the true followers of Christ more often don’t claim his name at all. Call it Logres, or call it the Kingdom of Heaven, or just Basic Human Decency, that’s where I want to be. Even if we lose. Even if I am damned. I will not sell my soul. 




This book illustrates what I love about Lewis, and why I keep returning to his books. It also encapsulates my frustrations with his limited view of women. More than that, though, it never fails to impress me that Lewis never writes himself into his books as the hero, the great man, the character everyone loves. Instead, he is Mark, he is Eustace, he is Edmund, he is the man Screwtape and his nephew are trying all too successfully to corrupt. Any person who is that self-critical while also advocating for the humanity of others is, at the most basic level, someone I admire and aspire to imitate. 




One reason that Evangelicals are so desperate to claim C. S. Lewis as “one of them” even as he so clearly is not is that, as Mark Noll pointed out, Evangelicalism these days is just repackaged Fundamentalism, an inherently anti-intellectual movement. Evangelicalism does not produce great minds because it cannot. Those who wish to think will either leave, be forced out (as I was), or be forced to sear their minds and consciences in order to stay. 






Anyone have any idea when the Arthur mythology merged with the myth of the lost continent of Atlantis? 


In all the older stories, Merlin’s origin story was that he was the bastard son of Satan, and thus neither good nor evil but somewhere in between. 


And then, in this book, we have Merlin as one of the race of survivors from Atlantis. I first saw this in Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead - but that came after Lewis. It is also, according to the interwebs, at the core of new TV shows about Atlantis and Merlin. 


By the time Lewis explores this in 1945, he seems to assume it was already a common part of the myth. Tolkien would also utilize this myth in The Silmarillion - Numenor is Atlantis, essentially, the wizards come from there, and Lewis uses the terms interchangeably in this book. So maybe sometime between Tennyson and Tolkien and Lewis? I spent some time with Google, and didn’t come up with anything, but it has to be there. 


Readers of the blog, any light to shed on this mystery?