Animals in C.S. Lewis's fiction

August 31, 2020

Animals in C.S. Lewis's fiction

Image: Zdenek Machacek on Unsplash.com

Jerry Root [1]

C. S. Lewis uses fiction in order to persuade as well as logic. He and his friend J. R. R. Tolkien together committed themselves to write the kinds of stories they liked to read, and that clearly supported their personal interests. Tolkien’s love of trees and forests, along with a general sense of human responsibility for the environment, is woven into the fabric of Middle Earth. Similarly, Lewis clearly advocated for the animals in his Narnian books and his science fiction trilogy.

The talking beasts of Narnia are afforded equal rights with the humans of that world; albeit the Narnian animals possess reason and personhood. Lewis allows his fiction to open the eyes of his readers that they might see and appreciate the beasts and all they bring, even to the discovery of human dignity in the just treatment of these mysterious creatures. In a sense, he uses these books to fulfill the longing he expressed in the Epilogue of An Experiment in Criticism. In that book Lewis wrote that his own eyes were not enough for him—he longed to see what others have seen. Even that was not enough—he longed to read what they have imagined. Still, he was not satisfied—he regretted that the brutes could not write books, for he wished he could see how the world presented itself to the eyes of a mouse or a bee, or how it came charged to the olfactory sense of a dog.

While Lewis’s Narnia books cannot give us this precisely, he certainly sets the hearts of his readers to wondering. The books are written to tell specific stories— stories where children enter the world of animals. Seeing animals there, possessing dignity and grace, they are more likely to see better in their own world when they return from the adventure. The great lion Aslan, the Christ figure of Narnia, tells Lucy that he lives in her world too, only there he goes by a different name. She has been brought to Narnia to know him in Narnia for a short while that she might come to know him better in her world. Similarly, in seeing the animals of Narnia in a fresh way, every animal in our world is seen with a renewed sense of wonder and awe.

Lewis’s science fiction books look at the matter of animals in a different light. The animals are not central to the stories per se, though they do play a major role in the conclusion of the trilogy and bring about justice and judgment to that world. Yet the point is constantly (and consistently) made that those who are good in these books have a love for animals and always make room for them. The Manor, where Ransom, the hero of the books, holds sway, is a menagerie of animals. And they are treated with kindness and make up the hominess of that world. By contrast, the evil characters, with their nefarious designs, who make up the N. I. C. E. (the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments), are all vivisectionists. While it is not explicitly stated, Lewis makes a clear link in these books between evil characters and the illtreatment of animals. In fact, perhaps the most evil character in all of his fiction, Weston—whose evil reduces Lewis simply to call him ‘the unman’—is a vivisectionist. The loss of his humanity is seen in his disregard for the animals. This linkage is also seen in other evil characters in Lewis’s fiction. Evil Uncle Andrew, in The Magician’s Nephew, performs experiments on guinea pigs and eventually performs experiments on the children Polly and Digory. The Magician, in Lewis’s narrative poem Dymer, shoots a lark and then, in time, turns his gun on Dymer. Jadis Queen of Charn, who becomes the White Witch of Narnia, is characterised by her cruelty to animals. In all of this Lewis is making rhetorical points on behalf of the animals.[2] It is a mark of evil to treat animals poorly; it is a sign of goodness to treat them well. A just person assumes responsibility for the animals.

ENDNOTES

[1] This column is adapted from a section of a longer article, ‘C. S. Lewis as an Advocate for Animals’, published by The Humane Society of the United States www.humanesociety.org/sites/default/files/docs/cs-lewisadvocate-animals.pdf (accessed August 2020). Reprinted with permission.

[2] Lewis does not depend solely on fiction to make this point. His apologetic work is where he directs his attention most clearly to the questions of animals, in particular The Problem of Pain. See discussion in the full article from which this excerpt is taken (Ibid.).



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