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Materia appetit formam ut virum femina: form and matter in C. S. Lewis.

Abstract: Throughout his writings, Lewis uses the metaphysical coupling of forma and materia as a way of thinking about and explaining moral as well as literary problems. Critics have little remarked upon the ways in which forma and materia connect Lewis' moral and literary ideas. This omission is rather surprising, given the remarkable consistency of Lewis' thought. Yet we miss an important element of Lewis' scholarly, theological, and philosophical work if we do not notice how intricately connected these areas are by the dichotomy of forma and material. Indeed, for Lewis, the forma and materia of literature are analogous to moral choice and human experience; both in literature and in real life, human experience is the matter which "longs for form."


Throughout his literary criticism, C. S. Lewis is deeply concerned with the relationship between form and matter, forma and materia, poiema and logos. In Preface to Paradise Lost and On Stories, particularly, Lewis argues that for every story, the materia must have its appropriate forma. Thus critics, when interpreting Paradise Lost, must "attend" not only to Milton's theodicy and history of the Fall, but also to epic itself. In Experiment in Criticism, Lewis applies this principle to literature in general: to read well we must attend to both a work's poiema and its logos. Indeed, as he points out, "It is only by being also a Poiema that a Logos becomes a work of literary art at all" (Experiment, 135-36). For Lewis, form is important to literature in the same way ritual is essential to religious observance. In fact, he argues that literary genres like epic are in themselves ritualistic: they bring audiences together (conveniunt) in a kind of ritual of shared experience.

Critics have already examined the "form" of Lewis' creative work. In The Longing for a Form, for example, Peter J. Schakel argues that studies of C. S. Lewis have been "one-sided" emphasizing Lewis' ideas as a theologian and philosopher while "comparatively little attention has been given to Lewis as a creative artist" (xi). Scholarship that investigates the form of Lewis' imaginative literature opens up another path of inquiry, however. As we might expect from a writer as consistent as Lewis, his interest in the relationship between the form of a thing and its matter extends far beyond literary criticism. Throughout his writings Lewis uses the metaphysical coupling of forma and materia as a way of thinking about and explaining moral as well as literary problems. Critics have little remarked upon the ways in which forma and materia connect Lewis' moral and literary ideas. This omission is rather surprising, given the remarkable consistency of Lewis' thought. (2) Yet we miss an important element of Lewis' scholarly, theological, and philosophical work if we do not notice how intricately connected these areas are for him. In order to explain the connection between his moral philosophy and his literary criticism, then, I argue that for Lewis, the forma and materia of literature are analogous to moral choice and human experience; indeed, both in literature and in real life, human experience is the matter which "longs for form."

My claim that the relationship between form and matter is the basis of Lewis' literary and moral thought will proceed in three parts. First, I will argue from his analysis of epic in Preface to Paradise Lost that for Lewis, the ritualistic nature of art is one of the things that makes us human. Second, I will examine Lewis' application of his ritualistic conception of epic to Paradise Lost itself, showing how that idea of ritual begins to take on moral dimensions. Finally, I will use two of Lewis' theological works (Mere Christianity and The Four Loves) and an essay from On Stories to show that Lewis employs the form-material scheme to much the same ends in those works as he does in his literary criticism. I believe this line of thinking will enrich our reading of Lewis by highlighting an essential point of continuity between his literary, philosophical, theological, and moral thought. We can have a deeper understanding of what he says about morality in works like Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man if we can see how his ethics are informed by the same theories that guide his literary criticism.

Lewis divided the Preface into two parts. The first half gives a description and history of epic as a literary form, since, as Lewis puts it, "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). Similarly, in Experiment in Criticism he says that "[literature] is not merely logos (something said) but poiema (something made). The same is true of a novel or narrative poem. They are complex and carefully made objects. Attention to the very objects they are is our first step" (82). He even goes so far as to argue that the only useful job a modern critic can do is "to show others what the work they claim to admire or despise as it really is; to describe, almost to define, its character" (Experiment, 120). Lewis puts the forma of a work of literature before its materia because the "shape" and common characteristics of genres like epic, comedy, and tragedy tells us much about what an author intended the work to do: "as long as you think the corkscrew was meant for opening tins or the cathedral for entertaining tourists you can say nothing to the purpose about them" (Preface, 1). So, too, with epic. If we read Paradise Lost as something other than epic--as comedy, perhaps--we will certainly misunderstand it.

Lewis begins his history of epic in the Preface with a brief overview of the two basic types--what Lewis calls Primary and Secondary Epics--and then proceeds to describe the first of these two species. Setting aside the common definitions of epic, Lewis identifies one distinguishing feature of the genre, a feature that has been present from epic's origins:
   Epic, from the beginning, is solempne. You are to expect pomp. You
   are to "assist" as the French say, at the great festal action. I
   have stressed the point at this early stage because
   misunderstandings must be eradicated from the very first. But our
   history of Epic has so far brought us only to the germ of epic
   solemnity. The Epic does not decline from the law in the heroic
   court to the Miltonic level, but rises; it accumulates and enriches
   solemnity as the centuries proceed. (17-18)

So far we have an innocuous description of a literary genre. Epic is a solemnity. It has at least this one characteristic that must be present for any poem to be an epic. Of course, solemnity does not here mean "gloom, oppression, or austerity." Rather, it "implies the opposite of that which is familiar, free and easy, or ordinary" (17). Thus,
   the ball in the first act of Romeo and Juliet was a 'solemnity: The
   feast at the beginning of Gawain and the Green Knight is very much
   of a solemnity. A great mass by Mozart or Beethoven is as much of a
   solemnity in its hilarious Gloria as in its poignant crucifixus
   est. Feasts are, in this sense, more solemn than fasts. ... The
   Solempne is the festal which is also the stately and the
   ceremonial, the proper occasion for pomp. (17)

The kind of emotion expressed is not as important as ensuring that everything is ordered in its proper place and to its proper proportion. Being set apart and given a form, then, is essential to epic, and gravitas and joy each have their place in it.

Having thus characterized epic as "solemn," "ceremonial," and "stately," Lewis takes the discussion further, implying that what distinguishes epic from lower forms is also one of the very qualities that define humanity. Addressing the question of the stock phrases that characterize epic (particularly Primary Epic), Lewis argues that the common explanation--that stock phrases aided the poet in remembering and reciting the poem--is not adequate because "all art is made to face the audience. Nothing can be left exposed, however useful to the performer.... If the poet's ease were the sole consideration, why have a recitation at all? Is he not very well already, with his wine at his elbow and his share in the roast pork?" (20). The stock phrases, then, must benefit the audience at least as much as the poet--if not more. Hence Homer's "wine-dark sea" and "rosy-fingered dawn" provide a kind of handhold for the audience; the familiar and formulaic are essential for listeners to grasp oral poetry. However, the language of epic
   must not be familiar in the sense of being colloquial or
   commonplace. The desire for simplicity is a late and sophisticated
   one. We moderns may like dances which are hardly distinguishable
   from walking and poetry which sounds as if it might be uttered ex
   tempore. Our ancestors did not. They liked a dance which was a
   dance, and fine clothes which no one could mistake for working
   clothes, and feasts that no one could mistake for ordinary dinners,
   and poetry that unblushingly proclaimed itself to be poetry. (21)

Though Lewis does not explicitly condemn the modern tendencies to avoid ceremony and formality, we can certainly hear the disapproval (or perhaps sadness) in his "we moderns may like" Clearly there is a certain sense of nostalgia in this passage, a feeling of loss for solemnity and ritual. However, we should also notice the dichotomy that Lewis creates between the ritualistic and the "ordinary:' The ordinary things are also the practical occupations which humans share with animals: working, eating, resting. It is precisely the propensity for giving form to our activities that distinguishes the human. Thus, until modern times, all our religion, all our government, nearly all our warfare, and nearly all our art were expected to be steeped in ritual: our worship conformed to a preexisting liturgy; our kings were coronated with pomp; our fighting was done in straight lines under strict terms of right conduct; our literature, music, and painting fell into discreet genres.

The ritual stock phrases have a deeper significance, though, than even the practical problem of listening to a lengthy poem read aloud or the need to give our experience some ornate kind of shape. It is not as if any particular form will do. Lewis notes that when we encounter the sea or the dawn, we will have our own particular reactions to it. The sight will arouse "all manner of hopes and fears, pain or pleasure, and the beauty or grimness of that particular sea and that particular dawn." However, underneath our own individual responses, we also have universal responses to the sea and dawn: "The permanence, the indifference, the heartrending or consoling fact that whether we laugh or weep the world is what it is, always enters into our experience." When we read of the "wine-dark sea" and "rosy-fingered dawn" in Homer, then, the poet does something more than arouse our own particular reactions to those familiar sights. Indeed, "The sonorous syllables in which [Homer] has stereotyped the sea, the gods, the morning, or the mountains, make it appear that we are dealing not with poetry about the things, but almost with the things themselves" (23). Lewis will bring up this feature of Homer and epic again when he discusses Paradise Lost itself, but the point bears mention now: epic does its work in part by inviting readers to conform their own unique experiences to the forma of archetypal patterns. In fact, Lewis seems to suggest both here in the Preface and later when he discusses Milton that the ability to conform raw experience to a preexisting form is one of the things that distinguishes humanity.

In the discussion of epic that takes up the first third of the Preface, Lewis does not attach to his ritualistic theory of literature any overt moral principles; he only suggests. Epics--and literature generally--are moral in the sense that they have ties to the things that make us human: our need to order our activities and lives; our propensity to ceremonialize our most important events; our need for a set of conventions that are "familiar" and yet "set apart" for ritual use. When he turns to Milton's poem, however, the moral implications of Lewis' theory begin to appear more explicit.

Lewis begins his discussion of Paradise Lost by showing how despite a disparity in style, Milton's epic does much the same work as the Homeric poems. In chapter VII, he argues that Milton, rather than describing Paradise as he himself imagines it, employs "archetypal patterns" in order to "arouse" from the reader certain "stock responses" (48). These archetypal images, these first forms--Heaven, Hell, Paradise, etc.--allow readers of Paradise Lost to experience the very forms themselves rather than the particular imaginations or memories that the individual associates with those forms:
   The naif reader thinks Milton is going to describe Paradise as
   Milton imagines it; in reality the poet knows (or behaves as if he
   knew) that this is useless. His own private image of the happy
   garden, like yours and mine, is full of irrelevant
   particularities--notably, of memories from the first garden he ever
   played in as a child. And the more thoroughly he describes those
   particularities the further we are getting away from the Paradisal
   idea as it exists in our minds. (48)

The style for which Milton is sometimes criticized serves two main purposes, then: first, to create an oral, ritualistic reading experience; and second, to ensure that the experience of the story--for both poet and reader--does not exist merely in the imagination of the individual. Like Homer, Milton calls his readers together in ritual in order that their experience might be of the archetypes, the "first forms" of Heaven, Hell, and Paradise: "While seeming to describe his own imagination he must actually arouse ours, and arouse it not to make definite pictures, but to find again in our own depth the Paradisal light of which all explicit images are only the momentary reflection" (49). In other words, Milton creates an experience that is conventional in a strict sense: we must forget our own particular ideas about the forms and see the archetypes themselves as they exist in every mind when we come together for the ritual; we must conform our own ideas of Paradise to the form of Paradise itself.

Lewis' point is easy to misunderstand. Readers may well ask what is the difference between cliche and "stock responses" Lewis himself anticipates the objection. In chapter VIII, he defends Milton's evocation of "stock responses" against critics who might condemn the poet for not describing "specific" experiences. The difference between the cliche and the evocation of stock response is the very difference between a bad writer and a good one. The bad writer cobbles together cliches and commonplaces to elicit easy responses from readers; the good writer makes (poiei) a space or venue in which audiences can come together to share in a common experience. Indeed, for Lewis such common experiences are essential to our humanity: "To me ... it seems that most people's responses are not 'stock' enough, and that the play of experience is too free and too direct in most of us for safety or happiness or human dignity" Lewis explains the modern disdain for the "stock responses" as the result of several causes. First, a "decay of Logic" has resulted in the "untroubled assumption that the particular is real and the universal is not" Second, critics have lost the "old conviction ... that simple 'experience,' so far from being something venerable, is in itself mere raw material, to be mastered ... by the will." And third, bad writers have "aped" the "good Stock responses" for so long that critics now "mistake [good stock responses] for one more instance of posturing" (55). (3)

In short, we must not dismiss the universal and the archetypal because careless writers have handled them poorly. Nor must we accept modern assumptions about what is "real" and "unreal." That which is constructed and practiced is not necessarily faked. A bad writer relies on cliche to do the work that he or she should be doing; a good writer shapes his own particular experiences and those of his readers into the archetypal forms. In evoking a universal response from his readers, Milton brings us to the thing itself. For indeed, an individual's imaginings about Paradise, Heaven, and Hell are sure to be pale and incomplete reflections of the real things at best.

Lewis' claims about Milton's evocation of "stock responses" met with serious criticism in its day. For example, Robert Martin Adams, grouping Lewis together with Jungian critics (4), objects that "Milton's epic has earned its reputation by appealing to readers with many different backgrounds and hence, one supposes, many different [responses].... Many people appreciate Milton's description of Paradise who do not believe that Paradise exists or ever existed" (38-39). Adams' critique seems to miss the point entirely. Lewis' argument does not stand or fall on the truth of Christian doctrines. Particularly in the West, the paradisal archetype transcends religious belief or a lack thereof; the very nature of an archetype is that it exists in the collective mind of the culture. People need not believe in the satanic archetype in order for characters like Iago and Richard III to arouse images of the Devil. So, too, with paradisal and infernal archetypes.

Other scholars criticized Lewis for related reasons. Kathleen Nott (The Emperor's Clothes, 1953) and M. K. Starkman ("The Militant Miltonist; or, the Retreat from Humanism" 1959) attacked Lewis as passing off Christian apologetics as literary criticism. Adams, too, whose general tone seems derisive to any critic with whom he disagrees, refers sarcastically to Lewis' "capacity of public moralist" (38). Other critics, like A.J.A. Waldock ('"Paradise Lost' and Its Critics" 1947) argued against Lewis' insistence that we should understand Milton's intentions in writing Paradise Lost. He claimed that the poet's intentions are not relevant to the way in which modern readers interpret the poem. Waldock's criticism, in particular, seems to stem from an anti-Christian sentiment. His sweeping assumption about modern readers makes all educated, intelligent people into skeptics and materialists.

In chapter VIII Lewis anticipates some of the objections that his "stock responses" would raise. Readers might say that, far from being the characteristic of a literary genius, the arousal of "stock responses" is the "mark of the cheap writer" (52). Lewis' response to this objection bears some attention. Using I. A. Richards' definition, he says that by "Stock response" he means "a deliberately organized attitude which is substituted for 'the direct free play of experience.'" This kind of response, Lewis says, "is one of the first necessities of human life" and "All that we describe as constancy in love or friendship, as loyalty in political life, or, in general as perseverance--all solid virtue and stable pleasure--depends on organizing chosen attitudes and maintaining them against the eternal flux (or "direct free play") of mere immediate experience" (55). To put it in another way, Lewis argues that to experience Paradise in a poem one must put aside private notions and experience the archetype laid out by the poet, and when one loves or perseveres, one must embrace the universal meaning of the word. It must be learned and practiced. Thus Lewis cites Von Hugel, who says "I kiss my son not only because I love him, but in order that I may love him." Loving means the very act of doing the thing that universally expresses love; that is, a father who loves his son conforms that feeling to a form universally recognizable as love.

Later in chapter VIII, in a small passage that might easily be overlooked, Lewis shifts his argument about "stock responses" onto moral ground in order to provide further support for his theory. The passage, which seems almost a side note to the literary matter at hand, complicates moral questions that arose during the modernist period and--far from having been settled in the intervening time--have only become more controversial. The literary "stock responses" Lewis argues, have analogues in the moral sphere:
   [Some people have] a belief ... that a certain elementary rectitude
   of human response is 'given' by nature herself.... I believe this
   to be a dangerous delusion. Children like dabbling in dirt; they
   have to be taught the stock response to it. Normal sexuality, far
   from being a datum, is achieved by a long and delicate process of
   suggestion and adjustment which proves too difficult for some
   individuals and, at times, for whole societies. (56)

Lewis names even more basic issues to show that the "stock responses" must be learned. The natural responses to pride, treachery, death, pain and pleasure have all become "uncertain" (56). Milton, who counted on his readers reacting with reprehension at the pride of Satan, could not count on such a response if he had written Paradise Lost in modern times. Even before Lewis' time, modernists had been asking whether anything could be considered "normal" or natural when humans by "nature" do not necessarily have the "stock responses" to pride or to non-traditional sexuality.

Coming from Lewis--who believes in a natural moral law inscribed in every human heart, Christian morality, and the essential division of the sexes--this claim that basic morality must be cultivated through familial and social education is surprising. Yet it also rings true to experience. Leaving aside issues raised during the sexual revolution--which decades later are still the source of vehement disagreement--we can readily see that many morally reprehensible or deviant behaviors often occur as a result of bad moral education. Pedophilia, a behavior almost universally condemned in Western society, is often either caused or exacerbated by poor social upbringing. Yet since the beginning of the modernist movement, many have asked whether any behavior that is learned and not '"given' by nature herself" can be considered "normal" at all. If playing in dirt is a boy's "natural" behavior before he is educated to do otherwise, and if moral taboos against homosexual practices, pedophilia, incest, polyamory, or other sexual behaviors considered deviant have to be learned, then the modernist asks, "Why should we prefer the 'normal' behavior? Why not behave 'naturally'?"

Lewis' agreement with the modernist who says that moral behavior is not necessarily "natural" in the sense of "given" seems to complicate the theory of natural law that he posits in Mere Christianity. In that book, he begins his argument for the truth of Christianity by pointing out something he thinks everyone already knows: that we all believe that people ought to behave in a certain way, that there is a kind of natural law (Lewis calls it the "Law of Human Nature"), and that we all fail to follow that law perfectly. We all know that we should keep our promises; none of us keeps all our promises all the time. We all know that we should treat others as we would want them to treat us, but none of us practices the Golden Rule perfectly. Lewis distinguishes this "Law of Human Nature" from the laws that govern the physical universe. The "laws" of material things turn out to be only the facts, what material things and physical forces actually do:
   The laws of nature, as applied to stones or trees, may only mean
   'what Nature, in fact, does: But if you turn to the Law of Human
   Nature, the Law of Decent Behaviour, it is a different matter. That
   law certainly does not mean 'what human beings, in fact, do' ...
   The law of gravity tells you what stones do if you drop them; but
   the Law of Human Nature tells you what human beings ought to do and
   do not. In other words, when you are dealing with humans, something
   else comes in above and beyond the actual facts. (17)

For both humans and non-personal things, the facts turn out to be one kind of "law"--what actually happens. But what distinguishes humans from other physical objects turns out to be the thing above what actually happens. In their "natural" (as in "given") behavior, humans are not very easily distinguishable from non-personal matter "obeying" the "laws" of physics; we "obey" biological principles when we eat, sleep, reproduce, build shelter, fight, and die. It is what we ought to do that makes the distinction. Humans are different from "trees" and "rocks" because we have both a "natural" way of behaving (in the sense that there is a way in which we actually behave) and a "Natural" way for us to behave (in the sense of a Law that governs our behavior).

Lewis anticipates the obvious objection to natural law theory, noting that a skeptic might ask whether or not the "Law of Human Nature" is merely the "herd instinct" He answers by pointing out that while instincts certainly influence human behavior, calling the moral law mere "instinct" raises a problem only answerable by the moral law itself. When two instincts come into conflict with one another, we sometimes feel as if we ought to encourage and obey the weaker of the two instincts. We have in us, then, something that judges between instincts and decides which is appropriate for which occasion: "Now this thing that judges between two instincts, that decides which should be encouraged, cannot itself be either one of them. You might as well say that the sheet of music which tells you, at a given moment, to play one note on the piano and not another, is itself one of the notes" (10). He uses a similar analogy when he says, "The Moral Law is not one kind of instinct or set of instincts: it is something which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts" (11). The musical analogy should not surprise us. The notes on a sheet of music--or the genre into which a piece of literature fits--are a kind of "form" to which the artist must conform.

This notion of a guiding principle that orders human choices should remind us of a passage from Lewis' essay, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said" There, Lewis argues that there are two "persons" in every author. Each of these figures has his essential role in the creative process, and each is required for the production of the literary work. In considering how authors determine what kinds of stories they write, Lewis distinguishes between
   the author as author and the author as man, citizen, or Christian.
   What this comes to for me is that there are usually two reasons for
   writing an imaginative work, which may be called the Author's
   reason and the Man's. If only one of these is present, then, so far
   as I am concerned, the book will not be written. If the first is
   lacking, it can't; if the second is lacking, it shouldn't. (45)

We might also assign the names Form and Matter to these two figures. The Author-as-Author is the one who produces the matter for the story; the Author-as-Man gives shape to the imaginative raw materials. The Author-as-Author receives inspiration that "bubbles up every now and then," making a "ferment [that] leads to nothing unless it is accompanied with the longing for a Form: verse or prose, short story, novel, play or what not" (45). When this materia becomes subject to the forma of the Author-as-Man, the work may become fruitful. Indeed, Lewis gives the scheme a sexual analogy: "It's like being in love" (46).

More importantly, the Author-As-Man's governance over the Author-as-Author is not merely artistic. In order to write a successful story, he must give his work the proper shape, but the Author-as-Man must also attend to larger considerations:
   While the Author is in this state [the state of producing the
   imaginative material], the Man will of course have to criticize the
   proposed book from a quite different point of view. He will ask how
   the gratification of this impulse will fit in with all the other
   things he wants, and ought to do or be. Perhaps the whole thing is
   too frivolous and trivial ... to justify the time and pains it
   would involve. Perhaps it would be unedifying when it was done. Or
   else perhaps ... it looks like being 'good', not in a merely
   literary sense, but 'good' all around. (46)

The Author-as-Man's role is moral as well as creative. The creation of the story must contribute to the whole man ("what he wants, and ought to do or be"). The story must also be edifying, and we can reasonably assume that this means both to the author and to his audience. After all, the second "person" of this scheme is the "author as man, citizen, or Christian," whose responsibilities are not only to himself, but also to his fellow citizens and fellow Christians. In short, the work must be good in two senses: first, the process of making the story must be good for the author himself; and second, the story must be good for those who read it. In a way "they" make a kind of offspring who will go into the world. Parents want to create the best circumstances within which to raise a child, and they do their best to make the child into the best kind of person, one who will play a positive role in society.

The resonances between this scheme of Author-as-Man (forma, poiema) and Author-as-Author (materia, logos) and the relationship between man and woman recall Lewis' discussion of the masculine and feminine principles in The Four Loves. In his chapter on eros, Lewis argues that in the exchange of love between the sexes, "The man does play Sky-Father and the woman the Earth-Mother; he does play Form and she Matter" (103). The relationship between the Author-as-Man and the Author-as-Author thus mirrors the relationship between lovers in a way. The beloved responds and to the lover and conforms to him; so, too, the Author-as-Author conforms to the forma of the Author-as-Man.

Of course, Lewis is careful in The Four Loves to emphasize that men and women merely "play" the parts that he attributes to them. For him, lovers only participate in the cosmic principles of masculine and feminine, lover and beloved, Form and Matter, Christ and Church; they do not--indeed, cannot--be the things themselves: "The Sky-Father himself is only a Pagan dream of One far ... more masculine than the male. And a mortal man is not even the Sky-Father, and cannot really wear his crown. Only a copy of it, done in tinselled paper. I do not call it this in contempt.... Paper crowns have their legitimate ... uses" (104-05). This, too, mirrors the creative artist. The Author-as-Man and Author-as-Author, working together, in significant ways symbolize the first two Persons of the Christian Trinity. The Author-as-Man represents the Father Whose Logos (the Author-as-Author) must be shaped into the Form of his will. But like the lovers who only play at being "Sky-Father" and "Earth-Mother" the imaginative writer only plays at creation; in truth, he can only imitate or interpret. The interplay of the Authors and lovers is a rite or drama, a kind of masque in which the players enact the divine and cosmic things they represent.

The notion of "playing at" a role, of assuming a part in a cosmic dance in which the individual is only a small player, explains a great deal about Lewis' beliefs as a scholar, philosopher, and popular theologian. In each of these capacities, Lewis certainly attends to the needs of his various audiences, but the same thinker is present throughout his work. Mere Christianity is certainly addressed to a popular audience; Preface to Paradise Lost and On Stories take on all of the appropriate conventions for literary criticism; yet again The Four Loves addresses the concerns of a slightly different audience. Despite their differing audiences, however, the unifying idea of form and matter joins all three books together.

Yet even Lewis' insistence that "material longs for form as a woman longs for man" leads to a deeper issue about human nature. As I have shown, Lewis' repeated use of form and matter to explain literature and morality point to what he believes defines humanity. Art in its very essence is the shaping of experience into a form. Morality is the conformity of our choices to a standard of behavior that shapes our lives. This ability--indeed, necessity--to build something from the raw material of simple experience distinguishes humanity from everything else in the material world. Both in the literary and the moral sphere, this very human quality turns out to be the ability to obey: the poet obeys Epic and the man or woman obeys Goodness.

Someone might object that even by Lewis' own standards, freedom is an essential human quality--and obedience is a limit upon freedom. Freedom from restrictions of convention and genre allows artistic creativity and originality, and as Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, freedom from the laws of physics and biology allows humans to make decisions based on ethics and love. As we might expect, however, Lewis has already answered the objection. In the Preface, for example, he writes, "in submitting to the Form it [the matter inside the poet] becomes really original"; the very attempt to be original "brings out only the more conscious and superficial parts of a man's mind" In conforming to a form, a poet "is more likely to bring out all that was really in him" (3). Originality comes--perhaps paradoxically--not from exercising unlimited artistic freedom but rather from obedience.

In morality, too, obedience turns out to be true freedom. In That Hideous Strength, Ransom discusses the difference between human and animal feelings upon observing the apparent "friendship" between the bear Mr. Bultitude and the cat Pinch: "You've got to become human before the physical cravings are distinguishable from affections--just as you have to become spiritual before affections are distinguishable from charity" (258). The difference between human and animal is one of will. Animals, who have no will, merely follow their biological instincts. Humans, who have a limited will, obey both their "cravings" and "affections." Spiritual beings, whose wills are perfectly free, can distinguish between natural affection and charity, which is love through an act of will. Thus the highest form of love or friendship (which has its "germ" in the friendship between Bultitude and Pinch) is one in which the will is free to make choices about natural affections, to take the raw material of inclinations, cravings, and desires and fit them to a pattern of behavior. As Lewis argues in The Four Loves, charity (agape) is the only truly free love, because it is the only love that is not "natural" in the sense that it springs from our biology or preferences without our having chosen it. But charity is also bound in that it conforms to the pattern of Goodness. It chooses to obey. That is its nature, Lewis argues.

In a way it is entirely fitting that Lewis, who served as Chair of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge, should be so influenced by the old dichotomy of forma and materia that had preoccupied the writers he studied. Perhaps even more fitting is the consistency with which the ancient idea informed his thought. Scientia was still one for the medievals, who were only beginning to see bare hints of the kinds of specialization of knowledge that characterizes the modern university. Lewis clearly respected such fields of specialty as psychology, philosophy, and mathematics, to be sure. On the other hand, throughout his many contributions to various fields of knowledge, we can see in Lewis a remarkable coherence of thought. The old dance between poiema and logos, forma and materia, guides his reason whether he engages in philosophy, theology, or criticism. Always for him, knowledge is one: the eternal Form of Truth.

East Georgia State College


Adams, Robert Martin. Ikon: John Milton and the Modern Critics. Ithaca, NT: Cornell UP, 1955.

Lewis, C. S. An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1961.

--. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins, 1980.

--. Miracles. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

--. Preface to Paradise Lost. New York: Oxford UP, 1961.

--. "Psycho-Analysis and Literary Criticism." Selected Literary Essays. Ed. Walter Hooper. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.

--. "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's To Be Said" On Stories. New York: Harcourt, 1988.

--. The Abolition of Man. New York: HarperCollins, 1974.

--. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt, 1988.

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(1) "Matter desires form as a woman man." Quoted from Preface to Paradise Lost (3). The phrase originally appears in Aristotle's Physics.

(2) For indeed, one finds Lewis' core ideas throughout his corpus; for example, his interest in the tendency of descriptive words to become terms of approval over time shows up in his apologetic work (Mere Christianity), his linguistic work (Studies on Words), and in his philosophical work (Miracles).

(3) Lewis discusses stock responses in other works, as well. See, in particular, The Abolition of Man, 24-26.

(4) Lewis apparently did not consider himself a "Jungian critic" since he speaks of "Jung and his followers" in the third person (On Stories, 3). He does, however, approve of lung's theories as they apply to literature. "Indeed I have slipped into [Jungian criticism] at times myself" he writes in "Psycho-Analysis and Literary Criticism" and later, "Thanks to my training I can suspend my judgment about the scientific value [of Jung's theories]: but I perceive at once that even if it turns out to be bad science it is excellent poetry" (296, 297).
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Author:Boudreaux, Armond J.
Publication:Christianity and Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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