The Ideal of Kingship in the Writings of Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien: Divine Kingship is Reflected in Middle-earth.
PUBLISHED BY A BRITISH COMPANY WITH A LONG HISTORY of specialization in academic theological works, this book provides a thought-provoking study of a narrow but well-developed concept. Scarf focuses not simply on kingship, but the exact ways in which many presentations of or allusions to kingship as it appears in the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry of the three best-known Inklings is a reflection of a very specific concept about God.
The book is structured in a rather simple manner, focusing first on Williams, then Lewis, then Tolkien, before pulling it all together in a conclusion that points out the main similarities in their ideas. While this makes the book highly accessible for the reader or researcher who is interested in only one of the three, it is not a convenient structure for the reader who is primarily interested in the ways that their ideas about kingship as a reflection of the divine reflect or interact with each other. That sort of reader would be best served by beginning with the conclusion and then going back through the other chapters in order to understand how each chapter supports the claims he makes.
The primary conclusions that Scarf draws from his meticulous study of the work of these three authors is as follows: they share a belief that a king is a "viceregent" of God, they believe that kings owe their allegiance to God, they believe that kings have an inherent glory, and they believe, in a paradoxical way, that the crucified Christ is a model for kingship. As viceregent, the king makes decisions in the place of God. As such, kings must be obedient to God and therefore cannot be the absolute authority themselves. Intrinsic to the title instead the person, the glory of Kings reflects not their own power, but the power of God. And finally, the kings that these three write about do not use their countries to serve their own ends and interests, but instead love their people in a self-sacrifical way. They put their kingdoms before themselves.
These themes are presented through close examinations of a wide variety of the work of each of these three authors. These close readings are, in fact, the strongest feature of this book. Scarf does not hesitate to venture into works rarely discussed, including such texts as Charles Williams's set of poems titled The Silver Stair and several of his biographies of British Royalty. One example of Scarf at his best is a two-page explanation of Williams's Shadows of Ecstasy which focuses on the way in which King Inkamasi works as a Christ-figure; another is the way he explores an argument in Lewis's Preface to Paradise Lost regarding who should be ruled as opposed to who should do the ruling. At the same time, Scarf also spends a good amount of time on some of the better known works of these authors. He gives a particularly lucid interpretation of Charles Williams's Arthurian poems, focusing on Arthur as Christ's viceregent, on money as a symbol of sacrifice, and the importance of hierarchy and order in these texts. The time spent on Tolkien's Silmarillion discussing Iluvatar's role as a God-figure is also well done. His interpretation of Lewis's space trilogy as a working out of many of the same ideas as Williams's Taliessin poems is quite intriguing.
While this book does present many fascinating ideas, it also has a few weaknesses. Sometimes, for example, transitions between paragraphs would help the reader more clearly understand the relationship between ideas. There are a few places in which the author's train of thought is unclear because two paragraphs next to each other seem to have nothing in common. Another weakness lies in the assumptions that the author makes about what the reader does or does not already know and understand from his perspective. For example, in one paragraph Scarf makes the statement that Aslan's sacrifice is clearly an example of an "Anselmian" idea of "salvation through Substitution" (66). Unfortunately, he immediately states that this can be seen in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe without explaining how, and he then moves into what Lewis says about Charles Williams's views of substitutional atonement. There are multiple ways in which this paragraph is problematic. First, Scarf is talking about the atonement, a specific Christian doctrine that has been presented through many different models over the two thousand years of Christian history. The vast majority of them are based in substitution; Anselm's model is certainly not the only one that does this. Added to this is the complicated fact that many who have written about the atonement from different perspectives have used The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to explain what they mean. For example, it has been used to support the Christus Victor model, in which Christ pays a debt to the devil, as well as Anselm's model, in which God's honor has been diminished and therefore a debt needs to be paid. The reader who does not know what "Anselmian" means will not gain any understanding about the topic at hand from Scarf's use of the word, while the reader who does know will want an explanation of why this particular model has been named, how he sees it at work in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and what connection he wants his reader to draw between it and Williams's writing about sacrifice. In other words, Scarf attempts to cram into one paragraph what would have been enough material for, if not an entire chapter, at least a decent-sized subsection.
At the same time that readers are expected to understand highly specific words, this text appears to occasionally feel the need to explain some words or concepts that are in much more common usage. For example, by far the most unfortunate sentence in the entire book reads as follows: "During a period of Atheism, Lewis found it difficult either to believe in God or to see Him as King" (67). "Well, yes," the reader is tempted to respond, "That would be the definition of 'atheism.'"
In spite of these weaknesses, however, this book is well worth reading for anyone interested in a specifically Christian interpretation of the work of Tolkien, Lewis and Williams. It is also worthwhile for those who are interested in the idea of kingship as presented in their books. In spite of occasional weaknesses, Christopher Scarf has created a scholarly approach to a narrow concept that presents some rare gems waiting to be mined by the careful reader.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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