Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Yesterday, I talked about the numinous image and gave two examples from my own novels.

From time to time I am struck while reading with an image that I imagine took the writer by surprise or at least filled him with warmth when it emerged from his or her unconscious mind.

The work of Charles de Lint is full of these archetypal characters. Another writer that seems connected to the unconscious is C.S. Lewis.

I know he was consciously working within his philosophical and religious perimeter but I think he was unaware that he was creating archetypal characters that were universal in their appeal and that struck a sharp cord outside of his Christian universe, the world he called the ‘sub-Christian world.’ The best example of his unknowing use of images is Lucy in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, pushing through the fur coats in the wardrobe to be born into the icy world of Narnia, where she meets Tumnus, one of the Silenoi, the offspring of Pan, son of our friend Hermes.

One of my favorites of his children’s books is The Horse and His Boy. Just the conceit of this novel fills me with wonder because as a child I dreamed hour after hour about having a pony.

The story involves a talking horse, Bree, who escapes from his master and allows a boy, Shasta, to accompany him. The horse in the initial stage of the novel is the wiser of the two and teaches the boy on their journey North to Narnia. The talking horse falls easily into the role of the senex to the boy’s puer.

A talking animal is also a staple for fairy tales and myths. Usually, the horse stands as an anima figure or an animus because it is a symbol of force and power. However, in this novel, Lewis turns the screw. He creates four characters that make up the four characters that inhabit any couple. These characters consist of the man and his anima, and the female and her animus. In this case Bree aligns with Aravis and Hwin with Shasta. This is perhaps most poignantly represented when Bree flees the lion and leaves Aravis to be mauled. Before this scene, Bree and Aravis are connected through their pride. They are always bragging and criticizing and looking down on the commoner Shasta. After the incident both are brought down. Marie-Louise von Franz states in the Animus and Anima in Fairy Tales, Inner City Books, 2002 that ”every possession by the animus is a secret inflation, like every possession by the anima in man. The anima and animus are suprapersonal to a great extent; they belong to the divine realm, the collective unconscious . . ..”

In addition to his talking horse Lewis introduces other mythic themes and symbols: a journey, a quest, a double or twin to Shasta, the return of the prodigal, the babe cast off into sea, the orphan noble hidden among the hoi polloi, the return of the king.

It is obvious and well known that he is well versed in fantasy, myth, and folklore; however, there is one moment where I believe he was overwhelmed by his own archetypal image or at least I have a fantasy that he was.

At one point Shasta is separated from Aravis, Bree and Hwin. He is alone, on the edge of the desert, next to tombs of the dead. He meets a cat in the tombs and because he is afraid, he sleeps next to the cat. Sometime in the night, jackals threaten him and the cat protects him. It is at this moment that we realize that Shasta has a protector. When I read the passage, I felt the numinous twinge of the transcendental. For Lewis the cat is a Christian symbol but for me it was an archetype, a symbol of the divine. In primitive stories the animal was always a part of the divine side of life.

When I saw the cat and realized its power as archetype I should have looked away but instead I gazed upon it and “divined” its true nature. Von Franz said that “there are stories which say that one shouldn’t look at the anima or animus-though of course they are not called that-because to look at them is to transcend human boundaries and enter the realm of the divine.”

Lewis would acknowledge that even the pagan could find delight in the divine. He said in the Pilgrim’s Digress “even pagan mythology contained a ‘Divine call.’” For me the archetypal images of the novel are a call to the divine.

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