The Strongest Spell | C. S. Lewis

Here’s how I see it. Effective writers are able to communicate their intended message. Good writers do the same but in a memorable fashion. Great writers are both effective and memorable but also keep you coming back for more. C. S. Lewis was a great writer whose books warrant frequent revisits.

The following passage from The Weight of Glory in which he speaks our other-worldly desire is a well-trodden path for me:

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it use it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter… The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them, and you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.

Pp. 29-31

The strongest of spells for breaking our evil enchantment is, in fact, the good spell or, as it was once written, gōd spel. The gospel is the only message powerful enough to break through the spiritual slumber and decay that our sin, the world, and our adversary cast upon us.

This theme appears in Lewis’ other books as well. In The Screwtape Letters, the titular demon is repeatedly counseling his nefarious nephew to keep his “patient” as distracted as possible because, as Screwtape laments, “Everything has to be twisted before it’s of any use to us. We fight under a cruel advantage. Nothing is naturally on our side.” Creation itself proclaims the glory of God; therefore, the devils hum enchanting lullabies into our ears so that we are no longer aware of the God-saturated reality around us.

The Narnia books contain much imagery of broken spells. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the entire country is trapped in a perpetual winter until Aslan returns to break the curse. In Prince Caspian, Trumpkin lay under the more subtle spell of disbelief, which was dispelled by a jolting encounter with Aslan. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has Eustace Scrubb being transformed into a dragon (which was an outward reflection of his beastly nature), only to then be returned to a child by Aslan. In The Silver Chair, Prince Rilian’s enchantment is broken by Aslan’s sending of Eustace, Jill, and Puddleglum. The Horse and His Boy is essentially the story of Shasta discovering the good news of who he really is. The Magician’s Nephew is loaded with enchantments, and The Last Battle revolves around a wicked deceit that dooms Narnia to its end and Aslan’s final (or commencing?) victory.

Indeed, I believe that Lewis’ intent, from various angles throughout his writings, was to weave the good spell before our eyes, to break the evil enchantment that lies upon each one of us by pointing us to our Creator, Savior, and Giver of full joy. That is why I keep rereading Lewis. He almost always accomplishes this goal, awakening “in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy” and testifying “that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity, 120).

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