Feeding on Words

I am thoroughly enjoying Alan Jacobs’s, The Narnian. I would heartily recommend it to fans of Lewis. An excerpt,

——
Remembering, later, that moment of revelation, [Orual] also rememers her tutor, that philosophical Greek called the Fox, and that is what leads her to the passage with which I ended the previous chapter:

“Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, “Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech, which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all the time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble we think we mean?”

The Fox, who is among the dead who thronged that dark courtroom, does not hear her say this, but having heard her speech, he realizes what he has done, and accuses himself more strongly than she could accuse him: “Send me away, Minos, even to Tartarus, if Tartarus can cure glibness. I made her think that a prattle of maxims could do, all thin and clear as water. For of course water’s good; and it didn’t cost much, not where I grew up. So I fed her on words.”

Anyone who thinks this is merely a critique of Greek philosophy or cheap rationalism has, I believe, misunderstood the passage, for it is equally a critique of Christian apologetics. The emptiness of Fox’s words is scarcely greater than the emptiness of the apologist’s words. No doubt, what Lewis had written and said as a defender of the Christian faith was truer than what Fox had taught Orual–indeed, far truer–but it had the defect of being in words, and it is easy to forget that even true words bear the limitations of all language: they are, inevitably, “thin and clear as water.” The gods demand more than water: indeed they demand blood, for, as the author of the letter to Hebrews writes in a passage at which the priests of Ungit would have nodded sagely, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin” (9:22).

Jacobs, The Narnian, 240-41.

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