GABBLER RECOMMENDS: The Messy, Beautiful Worldbuilding of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Matt Mikalatos

‘It seems to me that the confused mythology of Narnia is a feature, not a bug. Lewis is pulling in anything and everything that has meaning to him and patching it all together into some new myth. He and Tolkien were both interested in creating a new mythic story—it’s just that Tolkien was weaving his mythology from whole cloth, and Lewis was putting together a quilt, taking snatches of this or that mythology to make something that resonated with him as both new and true.

So, yes, he cuts out the sex from the fauns and the Bacchanalia, because that’s not the element of their mythology that he finds of interest. He tweaks Father Christmas so that he becomes a figure on par with the minor gods of Narnia. He ignores inconvenient plot points like the fact that food might be pretty hard to get in a country where it has been winter for years and years. He’s doing all this to move us toward the parts of the story that he finds most compelling: there is a broken world full of winter and traitors and evil creatures, but spring is coming…and we can be part of that heroic progression.

The underlying cohesion of Lewis’s world-building isn’t, like many of us might prefer, a watertight world with a central logic to it. That kind of world is for adults. Lewis’s world is a child’s world, where myths mix and overlap, where what is true and what is magical might be the same thing, where there is uncertainty when your sister says, “I found a fantasy world hidden in the furniture.”

In his essay “Myth Made Fact” Lewis explains the underlying rationale for why he would mash together any myth or symbol that rang true to him. He wrote, “… myth is the isthmus which connects the peninsular world of thought with the vast continent we really belong to. It is not, like truth, abstract; nor is it, like direct experience, bound to the particular.” Myth transcends thought, and Lewis believed that what resonated in, as he would say, “Pagan myth” was reality itself. Truth could be found in it, but to read a myth searching for truth would cause you to miss the point because you would lean into abstractions. One must experience the myth as story to have a concrete experience of the reality it represents.’

[Via]

When Christians accept gods:

“Platonists, who employed the notion of a hierarchy of gods to reconcile their conviction about the unity of god, the first principle of everything, with polytheism as it was practiced, were obviously referring to demons or angels when they spoke of gods. Augustine was even prepared to accept calling them gods, provided the term was correctly understood:  ‘When the Platonists prefer to call demons (or alternatively angels) gods rather than demons and are prepared to count as gods those who are created by the highest God, about which their originator and teacher Plato has written in the Timaeus, let them express themselves in this way, as they wish, since there is no reason to have a dispute with them about words. In fact, when they call them immortal, in the sense that they have all events been created by the highest God, and blessed, in the sense that they ware blessed not in virtue of their own internal qualities but for the reason that they depend on their creator, then they are saying the same thing as we are, whatever terminology they use to express themselves.’ In Augustine’s opinion, the terms used for describing the divine were irrelevant. What mattered was the underlying theological concept. The position of the one true God would be imperiled if immortality and blessedness were considered to be attribute of the so-called gods in the sense that could only be applied to the one true God. As long as this was not the case, it was immaterial what names were given to beings subordinate to the one true God.

On the pagan side, Augustine treated the Platonists as the only theological adversaries that needed to be taken seriously and as the most dangerous, because in his view they came very close to Christian concepts. However, this closeness, which Augustine developed in his idea of the concept of God in order to establish the genuine identity which lay beneath simple terminological differences, is not only factually observable, but also deliberately manufactured and—this is the decisive point—consciously exaggerated. Augustine portrayed the consensus at this point as so close, and at the same time raised the Platonists to such a high level, in order to be able to destroy them with all the more decisive and lasting effect. For, although they had achieved a true notion of God, of his Oneness and of his other qualities, they now committed the worst of errors that man could make in that they worshipped as God something that was unworthy of worship, because it was not the one God, but many gods.” -Alfonse Furst, “Monotheism between cult and politics” in One God. 

On Pandora and animate statues:

“Moreover, the creation of Pandora, the first woman, as narrated by Hesiod…is similar to that of a statue, in as much as Hephaestus fashions her of clay, though she is nevertheless a living being. The diffusion of the belief in animate, moving statues led to the practice of restraining statues representing deities of good fortune so as to prevent them from running away…However, this habit is evidence across many cultures dominated by magical thinking. This practice was also adopted at Rome, where the feet of Saturnus’ image were fastened with woolen bonds.

The attribution of life to statues may perhaps have paved the way for the belief, attested on Thasos, in the early fifth century BCE, that statues could commit murder and other crimes and therefore be tried and convicted in courts of law; but this conclusion is far from certain. In fact, inanimate objects could also be tried under Draconian law, which was adopted at Thasos; thus the fact that a statue was tried does not necessarily imply that the statue was seen as an animate object. The topos of live statues often concerns statues of the classical and especially late-classical periods: the largest body of evidence of this pattern are the epigrams of the Greek Anthology which describe works of art, especially of the fifth and even more often of the the fourth century. The prevalence of the ‘animistic’ way of regarding works of art was due partly to a ‘theatrical mentality’ (to use J. Pollitt’s phrase), which strove to show figures as plausible equivalents to the subjects represented. It was also due to the success of late classical sculpture, whose favorite subjects were naked deities, such as Aphrodite or Eros, and whose styles gave emphasis to the smoothed surfaces of the figures. These surfaces became plausible as renderings of the skin and were made even more credible usually through the smearing of transparent wax on them. These representational trends have paved the way for what was the most daring outcome of the belief in living statues: agalmatophilia, or the desire of certain men to make love to statues.”

– Greek Magic: Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Edited by J.C.B. Petropoulos.

all yellow
Hephaestus’s Automata invade the modern world in this prose poem “novel.” Out now.

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, and goodreads.]