Friday, November 22, 2013

Not Just Kennedy

Today marks the 50th anniversary not only of John Kennedy's assassination, but also of the more peaceful deaths of two other well-known figures:  C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley.

The Guardian has bookend articles on both.  The one on Lewis includes something very nice -- snippets from old reviews, including early ones that didn't seem very impressed by Narnia, and Philip Pullman's later diatribe against what had become a cultural phenomenon.

We at the Egg must confess that C.S. Lewis has never quite done it for us.  At various points in our life, we have read the Narnia books and the Screwtape Letters and the Silent Planet trilogy; we expect to read them all again sooner or later.  But each leaves us a little cold.  Narnia is, for lack of a better word, too syncretistic.  Those little fauns running around in a Northern European fairyland seem so out of place.  Screwtape is clever but a little trite; it lacks the vitriol that a master ironist, a Mark Twain or an Ambrose Bierce, might have injected into its veins.  The space books -- our favorite by a good margin -- are delightfully creepy reimaginings of salvation history, but they also abuse the tropes of science fiction for an altogether unscientific purpose.

Somewhere, we believe we own or once owned a copy of his textbook on English literature -- his day job, remember -- and that it is pretty good.  Not great, but good.

As for his "theology," well, we haven't read much.  We're sure it's very good, something we must say lest his defenders flame us unto eternity.  Maybe after we finally wade through the City of God and the Loci Communes.

Turning to Aldous Huxley, the Guardian does propose that he is "the prophet of our brave new digital dystopia."  They then go on to make a far stronger case for George Orwell as claimant to the title; we would add William Gibson as a rival.  Worse yet, one might get the idea that Huxley had never written another book.  The Guardian is more excited about his pedigree -- grandson of Darwin's Bulldog, grandnephew of Matthew Arnold, went to Eton with Orwell -- than his remarkable number of novels, short stories, essays and screenplays.  No mention is made of his interest in Hinduism or, outside of Brave New World, psychedelic drugs.

Fair enough.  After fifty years, most of us will be lucky to be remembered for any one work of our hands or of our minds.  Lewis gets the fairy tales, Huxley gets the dystopia.  To be brutally honest, either of these seems better, to our minds, than Kennedy's signature achievement, provoking and then bargaining his way out of the greatly-misrepresented Cuban Missile Crisis.

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