C.S. Lewis' view of the individual in a hierarchical universe is not simply the restatement of a static medieval ideal. In his trilogy he presents the unfolding of the hierarchical view of the universe, with emphasis on time and the growth of the self into a model of universal reality.
If Lewis be found guilty of "historicism," it must be in his belief that man and nature are losing their neutrality, that good and evil are becoming more separated, more distinct. The growing bifurcation and consequences of two opposing views of the individual form a tension in Lewis' work. Much of Lewis' prose and fiction deals with the growth of "that hideous strength," with the consequences of the "magician's bargain," that process whereby man surrenders object after object and finally himself, to Nature in return for power. Especially in The Abolition of Man and the trilogy, Lewis traces the apocalyptic end of Man's mechanical, manipulative view of Nature and of himself.
At the end of The Abolition of Man, Lewis asks for a new science which would not explain away, which would remember the whole as it examined the parts. Being neither scientist nor philosopher, Lewis himself does not give his readers a synthesis of old values and new science. But side by side in the trilogy with the narrative of the diabolic growth of scientism, Lewis also portrays the unfolding, the sharpening of the hierarchical, sacramental view of the universe. The myth of evolution is actually a false correspondence of Man's true hierarchical ascent. Indeed Lewis' characters often see the sacramental truths in the false correspondences; Lewis takes modern perceptions and turns them inside out. Thus the sacramental vision Lewis advocates is not a return to the medieval model, to an old good, but rather the birth of a new good out of an old evil.
What scientism produces in Lewis' characters is a false consciousness, a false humanity. The worst consequence of the mechanistic view is what Man is doing to himself. A reinvigoration of the sacramental view then, must start in the self, which according to Lewis is closest to the mystery of the union of the physical and spiritual universes.
The immediate result of spiritual encounter in each major character of the trilogy is a radical re-evaluation of the cherished concept of self, a breakup of the public facade. The characters begin· to see that they are not over against the world with the treasure of self locked up inside themselves; rather what they call "me" is only a receptacle for others, and they can know themselves only by finding themselves in others. Instead of modeling the universe on 'themselves; they model themselves on the universe.
True knowledge of a hierarchical level, like self-knowledge, comes only in hierarchical relations and in an understanding of hierarchical levels and their correspondences. The characters of the trilogy must assume the reality of the next hierarchical level, which. to them is only a myth, and only after making this hierarchical "leap," can they look back and see if their assumptions are indeed "logical." They must believe in order to know. They can know the truth only when they are in the truth. As Ransom more than any other Lewis character is to learn, the truth about the lower hierarchical levels is seen only in the higher levels.
Viewpoint corrected, the self can start on a hierarchical ascent toward true individuality, taking the universe into itself, participating in hierarchical relations with increasing levels of existence till it is filled with the infinite Object. This is the true ascent, the destiny of the self.
By contrast, the false "evolution," the false view, has been a cutting of man off from Life, a severing of hierarchical relations. In reaching for knowledge and power over Nature from outside of her, Man has tried to pull himself up by "his own hair." For those moderns who would make much of Man, Lewis demonstrates that the self that models itself on the universe has more possibilities than the modern individualist. The unfolding hierarchical viewpoint p,laces more and more emphasis on the self, not as cut off and over against Nature, but as lifted up, infused, as ever-expanding Subject for the infinite Object.
Scientism, in emptying the .universe into the Self and the Self into Nothing (the price of the magician's bargain for power), creates a power vacuum. In the conquest of Nature Man himself has become dead, cold, matter to be assimilated, melted down, used. Lewis' characters, however, in recognizing their status as objects, as things, prepare themselves to be infused with power. Instead of attempting hierarchical shortcuts to power, they are infused with the power of the whole of which they are a part. Instead of a knowledge that analyzes and break down Nature, they seek a knowledge that sees in . Nature a system of correspondence and relations. The result is a hierarchical consciousness that enables the self to partake in the reality it sees. One view leads to nihilism, the other to wholeness and power.
Robert P. Dunn
Delmer I. Davis
J. Paul Stauffer
Albert E. Smith
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Lewis; C. S. (Clive Staples); 1898-1963 -- Criticism and interpretation.
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Phillips, Connie R., "Hierarchy and the Self in the Trilogy of C. S. Lewis" (1977). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 1018.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives