C.S. Lewis, Logic, and Fantasy

George MacDonald, though little remembered today [1] was one of the great original authors of fairy tales in the 19th century. Perhaps his greatest achievement was in his inspiration of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien through his writings. As Dickenson and O’Hara note in their book “From Homer To Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy,” the Christian worldview of George MacDonald shines through in just about every work of C.S. Lewis, often in direct quotation. Nonetheless, of particular interest as a legacy of his, and a subject small enough for my own analysis, is the relationship between C.S. Lewis’ use of logic and fantasy literature. C.S. Lewis drew upon a particular logical syllogism of George MacDonald’s and used it in both “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” and “Mere Christianity,” the one his most famous and popular novel, and the other a sublime masterpiece in Christian apologetics, particularly treasured by the late American president Ronald Reagan [2].

The Syllogism

The syllogism, of a type called the Trilemma, occurs in George MacDonald in his fantasy novel, “The Princess and the Goblin,” where Princess Irene sees a magical room, and is not believed by Curdie, whose mother tells him that Irene is either lying, is crazy, or is telling the truth. Given knowledge of her honest character and her sanity, she can therefore be judged as honest. While not necessarily a formal proof, unless the three options given are considered to be exhaustive, the syllogism nonetheless functions as a valuable tool to demonstrate the reasonableness of that which may seem to be incredible or miraculous. That it should appear in a fantasy novel by a Christian author is not accidental.

C.S. Lewis and the Trilemma

That C.S. Lewis should make use of this logic in both his own fantasy work and in his Christian apologetics is also not accidental. In both cases, the trilemma serves not as a formal logical proof, but rather an informal logical aid to show reasonableness of that which is considered incredible but is in fact (in the first case within the world of the Narnia series, and in the second case with regards to the Gospel as factual history, true). The example within his fantasy literature occurs towards the beginning of “The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe,” where Lucy’s initial claim to have seen Narnia is disbelieved by her older and more skeptical siblings. Nonetheless, she is defended by their host, Professor Kirk, who claims that as she must be either a liar, mad, or telling the truth, and appealing to the reasonableness of her siblings to determine that she is an honest girl and not crazy, and therefore is recounting what she saw faithfully [3]. It is telling that C.S. Lewis uses the exact same argument in Mere Christianity to frame the possible judgments of Jesus given the veracity of the Gospels as we have them: that he was a liar (i.e. that he was not who he claimed to be, the Son of God, the Son of David, capable of dying to save mankind from the penalty of death for the sins that we all deserve), that he was insane (for making such claims), or that he was who he said he was [4]. The Gospel accounts, though, deny us the possibility of judging him a sane but misguided person, by their citation of his provocative claims (which on at least two occasions nearly got him stoned to death [5]), forcing those who recognize the Gospels as valid to either blaspheme Jesus or worship him. There is no middle ground, no neutrality.

Faith and Logic

The only option left to those who wish to avoid insulting believers or worshiping Jesus Christ is to attack the validity and reliability of the Gospels themselves. It is no surprise, therefore, to see the many and frequent attempts recently to do so [6]. What this means is that logic and reason themselves are the servants of faith, and not the masters. We must first begin with faith–determining within our hearts which authority we will accept (for we must choose some authority to accept, whether it be the Word of God, our own rationality or feelings, the accepted opinion of some person or group of people, tradition, or something else; the one thing we cannot choose is no authority to accept at all). Once we have our foundation of belief (which itself requires a disbelief in that which would contradict our foundation of belief, as there is once again no neutrality), we then use logic and reason as tools to justify our belief (and disbelief), framing our opinions and judgments as eminently reasonable. Being logical does not absolve us from a commitment to faith–it comes as a result of being faithful and desiring to see that faith proven to its logical conclusions. Those foundations of faith whose implications may be followed to their logical conclusions without contradiction or monstrosity (this second depends on a valid system of judgment, as absolutes are inescapable in any view of morality) may be judged, at least provisionally, as reasonable. Faith and reason therefore, and even fantasy, are not enemies, but partners in a systematic worldview under which all things are under the rule of God, and under which no aspect of the human experience, either in imagination or practice, is condemned as improper, only the way in which it is used or the ends to which it is used.

[1] Matthew Dickenson & David O’Hara, From Homer To Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 148, 154-155.

[2] Helene von Damm, ed., Sincerely, Ronald Reagan (New York: Berkley, 1980), 90

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1970), 49.

[4] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1945), 55-56.

[5] See Luke 4:16-30 and John 8:51-59.

[6] See the wikipedia article on C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma for some citations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis’s_trilemma.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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