The Idea of the Good, Duality And Unity: A Study of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, And Charles Williams -- By: James Andrew Clark

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 19:0 (NA 1987)
Article: The Idea of the Good, Duality And Unity: A Study of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, And Charles Williams
Author: James Andrew Clark


The Idea of the Good, Duality And Unity:
A Study of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, And Charles Williams

James Andrew Clark

Auburn University

Plato held that the Good is the supreme value of the cosmos and the legitimate object of the soul’s eros; the pursuit of the Good, then, is the action by which a human life may be justified. “The Good is a universal and a fixed norm which the individual finds, and to which he must submit.”1 During roughly the three decades between 1925 and 1955 there grew up at Oxford a remarkable group of scholars and writers whose works were preoccupied with the pursuit of the Good. Moreover, this group was distinguished in that it took its definition of the Good not from speculative philosophy, but from traditional, orthodox Christianity. Three men stand out as the best representatives of the movement at Oxford: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. Lewis and Tolkien were Oxford dons; Williams’s entire adult life was spent as an editor for Oxford University Press, first in London and, after war broke out, at Oxford where he also held a lectureship in English literature. He and Lewis were Anglicans; Tolkien was a Roman Catholic. The literary works of the three cover a wide spectrum of genres, from science fiction to verse plays, from children’s stories to supernatural mystery novels. Yet it may be generally stated that running strong and apparent throughout their entire literary corpus is an idea of the Good based on the teachings of traditional Christianity. This emphasis is a major factor distinguishing their work from much of the remainder of twentieth-century literature.

In fiction, “the technique for conveying pure goodness is one of the rarest of attainment.”2 Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams — the Oxford mythmakers3 — tried to convey the Good, both in its own quality and as the object of human striving, as a thing full of paradox, of duality within unity. It is a technique at which they succeeded admirably. This paper is an attempt to trace one particular set of dualities in the idea of the Good through their literary works. This duality may be expressed thus: the Oxford mythmakers held that the Good, or its representative, unites within itself the qualities of severity and largesses, great beauty and great dreadfulness. When men are confronted by the Good

the same duality is present; that confrontation comes as an occasion both of great terror and of great joy. First, the Good will be discussed in its own quality through an examination of supernatural beings in the fiction of ...

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