Writing in the shadow of CS Lewis

Last year I decided to write a novel in a month. Over the course of November I wrote on most days and ended up with 32 chapters totalling over 56 000 words. This was not just for the sake of it. Although once I’ve said a little more you might think there was no greater purpose. Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a challenge to write a 50 000 word novel from scratch during November, you can plan beforehand but not write, and because the rules are actually more or less non-existent plenty of people do it in different way – including working on existing projects.

Last year I had no plot until the night before I started. I lay in the bath and came up with a cast of characters and a couple of defining events and then started writing. It was a bit crazy and I lost a fair amount of sleep and by virtue of posting a chapter each day to this blog lost quite a few readers as well. The story was basically a Christian romance novel. It was pretty dire. I had about half a dozen regular readers, and the plot development was aided by a couple of crowd sourced brain storming sessions where new characters jumped onto the page and interacted with each other.

This year I’m doing it again.

I said I wouldn’t. A bit like Steve Redgrave when he got out of the boat, except it’s not at all like that. I felt I had achieved something, shown what I could do with a large helping of self disciple and swift typing skills. I also felt it was unnecessary to do that again to produce something that I would never get published, or even try to get published.

But then I came across a single line in a book and I knew I would do it again. I was reading through Rowan William’s book about Narnia, The Lion’s World and found a letter from CS Lewis to a reader regarding Susan Pevensie: “The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman.” It goes on a bit but I don’t want to give anything away.

I had the starting point for my story. And I had all of October to research and prepare.

Unfortunately moving house and doing a lot of work writing meant my research amounted to reading books 1-6 of the Narnia series, and hoping to get through the Last Battle in the next couple of days. I also have only a vague plan of what will happen in the story, but as well as a starting point I also have a rather intimidating back drop against which to write and ensure at least some measure of continuity.

Firstly though, it is worth stating very clearly that this is fan-fiction, it is not to be published other then on this blog and I am doing so for no financial gain. I don’t know who owns the copyright for the books and characters, but no infringement is intended. I am also doing this from the place of huge respect and appreciation for the series and CS Lewis’ other writings.

Secondly, this is rather scary, CS Lewis is a brilliant writer with hidden gems within and between each sentence, reading through them again has drawn out new aspects and reinforced other themes I’ve seen before. In writing a sequel to the series I have the challenge of deciding how closely to try and follow his style and themes. I am setting the book a few years after The Silver Chair and probably more or less contemporaneously to The Last Battle. This poses two additional challenges, firstly to ensure the language and especially the dialogue is appropriate to the period. The second challenge is that the Narnia books are written about children and for children. Down to the little asides CS Lewis throws in about grown-ups not understanding things and similar, the writing is so brilliant because it is simple and profound and presented from a childlike mentality – especially the earlier books.

What I intend to do is shift that a few years forward. Susan will be twenty-one at the start of the book and I intend to write from that period in life, with a mind towards readers also at a similar stage. While I will try and situate the novel in the right era, i.e. starting in 1949, much of it will take place in Narnia so that becomes less relevant.

A final challenge is that in The Last Battle the old Narnia is passing away. That’s why I say that it’s more or less contemporary, because I’m making the most of the discrepancy between times in different worlds to present a story happening in Narnia before it draws to a close, yet after Peter, Edmund and Lucy are on their way to Aslan’s country.

I hope you enjoy reading, I don’t think I’ll post daily, but probably twice a week or so in longer chunks but as PDFs so as not to overload the blog posts. Currently undecided on the title, either The Centaur and the Heir or Hunting the Heir, or something else that strikes me soon.

What is this thing called love?

© Emily Martin

Love is a mystery, it is foreign, alien, far from understanding. But it is elemental, it is at the beginning and the end. Of what remains, the greatest is love. Mark Twain said: “when you go fishing for love, bait with your heart, not your brain”.

When we talk about romance, we talk about being in love. When we see someone who takes our breathe away, we fall in love. And when things don’t go so well we can now fall out of love with the one to whom we had given our all. After one of this week’s posts a friend sent me a link to an article about the reasons marriages split up, and all too frequently it is simply that they got bored with each other. And it lead me to wonder, do we put too much store by love, or is it that we just don’t understand it?

I can think of no better book on this topic than CS Lewis’s The Four Loves. Love is not always the same, it takes different forms in different relationships, from affection, through friendship, to the eros of romance and the all consuming unconditional agape love from God. I probably should have reread it before writing this post.

CS Lewis’s point, if I recall correctly, is that the other forms of love only work properly when subordinated to the unconditional love from God. We can love because we have already been loved. When we turn we find that he has already turned.

Am I a reprobate romantic to say that love can conquer all? That our problem is not that we put too much trust in love, but that we give it too little. We hedge our bets, and we take our chances, we mitigate against things going wrong. We build structures of reliance that defend our cause and protect our pet projects. We don’t want anything to fail so too often we just do not try.

We think that if love is the answer it will solve our problems. We think that such a wonderful thing will make life easy.

I was at a wedding yesterday and the during the address the pastor said, “I hope this is the worst day of your married life.” It was a cute point, a good way of saying that marriage is not summed up by the celebrations on the wedding day but of a life lived growing together, that there are far better days to come.

But was it too saccharine? Because marriage will not always be defined by happiness and joy. Because while the wedding day is hopefully not as good as it gets, it is also unlikely to be the worst. There will be sadness and troubles, there will be heartache and agony; maybe that wasn’t a message for the wedding day. I’m sure that if I’m married I’ll wake up on some mornings and wonder what I’m doing there, I may regret falling in love, I may regret trusting in love. Wherever I am, whomever I am with, there will be crappy days.

And on these days, like when I’ve had enough of my friends or my family annoy me, is the answer is to walk away or to recommit? Last year I read McCloud & Townsend’s book Safe People, and one of the most challenging things was the need at times to draw a line under some relationships, and to walk away rather than to expend all your energy on trying to redeem and rescue the other person, or your relationship. I found this hard because I often operate as though the love I am supposed to have for all people is translated into a one-size-fits-all relationship.

But love does not mean I try and have the same relationship with everyone I know, and by extension, everyone I don’t know. It means that I love them in whatever relationship we have. So I love my friends in a way that is different to my family, and one day I hope to love my wife in one way and my children in another.

At my church we’re coming to the end of a series called ‘Love is a Verb’. And for a series titled so there’s been remarkably little discussion of love, with the focus instead on the relationships that provide the context for love to be demonstrated. Love is a thing, it is an emotion, it is a state that we abide in. But it is also a verb, it is something that we do, and must do over. It is something that we cannot ever complete. We cannot be done with love and we cannot do without it. It remains.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13v13

Love is all around us. It is in the papers, on the screens. It is in our hearts, and on our mind. It lets us dream and it stops us sleeping. And too often it is sequestered in pursuit of happiness. Love becomes the thing which gets us what we want. We love because we want relationship. We love because we want sex. We love because we want company, or status, or security.

How rarely do we let ourselves love and beloved for the sake of nothing but that one thing which remains.

Too often we view marriage as the end point of a road of love, but surely it should be the other way round? Should not marriage open the door to a path that is paved with love both given and received, both the end and the means? Love comes in and flows from the relationship as much if not more than being the force which brought it to life. Love is not the answer to all of your or my problems. But maybe it is what helps us live without the answers.

What do you think? Am I getting carried away with my hopes and dreams for love? Is love enough?