Monday, 17 May 2010
The Great Divorce
by C.S. Lewis
This is the second of the three books I recently purchased (for two months) with sweets. This was one of the few titles that pretty much everyone was bidding on, and it cost me an amount of sweets so large I dare not mention it anywhere near Michael. He'd call it blasphemy, or something. He's mad about sweets.
I got given a box set of the seven (beautiful) Narnia novels when I was eight or so. I think I must have already been into reading, by then -- Enid Blyton definitely figured -- but those books really woke me up to the idea that books could be things to get excited about.
Since then, though, I've fairly neglected him. At least in the context of the hundreds of other things I've read since then. Of Lewis I've read Out of the Silent Planet, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, and a bunch of theological essays.
The best thing about Lewis is that he makes me deeply suspicious of my own mind. He makes me think that every decision I've made is the product of subtle demonic influences. Which is odd, because I don't even half-believe in demons. But he writes with such calm, almost casual, authority, and with the sort of familiarity that you only get from a family member two decades separate, that I don't even notice. When I disagree with him, I generally assume it's me that's got it wrong.
So I doubt my own motives in everything. But then I notice that the doubt itself could just be me congratulating myself on being self-aware enough to entertain it. A 'well done for being so modest' type arrangement. So I have to doubt the doubt, too. And the more and more I lose my grip on everything, the more I think (or Lewis tells me?) that I'm holding on too tight to the very things I shouldn't be.
I worked a 17-hour shift without a break over the last night. I've got some crazy kind of stock-take jetlag. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it... Back to what this blog is (sort of, a little bit, when I feel like it) about. Learning what works for me and doesn't work for me in fiction.
The Great Divorce is a fantasy about what Heaven and Hell might be like. It's a theology of the perspective and relation between the two, rather than the mechanics of it. And though it's fiction, it's there to get across a specific idea.
I sort of have a problem with that. I often argue with a friend about books and scripts and stories needing or not needing a central message to convey. I don't think books should be meaningless, but I think they should be their own meaning, rather than being a vessel for it. A book isn't just another way to spread your message, or your meme, like the birdshit that contains a few undigested seeds ready to germinate. Books aren't birdshit.
A book can convey an idea, but it also is that idea. It is the message. If the 'message' can be communicated in half the space or a third of the words, then what's the point of the book? Just write the message instead. Save yourself and any readers a lot of wasted time.
That is something of a half-baked thought, and I'm going to keep it in the back of my mind in future, and see how it stands up. Maybe some more subtle shaping will happen when it gets battered this way and that by various opposing fictions. It's a Popperian, Darwinian experiment, maybe.
Or maybe I should just ask you.
"What is the role of the message in fiction? What is the role of fiction in the message?"
Answers on a postcard, please.