“It is the Myth That Gives Life”: C.S. Lewis and True Myth

Art by Liz Pulido for Zion Theatre Company
Art by Liz Pulido for Zion Theatre Company

Note: I have posted this elsewhere in the past, but this is a very important concept to me. So, honestly, I want to put it in as many places as I have power to. This is the text from a presentation I made at the Springville Library on June 21, 2012, as part of their “So You Want to Read!” series. Obviously, I was asked to speak on C.S.

Lewis.

Many people do not know that C.S. Lewis–the unapologetic Christian apologist, the author of spiritual classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, Till We Have Faces, and Mere Christianity –was once an avowed atheist. It was during this early period of skeptical secularism that he went through an intimate, beautiful, and spiritual transformation that led him away from his secular atheism to the road that made him become perhaps the most celebrated Christian author and thinker of the 20th century.

It was during this period of change when C.S. Lewis–who preferred the enigmatic nick name “Jack,” which I will often be calling him by, so don’t get confused–took a night time walk in the woods with two of his friends: J.R.R. Tolkien, future author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; as well as Hugo Dyson, a capable Shakespearean professor and scholar. These three would later make up the core of what would become the celebrated literary group The Inklings, but that illustrious group was still a ways off. This night they were just friends engaged in a life altering conversation that would assist Jack on the last leg of his journey away from his secular past and into his spiritual future.

But Jack wasn’t going down (or up) without a fight. Even though Jack had recently had some powerful spiritual experiences that were leading him back to a belief in God, yet he still resisted the “myth” aspect of Christianity. “Christianity may have many things going for it,” he argued to his friends, “Originality is not one of them.”

C.S. Lewis”¦ or, again, Jack as he preferred”¦ saw Christianity as no different to the other “dying god myths.” The Egyptian god Osiris, the Norse god Balder, the Greek Titan Prometheus”¦ they, too were stories of a god’s death and resurrection, and Christianity was the Johnny come lately to that kind of narrative. Jesus Christ was no different than these more ancient, imaginary gods. That was Jack’s position at the time, one which would change over the course of the evening’s walk in the woods, feeling the nighttime breeze whisper to him another answer. Continue reading ““It is the Myth That Gives Life”: C.S. Lewis and True Myth”

Pre-existent Memories: C.S. Lewis, Joseph Smith and the Hero’s Journey, Part Two

As outlined in my last post , Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” and concepts like Carl Jung’s archetypes and “collective unconscious” seem to tie well into J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson’s conversation with C.S. Lewis that helped convince him to become a Christian… that the similarity between world mythologies and Christianity is because they are being drawn from the same source, a pre-existent memory, a collective unconsciousness that is guiding mankind towards the “true myth” of Christianity.

The Christ story, however, is not the only “true myth.” I’ve seen Campbell’s pattern not only pop up in religious narratives such as the life of Christ and Buddha and Muhammad (some whose historicity is obviously debated depending on your religious views), but also in the lives of more established historical figures… try applying Campbell’s pattern to Joan of Arc for example, and other epic figures like Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. You’ll find some striking consistency. One of the most perfect examples I’ve found, however, is the life of Joseph Smith. His life plays out like an epic myth, the kind of stuff which would be seem obviously constructed after the fact, if we hadn’t so many historical proofs to back up the basic outline of the story. Now, obviously, events like the First Vision are up for debate, if you’re not an orthodox Mormon, but other events like Liberty Jail (which I’ll figure conveniently in Campbell’s “Belly of the Whale” stage) are without question historical facts in the American religious narrative. So I find it interesting that this pattern can crop up is non-structured scenarios in history, which attests to the universality of the Hero’s Journey model and how it is not only a convenient way to plot a story, but also an immortal way to show the truth of how spirituality plays out.

Which brings us not only to the life of Joseph Smith, but the pattern he layed out about man’s existence, what Mormons like to call the Plan of Salvation. In the rest of my essay, I’ll go through Campbell’s Hero’s Journey pattern and apply it first to Joseph Smith’s life and by then I think you’ll also see how the pattern applies to the Plan of Salvation and our individual journeys through mortality:

JOSEPH SMITH AND THE HERO’S JOURNEY

THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: In Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, the Hero is always first called to leave his past life of obscurity and day to day existence and chart into a world of wonder and danger, where the Hero is to obtain some great boon or accomplish some great goal, which generally will be to the benefit of his fellow man.

Joseph’s early life is a perfect fit to this sort of beginning. Joseph Smith, the young farm hand whose strong body is hired out for his labor, but has very little room for upward mobility in his life. From all outlooks, his best hope is to become a farmer like his father, if he can escape the crushing dillemmas and ill twists of fate that kept his parents from escaping the constant threat of crushing poverty. Like Luke Skywalker in the beginning of Star Wars, King Arthur as a lanky squire, or an obscure carpenter’s son from Galilee, Joseph Smith at first glance would be an unlikely figure to make any sort of impact on the world around him. Continue reading “Pre-existent Memories: C.S. Lewis, Joseph Smith and the Hero’s Journey, Part Two”

Pre-existent Memories: C.S. Lewis, Joseph Smith and the Hero’s Journey, Part One

File:Hero 1000 faces book 2008.jpg For the past several years I have had a connection that has been floating around in my brain which I’ve been itching to iterate. In studying things as far flung as psychology, C.S. Lewis, Mormon theology and history, literary/mythical archetypes, world religions, and diverse world histories, these disparate parts have led me to form a pattern to the experiences of C.S. Lewis, the life of Joseph Smith, but also to the Mormon concept of the Plan of Salvation.

I have been teaching about Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” in my high school creative writing class and so it has set me back on this track of thinking which has been boring its way into my everyday unconscious for a long time now. For those unaware of what exactly “The Hero’s Journey” is, it chiefly comes from a book Joseph Campbell wrote called The Hero with a Thousand Faces . Written in 1949, it was a very important book that set forth the idea that there are patterns and archetypes found in all sorts of disparate mythology, fairy tales, religious narratives, and folk lore. That all these stories from unconnected and far flung cultures follow one basic story. It is also a trend that can be found in epic literature and film, which is uncannily and unconsciously present in everything from Homer’s The Odyssey to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. And many writers now purposely craft their tales to follow this pattern, George Lucas’s Star Wars being one of the most famous examples.

Prometheus Unbound (83).jpg
BYU Experimental Theatre Company's production of _Prometheus Unbound_

I also purposely followed this pattern with my play Prometheus Unbound several years ago (and have addressed it less directly in other plays such as Swallow the Sun and my new work Manifest), much because the idea has fascinated me ever since I was taught it in my high school sophmore honors English class. Ms. Drummond mentioned Carl Jung’s revolutionary studies in the early and mid 20th century about archetypes (a simpler overview here) and the collective unconscious. In my terms, archetypes are repeating patterns that happen in mythology and other stories, in psychology, in dreams, and even (at least from what I’ve been able to observe) in many points in recorded, literal history (try applying this pattern to Joan of Arc, for example). Continue reading “Pre-existent Memories: C.S. Lewis, Joseph Smith and the Hero’s Journey, Part One”