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Interviews

Commentary from Harry Blamires

The Days with C. S. Lewis

Books by
Harry Blamires


NEW TOWN: A Fable . . . Unless You Believe


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Harry Blamires


BIO

Harry Blamires is the former dean of arts and sciences at King Alfred's College in Winchester. Tutored in storytelling by C.S. Lewis, Blamires is known for more than thirty theological and English literature books, including WHERE DO WE STAND? and the bestselling THE CHRISTIAN MIND. Blamires lives in the United Kingdom.

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AUTHOR TALK

COMMENTARY
From the desk of Harry Blamires

In writing a fable, the author chooses not to lay his cards face-up on the table. He chooses to tell a story punctuated by give-away hints that point to deeper underlying meaning.

Christians are accustomed to use the abbreviations OT and NT to refer to the Old Testament and the New Testament. So when these abbreviations are used in the first chapter for the Old Town and the New Town, the first hint is given of the underlying religious meaning.

More hints follow:

The estate agencies exist to enroll people for residence in the New Town, and so fulfill an evangelical mission, as the name of the agent Dr. Fisher (a fisher of men) implies.

Hertham is called after Hertha, the Teutonic goddess Mother Earth.

Eve's cottage is called Netherhome Lodge because our "nether" home is our home below, on earth; and it is a "lodge" because it's only our temporary home and that home is always under threat from the chances and changes of mortal life. People of humility, who accept earthly life as a preparation for a better one, are consciously "waiting" in the double sense that they expect a better life elsewhere and they believe in serving others. (Isn't that the position of church members --- or shouldn't it be?) These people make up a "society" of "waiters," whose emphases and ceremonies may seem strange to outsiders, but fit their attitude to the place they're at.

Readers will notice the book presents no precise one-for-one allegorical system. The nearest we get to equivalents of God the Father and God the Son are Sir Alph Godfrey (Alpha and Omega) and Christopher Godfrey. But we don't meet either of them directly. Sir Alph Godfrey and Christopher Godfrey are somewhat shadowy figures of whom we hear people speaking in praise or in blame.

It was son Godfrey, for instance, who personally lived for a time in Old Hertham, and then had the bridge constructed that made access to his father's New Town possible. The provisions of the Christopher Godfrey Bequest provide help and ultimately homes for those who truly seek his aid.

Bernard recalls an innocent Eve at a summer party in the Adamses' garden (near to Habel's farmyard) at Paradise Green. This was before she destroyed his peace of mind by her faithlessness. The echoes of Genesis are obvious; to that extent Bernard is Everyman.

Incidentally, it so happens that I was brought up on the edge of an area officially called Paradise Green, and just as described in the book, there was in the area a stream running through a stone trough, serpentine in shape, which everyone called the Snake's Head. Only in later life did the possible significance come home to me of that serpentine entry into Paradise. Such meaningful names accumulate in our lives. Indeed we have a river Eden here in the north of England which flows through some lovely scenery.

It is my firm conviction that in literature humor can be fruitfully combined with seriousness. There is a certain amount of fun, as well as gravity, in the use of names and initials. For instance, certain names add to the significance of the scene in the courtroom in which Bernard is subjected to an official "hearing" on his fitness for promotion to the Waiting List. His defending counsel come from a firm called Raphael, Warden, and Company, the judge is called Powers, and the clerk to the court is Gabriel Crowe. Gabriel's name and his flight-like way of crossing the courtroom are intended to complete the sense of an angelic gathering, supervising human affairs.

The ambiguous acronyms are meant to add meaning to the text, often lightheartedly, but sometimes very seriously indeed. The award finally given to those who sacrifice all ("Immediate Home Selection") is abbreviated to IHS, a traditional usage from the Latin for Iesus Hominum Salvator or Jesus, the Savior of Men (sometimes erroneously interpreted as I Have Suffered). There are less grave double-meanings, such as the reference to the Bridge Crossing Permit given to agents and abbreviated to BCP, which in England refers to the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. Obviously a certain amount of the book's appeal depends on the reader's discovery of such parallels. It would spoil that experience for readers if more of them were listed here.

Finally, the fable is not an allegory in which characters specifically represent virtues or vices, as Giant Despair does in Bunyan's PILGRIM'S PROGRESS. On the other hand, in fables, as in allegories and fairy stories, normal human sympathies can be laid aside when the bad characters, like ugly sisters or wicked stepmothers, are presented. There's no need to psychologize them any more than there would be to subject Bunyan's Giant Despair to a detailed character-analysis. They all share a kind of allegorical status that relieves us of the normal duty to ask whether a person is not after all a soul capable of redemption. The studies of the dislikable characters, Professor Simpkins and Len Bollinge, belong clearly to this literary category.

Finally, there are, here and there, throwaway double-meanings that are intended to enrich the texture without contributing to a logical pattern, such as when Marie looks up at the roof of the burn-out room and says, "It was nail-weariness that saved us from an even more disastrous fall." This, after all, is what the crucifixion did.

   -- Harry Blamires, Keswick of Cumbria, England

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AUTHOR TALK

THE DAYS WITH C. S. LEWIS
Harry Blamires remembers moments with his mentor and friend

As a student at Oxford, Harry Blamires first met C. S. Lewis, his professor and, afterward, his mentor and friend. Blamires remembers most the private tutorials, where "there was always a lot of laughing in his company."

Harry recalls how Lewis would sit on his chesterfield, a tin of tobacco at one side and packet of cigarettes at the other, and he would help himself to these alternately: "I became a pipe-smoker myself for a time and I recall one occasion when I visited him at Magdalen and he lit up. I put my hand in my pocket, intending to do the same, and found that my pipe had got broken on the journey. Lewis put on an expression of sheer horror and disgust. 'You don't mean to say that you've actually come away from home for a night without bringing a spare pipe!' This was characteristic of his humor."

Lewis couldn't endure pretentiousness. "Once I heard a student propounding some rather abstruse and clever-clever critical theory about the nature of a good narrative," Harry recalls. "Lewis nodded gravely and said, 'Interesting. And how would you apply that doctrine to the TALE OF PETER RABBIT?' "

One of Harry's favorite memories is from around 1954, about the time the Narnia books were releasing. "We talked about the illustrations," Harry says. "Lewis appreciated the endearing charm of Pauline Baynes's work, but he was excited by another artist's picture of Aslan. He dived down to a bottom shelf of a bookcase, picked up a volume, opened it and laid it on my knees. It was a French edition of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. 'That's what I mean,' he said, pointing to a picture of Aslan leaping, streaking across the page, massive and powerful to the point of almost being terrifying. All the cuddliness was gone. There could be no question of stroking this awesome beast."
Copyright 2005 by Harry Blamires. Reprinted with permission by Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

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