Wednesday, September 28, 2011

C.S. Lewis's Debunkers

Cindy is leading a discussion of C.S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man, and what “debunking” means is being discussed.

This is the Oxford American Dictionary’s definition of debunk: to expose the falseness or hollowness of (a myth, idea, or belief); to reduce the inflated reputation of (someone), esp. by ridicule.

C.S. Lewis’s stories are full of debunkers and I’ve pulled a number of quotes to give you an idea of what he means by that term as he uses it in The Abolition of Man.

From The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
“You can’t always believe what Fauns say,” said Edmund, trying to sound as if he knew far more about them than Lucy.

“Who said so?” asked Lucy.

“Everyone knows it,” said Edmund; “ask anybody you like.”

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

“Probably,” he thought, “this is the great Lion Aslan that they were all talking about. She’s caught him already and turned him into stone. So that’s the end of all their fine ideas about him! Pooh! Who’s afraid of Aslan?”

And he stood there gloating over the stone lion, and presently he did something very silly and childish. He took a stump of lead pencil out of his pocket and scribbled a moustache on the lion’s upper lip and then a pair of spectacles on its eyes. Then he said, “Yah! Silly old Aslan! You thought yourself mighty fine, didn’t you?”

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

“Why, he’s only a great cat after all!” cried one.

“Is that what we were afraid of?” said another.

And they surged around Aslan, jeering at him, saying things like, “Puss, Puss! Poor Pussy,” and “How many mice have you caught today, Cat?” and “Would you like a saucer of milk, Pussums?”

From Prince Caspian
“Eh? What’s that?” he said. “What old days do you mean?”

“Oh, don’t you know, Uncle?” said Caspian. “When everything was quite different. When all the animals could talk, and there were nice people who lived in the streams and the trees. Naiads and Dryads they were called. And there were Dwarfs. And there were lovely little Fauns in all the woods. They had feet like goats. And—”

“That’s all nonsense, for babies,” said the King sternly. “Only fit for babies, do you hear? You’re getting too old for that sort of stuff…. And never let me catch you talking—or thinking either—about all those silly stories again. There never were those Kings and Queens. How could there be two Kings at the same time? And there’s no such person as Aslan. And there are no such things as lions. And there never was a time when animals could talk. Do you hear?”

From The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
“I am Ramandu. But I see that you stare at one another and have not heard this name. And no wonder, for the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.”

“Golly,” said Edmund, under his breath. “He’s a retired star.”

“Aren’t you a star any longer?” asked Lucy.

“I am a star at rest, my daughter,” answered Ramandu….

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

From The Silver Chair
“What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word?” …

“Please it your Grace,” said the Prince, very coldly and politely. “You see that lamp. It is round and yellow and gives light to the whole room; and hangeth moreover from the roof. Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky.”

“Hangeth from what, my lord?” asked the Witch; and then, while they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story.”

From The Horse and His Boy
“What’s it got to do with you if she is [a Talking Horse]?” said the strange rider fiercely, laying hand on sword-hilt. But the voice in which the words were spoken had already told Shasta something.

“Why, it’s only a girl!” he exclaimed.

“And what business is it of yours if I am only a girl?” snapped the stranger. “You’re probably only a boy: a rude, common little boy—a slave probably, who’s stolen his master’s horse.”

“That’s all you know,” said Shasta.

From The Magician’s Nephew
[W]hat you see and hear depends a great deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.

…When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing—only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble with trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.

From The Last Battle
“You must think we’re blooming soft in the head, that you must,” said Griffle. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in again the next minute. We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see!... No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”

… “Do you mean you don’t believe in the real Aslan?” said Jill. “But I’ve seen him. And he has sent us two here out of a different world.”

“Ah,” said Griffle with a broad smile. “So you say. They’ve taught you your stuff all right. Saying your lessons, ain’t you?”

That’s without digging deeply, and I was going to type quotes from his other stories that I’ve read: Till We Have Faces, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and That Hideous Strength, but I’m tired of typing. Those books are just full of it. You should read them all, but especially That Hideous Strength, if you want to see what the abolition of man looks like and how men without chests behave.

Follow the discussion at Cindy’s blog.


  1. Thank you, Kelly! If you feel like it, I would love some examples from That Hideous Strength. It's my favorite book, and there was always *something* in so many of the Other People's comments that bothered me (angered me! confused me! but I know they're wrong!) that I just couldn't put my finger on.

    I have that feeling every so often when I'm reading this and that, and felt that if I could just understand what *that* is, then I'd understand much more what I'm about. Reading The Abolition of Man might be it!

  2. It's a lot more subtle in THS so I don't know if I can find any really quotable passages. Think about how Jane was always trying to keep from being "drawn in." She thought that when people held up something as being particularly noble or virtuous they had ulterior motives.

    Mark was almost completely opposite -- he wanted to be drawn in, to be in the inner circle, so he was always on the lookout for the in group's Shibboleths, those things they disparaged in order to show that they were sophisticated and modern and practical, and he imitated them.

    Think about Frost and his Objectivity Room -- everything in that room was meant to kill a man's sense of truth, goodness, and beauty, because he said that a man who was informed by those sensibilities could never be truly "objective."

    Withers did it too, in his vague way, and because it's so vague it's really hard to describe. It's the way he never quite listens to any one or never quite takes a person's concerns seriously, just vaguely assures them that everything will be agreeable and they're a happy family and the proper adjustments will be made as long as everyone is elastic.

  3. Those are great quotes! Thank you for taking the time to collect them; having the concrete literary examples helps me understand Lewis's point about debunking better.

    (I think that reading the Narnia Chronicles many, many times as a child helped me develop an intuition about debunking that made me less easily taken in by some of the modern versions of The Green Book)

  4. I'm sorry I didn't read this earlier, for the examples from Narnia are extremely helpful. Thank you for typing them up! I need to read the Space Trilogy...I've only read one of the three, and I know it'd be good for me to get to them all...


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