Gimme That Old Time Religion

Over at SF Signal their Mind Meld this week was about one of my favorite topics, Religion in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Most of the answers are very good, though I especially liked John C. Wright’s answer, which included this paragraph:

Dark Fantasy lends itself nicely to monotheism, because we all know Christians are creepy: either they look like spooky Puritans, dressed in all black, a la Solomon Kane, or they have spooky gothic Cathedrals, complete with gargoyles and graveyards and torture chambers, not to mention ritual cannibalism and what’s not to like about that?

The real gem, though, was from the comments, which included this stunning poem by CS Lewis:

Cliche Came Out of its Cage

1

You said ‘The world is going back to Paganism’.
Oh bright Vision! I saw our dynasty in the bar of the House
Spill from their tumblers a libation to the Erinyes,
And Leavis with Lord Russell wreathed in flowers, heralded with flutes,
Leading white bulls to the cathedral of the solemn Muses
To pay where due the glory of their latest theorem.
Hestia’s fire in every flat, rekindled, burned before
The Lardergods. Unmarried daughters with obedient hands
Tended it By the hearth the white-armd venerable mother
Domum servabat, lanam faciebat… at the hour
Of sacrifice their brothers came, silent, corrected, grave
Before their elders; on their downy cheeks easily the blush
Arose (it is the mark of freemen’s children) as they trooped,
Gleaming with oil, demurely home from the palaestra or the dance.
Walk carefully, do not wake the envy of the happy gods,
Shun Hubris. The middle of the road, the middle sort of men,
Are best. Aidos surpasses gold. Reverence for the aged
Is wholesome as seasonable rain, and for a man to die
Defending the city in battle is a harmonious thing.
Thus with magistral hand the Puritan Sophrosune
Cooled and schooled and tempered our uneasy motions;
Heathendom came again, the circumspection and the holy fears …
You said it. Did you mean it? Oh inordinate liar, stop.

2

Or did you mean another kind of heathenry?
Think, then, that under heaven-roof the little disc of the earth,
Fortified Midgard, lies encircled by the ravening Worm.
Over its icy bastions faces of giant and troll
Look in, ready to invade it. The Wolf, admittedly, is bound;
But the bond will break, the Beast run free. The weary gods,
Scarred with old wounds the one-eyed Odin, Tyr who has lost a hand,
Will limp to their stations for the Last defence. Make it your hope
To be counted worthy on that day to stand beside them;
For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die
His second, final death in good company. The stupid, strong
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last,
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side.
Take as your model the tall women with yellow hair in plaits
Who walked back into burning houses to die with men,
Or him who as the death spear entered into his vitals
Made critical comments on its workmanship and aim.
Are these the Pagans you spoke of? Know your betters and crouch, dogs;
You that have Vichy water in your veins and worship the event
Your goddess History (whom your fathers called the strumpet Fortune).

Okay, so it’s not the best poem in the world, but it’s a reminder that actual paganism was more bracing and interesting than the misty-eyed cliches that dominate much modern thinking (both in the minds of defenders and detractors).

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3 Comments

  1. Oh, John C. Wright, what a maddening guy. One minute, I’m like, OMG, you’re the best writer ever, and I want to rub myself all over his books because he’s so damned educated and intelligent and knows how to do cool things with it, and then I’m screaming at him. “Did you actually just compare environmentalists to Hitler?!?!”

    LIke in his answer there–though he doesn’t do any of the overt stuff I hate him for, he drastically simplfies gnosticism even though I know he knows better. And he trashes on GRR Martin and dark fantasy, which I just have to, you know, oppose on principle. (Sure, religion isn’t Martin’s strong suit, but given the already almost polytheistic nature of Catholicism, having polytheistic knights doesn’t bother me.

    If you haven’t read his Chronicles of Chaos trilogy, you should definitely check it out. They really are amzing, despite the sexism and racism. I’d love to have someone to discuss/argue about them with.

  2. I don’t think I’ve actually read anything by Wright. I apply reciated his response, though, for being complete and funny and saying funny-because-its-true things about all the groups he lampooned. He was definitely, um, painting with a broad brush about a couple of things, though.

    I’ll look into the Chronicles of Chaos trilogy… eventually, when I get through some of the other stuff I have to read. (Currently working through His Dark Materials).

    1. Whatever you do, read the books before you read his blog.
      I’ve got to finish His Dark Materials one day. I’ve only read the first one, though my dad’s given me the whole series. I’ve had some interesting discussions with him about them, though. He (a devout Catholic) never picked up that they were supposed to be anti-god at all.

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