Monday, January 02, 2006

The Passion of the Kitty

Culture Industry doesn't get enough comments, much less really aggressive and weird ones, to pass over the (of course anonymous) note that came over the transom this afternoon in response to my citation of Adam Gopnik's review of The Narnian, a biography of C. S. Lewis – a fine scholar of medieval and early modern literature who's much more fun when he's writing criticism than when he's trying to scare you into the door marked "Salvation" or when he's browbeating children with ill-advised allegorical fictions. Gopnik takes Lewis's The Lion etc. to task for being a bad allegory:
a central point of the Gospel story is that Jesus is not the lion of the faith but the lamb of God, while his other symbolic animal is, specifically, the lowly and bedraggled donkey. The moral force of the Christian story is that the lions are all on the other side... A powerful lion, starting life at the top of the food chain, adored by all his subjects and filled with temporal power, killed by a despised evil witch for his power and then reborn to rule, is a Mithraic, not a Christian, myth.
My gentle reader responds:
That is a load of rubbish.Have you ever heard of the Lion of Judah? Who do you suppose that is?Jesus was never personified as a donkey,a lamb yes, but not a donkey.He merely rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.You need to spend some time reading the Bible before you sit and comment on it.In the Bible God is described in many ways.He can not be put in a box or given a particular tag.Getting to my point...Don't speak if you haven't got a clue!
Hmmm. Well, for the record, the words that got you so exercised, my friend, were not mine but Adam Gopnik's, but since I endorsed his sentences, I guess it's up to me to respond. Yes, I have indeed read that miscellaneous collection of scriptures known as the Bible – the whole thing (Apocrypha and all) a couple of times, and some parts many, many times over. And yes, I've heard of the "Lion of Judah." Revelation 5.5: "And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." Which refers of course to Genesis 49.8, where the dying patriarch Jacob blesses his sons; of Judah he says, "Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?"

Who do I suppose the Lion of Judah is? Well, my friend, as with all of those snazzy symbols in Revelation, it's pretty much open to interpretation, which is why people have been fingering the "Beast" of chapters 13ff. as various world leaders for the past however many centuries (for my money it's got to Dubya). For the sake of argument, however, let's grant you that the L o' J is meant to be Christ here: but it's worth pointing out that tho in terms of sheer body counts Christ appears pretty much like the Heavenly Terminator in Revelation, he's almost invariably referred to, not as a "Lion," but as the "Lamb" (the Lamb, in addition, who was slain).

My own fundamentalist upbringing unfortunately didn't include a very comprehensive survey of historical interpretations of New Testament imagery; someone else (Peter?) might fill us in on the extent to which Christian tradition has exploited imagery of Jesus as Lion. For the nonce, however, I'd set my anonymous reader (since he's clearly already as well read in scripture as he believes he needs to be) a course of readings in hermeneutics: the art of interpretation. He could do worse than Angus Fletcher's Allegory, or even C. S. Lewis's The Allegory of Love. Then he might have something to contribute to a discussion of whether an allegory works or not.


Michael Peverett said...

.... and, at the risk of being a bore on someone else's blog (a new kind of social maladroitness for which we urgently need a name), my essay on Lewis is here. I don't rate the Narnia books either, but for what it's worth I think CSL deliberately avoided obviously biblical imagery and told his story (with Spenserian precedent) using a syncretistic mixture of the popular folk-images of Edwardian school-days - in this case the lion of England, the king of the beasts, the lion brand on schoolboy comics, stationery and confectionery.

Mark Scroggins said...

I'm sure you're right about the status of CSL's imagery, Michael, & I think the only person who's being tedious here is me in belaboring the dead donkey of an issue (but there's no term as yet for being tedious on one's *own* blog, is there?).