June 20th, 2013


Triolet for CSL

"Some of his revisions of the received narrative will interest only devotees of Lewis who are familiar with earlier biographies. Such, for instance, are the claims that it was in 1930 rather than 1929 that Lewis began to believe in God, and that he came to belief in Christ while being driven to Whipsnade zoo by car in 1932, rather than when riding to the zoo in a motorbike sidecar in 1931."
Anthony Kenny, review of Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis: A Life, in Times Literary Supplement, 21 June 2013

I disagree. This event is utterly central to Lewis's life - and nuances matter, whether we're reading for a Joycean epiphany or for an allegorical meaning more in line with Lewis's own aesthetic. Indeed, the questions raised here provoke me to poetry:

Oh how did you come to Whipsnade Zoo
To see lion and parakeet?
In ’31 or ’32,
Oh how did you come to Whipsnade Zoo
And who was the Driver driving you,
In sidecar or passenger seat?
Oh how did you come to Whipsnade Zoo
To see Lion and parakeet?

The application of a few Significant Capitals (a practice to which CSL himself was far from averse) shows the affair to be more than an anorakish footnote, of interest only to literary researchers who should no doubt "get a proper job". Whipsnade stands revealed as the new convert's Holy Hospital (where "bitter Penance, with an iron Whip, / Was wont him once to dis'ple every day"), the zoo as Langland's Field of Folk. (For the parakeet was a Paraclete, you see.)

No wonder CSL upped and wrote The Pilgrim's Regress with very little further ado.