As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have a bad habit of shouldering a task before knowing if I can handle it or not. This was the case with my second semester at A&M (seen here), and it threatens to repeat with the coming fall semester. On top of graduate school and prior commitments, I thought it necessary to launch a student organization on campus called The Aggie Kolbitar Society (more on the society another time).
With the danger in mind, I’ve decided to use the next few posts to prepare for a talk I will give to the Kolbitars on week one. It gives me something concrete to work on for this blog and also allows me to kill two birds with one stone.
Over the course of this summer, I’ve had small moments of time where I could enjoy C. S. Lewis’s Letters To Malcom– the last work published by Lewis before his death. As this is my first reading of the book, the experience has been a sequence of pleasant surprises. And while I wish I could spend more time just writing about this delightful little book, today’s post merely uses Letters as a springboard.
As the subtitle suggests, Lewis’s chief interest in Letters is on the topic of prayer. However, this focus does not keep him from a variety of subtopics, which diverge even further. And it’s in this winding rabbit trail that we find our starting point.
When I say “magic” I am not thinking of the paltry and pathetic techniques by which fools attempt…to control nature. I mean rather what is suggested by fairy-tale sentences like “This is a magic flower, and if you carry it the seven gates will open for you of their own accord,”…I should define magic in this sense as “objective efficacy which cannot be further analysed.” (Lewis 103)
Lewis’s reason for bringing magic into the conversation is quite a stroke of luck, for while he was concerned with discussing the nature of communion (or Eucharist), we may use this example to see a key difference between wonders we can explain and wonders that have no explanation. To put it another way, Lewis, in his damnably efficient manner, is showing the distinguishing line between simple magic and blended magic.
As shown by Lewis’s example with the flower, the idea of magic is at its simplest a sort of reaction of two (or more) elements that yield a result. But we have to be careful of this oversimplification; we cannot equate magic with chemistry (though my younger self might have accused the latter of being as impossible to attain as the former). Magic is not the overarching term of a more specific practice. As Lewis says, “the ‘magical’ element in such truths can be got rid of by explanation; that is, by seeing them to be instances or consequences of larger truths” (103).
Magic is itself the most specific way to describe itself. The moment we insist on explaining the thing—to break it down to more precise elements or more scientific absolutes—we grind the mystery and wonder out of magic.
I will have to save my next point for two weeks from now. The post is threatening to transform into a minor paper, and I have great deal more research that I need to do. Next time, I think we’ll delve into three arenas of what I am calling “blended magic,” and maybe (if we have time) into why the distinction is important.
Before I sign off, I would ask that you please consider my book if you’ve enjoyed this or any other post of mine. I cannot profess any great mastery, but I hope to dedicate my life to the study and exploration of literature. Buying a copy of Shadowlander would do a good deal to encourage and help me in that endeavor.
Lewis, C. S.. Letters to Malcom. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 1964. Print.