Why C.S. Lewis Was Wrong on Marriage (and J.R.R. Tolkien Was Right)
Of course, there was no greater debunker of that entire system of thought than C.S. Lewis. To read him is to come face-to-face with a man who, according to one friend, was "the most thoroughly converted man I ever knew." Few people wrestled with the absolute, pervasive nature of Christ's lordship more capably and intelligently than Lewis.
Consider the social critique in That Hideous Strength as one example of this "thoroughly converted" mind. In that book, Lewis is not merely defending an article of faith or a specific political platform. He's defending an entire orientation toward the world. To borrow a phrase used by Doug Wilson to describe his debates with Christopher Hitchens, the conflict between St. Anne's and the NICE in Lewis' novel is not an academic exchange of mutually exclusive beliefs. It is a collision of lives and worlds. The world of St. Anne's is for Christianity. The NICE is for applied science, modernity, and industrialization.
St. Anne's Christianity is worth describing in more detail: The home is defined by an integrated way of life directed toward creational flourishing. Some of the less appreciated aspects of this life will be recognizable to many younger evangelicals with broader social interests. St. Anne's is an agrarian home where they grow most of their own food, where animals come and go as they please, and where the boundaries between "mine" and "yours" are quite a bit fuzzier than they are in our own experience. It's a place where the land is valued as such and is not buried under the growing burden of human abuse. If it calls to mind scenes from Wendell Berry's Port William, you are on the right track. In all these ways, That Hideous Strength is extremely friendly to those of us concerned by the abuses of creation perpetrated by industrialization.
But we mustn't stop there in our analysis of Lewis' social imagination. If we reduce Lewis' critique to ecology, we have missed his point. Lewis' ecological views flow out of something more basic and essential. What Lewis is describing is an orientation toward the world. As such, it encompasses an ethic toward the land, but it is not limited to that.
To discover the bedrock of the book's social vision, one need look no further than the book's first word: "Matrimony." At its roots, That Hideous Strength is a book about marriage. The book begins with Jane Studdock contemplating the love poems of John Donne. The story ends with a chapter titled "Venus at St. Anne's." In that chapter, nearly every major character is paired off, including Ransom, who returns to the planet Venus. More on that shortly. Significantly, Mark and Jane are finally reunited, this time sans contraception with the expectation that their child will be the Pendragon, the one who saves England.
And if you scratch a little deeper, you find that this book actually dovetails marvelously with the planetary themes of Lewis' work discussed so marvelously in Michael Ward's Planet Narnia. St. Anne's, by the book's end, has come to represent the alliance of Venus and Jupiter. In fact, it isn't even that subtle. Jupiter's viceregent, Ransom, is whisked off to Venus. And that is not coincidental. Lewis didn't choose Venus based on whim. Venus, in Lewis' work, denotes beauty and fertility. Jove, meanwhile, signifies a secure and satisfied kingly joy. Their union signifies creation at its apex, as the beauty and fertility of creation (Venus) is brought under the wise, joyful lordship of its creator king (Jupiter). If you remove marriage, you are removing the beauty and the joviality that animate all of St. Anne's. If you lose the larger worldview implied by marriage's design, you lose the entire social vision of That Hideous Strength.