Meditations with C. S. Lewis: Successful Stupidity
C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity. Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press. On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.
“Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” The Magician’s Nephew (126)
We forget that the we ourselves are the most important ingredient in the making of an idiot. That usually means that we are more effective in making idiots our of ourselves rather than of others.
Of course, I’m not making any particular statement here about the state of education in general.* There is a significant difference between “ignorance” and “stupidity.” The former is a simple lack of knowledge about a particular subject or subjects. That can be be caused by influences external to ourselves that we may not have control over. The latter, on the other hand, is generally willful in some way. It implies that the requisite knowledge to address a situation is at least available, but the person has somehow failed to do the right thing. It is therefore possible to be ignorant without being stupid, and to bear no responsibility for it. On the other hand, when we are being stupid, we are almost always ignorant and it is almost always our own fault.
In the character of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew (to whom the quote above was applied) we have a brilliant example of stupidity in action. He is perfectly capable of following what is going around him, but he chooses to understand only what suits him. He has decided that he is, in fact, one of the “profound students and great thinkers and sages” and a powerful magician (18). That presupposition renders him unable to see truths about himself that are very plain to everyone else–that he is really a doddering old coward, a greedy fool, and a ridiculous knave. He is oblivious to his cowardice in forcing Digory to rescue Polly and deludes himself into thinking that the witch could fall in love with him. Is it any surprise, then, that when he arrives in Narnia at its creation, he succeeds in making himself “stupider” than he really is? As a result, he not only misses out on a tremendous adventure, he goes down in Narnian history as the least of all men–and in human history this “profound student, great thinker, and sage” is remembered not at all.
I’m afraid to ask myself how often do I follow Andrew Ketterley’s example. Often enough, I have no doubt. Lewis is reminding us that we should do all we can to see ourselves, the world around us, and how we relate to it was as much clarity as we can muster, especially if we don’t think we’ll like what we see.
After all, I am “stupid” enough already–I need go no further!
*Were you to ask, I could give you an earful. In fact, I will in a few more weeks.
Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far. Interested in more about C. S. Lewis? Check out Passing Through the Shadowlands–an extended project where I am blogging through his life in letters, essays, and books.
- The Magician’s Nephew. New York: Collier Books, 1974.
Posted on July 1, 2012, in Brian Melton, C. S. Lewis, Christianity, Meditations, Narnia, Philosophy and tagged Andrew Ketterley, C. S. Lewis, Christianity, Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis, ignorance, Narnia, stupid, stupidity, The Magician's Nephew. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.