This is the first in a series of guest posts written by readers of The Place of the Lion, one of CW’s great novels. I asked readers to read the novel and write a brief response for me to post. I received eight enthusiastic responses, of varying brevity. They vary from more formal, academic book reviews and pieces of literary criticism to personal, here’s-what-I-thought-of-it responses. I plan to post them in order from most accessible to most esoteric. Most of these posts assume the reader’s familiarity with The Place of the Lion, so you might want to read the novel first. You can find it here and here.
Today’s post is by Stephen Winter. Stephen is a chaplain who does freelance work in Spiritual Direction. He thinks of himself as “a kind of modern version of a mendicant friar of the Middle Ages travelling about with my begging bowl and receiving alms as I go from village to village, town to town.” Please visit his website, “Adventures in Living”.
My first thought on finishing The Place of the Lion was that I need to read it again! CW takes no prisoners in this book & he really expects the reader to follow up his clues to Abelard, Aquinas etc. While Damaris may have gone down a dangerous road in her studies, one that you referred to somewhere else as the road to hell, nevertheless it is through an understanding of the medieval scholars that an understanding of what is happening in the story takes place.
What I did understand gave me a sense of a description of spiritual journeys enfleshed vividly in CW’s own time and ours. I liked Anthony’s answer to Damaris’s question in the final chapter, “what is our necessity?” “It’s just to be, I suppose…the simpler one is the nearer one is to loving.” I think that only by giving himself up entirely to that simplicity can Anthony do what he does in the final chapter & not be destroyed by hubris. I really could not imagine myself in Anthony’s place there and yet I do believe as the early Fathers taught that our destiny is to be divine in perfect union with God. It is just that I do not see how I could be that here and now and not be overwhelmed by the most terrible spiritual pride. I am not sure that my wife could live with me either!
The synthesis of the Bible and Plato is quite wonderful & it was new to me. It makes sense to read the story of Adam in terms of a Platonic archetype and takes us into much more wonderful places than the usual literalism. The mediaevals had access to riches & it seems to me that the strangeness of The Place of the Lion is as much to do with what we have lost since that time as anything else. I loved CW’s reading of the text that the Lion shall lie down with the Lamb and a Little Child (the Adamic archetype?) shall lead them. Of course I see Christ as the true Adam in which all of us are restored and what a beautiful dream of the healing of all Creation.
I do wish you every success in your work of making CW available in the 21st century. It would be wonderful if he became more widely read even though I suspect he will never be as popular as Lewis and Tolkien. What he does do is to deepen my understanding of those two writers. And what an encouraging line to all scholars when Anthony says to Damaris, “How can intelligence be wrong…and it’s a perfectly sound idea to make a beautiful thing of what you know.” How wonderful it would be if all scholars worked in that way!