This is the second in a series of guest posts written by readers of The Place of the Lion, one of CW’s great novels. 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. Please read my introduction to this series, along with the first post, here.
Today’s post is by Tessa Carter.
Tessa Carter is a writer based in New York City with roots in the forests of Minnesota and the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. She is passionate about trees, slow meals, used bookstores, and the Oxford comma. Her commonplace blog can be found here.
Not long after I finished reading The Place of the Lion, I came across this quote in a lecture by Gregory Wolfe: “The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is power.” (I know; I was expecting “indifference” or “apathy,” too.) And this says something true, I think, about the “two camps” (you have to read the book to get the pun here) of people we meet in Williams’s novel. In the first camp are Mr. Foster and Miss Wilmot, who both desire power—and, in Foster’s case, are even willing to be destroyed for its sake. In the end they both lose not only power, but also their very selves.
The second camp is ruled by love—or rather, Love—and those in this camp paradoxically become more truly themselves and more powerful the more they love. In Anthony’s case, Love rules through him: to calm the chaos unleashed by the riving of the veil between the Platonic Forms and the human world, Anthony must assume the Adamic mantle and obey the ancient command to rule creation.
Earlier he appears quite kinglike when he comes to Damaris’s rescue, riding a horse and calling her name. There is a new authority in him, and she longs “for him to gather her and let her feel more closely the high protection of his power” but yet is “content to wait upon his will.” There is authority in his love as well, and she finally accepts his love after her conversion. He is her Anthony and yet a new Anthony, just as she is becoming a new Damaris, for they have been transformed by the Love that is the creator of all things, both of heavenly Principles and earthly powers.
Anthony’s devotion to Damaris was one of the most striking things about the novel to me. The narrator doesn’t really tell us how Anthony came to love Damaris (maybe an affair began passionately before a sudden cooling on Damaris’s part?), and his fidelity to her, despite her cruelty to him, is rare and remarkable. Somehow he sees her both as she is and what she is meant to be. And this clear-eyed love seems vital not only to her conversion, but to his ability to name the Ideas and return them to their world. It is Love that grants him power to name the beasts and rule them, and to love Damaris and Quentin—“yet not he, but Love living in him.”
The night I finished reading The Place of the Lion, I was sitting in a coffee shop talking with friends about the ambiguous power of naming. One friend reminded us, “Let’s remember Adam, who named the animals, and that was good.”
“But we’re not all Adam,” said another. Adam’s naming of the animals was a special case, an event echoed but not approached by subsequent human activity.
Until, of course, Anthony Durrant came along.
Reading your comments on this novel of Williams leads me to two particular thoughts. The first is that I need to re-read it. The second stems from your pertinent insight that the novel portrays the opposite of love as power. Williams became a great influence on C S Lewis, particularly through Lewis’ reading of this book. I can now see many more parallels between Lewis’ That Hideous Strength and this novel! particularly in the opposition of love and power. Thank you for your insightful comments.
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