A Little; But Not Enough

Michael Metzger

Disney’s motto “Discover the Magic” reminds us that we live in a post-Christian age.

Twice a week I drive one of our granddaughters to school. One morning she informed that Disney is her “perfect day.” Score one for Disney. Their motto, “Discover the Magic,” seems to be working. Kids experience enchantment, magic—but only a little. In my limited experience, the magic goes out around 3:00pm. The kids are wiped out.

But I think Disney gets a lot right. Take Halloween, which is tonight. Over the last two months the parks have held Halloween-themed attractions featuring witches and goblins that Disney says “will put a spell on you.” Tonight’s the last night, including Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. You pick—spell-casting devils or a harmless mouse.

It reminds me of C. S. Lewis saying there are two equal and opposite errors regarding devils. One is to have an unhealthy interest in them (does this account for the spike in crime on Halloween night?). The other is to see nothing beyond the natural world. Halloween is harmless fun. The devils aren’t real for cryin’ out loud.

Lewis felt they are. This is the story behind That Hideous Strength. Watson has an unhealthy interest in the demonic. The university faculty see the supernatural as silly (as do most Americans). Ransom, now the Director, knows better. He sees through the natural world to the supernatural beyond and above. So he sees the natural world is enchanted. But he also sees how our modern world has been “transformed and repressed by a relentless process of disenchantment.”[1] Few Americans see this connection between worlds below and above.

Lewis did. In a chilling séance scene in the chapter “The Descent of the Gods,” Ransom sits with Merlin in a room above the kitchen. In the kitchen below, those (like Watson) with an unhealthy interest in evil have revived Merlin, seeking to use his powers. They don’t know what they’re getting into. In the room above, Ransom and Merlin do. They’re visited by ancient beings of mythology who descend, drawing the natural world into their supernatural worlds. Throughout the séance Lewis alternates his descriptions of these encounters. Those above recognize what’s happening, those below are naïve to what they seek to unleash.

Merlin of course finds this disturbing. Having been absent for 1,500 years, and seeing the dis-enchanted world, he asks permission to “go in and out, and to and fro, renewing old acquaintances” with the land, to gather needed herbs to serve as the instruments of his magic for re-enchantment. But Ransom strictly forbids it:

“No, that cannot be done any longer. The soul has gone out of the wood and water. Oh, I daresay you could awaken them; a little. But it would not be enough. Whatever of spirit may still linger in the earth has withdrawn fifteen hundred years further away from us since your time.”

Lewis is saying the magical “atmosphere” of the 1,500-year “long Middle Ages” is pretty much gone. The conditions required to revive real magic withdrew with the Enlightenment. It’s possible to revive these conditions, but I bet Lewis would say that requires a return to the long Middles Ages view of the universe.

That would include a return to Hal­loween as a Chris­t­ian adap­ta­tion of Celtic pa­gan har­vest fes­ti­vals in which the Celts would dress up in cos­tumes to ward off ghosts. In the late Middle Ages, the Oc­to­ber night was taken as the mo­ment at which con­straints on ghosts were weak­est, be­fore the ho­li­ness of the saints drove them out. Pretty wild, which is why I feel today’s tame “Harvest Parties” don’t cut it. They are in fact hollowing-out the magic of Halloween.

The better move is returning to the old Western world, “where every tree is a nymph and every planet a god,” Lewis wrote. He said this world has been emptied, disenchanting the universe, demystifying the human body.[2] We’d have to “remystify” the human body, seeing our bodies as telling the gospel rooted in the higher, more complex spiritual world. Is this possible? Of course. Is it likely? Well, in the last scene in That Hideous Strength, the husband and wife “remystify” their marriage emptied of romantic love. How? First by coming to Christ. Then they “remystify” their marriage by reviving their nuptial union. I’m not sure how many churches would be comfy with that last scene in That Hideous Strength.

Old Western Christians like Lewis recognize the true magic of the 1,500-year “long Middle Ages” is not relegated to theme parks. It is the theme of the cosmos, the heavens and the earth. But give Disney credit. “Discover the Magic” reminds us that we live in a post-Christian age where all sorts of things can awaken the magic a little; but not enough.

Like Halloween. Happy Magical Halloween.

 

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, (Belknap Press, 2007), 553.

[2] This essay was first published as a Preface to D. E. Harding’s The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth: A New Diagram of Man in the Universe (London, 1952).

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for this post, Mike. I think that Lewis’ warning about the twins errors regarding the supernatural are among his most relevant comments for today’s culture.

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