The Faun's Book Shelf - A Review


A quick glance at the work of C. S. Lewis could cause the casual observer to divide his work into several distinct bundles. The first is his apologetic work, which was really his cause for fame, in which category I would include his substantial journalistic engagement. The second category that is easy to recognize is his fiction. And, the third category, which is often ignored by all but his more ardent fans, is his professional work in literary criticism.

All three categories are significant. And, in all three categories, readers get a consistent witness to the author. The ideas of C. S. Lewis are clearly present through three significantly different genres of writing. This sort of consistency is part of what makes Lewis worthwhile to read, even when some of the issues he addresses are no longer major topics of concern.

Though he is consistent throughout his work, C. S. Lewis’ fictional work is the most significant. In his technical work on literature, Lewis shows how culture has shifted regarding epistemology. In his apologetic and journalistic work, Lewis argues why it is better to be a Christian. However, in his fictional work, Lewis illustrates what is wrong with contemporary thought and how realistic, Christian modes of thought can make the world a better place.

By writing fiction, Lewis makes concrete what is somewhat abstract in his non-fiction writing. (Though as writers go, his non-fiction is much more concrete than most.) This is, in part, a result of his understanding of and reliance upon the power of myth.

In his recent book, The Faun’s Bookshelf, Charlie Starr traces the power of myth—or, in contemporary parlance, the power of story—in C. S. Lewis. The main argument is advanced on two levels: (1) Starr shows how Lewis uses pre-existing myth and weaves it into his fiction, (2) Starr also demonstrates how Lewis creates myth to convey his ideas in a convincing way. The exploration of these topics is set in the larger context of considering why myth matters and how it can be used by those of us who are not literary geniuses like C. S. Lewis. Starr, a former English professor, focuses on the work of Lewis, but his broader point applies to the use of myth and stories in all media and genres.

The book is divided into four parts, each with three chapters. In Part One, Starr explores the general definitions of myth, including the idea that myth may not mean fictional. Rather, Starr presents a vision of myth that is consistent with Lewis’: Myth may well be the careful retelling of true stories in an evocative, imaginative manner. Part Two examines how Lewis used pre-existing cultural myths in his fictional work to deepen the myth he is creating. For example, Lewis borrows Silenus from Greek mythology and puts him on the shelf of a Narnian faun with the book title, The Life and Letters of Silenus. Starr explores how that title reflects the Narnian longing for a better time of feasting and celebration.

In Part Three, Starr flips the script to examine the way that Narnian mythology questions the reality of our world, especially with titles like, Men, Monks, and Gamekeepers; A Study in Popular Legend. The reader knowns that men, monks, and gamekeepers exist—or that they existed—but those realities appear to be distant legends in Narnia. So may our myths bear the echoes of truth with a great deal more clarity than we realize. Part Four takes up more general questions necessary to understand Lewis’ approach to myth, by considering Lewis’ broader thinking on myth, the influence of Norse mythology in his life, and taking up a somewhat obscure but important possible contradiction in the writing of Lewis on myth.

The Faun’s Bookshelf is a worthwhile book based on two distinct contributions. First, Starr has done good work in synthesizing Lewis’ thought on myth and providing context for much of his use and reuse of myth. This makes the book a valuable resource for Lewis studies. Second, the book takes up the important question of the power of stories to shape culture. As people grapple with the acquisition of meaning and the power of myth, a study that shows how an expert used fiction to deepen reality is a welcome contribution.

This book will be most interesting for those that enjoy Lewis already. It is well-written in accessible prose, so that it should not be consigned to the stacks of academic libraries. The Faun’s Bookshelf would be an excellent secondary text for a university level course on C. S. Lewis, or even as part of a high school elective. Meanwhile, the book explores important questions that can deepen ongoing discussions on Christian participation in the arts.

NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

The Myth of "The One"

One of the greatest marriage-destroying myths in the world today is the idea that there is one person that is perfectly compatible with us. In non-Christian circles, this takes the form of looking for romantic attachment that is entirely fulfilling and without conflict. Christians try to baptize this concept by searching for “The One” that God has for them, as if God has a secret matrix of relationships with a single possible combination.

Both of these ideas are wrong. Both are harmful to society and to individuals. We should seek to eradicate the idea of “The One” from our worldview. In the end, everyone will be happier if we aren't looking for something that doesn't exist.

Non-Christians and “The One”

In his book, True Sexual Morality, Daniel Heimbach describes a counterfeit approach to sex as romantic sexual morality. He writes:

“Romantic sexual morality so glorifies the importance of sentimental affection in sexual relationships that sex is justified based on feelings alone. It says couples have only to decide if they are in love, and if they are, then sex is moral whatever else might be the case.” (255)

He goes on,

“In romantic morality, marriage does not legitimize expressing romantic affection with sex; rather, expressing romantic affection with sex legitimizes marriage. Romantics think marriage is a good way to express feelings; but if feelings fade, then sex is bad and the marriage is over.” (258)

At its root, the idea that there is one person in the world with whom we are perfectly compatible relies on this concept of romantic sexual morality: It is moral to do anything for love, and marriage is the way to show the recognition that their partner is “The One.”

However, feelings fade, conflict happens, and the happiness wanes sometimes ending in divorce.

Even before divorce, though, if feelings for another person arise and they appear to be a new “The One,” the old relationship becomes wrong and the relationship with the new “The One” becomes right.

In reality, romantic emotions are an important part of marriage, but they do not define morality and they are not the substance of marriage. Emotions come and go. Keeping promises faithfully helps build stronger families and ultimately a stronger society.

When adults follow romantic emotions to search for “The One” there is often a trail of broken families and broken hearts.

Christians and “The One”

The Christian version of this myth usually involves less extra-marital sex. However, it is still destructive to people’s happiness.

The basic version of “The One” myth goes something like this:

1.      God has a special plan for your life.

2.      This special plan includes every detail and every decision, including who you marry.

3.      If you choose wisely, things will go well because God is pleased; if you make a mistake, God will be disappointed and you will not be happy.

The vision here is of God in his throne room with a chart on the wall. Person A connects to Person B. They are “The One” for each other. Person C and Person D are each “The One” for each other.

However, due to Person A being 10 minutes late to Chem 6A on the first day of class, Person C and Person B end up sitting next to each other, going to lunch, and the rest is history. Now Person B is married to Person C and Persons A and D are left without their “The One.” Thus, God’s plans are thwarted, he is displeased, and everyone is unhappy.

There are a few problems with this:

1.      By this logic, it may be the right thing for B and C to get a divorce so that the proper couples, A–B and C–D can be formed. However, divorce is not consistent with the relationship between Christ and the Church, which is how Paul depicts it in Ephesians 5. This is not a good option.

 2.      This puts too much stress on people who are considering marriage. It makes them think there is a secret will of God they need to decode. This is not taught in Scripture. There are some basic qualifications for the appropriateness of marriage, but finding “The One” is certainly not one of them.

 3.      This vision of God is paltry. He isn’t sitting in heaven hoping we get things right, with the outcome dependent on our daily choices. No, the victory has been won, Christ is risen, the new heavens and new earth are coming and he knows the date of delivery. Our choice of spouse will not send God’s plan into a tailspin.

Ultimately, marriage is about being holy not being romantic. It should reflect mutual submission, humility, and faithfulness, much like Christ’s relationship with us.

This means that we will be faithful to our spouses even when we are frustrated. This means we will continue to perform loving actions for our spouse even when romantic feelings are absent. This means we will pursue joy in God even when we don’t feel “in love” with our spouses.

In the end there is greater fulfillment to be found in faithfulness and enduring love than in chasing romance. This is true for Christians and for non-Christians.


This is exactly the sort of perspective we want to avoid: