Wednesday, October 16, 2013

30 Days of Halloween - Day 15: Stalking Hnakra (monsters in C. S. Lewis)

'A line of foam like the track of a torpedo was speeding towards them, and in the midst of it some large, shining beast.' (Out of the Silent Planet, Chapter Seven)

If you've read it, do you remember this epic sea monster in the first book of Lewis's celebrated science fiction trilogy?  It is described as being gigantic, fast, and armoured in impenetrable scales so that the only way to kill it is by throwing spears into its wide round jaws while they are snapping at you with rows of shark-like teeth.  (Reminiscent of Job's Leviathan.)

One of my goals in raising Monster Awareness is to show that the fantasy and science fiction works of all the great modern 'Christian myth-makers' (Tolkien, Lewis, Charles Williams, George MacDonald, etc.) are outright replete with fabulous beasts and creatures as well as other elements of horror.

The 'hnakra', as this monster is named, is especially interesting in that he is part of Malacandra's created order and the planet's people embrace this monstrous reality and even rejoice in doing deadly battle with it. When Dr. Ransom (the protagonist) questions the Hrossa (natives of the planet) why God would even 'let in' such a monster to their world, his friend Hyoi answers passionately:

'I long to kill this hnakra as he also longs to kill me.  I hope that my ship will be the first and I first in my ship with my straight spear when the black jaws snap.  And if he kills me, my people will mourn and my brothers will desire still more to kill him.  But they will not wish that there were no hneraki [plural form of 'hnakra']; nor do I.  How can I make you understand, when you do not understand the poets?  The hnakra is our enemy, but he is also our beloved.  We feel in our hearts his joy as he looks down from the mountain of water in the north where he was born; we leap with him when he jumps the falls; and when winter comes, and the lake smokes higher than our heads, it is with his eyes that we see it and know that his roaming time is come.  We hang images of him in our houses, and the sign of all the hrossa is a hnakra.  In him the spirit of the valley lives; and our young play at being hneraki as soon as they can splash in the shallows.'

Oh how Lewis understood a theology of monsters!  And did we even clock it?  Listen to this wisdom about the monstrous:

* Though they are deadly, we do not wish there were no monsters
* They are our natural 'enemies' but also our beloved
* We feel the joy of monsters in our hearts
* We leap with the monsters (!)
* We see through monsters' eyes (!)
* We adorn our homes with the images of monsters
* We use the image of the monster as a sign of ourselves
* The spirit of our ecology lives in the monster
* Our children play at being monsters (!)

Note, of course, that we do the final item on this list at Halloween.  And I think in that activity we also feel our way into all the other truths on the list.

The speaker in the above passage goes on to describe beautifully and hauntingly how being alone with God and monsters is the essence of worship.  Would that such wisdom would infect and infuse our assemblies!

(The only artist's portrayal of a hnakra that I could find on the internet - found here)

(They've also turned it into a mug! Found here. I'd gladly drink coffee from this monster's maw.)