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C.S.Lewis' Re-enchanted Man and Veterans Day 2020

Most Americans know C.S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. Fewer know that in the late 1930s he wrote science fiction set on Mars and Venus. More to the point, on this Veterans Day, 2020, C.S. Lewis served as an infantry officer wounded at the Battle of Arras in 1917. I am indebted to Baen books’ publisher Toni Weisskopf for pointing me to Lewis’ 1946 essay, Talking about Bicycles. As you may suspect, Lewis writes not about bicycles but about the four ways in which authors think – and write – about war:

“The Unenchanted man sees (quite correctly) the waste and cruelty and sees nothing else…the Enchanted man – he’s thinking of glory and battle-poetry and forlorn hopes and last stands and chivalry. Then comes the Disenchanted Age…But there is also a fourth stage, though few people in modern [1946] England dare to talk about it. You know quite well what I mean. One is not in the least deceived: we remember the trenches too well. We know how much of the reality the romantic view left out. But we also know that heroism is a real thing, that all the plumes and flags and trumpets of the tradition were not there for nothing. They were an attempt to honour what is truly honourable: what was first perceived to be honourable precisely because everyone knew how horrible war is...The war poetry of Homer…for example, is Re-Enchantment. You see in every line that the poet knows, quite as well as any modern, the horrible thing he is writing about. He celebrates heroism but he has paid the proper price for doing so...You read an author in whom love is treated as lust and all war as murder – and so forth. But are you reading a Disenchanted man or only an Unenchanted man? Has the writer been through the Enchantment and come out on to the bleak highlands, or is he simply a subman who is free from love mirage as a dog is free, and free from the heroic mirage as a coward is free? If Disenchanted, he may have something worth hearing to say, though less than a Re-enchanted man. If Unenchanted, into the fire with his book. He is talking of what he doesn’t understand. But the great danger we have to guard against in this age is the Unenchanted man, mistaking himself for, and mistaken by others for, the Disenchanted man.”

To serve is to leave forever the ranks of the Unenchanted, and of the Enchanted. Whether you have emerged Disenchanted or Re-enchanted, thanks.

This post (with minor updates) originally appeared in my old Wordpress Blog on Veterans Day 2008. The Blog in its many-posts entirety still can be found online with a few Googles.


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