C.S. Lewis and the Experience of Sehnsucht

C. S. Lewis, his worlds, and his faith.

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Re: C.S. Lewis and the Experience of Sehnsucht

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Sep 19, 2016 5:24 pm

Lady Arwen wrote:Very. I like your English standards. I also hope you elect to use "peckish" instead of "hangry".


Oh yes... although for some reason I've always associated that word with being hungry and being without an appetite. I think it comes from the phrase "pecking at your food".

Lady Arwen wrote:I think one might have more success separating the concept of Joy from the concept of Happy than getting preternatural nostalgia to catch on, personally. ;))


*sigh* I forget that other people don't enjoy looking up words in the Dictionary as much as I do. ;)) I'd go with mystic nostalgia if that didn't sound like a psychedelic 60s cover band. :P

Reepicheep775 wrote:I don't think it's a coincidence that our first clear memories of sehnsucht occurred after reading Narnia. I'm starting to remember some earlier moments as well that might be considered sehnsucht, but it isn't clear cut. I think Lewis's writings really put that experience in focus because now whenever I have the experience, I think (maybe not during it, but shortly after) something along the lines of "Oh, yes. This is like what Reepicheep felt when the dryad sung him the verse".


I'm reminded of how Lewis described the effect of reading George MacDonald's Phantastes when he was sixteen... "the baptism of his imagination". I wonder if reading Narnia isn't a baptism of a sort for some people?

Still, there were several years in between reading any of the books and realizing that what I was feeling was very similar to what the characters in CoN were describing. (Although, as I think about it, I don't think that the sehnsucht theme is particularly strong in LWW or MN as compared to the other books. I'm not sure what would've happened if I had read all of them at that time instead of in my later teens.) Anyway, at eleven or twelve, I imagine I was too young to have a very sophisticated theory about what was happening; I only knew it was a cup that I never wanted to stop drinking from. If Lewis hadn't been such a trailblazer on this topic, I have no idea how long it would have been before I'd have been able to develop anything close to a communicable understanding about what I was experiencing. Thank goodness for him and his writings!

Reepicheep775 wrote:If I hadn't read Narnia, I wouldn't have that frame of reference and might be more likely to shrug it off. Maybe that partly explains why people are so silent about this? It seems strange that something can be so profound and yet so subtle as to fly under the radar like that. :-\


This thread is the most I've ever talked about it in my life, to be honest. I do remember talking about it with someone once a long time ago, but that was because they had also experienced a similar feeling, if not the same feeling, with me at the same time and place and we were talking about that memory. (I think it was a shared experience of sehnsucht, believe it or not. I can think of no other explanation.)

Part of this is probably due to the fact that I have a tendency to not talk about my feelings, but it's also because sehnsucht is often a profoundly lonely feeling, or at least the aftermath of it is. You feel like an exile from a country that you can barely remember. To try and talk with people about it... and to receive even a kind yet still uncomprehending response... often only makes the loneliness more piercing. =/

It takes a lot of courage to risk it. I'm not sure I ever would have even considered starting this thread if you hadn't already been talking a little about your own experiences over in Talk About Narnia.

Reepicheep775 wrote:Indeed. Also - and I know I don't speak for everyone's childhood - but my own was so full of wonder, happiness, and simplicity that maybe I simply didn't feel the need to long for something else. Just a thought. Obviously my childhood memories aren't the clearest and are no doubt seen through rose-coloured glasses.


I think I would describe my first ten years of life as... 70% happy, if you can even quantify something like that in such a way? There were periods of sadness and loneliness and turmoil (first grade was my first real taste of that, resulting in homeschooling), but generally I look back on that time of my life with much fondness and in many ways wishing I could go back.

And to add these quotes from VDT to the discussion...

C.S. Lewis wrote:On the next page she came to a spell "for the refreshment of the spirit." The pictures were fewer here but very beautiful. And what Lucy found herself reading was more like a story than a spell. It went on for three pages and before she had read to the bottom of the page she had forgotten that she was reading at all. She was living in the story as if it were real, and all the pictures were real too. When she had got to the third page and come to the end, she said, "That is the loveliest story I've ever read or ever shall read in my whole life. Oh, I wish I could have gone on reading it for ten years. At least I'll read it over again.

But here part of the magic of the Book came into play. You couldn't turn back. The right-hand pages, the ones ahead, could be turned; the left-hand pages could not.

"Oh, what a shame!" said Lucy. "I did so want to read it again. Well, at least I must remember it. Let's see... it was about... about... oh dear, it's all fading away again. And even this last page is going blank. This is a very queer book. How can I have forgotten? It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill, I know that much. But I can't remember and what shall I do?"

And she never could remember; and ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is a story which reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician's Book.


C.S. Lewis wrote:And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into funny shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them. It lasted only a second or so but what it brought them in that second none of those three children will ever forget. It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound. Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterward. Lucy could only say, "It would break your heart." "Why," said I, "was it so sad?" "Sad!! No," said Lucy.


When Lucy talks about wishing the story could have gone on for ten years, it's so awfully familiar to me. I know we've all read a book that we wished would never end, but there have been moments that I literally, in the truest sense of the word, wanted to go on forever. (In this case, it didn't have anything to do with reading a book, but the feeling was the same.)

I also think it's quite interesting that, in the second quote, Lewis wrote that Edmund and Eustace would never talk about what they had experienced at the end of the world afterwards, even though they did feel it and never forgot it, and that even Lucy had difficulty describing it when asked.
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Re: C.S. Lewis and the Experience of Sehnsucht

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Oct 09, 2016 1:43 pm

I recently ran across a couple of articles that are quite relevant to this discussion:

The first is Shadows that Fall: The Immanence of Heaven in the Fiction of C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald, written by David Manley. It describes how the thread of sehnsucht appears in the works of both authors, as well as the influence that MacDonald had on C.S. Lewis's writings. It's not terribly long and it's a good summary of these concepts.

The second is C.S. Lewis, Thomas Wolfe, and the Transatlantic Expression of Sehnsucht by Jedidiah Evans. Thomas Wolfe is North Carolina's most famous author and I somehow have not yet read any of his books. :| This quote from the article gave me an eerie thrill:

Jedidiah Evans wrote:Though Lewis and Wolfe were both in Oxford in 1926—while Wolfe was working on the first version of Look Homeward, Angel—there is no indication the two authors met. Lewis himself never visited the United States, though in response to a letter from Mary Van Deusen—a regular correspondent from Hendersonville, North Carolina, who would often include photos of the local American landscape—Lewis wrote that "the new photos raise extreme Sehnsucht: each a landscape as fulfils my dream. That is the America I wd. like to see."


It was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina that I also encountered extreme sehnsucht many years ago, though it was several counties northeast of where the mountain town of Hendersonville lies. Lewis, according to other letters he wrote to Van Deusen, seemed especially enamored with the name and look of the Smoky Mountains (thus named because of the frequent fog that rises from them), a subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains that lies to the northwest of Hendersonville. There is certainly a magic about them: this picture, this picture and this picture give one an idea. I wish I could see the photos and postcards that Mrs. Van Deusen sent Lewis!
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Re: C.S. Lewis and the Experience of Sehnsucht

Postby the4signs[repeat] » Nov 14, 2017 6:40 pm

Interesting thread idea! I will submit a few facts about myself as data points for some of the surmises already drawn here. I am an introvert (INFP to be exact), and I do think so deeply I run into things (door jams and corners, mostly). I did not read the Narnia stories until I was in my late teens. :( So, interestingly, my first (that I can recall at this moment) surges of sehnsucht as a preteen were associated with the original Star Wars trilogy. I remember the feeling of the indefinable something and the longing that those movies revealed. I too find it odd that English speakers don't talk about or have a word for sehnsucht. But my guess is that the feeling is pretty universal. Why else does it strike such a chord with audiences when Luke Skywalker watches the twin suns setting and in the score a French horn plays that wistful haunting tune?

There is another word, a Malacandrian word, for sehnsucht. Remember in
Out of the Silent Planet when Ransom said to Hyoi,
"'But even in a poem does a hross never long to hear one splendid line over again?"' Hyoi's reply unfortunately turned on one of those points in their language which Ransom had not mastered. There were two verbs which both, as far as he could see, meant to long or yearn; but the hrossa drew a sharp distinction, even and opposition between them. Hyoi seemed to him merely to be saying that every one would long for it (wondelone) but no one in his senses could long for it (hluntheline)."
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