I’ve just finished C.S.Lewis’ Cosmic Trilogy and found it not greatly to my liking. The trilogy is an odd mix of early English mythology, Pullman like angels ( although I am aware that Lewis got there first) and christian theology-or christian symbolism. What I encountered in this trilogy was a man- Lewis-who is homesick for what he would call Heaven. And in the trilogy the central character,Ransom, spends his time wanting to return to his heaven where, as the mystic writer Julian of Norwich puts it “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be most well.” One feels that Lewis is as someone else put it “a man born out of his time”. He carries with him a sense of melancholia-of loss. (Not quite the same thing as our current word “depression” which has lost much of its meaning.)
Writing of melancholia Freud says “In one set of cases it is evident that melancholia too may be the reaction to the loss of a loved object. Where the exciting causes are different one can recognise that there is a loss of a more ideal kind. The object has not perhaps actually died, but has been lost as an object of love…” (Mourning and Melancholia 1917) We know that Lewis’ mother died when he was five years old leaving him in the care of his father who subsequently sent both the Lewis brothers to a badly run boarding school, which both hated.Without indulging in psychoanalytic reductionism, we may assume that these events had a major impact on both of them. Jack, as Lewis was known, carrying melancholia inside him whilst Douglas became an alcoholic in later life.
What strikes me in much of Lewis’ work is his belief in our incompleteness as people without God i.e. if we do not believe in God then we are missing a vital part of ourselves . As though we were missing a limb or other important body part. In psychoanalytic terms, we lack a good object. (Which means, when translated into less technical language, that we lack that which we need to give us emotional nourishment.)
I am reminded, writing this, of a patient whose father committed suicide when my patient was about five years old .My patient does not really know why this happened-there are two different family stories about the incident. One consequence of this, for my patient, has been an inability to sustain a lasting relationship with a partner. My patient commented recently “I feel like a jig saw puzzle with a piece always missing.” My patient was, I think, referring to the impact of the death of his father which is not clearly understood.
A number of my patents come to me with depression of some kind. Almost without exception the depression is about loss. Loss of love. Or the absence of love at any time. My patient who had to become his mother’s protector against a violent father with an eroticization of that relationship. Or another of my patients who had an alcoholic father who routinely humiliated and bullied his son who is still trying to find his own identity.
Like Lewis my patients are looking for that which was lost. A good Breast. A good Mother. Something or someone they can take in who will give them the nourishment they need in order to grow. For Lewis, his Good Object was God. For others it is politics. Or counselling. Or marriage. Or some combination of things.And for some of us Narnia is a place inside us-not a future destination.