Asgard and the Valkyries seemed to me incomparably more important than anything else in my experience — than the Matron Miss C., or the dancing mistress, or my chances of a scholarship. More shockingly, they seemed much more important than my steadily growing doubts about Christianity. This may have been — in part, no doubt was — penal blindness; yet that might not be the whole story. If the Northerness seemed then a bigger thing than my religion, that may partly have been because my attitude toward it contained elements which my religion ought to have contained and did not. It was not itself a new religion, for it contained no trace of belief and imposed no duties. Yet unless I am greatly mistaken there was in it something very like adoration, some kind of quite disinterested self-abandonment to an object which securely claimed this by simply being the object it was. We are taught in the Prayer Book to “give thanks to God for His great glory,” as if we owed Him more thanks for being what He necessarily is than for any particular benefit He confers upon us; and so indeed we do and to know God is to know this. But I had been far from any such experience; I came far nearer to feeling this about the Norse gods whom I disbelieved in than I had ever done about the true God while I believed. Sometimes I can almost think that I was sent back to the false gods there to acquire some capacity for worship against the day when the true God should recall me to Himself.
~~ C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy ~~
C.S. Lewis died on 22nd November 1963, and his books are not only a splendid introduction to medieval literature but also to his profound love of “Northerness,” the great sagas of the Norse are the well spring from which he drank for inspiration throughout his life.
Of course, his world of Narnia is a Christian fable and morality play; but the fabric of it`s weave can be found in the Norse texts which provided him with those moments of Northerness which can be found at the most vital and emotional points in the books. The Christ-like return of Aslan is accompanied by a great thaw of the ages long fimbulvetr which had held the land in it`s icy grip under the Witch Queen, which recalled the Norse legend of Baldr being wept back to life by a great thaw…….
“I knew nothing about Baldr; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote) and then, as in the other examples, found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.”
In writing his own myth, Lewis looked to the Norse for motifs, circling and entwining within the pattern of his literary weave the eternally young and relevant mythology of the mighty Halls of Asgard and it`s incredible host of characters.
Anglo-Saxon poets were not averse to seeing the severe beauty of winter, but they never held Lewis in the same tight grip as the Norse with their primal adoration and deep respect for the power of ice and frost which gripped and sharpened their imaginations keener than the edge of a great battle axe.
“Brothers will fight
and kill each other,
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world
— an axe age, a sword age
— shields are riven —
a wind age, a wolf age —
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another.”
~~ The Poetic Edda: references to Ragnarok ( The End of Days) ~~
Deep inside the imaginings of C.S. Lewis there resided the world of the Aesir and the final clash of shield walls between good and evil; when Odin converses with Mim`s severed head. The world tree Yggdrasil shudders and groans. The Midgard serpent Jormungandr violently writhes causing the seas to froth and crash freeing the forces of darkness to spill forth and hack their way across the Rainbow Bridge to the halls of the gods.
Where does C.S. Lewis now reside? Is it in a Christian heaven of peace, inner stillness and spiritual tranquility listening to the songs of the Seraphim and Cherubin as they eternally circle God singing His praises? Or is it in Odin`s Great Hall of the fallen in Valhalla, surrounded by hard as granite, heavy drinking fighting men; plucked from their heroic deeds by the Valkyrie — chosen men? Listening to the deeds of the brave, of the gods and the Norns who weave the lives of men on their loom of Fate.
Lewis called literature “a baptism of the imagination” and saw his Narnia stories as a way of inculcating ideas into a child`s mind which would bear fruition later in life. As he once told his biographer…………
” I am aiming at a sort of pre-baptism of a child`s imagination.”
But this doesn`t work on just a religious level but a literary one as well; opening the imagination allows an interest in a whole multitude of genres and experiences. The imagination is a garden which needs constant watering and nourishment, and reading the Norse Sagas at an early age enabled Lewis`s mind to take enormous flights of imaginary fancy and their influence remained with him until his dying day.
The Norns can weave our Fate, but sometimes we can break the thread and travel another road. That`s what imagination can do, and the Sagas are nothing if not a great achievement and triumph of the imagination.