Fifty years ago today, three men died: John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis. There is much in the media about the first of these and somewhat less about the other two, both of whom were great thinkers. Both of whom were also, in their own way, profoundly and imaginatively prophetic.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World presented a dystopian vision of the future where human beings have been relegated to simply part of the production process – cogs in a machine – dehumanised and having all sense of individuality removed; they are bred for their individual tasks and categorised according to them. Everything that Huxley thought made up humanity, art, freedom of thought and scientific research, for example, had to be curtailed – indeed sacrificed on the altar of societal stability. It is a world where, in our terms, globalisation and corporate power have destroyed what it means to be human. Huxley’s decision to date the novel some 600 years or so AF (After Ford) shows this very clearly.
But for all its negativity, BNW is a profoundly true novel. Huxley’s World is exactly the type of world we, if we are Christians, might imagine if the reality of our spiritual life is denied and natural human tendency to sin is allowed free reign. It is the world portrayed by John in Revelation where the second beast of chapter 13 forces the population of the world into worship of the economic and corporate power of the Empire. BNW is, of course, not totally pessimistic, there is some hope brought in through the actions of individuals throughout the story, even if this hope is somewhat quashed by the power of the world regime.
There is much that is truly prophetic about the book. It’s depiction of a world where the individual becomes merely an economic entity to serve the demands of corporate and societal stability is frighteningly similar to the world in which we live where human beings have been reduced to consumers and commodities.
C. S. Lewis’s imagination led him a different way with the Narnia stories. Once again, an imaginary world is perceived where issues related to the ‘real’ world can be explored (as in BNW), but Lewis’s answers are profoundly different. The world of Narnia is ruled, not by a faceless, corporate, global entity but by a benevolent Emperor whose emissary is Aslan, a lion (not a tame lion, though!). It is a world where suffering and pain are anything but absent but one where this same suffering, and the concomitant good actions to battle it are presented truly and are seen as part of a creation which has meaning and purpose. Within the imaginary yet true world, human beings and Narnians work together in an atmosphere of grace and forgiveness.
This is a series of stories that presents not only truth but is also prophetic. Prophetic in the sense that it gives a glimpse of the possible, of what can be achieved when individuals align themselves with the purposes of the Emperor. A place where the obnoxious Eustace can be redeemed, where Edmund’s treachery can be atoned for. But it is redemption and atonement which is at a cost – a profound cost. Narnia does not allow us the luxury pif thinking that goodness is easy or without price. It presents us with a world, unlike that of BNW towards which all of us should and indeed can work. A world where, in John’s terms, the Lamb which looked “as if it had been slain [is] standing at the centre of the throne (Rev 5:6).