Are the Elves in C. S. Lewis?

Are the Elves in C. S. Lewis? June 22, 2016

The Cosmic Trilogy

Here things get a bit more interesting. For starters, you have the eldila, creatures who have bodies of light, or something to that effect. Ransom sees a young hross speaking to one in Out of the Silent Planet and assumes it is playing make-believe. Nevertheless, at least for me, is the scene is strikingly familiar. It feels like a child talking to a fairy only it can see (a fairy of diminutive size). And while today fairies and elves are often seen as very separate things we should not forget that for a long time the words were synonymous one coming from French (fairy) and the other coming from English (elf). There is also the fact that Ransom’s first name is Elwin, which in English means elf-friend but is re-translated in the series to mean friend of the eldila. You also have eldilish (for lack of a better word) wraiths of each of the planets on earth in That Hideous Strength. Also in That Hideous Strength do we see Dr. Dimble discussing the idea of airish beasts, things that are like the eldila but without reason, more animalistic. There’s also a question of to whom or to what it was that Merlin desired to communicate when he wanted to awaken the trees and grass and rivers. Lewis also makes reference to Numinor in That Hideous Strength which readers of Tolkien will recognize as a misspelling of Numenor, Tolkien’s version of Atlantis. The people who lived there were men, but they were descended from a series of human-elf (and in one case a human and a half-elf, half maia) couplings. Merlin’s magic is said to have come through these people, making his magic at least partially elvish. However, there is a stranger and more interesting scene yet in Perelandra. There, quite intentionally, there are no eldila other than the guiding archon of the planet. However, as Ransom chases and is chased by the Unman in the underbelly of the planet he meets a creature that is appears to be both god and elf, leading Ransom to wonder about similar creatures in our own world.

The Discarded Image

I can only briefly touch on this since I don’t own a copy of it and it would take me weeks to get my hands on one through my local library. However it is absolutely essential to note the longaevi or long-lived and the presence they have in Lewis’ book on the medieval worldview. These creatures are essentially synonymous with elves and fairies and made up part of the medieval outlook.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, elves are not totally absent from the works of C. S. Lewis. They do not appear quite as they do in the works of Tolkien, that’s quite true, but they are not absent. In both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Cosmic Trilogy, Lewis is playing around with the sources of mythology. It is interesting that elves play a rather a small and often hidden role in his works. It’s possible that Lewis felt Tolkien had them covered. I have no evidence for this, however. Perhaps it is that Lewis wanted them to be hidden, in the background, rather than front and center. But again, this is pure speculation and maybe other Lewis scholars can weigh in here. Whatever the case is, I’m grateful to the person who brought this question up and caused me to think harder about the works of C. S. Lewis and elves; two things I frequently think about. Let me know what you think. Am I off anywhere? Have I missed anything obvious?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
David

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