- Animals in the Writings of C. S. Lewis by Michael J. Gilmour
Michael J. Gilmour's book, one of three dozen titles (including my own contribution) in Palgrave Macmillan's Animal Ethics Series, is a pleasant and thoughtful study of exactly what the title promises. C. S. Lewis was greatly interested in other animals—humanely, literarily, and spiritually—and Gilmour sets about the task of gathering together this lively menagerie.
"As a child, as a young adult nonbeliever and as a middle-aged Christian, C. S. Lewis marvelled at the teeming life filling our world, and that is the topic of this book" (p. xii). He loved animals and loved writing about animals, Gilmour asserts, and "unlike many of his contemporaries, he insisted they are worthy subjects for study within Christian theological and ethical discourses" (p. xiii). Having studied Lewis's books, letters, poems, and diary, and collected evidence from his friends, Gilmour finds that "animals occupied his thoughts and inspired his art. No wonder. They seemed to follow him everywhere he went" (p. xiii)—including companion animals, free-living animals, and even mice in his Magdalen College rooms that he refused to trap.
Any reader who is attentive to animals in our world will appreciate this overview of Lewis's observations on dogs, cats, deer, bears, donkeys, rabbits, birds, pigs, mice, horses, and more, along with his thoughts on such topics as vivisection, dominionism, carnivory, and hunting. Lewis was "not sympathetic" to hunting, although the Narnia books nevertheless feature numerous hunting scenes (absent any ethical critique) in the interest of what Gilmour calls "lending a kind of 'realism' to the Medieval-esque atmosphere" (p. 144). And it is precisely this sort of contradiction, or unresolved loose end, that sometimes makes this book frustrating.
Animals are present, but hardly central, in the Christian theological tradition—with a few notable exceptions (St. Francis, Stevie Smith, and one of the editors of this series, Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey). Gilmour, an associate professor of English literature and New Testament at Canada's Providence University College, notes "Christianty's general indifference to animals" and its scriptural ambiguity: "God cares for fallen sparrows (Matthew 10:29), but accepts blood sacrifice; rescues some animals in the flood, but wipes out the rest (Genesis 6–9)" (p. 3).
From that perspective, then, the study of Lewis's animal interests is useful. "Under Lewis's spell, we become a wee bit less selfabsorbed and more attentive to the nonhuman other" (p. xiii). Animals in Lewis are "not a well-travelled road" (p. 5), Gilmour writes, and the book explores this niche in considerable detail. This would be, obviously, the book one would consult to learn about animals in Lewis's writing: A wellmeaning project that will be appealing to those who are already interested in Lewis. But more broadly, are other general readers likely to come here?
It's an agreeable enough meander: By the author's own admission, picaresque. And while there are lots of animals along the path, too often they are just "animals"—a bit generic and two-dimensional and unexamined, unproblematized. Gilmour's anthrozoological perspective is wider than it is deep. In books that I find more useful to the library of human-animal studies, the animal focus is keener and we have a more complex [End Page 205] idea of precisely what other animals we are engaging, and how, and why.
The fault may be Gilmour's, or, perhaps more likely, it may be Lewis's. How important are other animals to Lewis's spiritual perspective? While Gilmour asks this question, I am not sure how fully he answers it. Perhaps he is not sure, and again, perhaps this is inherent in his source material: Lewis "admits he does not have the answers to all questions animals present us" (p. 63)—which could explain Gilmour's similar tentativeness.
As animal-friendly as the author was, Gilmour explains, he left anthropocentric biases unchallenged. In...