Fantastic languages: C.S. Lewis and Ursula K. Le Guin

Kamran, Shezra (2014) Fantastic languages: C.S. Lewis and Ursula K. Le Guin. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores the nature and function of language as it is used in twentieth-century fantastic fiction, as represented by the work of C. S. Lewis and Ursula K. Le Guin. In it I argue that the anti-mimetic impulse behind the language of fantasy makes it a polemical, contentious mode, which situates itself against discourses (religious and scientific) that assume the existence of a reality to which language may be said to correspond in certain clearly understood, conventional ways. Both Lewis and Le Guin suggest, by contrast, that experiential reality is an arbitrary and shifting construct, although each writer has a very different attitude towards the category of the ‘real’ and the question of how it may best be articulated. Despite the fact that Lewis uses the language of authority and Le Guin the language of liberation, they both interrogate fundamental ethical, social, political and theological evaluative assumptions embedded in language, disrupting the rigidity that conventional usage confers upon words and the concomitant human tendency to submit unquestioningly to cultural conventions. Lewis challenges the modern, secular, materialist understanding of reality, contending that metaphor has the power to undermine post-secular fixed notions and reveal new semantic fields pertaining to what he understands as the ‘spiritual’. Le Guin celebrates human and non-human embodied existence, with its possibilities and limitations, refuting any transcendent reality.
The thesis is divided into two parts. Part One deals with the ‘reactionary’ school of fantasy represented by Lewis. My contention is that Lewis’s Narnian Chronicles dramatise Owen Barfield’s theory of the concomitant evolution of human consciousness and language in relation to the phenomenal world. The three chapters in this part demonstrate that in the Narnia books Lewis represents initial forms of mythical, ‘participatory’ consciousness (as Barfield calls it) – that is, a world in which no linguistic or imaginative distinction is made between the human, animal, material and spiritual dimensions; followed by the loss of participation and the consequent alienation of human beings both from immaterial things and the environment; and concluding with the renewal of participation through a new use of language. Part Two is concerned with Le Guin’s sequence of fantasy novels about the imaginary world of Earthsea. Following Darko Suvin, I divide the sequence into two trilogies, which embody two contrasting responses to the conservative fantasy represented by the Narnia books. For me, the difference between these responses can best be understood through a close examination of Le Guin’s changing attitude to language in the First and Second Trilogies, which I undertake in four chapters. The first chapter explores Le Guin’s initial collusion with Lewis’s patriarchal politics, a collusion signalled by the rigid linguistic conventions and unchanging cultural practices of her imaginary world. The three final chapters deal with the Second Earthsea Trilogy, with particular emphasis on the last two books, since these have so far received little critical attention. In these books she deconstructs the earlier premises of her created world by finding new ways in which to represent the voices that had been excluded or marginalised in her previous trilogy, as well as in the work of her predecessors in fantasy. The thesis as a whole represents an effort to reassess the political implications of linguistic choices, and of attitudes to language, in twentieth-century fantastic fiction.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: fantasy, myth, language, biblical narratives, the Inklings, Le Guin, evolution of consciousness.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Maslen, Dr. Robert
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Mrs Shezra Kamran
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5749
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 12 Dec 2014 14:53
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2014 13:09

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