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Here is the next installment from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape with Figures:

“I brought home from the library C. S. Lewis’s autobiographical book, Surprised by Joy, simply because my eye chanced to fall on it and I have enjoyed other books of his. I read most of the night and my astonishment kept me awake the rest of it, for there I found described far more vividly than I could ever do, the strange, haunting sensation associated with both ‘The Magic’ and ‘the northern mood.’

The magic was always evoked for him, I gathered, by something with a northern connotation. They belonged together as one experience which he calls ‘Joy’ even though, as he says, it might almost equally well be called a kind of grief: ‘an unsatisfied desire which is in itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.’ In each instance it only lasted a moment but it seemed to him of tremendous significance, something quite different from ordinary experiences, ‘something, as they would now say, ‘in another dimension.’ He speaks of it as a ‘stab,’ a ‘pang,’ an ‘inconsolable longing.’ ‘All Joy reminds,’ he writes. ‘It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’

He caught his first glimpse as a child of whatever-it-might-be through nature. His second glimpse of it came through Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin, which aroused in him an intense desire for what he calls the ‘idea of Autumn.’ He went back to the book again and again, not to gratify the desire because it was manifestly impossible to possess a season, but to reawaken the desire.

His third glimpse came some years later when, leafing through a volume of Longfellow, he came upon the lines from Tegner’s Drapa:

I heard a voice that cried

Baldur the Beautiful

Is dead, is dead –

(A ‘northern’ shiver runs down my spine as I copy the words.)

Lewis had no notion of who Baldur was but he was ‘instantly uplifted into huge regions of northern sky.’ He ‘desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale and remote).’

Later on he came to call whatever gave him this sensation, ‘Northernness.’ It might be a landscape or Norse mythology or Wagnerian music. The last surprises me: Wagner’s operas seems too flamboyant, too crushing to be northern, even though they deal with Norse mythology. He speaks of being engulfed in pure Northernness: ‘a vision of huge, clear space hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer.’

He wondered for awhile if the bittersweet longing he felt was a disguise for sexual desire – a possibility I, too, have speculated on – and came to the conclusion that sex might sometimes be a substitute for Joy, but no more than a temporary expedient. ‘You might as well offer a mutton chop to a man who is dying of thirst as offer sexual pleasure to the desire I am speaking of.’ (I doubt if he meant to imply there was any resemblance between a mutton chop and sex.)

He learned, even as I, that to focus on the sensation was only to frighten it away, and that it could not be sought for its own sake, for the ‘thrill’ of it. It came to him when he was least conscious of himself and his own feelings or state of mind. Eventually, after his conversion to Christianity, he came to believe that the experience itself was of no importance. ‘It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.’ Since my recent glimpse of The Magic a couple weeks ago, I could almost go along with him in accepting it as evidence of ‘something other and outer’ – not just some momentary psychological state – but I wonder if I shall ever find the explanation or the word for that other and outer.”

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