Rings in the Dock: C. S. Lewis and the ‘Meaning in the Middle’

When I was listening to the remarkable Malcom Guite talk about C. S. Lewis and the Imagination, a YouTube gem sent to me by James Cutsinger at USC and posted below, I had a ‘Ring Composition’ forehead-slapping “Aha!” moment. Rev Dr. Guite quoted the passage below from God in the Dock, and, forgive me, it’s very hard to read this — after reading Alastair Fowler’s  Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry and receiving some keen (ahem) training from W&L’s Suzanne Keen, at least! — and not think that C. S. Lewis was a ring writer who designed his works with an Eye for Chiasmus, the meaning in the middle, what Fowler calls “the Sovereign Midpoint”!

“I think we are rather in this position. Supposing you had before you a manuscript of some great work, either a symphony or a novel. There then comes to you a person, saying, ‘Here is a new bit of the manuscript that I found; it is the central passage of that symphony, or the central chapter of that novel. The text is incomplete without it. I have got the missing passage which is really the centre of the whole work.’ The only thing you could do would be to put this new piece of the manuscript in that central position, and then see how it reacted on the whole of the rest of the work. If it constantly brought out new meanings from the whole of the rest of the work, if it made you notice things in the rest of the work which you had not noticed before, then I think you would decide that it was authentic. On the other hand, if it failed to do that, then, however attractive it was in itself, you would reject it.

“Now, what is the missing chapter in this case, the chapter which Christians are offering? The story of the Incarnation . . .

“If I accept this supposed missing chapter, the Incarnation, I find it begins to illuminate the whole of the rest of the manuscript.” (C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Part I, chapter 9, paragraphs 3, 4 & 8 )

Sanford Schwartz has already made the point (ahem) that the three books making up Lewis’ Space Trilogy are ring compositions with definitive story turns. I’m four books into charting the Narniad seven and the structures there are a variety of rings, all of which have remarkable story pivots. More on this as I work it out — but it was delightful to find this God in the Dock quotation which means, if I ever become so silly as to make this discussion turn on Lewis’ intention or knowledge of the subject (i.e. my incipient dementia — or, as bad, a book contract!), I won’t have to stand on my head and base my case on the ‘Argument from Silence.’ Thank you, Rev. Dr. Guite and Profs Cutsinger and Keen!


  1. Stephan Davis says

    I teach courses on CS Lewis and Narnia and am quite interested in your analysis. I do not see on your blog that you completed the ring structure analysis of the Narniad or published any of it. Where can I read your material?

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