C.S. Lewis on Gender and Myth

At the risk of exciting displeasure from the folks at Simon & Schuster, I have decided to invite the widely loved and often controversial, or even loathed, scholar, writer, and Christian apologist as my guest blogger. This excerpt is from Perelandra Chapter 16, first published in England amongst the clamor of conflict between the Battle of Britain and Victory in Europe as the second book of his science fiction trilogy which began with Out of the Silent Planet and concluded with That Hideous Strength.

“What Ransom saw at that moment was the real meaning of gender. Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the word. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity… When and from whom had the children of Adam learned that Ares was a man of war and Aphrodite rose from the sea foam? … How then do we know of them? It comes, they told him, a long way round and through many stages. There is an environment of minds as well as of space. The universe is one – a spider’s web wherein each mind lives along every line, a vast whispering gallery where, though no news travels unchanged, yet no secret can be rigorously kept… in the very matter of our world, the traces of the celestial commonwealth are not quite lost. Memory passes through the womb and hovers in the air. The Muse is a real thing. A faint breath, as Virgil says, reaches even the late generations. Our mythology is based on a solider reality than we dream: but it is also at an almost infinite distance from that base. And when they told him this, Ransom at last understood why mythology was what it was – gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.”