10

I recently learned about the concept of the uncanny valley, and it immediately reminded me of the following passage from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Chapter 8 (emphasis mine):

"No, no, there isn't a drop of real human blood in the Witch."
"That's why she's bad all through, Mr Beaver," said Mrs Beaver.
"True enough, Mrs Beaver," replied he, "there may be two views about humans (meaning no offence to the present company). But there's no two views about things that look like humans and aren't."
"I've known good Dwarfs," said Mrs Beaver.
"So've I, now you come to speak of it," said her husband, "but precious few, and they were the ones least like men. But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that's going to be human and isn't yet, or used to be human once and isn't now, or ought to be human and isn't, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet."

Was CS Lewis making a deliberate reference to the philosophical concept of the "uncanny valley?" For that matter, did the latter idea even exist back then - and if not, did it have a precursor, a related philosophical idea known about in Lewis's day, which did inspire him to write this?

  • 1
    That... has nothing to do with the uncanny valley. One's all about intrinsic characteristics, the other is all about appearances. – Slacklord the Terrible Feb 7 '17 at 20:46
  • 1
    @Terriblefan "look like humans and aren't" sounds like the uncanny valley to me. Maybe I should have bolded up that bit too. – Rand al'Thor Feb 7 '17 at 21:58
  • 1
    The thing is, the uncanny valley exists when something tries to look human and fails. If we had perfect duplicate robots, there'd be no UV with them. I get what you mean, it's just your quote includes several more things that show a different correlation. – Slacklord the Terrible Feb 7 '17 at 22:39
10

No. Such an interpretation does not make any sense in the context of the story. But what does makes sense is that Lewis is foreshadowing the central role that humans play in the history and salvation of Narnia. Remember that there is a prophecy that Jadis' power will be broken when two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sit on the thrones of Cair Paravel. Only a human being can validly rule Narnia. By stressing that the witch has no human in her, Mr. Beaver is pointing out that she is not the true ruler of Narnia. That which looks human and is not is a pretender to the throne. Only a true human can occupy it.

That idea of the imposter, the thing that looks human and isn't runs through much of Lewis's work. It is there in Men Without Chests (part of The Abolition of Man) and it is there in Out of the Silent Planet where Ransom tries to explain to the Malacandrans what is wrong with Weston. It is there in The Last Battle, where Shift dresses as human and gets Puzzle to dress as Aslan.

From a theological point of view, Satan is the great imposter. Christ is the new man: that which it truly and fully human.

So no, this is not about the uncanny valley, it is about imposters, those things that set themselves up as good and true, as rightful rulers, but are not.

5

We can't be sure.

The simple reason for this is, as you noted in your question, that the term itself was first used in 1970 and translated into English in 1978, meaning that Lewis certainly didn't use the modern meaning of the concept. However, that's not to say he didn't reference one of its predecessors.

One such predecessor is that mentioned in Ernst Jentsch's 1906 essay "On the Psychology of the Uncanny", which is one of the first known discussions on the topic of uncanniness, which he defines as:

intellectual uncertainty; so that the uncanny would always, as it were, be something one does not know one’s way about in. The better oriented in his environment a person is, the less readily will he get the impression of something uncanny in regard to the objects and events in it.

Freud expands on Jentsch's work in his 1919 essay "Das Unheimliche" (The Uncanny).

There are several other lesser-known twentieth century European authors who also wrote about the uncanny who may have influenced Lewis's writing (although the vast majority of them were German).

However, nowhere in Lewis's work does it imply that he actually acknowledged the existence of the idea of the uncanny; rather, it's more likely that he simply understood the concept of the "uncanny valley" but never realized it actually had a name.

On the other hand, the writing about the uncanny during the time period of Lewis's life was more focused on how uncanniness actually made one feel, while the modern term refers to how a robot or automaton that too closely resembles a human can evoke a feeling of uncanniness. Since Lewis's writing more focuses on how such a resemblance of a human-like creature to a human can be uncanny, it's more likely that he did write about some form of the modern sense of the term.

There's just no definitive answer to this.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.