I found a book of essays by C.S. Lewis in an old antique mall while I was visiting family for Thanksgiving. The same evening I cracked open the book to read the introduction as I was not previously aware this book even existed. Even though I am already in the middle of two books, I found myself reading the first essay entitled The Necessity of Chivalry and was quickly drawn in for a good read.
In this short essay Lewis talks about the development of the knight of the Middle Ages. He explained that chivalry was a combination of the hero of great valor on the battle field and the mild mannered noble. For example, Aragorn of Lord of the Rings was both a valiant warrior and a kind gentleman. He was both severe in battle and kind hearted in life. He is depicted both in the books and the movies as a mysterious fellow and yet noble and kingly. The mystery was in his knightly character while appearing as a lone traveler.
Lewis eloquently writes, “The man who combines both characters—the knight—is a work not of nature but of art; of that art which has human beings, instead of canvas or marble, for its medium.”
He begins to analyze the culture that would say that softness is preferable over severity and finds that mellowness alone is not as virtuous as a proper usage of both severity and gentleness artfully employed. It is a virtuous art to be a good combination of both characteristics. A soldier without gentleness would be apt to be barbaric, but a gentleperson without valor may be cowardice.
Lewis puts it this way, “The medieval ideal brought together two things which have no natural tendency to gravitate towards one another. It brought them together for that very reason. It taught humility and forbearance to the great warrior because everyone knew by experience how much he usually needed that lesson. It demanded valour of the urbane and modest man because everyone knew that he was as likely to be a milksop.”
Chivalry, Lewis argues, brings about the merging of two valiant characteristics that if left separate would only amount to brutes or softies. There is something good in the warrior and in the gentleman and both are necessary to cultivate. This is not to say in our culture that most people will face an actual battle or face some enemy. However, we all identify with those in the stories we read or watch who do face such adversity.
Modern civilized society has not done much to cultivate the knight outside of those who are members of the military. It seems that chivalry ought not be left in the middle ages and ought to be resurrected in our day.
While chivalry is historically a term applied to knightly men, this post is not exclusive of women. Most everyone has at least some desire to be a hero or heroine of an adventure no matter how stifled and dormant that desire has become. I think it ideal for a culture to cultivate such people. Reading the stories of the knights of old or modern stories that encapsulate these values can bring to life those dormant desires and allow one to begin to grow into such a knightly person.
Quotes from Present Concerns Essays be C.S. Lewis edited by Walter Hooper