Learning humility from the Space Trilogy

Veronica Novotny

Well, dear readers, I have finally found the greatest perk and peak of reaching senior year: reading C.S. Lewis in my eighth and final honors seminar.

This is the reason I slogged through the 1000-page red hardcover of Plato’s collected works, sped-read massive tomes like “City of God” and “Don Quixote,” cried over three weeks of Immanuel Kant’s critiques and struggled to understand the philosophy of Descartes, Hobbes and Locke. Finally I have reached the golden crowning glory of the Honors Program, which is reading my favorite author.

Honestly, getting to read C.S. Lewis in class has been an exciting, humbling and gutting experience. I pride myself on being the resident Lewis fan in most rooms.

I voraciously reread the Chronicles of Narnia every summer growing up, I can’t stop talking about how “The Great Divorce” changed my life and I first read the Space Trilogy seven years ago. Back when I had to read the trilogy in high school, the books were only available as a one-volume from a site called “christianhomeschoolingbooks.com.”

But when it was assigned this semester, many of my classmates were equally, or maybe even more thrilled, to be reading “That Hideous Strength,” the finale of the Space Trilogy. To be honest, I was pretty devastated to find out that I wasn’t the only honors student who was familiar with the series.

Unfortunately, there are many other fans in class with me: someone who’s bringing her family’s battered copy to class, someone who remembers way more details than me and even an English student who’s writing her senior thesis on “That Hideous Strength” itself. I was shocked when I heard that for the first time; writing a thesis on one of Lewis’s more obscure works sounds like something I would do. It almost feels like my classmates are beating me at being me!

So without even reading or discussing much of Lewis in class so far, here are two things I’ve learned: pride and comparison go hand in hand, and, to combat my pride, I’ll have to stop comparing myself to everyone else.

I tend to think of myself as a pretty cool person, but that doesn’t mean I should think of myself more highly than everyone else. Sure, I’m pretty academic, highly intelligent and into niche fiction, but plenty of people were honors students growing up and most of what I read isn’t all that unique on this campus anyway.

As modern-day Catholics, we talk about comparison so much that I don’t want to beat a dead horse. But it does astound me that no matter how many LifeTeen blogs and Instagram posts I’ve read about avoiding gossip and comparison and embracing your true self with authentic joy, I still somehow find myself falling into these traps again and again in college.

So what does this mean for me? Luckily, it’s Lent, the season for setting a dozen Catholic New Year’s resolutions and changing your entire life around!

O.K., so maybe that’s a little extreme, but Lent certainly is the perfect time to evaluate our lives and change the behaviors that aren’t bringing us closer to Christ.

It’s like the oft-mentioned quote falsely attributed to Lewis: humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Personally, I notice myself growing in humility most when I can appreciate the people around me instead of becoming preoccupied with myself and my own ideas, particularly in honors, which is a seminar based on learning through discussion of a text and pretty much relies on being able to learn something from someone else’s insights.

So this Lent, consider in what areas you could grow in virtue and start small. Me? I’ll be in my editing corner, working on my academic pride and listening to my classmates teach me about “That Hideous Strength.”