their unimportance is their importance

I have put the Longaevi or longlivers into a separate chap­ter because their place of residence is ambiguous between air and Earth. Whether they are important enough to justify this arrangement is another question. In a sense, if I may risk the oxymoron, their unimportance is their importance. They are marginal, fugitive creatures. They are perhaps the only creatures to whom the Model does not assign, as it were, an oficial status. Herein lies their imaginative value. They soften the classic severity of the huge design. They intrude a welcome hint of wildness and uncertainty into a universe that is in danger of being a little too self-explanatory, too luminous.

I take for them the name Longaevi from Martianus Capella, who mentions ‘dancing companies of Longaevi who haunt woods, glades, and groves, and lakes and springs and brooks; whose names are Pans, Fauns … Satyrs, Silvans, Nymphs….’ Bernardus Silvestris, with­out using the word Longaevi, describes similar creatures­—’Silvans, Pans, and Nerei’—as having ‘a longer life’ (than ours), though they are not immortal. They are innocent—’of blameless conversation’—and have bodies of elemental purity.

The alternative would have been to call them Fairies. But that word, tarnished by pantomime and bad children’s books with worse illustrations, would have been danger­ous as the title of a chapter. It might encourage us to bring to the subject some ready-made, modern concept of a Fairy and to read the old texts the in the light of it. Naturally, the proper method is the reverse; we must go to the texts with an open mind and learn from them what the word fairy meant to our ancestors.

C.S. Lewis from the opening of chapter VI in The Discarded Image (entitled “The Longaevi”). This book is a collection of his lectures introducing the world of Medieval and Renaissance literature.

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