In an adult Sunday School class I’m teaching at my church, I’ve been sharing the background, life and work of a handful of mostly recent “Christian authors everyone should know.” From writers like Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster to Bible scholars (Brueggemann, N.T. Wright) to eloquent memoirists such as Barbara Brown Taylor, I’ve highlighted some of the important, interesting, charming, and often-cited religious writers of our day. Obviously (do I need to say it?) I did a week on C.S. Lewis.
I mentioned to one friend the other day that Lewis seems to be in the background for many of us; esteemed, valued, loved, even. We’ve read Narnia so often, given Mere Christianity away to thoughtful seekers (maybe even springing for the very elegant, classy hardback), pondered his creative fiction (how many times have you read The Screwtape Letters? The Great Divorce?) and enjoyed his quirky correspondence such as that found in Letters to an American Woman. We’ve read the requisite biographies (Geroge Sayer’s Jack is a must; The Narnian by Alan Jacobs continues to get rave reviews and I’m embarrassed that I haven’t yet read it.) Probably we’ve read several of the many, many studies about his views, such as the must-read Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis by David Downing or The Taste for the Other by ethicist Gilbert Meilaender. But, I admitted, I go through long stretches without talking or thinking about Lewis much (and we go weeks without selling a single Lewis volume here in the store!) I said that I may not be alone, but that I think I take his work for granted.
And then, I’ll revisit something, have to answer a question, look something up, or read a good Lewis line in another book, and I’m reminded exactly why he is so beloved, and why there is such an ongoing interest in the great Oxford don. I’m once again surprised by Jack, surprised by Joy.
Here are some newer works that I may not have yet announced or that I want to mention again. Not long ago we highlighted the lovely DVD curriculum on Lewis narrated by Os Guinness called C.S. Lewis: Reluctant Disciple: Faith, Reason, and the Power of the Gospel (Discovery House; regular price, $19.99) and the recently released annotated Wade Edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress (Eerdmans; regularly $25.00.) Good Lewisian work continues to come out — and we can’t wait for the Devin Brown DVD study Discussing Mere Christianity [Zondervan; regularly $49.99] which has the very engaging Eric Metaxas as a host, to release later next month. (We’ve waited for decades for just such a resource, so when it arrives we will be almost incredulous. Finally! More on that, soon.)
Okay, I can’t wait: here is a bit of how the publisher explains it:
Host Eric Metaxas and a variety of Christian leaders (e.g. N.T. Wright,
Tim Keller, Lauren Winner, Devin Brown, Paul McCusker, Douglas Gresham)
help us understand the timeless message of C.S. Lewis in fresh ways for a
The $49.99 DVD package comes with one Participant’s Guide, by the way, and additional study books for each participant are available for $8.99.
We ARE taking PRE-ORDERS at our BookNotes 20% off. Just let us know, by clicking on the “order” link below. Or keep an eye out here for more information next month.
For now, though, you should know about these, which are also on sale.
C.S. Lewis’s List: The Ten Books That Influenced Him Most edited by David Werther and Susan Werther (Bloomsbury) $24.95 This fantastic, interesting, and learned book is the sort that makes me think “why didn’t someone do this sooner?” And, it makes me say, with a hint of pride, that we had a tiny role in this: the book compiles papers given at a conference – 10 scholars talking about the 10 books that influenced Lewis in 10 different lectures about said books – and we provided the books to sell at the event, held in Madison Wisconsin a few years ago. What a thrill to display classic books such as Phantastes by Lewis’s beloved George MacDonald, Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, Virgil’s The Aeneid or The Descent into Hell by Charles Williams. There are other remarkable literary works and books that Lewis himself says influenced him, and each are discussed, from poems by Wordsworth and George Herbert to mystical writings by Rudolph Otto to the eloquence of Boswell’s Johnson biography. And more.
At one point, about the time Lewis went to Cambridge, he was considered the mostly widely read man in the Western world. Why not take his word for things, and read those that he found most impactful? As Wayne Martindale (author of Beyond the Shadowlands) writes,
If Lewis has taken you on journeys of discovery, you will rejoice to know more about the books that carried his imagination to new horizons. The ten contributors to this collection are like experienced tour guides who show us what to look for when we arrive at these places so enrichingly traversed by Lewis.
Contemporary authors who contribute to this volume include some very good names you should know. Chris Armstrong (who, by the way, directs “Opus: The Art of Work” at Wheaton College), Adam Barkman of Redeemer University College in Ontario, Don King of Montreat College (who has written on Lewis’s poetry and has a forthcoming book on Joy Davidman), the energetic classicist Louis Markos (of Houston Baptist University), Holly Ortway, Mary Ritter, Charles Taliaferro and others. The honor of crafting the foreword was given to David Downing from here in Central Pennsylvania. Many deep thinkers and those who are well read will obviously love this. I think for many of us, who frankly aren’t very well schooled in the Western classics, this would be a nice way to be informed about some important books and how they have been understood, at least by Lewis. Kudos one and all.
C.S. Lewis: A Life — Eccentric Genius. Reluctant Prophet Alister McGrath (Tyndale) $24.95 I have extolled the value of this remarkable, recent biography before but just had to give it another shout out here. It may be the definitive biography now and although it became known for some new insights about the dating of Lewis’s own conversion, and some new light on a few other topics, it ought to be known not ony because it adds a small bit of new information but for how it so interestingly weaves together so very much. McGrath is ideal for writing this – a former atheist himself, one who has taught at Oxford himself, one who has done magisterial biographies already, almost as a hobby, he once told me. Important, lively endorsements grace the back from Timothy Keller, N.T. Wright, Alan Jacobs, Lyle Dorsett, Michael Ward. It is very highly recommended.
The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis Alister McGrath (John Wiley/Blackwell) $32.95 This is only a somewhat smaller book than the previously mentioned, major biography, but it is weighty, mature, and exceptionally useful for understanding the man in light of his philosophical context and intellectual milieu. Some have gone so far as to say it “should be on everyone’s reading list, whether that of the research scholar of general reader.” Michael Ward notes that it is “thoughtful and thought-provoking” and that “these essays help to set C.S. Lewis’s writing in its broader context.” There are topics and ideas explore here that it seems no one else has tackled and it may be that it is distinctive, unlike any previous study. I’m sure that some of this comes from Dr. McGrath’s deep professional awareness of historical theology and his insights about the flow of ideas and what some call “social location” but I also suspect that some of it may have been material that just didn’t fit into the flow of the already brimming biography. Consider it a heady companion volume.
If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life Alister McGrath (Tyndale) $17.99 If the big hardback is McGrath’s fabulous, meticulous biography, and the Blackwell paperback is a more academic study of Lewis’s intellectual world, this is the one that showcases McGrath’s vast knowledge of Lewis and which shares it in a creative, winsome, enjoyably storied way. What a fun idea — imagining a series of lunchtime chats with Jack himself. It isn’t overly speculative, though, as McGrath so carefully draws on Lewis’s work; it is playful in imagining a semester’s worth of weekly meetings, supposing what it would be like to chat and learn from him, but it isn’t exceedingly fanciful. Each week the lunch date covers certain specific topics — among other things, the importance of stories, the art of apologetics, the nature of education, Lewis’s views of hope and heaven, friendship, even a week all about Aslan. This hand-sized hardback is a true delight and you are sure to learn about Lewis, and from Lewis. It would make a nice gift, too, perhaps for a younger person who hasn’t been adequately introduced to the charming gentleman from Belfast.
The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis edited by John Piper and David Mathis (Crossway) $17.99 In the class I mentioned, I drew fruitfully on a few of these great essays; I really appreciate the way these capture these two large themes in Lewis’s life and work: imagination and reason. Some know Lewis as a storyteller and fantasy writer, a poet and author of books about friendship, love, suffering. Most, though, I suspect, think of him as a scholar, a thinker, one schooled in rational argument, heady apologetics. Could we have misjudged him (and, well, the entire project of the West, pitting head and heart, romance and reason, thinking and loving against one another?)
Piper notes that
Lewis came to Christ on the converging paths of romanticism and rationalism. And as a Christian, he became a master thinker and master (lover.) This is who he was, and this is what he knew. And so this is how he did his evangelism. He bent every romantic effort and every rational effort to help people see what he had seen – the glory of Jesus Christ, the goal of all his longings, and the solid ground of all his thoughts.
Besides the two compilers, there are very good chapters are by Philip Ryken, Douglas Wilson, Kevin Vanhoozer, Randy Alcorn. Not all agree with Lewis on everything, by the way, so that’s interesting, too. And Randy Alcorn offers a bit of an examination of in an extra appendix about Lewis and heaven, wondering if his influences were truly Biblical, or more influenced by some kind of neo-Platonism.
C.S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands edited by Rod Miller (Square Halo Books) $18.99 This is another I’ve mentioned before — I did a lengthy description when it first came out — but think it deserves an extra word here. There is nothing like it in print, and it is very handsomely created. There is an original Ned Bustard linograph (“Saint Jack”) reproduced inside and a crisp typeface for the chapter titles and sub-headings. I really like the stuff Square Halo Books produces (as you may guess, since they did my own Serious Dreams, which does, in fact, cite C.S. Lewis more then once, but I digress.) More importantly, there are original essays here, thoughtful, interesting, important, even, for those who want to understand Dr. Lewis and for those interested in the arts and the creative life. Some of these contributors are top-tier Lewisians (David Downing, Don King, Jerry Root, Peter Schakel) and the forward is by the important contemporary artist, retired recently from the excellent art department at Messiah College, Theodore Prescott. What a fine, fine book! It should be better known among us and I’m happy to include it here in this list of relatively recent books about St. Jack.
Plain to the Inward Eye: Selected Essays on C.S. Lewis Don W. King (Abilene Christian University Press) $25.99 Another lesser-known book that deserves to be on the shelves of any Lewis fan, this remarkable collection gathers together a lifetime of critical thinking about Lewis and his concerns by one of the great Lewis men of our age. Don King has been a professor of English at Montreat College since 1974 and, significantly, has edited the prestigious Christian Scholar’s Review since 1999. He has contributed articles on Lewis’s poetry to significant books about Lewis, even being drafted to contribute to certain enclopedia entries; further, he has authored several full books on Lewis and on Joy Davidman. But this collection of pieces is his best yet for general Lewis readers.
Bruce Edwards writes that
Don King is a superb and engaging researcher and writer, and stands as the leading expert on either side of the Atlantic on the poetry of Lewis… He has a careful editorial eye… contextualizing intelligence… and is an exemplary Lewis scholar.
There is spectacularly interesting stuff in Plain to the Inward Eye — “Narnia and the Seven Deadly Sins”, Lewis’s poetry compared with others, reviews of important books about Lewis, explorations of the core values Lewis gleaned from Dante, Chaucer, Yeats. There is a chapter comparing how Lewis wrote about the devil with how Milton did so. There is one on the erotic love poetry of Joy Davidman, another on Lewis’ use of “the door” as a metaphor. Wonderful, curious, informed, this is a great way to learn about Lewis, and useful for those who want to know more, and a must for aficionados. A great anthology by a very impressive critic.
Bedeviled: Lewis, Tolkien and the Shadow of Evil Colin Duriez (IVP) $17.00 For some, Colin Duriez is the most significant scholar of the Inklings and is known for being a commentator on the extended version film DVDs of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In this new book — which I suspect will be widely discussed and significantly reviewed in all the right places – Duriez explores how the battle between good and evil (in the seen and unseen worlds) is understood by Lewis and Tolkien and how their views work their ways into their own writings. How did the Inklings respond to the great tragedies of their time? (Lewis, by the way, we should recall, by the way, saw horrific action in World World I and was seriously wounded in the front.) As it says on the back cover of this new paperback “In these pages we turn also to the way of goodness and the promise of a far country as we explore a the way out of the shadow of evil.”
Listen to what Bruce Edwards (author of Not a Tame Lion) says:
Nobody knows more about the respective canons of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien or their collaborative friendship then Colin Duriez, and he puts his erudition to work in this new volume that explores and elucidates the shadow of evil in their respective literary work. Those looking for contemporary insights into the source and problem of evil need look no further than Bedeviled.
Or, hear Monika Hilder of Trinity Western University:
Duriez captures how Lewis and Tolkien meet darkness head-on and show blow-by-blow how technocracy, egotism, disillusionment and loss of faith (the world, the flesh, the devil) are overcome by the love of God. This important book celebrates strong hope over and against the dire forces of darkness that beset us. Together, Lewis, Tolkien and Duriez raise the victory flag with high courage, wisdom and joy.
Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again Ryan Pemberton (Leafwood) $14.99 This is a fun and fabulous new book which is hard to explain. Well, maybe it isn’t. It’s about a young guy — who tells us early on that he never imagined himself, not in a million years, studying theology, let alone in England, at Oxford. Long story short, this memoir is Pemberton’s telling of his discerning his sense of a calling, his leaving a career in marketing, his tragi-comic roller coaster ride to Oxford. One reviewer likened it a bit to Donald Miller of Blue Like Jazz fame, although perhaps they meant his Million Miles one. In prose that has been called “beautiful and heart wrenching” and “a breath of fresh air for the generations raised to equate divine calling with radical adventure” Pemberton tells his tale, even if it isn’t a radical adventure. For a few of us, though, this really is an amazing adventure, as Pemberton meets Walter Hooper, ends up working as a docent/tour guide at The Kilns, Lewis’s world-famous and beloved homestead. Who gets to house-sit the Lewis home? Called to the Kilns? You’ve got to be kidding me! I bet this will be a great read.
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