Previous | Next

Oct. 1973–Jan. 1974 · Vol. 2 No. 4 · pp. 150–52 

A Giant in the Land: Recent Literature on C. S. Lewis

Herbert Giesbrecht

It is now a full decade since Clive Staples Lewis of Cambridge (earlier, Oxford), England, was last seen on the planet Earth, having slipped away quite unobtrusively on November 22, 1963, into that other world which came to be so very real for him long before he was ushered into it. During this decade of years, both the man and his achievements, as a professional scholar and teacher of literature and as a writer on Christian themes, have been studied and appraised with ever mounting interest and satisfaction, and the end of such study is not yet in sight. Indeed, it seems that we are only beginning to move into something like a “miniature Renaissance” of critical study and appreciation focused upon, and inspired by, the works of this literary giant. And a veritable giant Lewis appears to be, in every good sense of the term, or image, rather. This is the “discovery” at any rate, that more and more scholar-adventurers of our day are reporting to the rest of us, and that with shouts of joy, as they return from longer and more exacting journeys across the wide and richly varied domain of Lewis’ writings. “One century cannot hope,” one of them has remarked in a spirit of almost uncontrollable excitement, “to see again such an assemblage of gifts.”

Recent articles in Christianity Today (November 9, 1973), by Calvin D. Linton and Harold Lindsell (editor-in-chief), provide very brief but thoroughly enticing introductions to C. S. Lewis, particularly for Christian readers who may need to have their memories refreshed a little in regard to the remarkable range, imaginative force, often original but enduring insight, and essential unity, of Lewis’ writings whether they are concerned with the explication of literature generally or with the defense of the Christian faith or with explorations into the romantic worlds of pure fiction. Linton identifies, with fine perception, some of the major contributions of Lewis to English literary history and scholarship, but I would guess that it is Linton’s unmistakable excitement about the integrity and conviction of Lewis, as a Christian writer, that will affect younger readers of his article most immediately and most deeply. Linton remarks—to allow ourselves one short excerpt—“Lewis never forgets that the Christian life is one of powerful emotion, and one does not readily think of anyone who can so quicken the heartbeat and make taut the normally flaccid nerves by suggesting what is now a reality, and what is in store, for the Christian.”

Lindsell’s short article, “Further Up and Further In,” restricts itself to the mythical novels of Lewis and points up their imaginative success in persuading readers, as the fiction of few other writers can, of the reality and the glory of the eternal world. “Lewis’s romantic imagination,” comments Lindsell, “sparkled at the thought and hope of heaven; he lived and wrote with it always in mind. What we know on earth, what we imagine Heaven to mean, is so much smaller than its reality. . .For Lewis, imagination provided a way to apprehend, if only in a stab of joy that pierced like pain, the abundant life God promises.”

At the present time, all except two of C. S. Lewis’ own published books—and there are something over fifty of them, now—are in print {151} (most of them in paperback reprint), a fact bearing mute testimony to the continuing appeal of nearly all of his writings with their diversity in regard to content, and literary mode and purpose. A full listing of Lewis’ books and assembled essays, to date, appears in an “afterword” to Kathryn A. Lindskoog’s new and panoramic survey of the key thoughts as they emerge in Lewis’ works: C. S. Lewis: Mere Christian (1973). Lindskoog’s book, despite first appearances, is not simply another instance of a superficially-conceived and hastily-produced digest of a great man’s thinking; its perceptive summaries and abundant but always apt quotations from Lewis reveal an unusually full and precise knowledge of Lewis as the Christian person and thinker that he was. It will undoubtedly prove to be a very useful handbook for college and university students who are interested in this particular “image” of Lewis. The book also supplies information, in the same “afterword” referred to above, on C. S. Lewis societies, special Lewis libraries and collections, and Lewis dramatizations and recordings. A similar book on Lewis which, however, only assembles quotations from him but does not comment upon, or explicate, such quotations, is Clyde S. Kilby’s A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis (1969).

Another very recent (1973) book which can serve to introduce “lovers of C. S. Lewis” directly to the world in which he lived and moved and had his being is C.S. Lewis: Images of His World, edited by D. Gilbert and C. S. Kilby. It is an impeccably produced and utterly enchanting volume which endeavors, by means of both photographs (mainly) and relevant annotation, to vividly place Lewis into the domestic, social, and educational milieu of which he was a part and which he himself enriched in a variety of ways. It also includes as a sort of preface, a very engaging sketch of Lewis’ life: “From Atheist to Christian.”

Other biographical, and biographical-critical studies of Lewis which have appeared during the last two decades or so, are the following: Chad Walsh’s C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics (1940); Clyde S. Kilby’s The Christian World of C. S. Lewis (1964); Light on C. S. Lewis, edited by Jocelyn Gibb (1965); R. B. Cunningham’s C. S. Lewis: Defender of the Faith (1967); Peter Kreeft’s C. S. Lewis: A Critical Essay (1969); and Carolyn Keefe’s C. S. Lewis: Speaker and Teacher (1971). Taken together these studies project a many-faceted portrait of the man and the writer and scholar which serve to endear him to the reader as an essentially humble and deeply honest man despite his massive learning and marvelously penetrating mind. One begins to comprehend something of Owen Barfield’s (one of Lewis’ most intimate scholar-friends) sense of awe which he felt whenever he engaged in exciting conversation with Lewis, as one makes one’s way through these studies. “It was,” remarks Barfield, “like trying to run along beside a motorcar in top gear.” Taken together, these studies also suggest something of the remarkable possibilities of creative influence of Lewis’ writings, upon other scholars and teachers yet to come and that in a variety of areas: medieval literature and its real significance for the study of literature generally, Christian approaches in the writing of “science fiction” and mythical (symbolic) novels, apologetical essays which can excite and illumine the ordinary reader, imaginative sermons, educational philosophy that uncovers the actual assumptions that direct, and sometimes distort, the education and culture of a society, satirical letters and essays which convey profoundly Christian truths even while they entertain with their verve and flashing {152} wit, pastoral letters which are helpful to the ordinary layman to mention only some more obvious areas of literary endeavor. J. Gibb’s book, Light on C. S. Lewis, it should be added here, provides the most comprehensive bibliography to date of the writings of Lewis, including, as it does, references not only to most of his books, but also to his short stories, periodical articles, poems, book reviews, published letters, and other books as well which he edited or for which he wrote a foreword or introduction.

One ought not to forget, in this connection, Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life (1955), which is much more than a conventional sort of biography; it is itself a remarkable exemplum of how biography can link outer happenings and inner experience and how it can introduce elements which are allegorical, metaphorical, sermonic, or even satirical in essence, in marvelously subtle ways and become, in the process, a powerful apologetic to the non-Christian mind. The definitive biography of Lewis has, however, not yet appeared. It is currently being rumored that Roger L. Green’s forthcoming book promises to be blessed with this signal epithet and honor. It may be so, but we can be sure that the last word will not have been said about this Christian giant in the land, for many years to come yet! Meanwhile, we are among the privileged ones who can acquaint ourselves with this “giant” by way of his writings, and discover afresh how one man’s imaginative and intellectual capacities, when quickened and suffused by the Spirit of God, can open new doorways into the large mansion which is Truth.

Previous | Next