Sunday, July 24, 2016

Getting Closer to C.S. Lewis

I had hoped to publish this review in another venue, but timing, my relatively slow reading aptitude, and the distractions of everyday life (not to mention my patent proclivity for procrastination), has rendered this impossible. I am grateful to OUP for providing a copy of this book, humbled they thought well enough of me to do so. 

In 1982, the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society was founded by Greg and Suzanne Wolfe with the help of Walter Hooper (Lewis' literary executor who served as his amanuensis in the months just before his death). C.S. Lewis & His Circle, edited by Roger White, and Judith and Brendan N. Wolfe (no relation), is a compilation of nineteen essays and memoirs delivered to the Society by "scholars, family members, students, and friends within the circle of those who crossed paths (and sometimes wits) with [Lewis]." (p.xii)

If you are going to learn about a person, it is best, if possible, to get information directly from those who knew them.* It's why the words of the Apostles and other writers of the New Testament are so important. They knew Jesus personally, or knew someone who knew Him. The farther you get from a person (socially, geographically, and historically), the more likely it is information about them will be filled with misinterpretations and legend.

This is why books such as Circle are so vital to the general fan base who want to know Lewis, Tolkien, and those they hung out with. Most of us are not able to examine the myriads of personal papers which have been left for "Inklings scholars" to pore over, but we can read books like this, and earlier memoirs such as Light on C. S. Lewis, C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table, and Remembering C. S. Lewis.

The contents of Circle range from a weighty discussion of Sacramentalism by Kallistos Ware, to the more intimate reflections on Lewis's writings by Malcolm Guite, to the personal reflections about the more private life of Lewis by Owen Barfield and John Wain. Barfield and Wain's memoirs (as well as others) go along way to debunking some of what has been said about Lewis by biographers – especially A. N. Wilson.

Undoubtedly, not every chapter will be enjoyed by the average Lewis or Inklings fan. But there is certainly plenty to enjoy by any devotee with a serious desire to learn more about Lewis, his close friends, and their lives and writings. If you should find a particular chapter difficult, skip to the next. Some may even want to skip the more academic Part I on Theology and Philosophy, and read Part II (memoirs) first.

Michael Ward does an excellent job recounting the history of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society in the Afterword, so you won't want to miss that. Inklings fans are sure to thank the editors of this book for sharing some of their history by publishing these addresses in print for posterity.

*This pronoun is in honor of Diana Glyer. A Facebook comment of hers gives me permission to use it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Studying Screwtape: discovering the strategies of Hell

Review of C. S. Lewis Goes to Hell

This review was originally published on 

C. S. Lewis' fame in America has arguably been tied to the September 8, 1947 cover of Time magazine, where he appeared with an image of the devil behind his left shoulder. The Screwtape Letters, an imaginative account of a senior devil writing advice to his "nephew" apprentice, made waves when it was published in February of 1942, quickly selling out multiple printings. The "letters" were originally published in an Anglican periodical, the Guardian, as a series which began in May the previous year.

In honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication, Winged Lion Press has published a new study guide of the book, by William O'Flaherty. O'Flaherty is well known to Lewis academics and enthusiasts as the creator and host of the podcast series "All About Jack," which has published some 264 talks and interviews since 2012. He also runs the Essential C.S. Lewis website, which includes a resource begun last August examining questionable quotes attributed to Lewis. C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell is his first book, but he is well qualified for the task, and the volume has been endorsed by Lewis scholars such as Diana Pavlac Glyer, Devin Brown, and Carolyn Curtis.

Unlike many of the study guides out there, Hell is more than capable of multiple functions. It would serve well as not just a commentary to be read along with Screwtape, but as a guide to use for Sunday School or book club. The provided questions for discussion can be used in a variety of ways, depending on how in depth you or your group want to delve. The "Topical Glossary" is helpful to identifying and understanding the characters, as well as providing a list of topics to explore the various themes throughout Lewis' masterpiece. The appendices provide seven brief essays of interest that could well serve as jumping off points for further study.

C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell is a companion you can decide how to use best. Want to know what Lewis wrote on a certain subject in Screwtape? You can do that. Want just an overview of the book? That's provided. Want to teach Screwtape in a formal or informal setting? This book is suitable for that, too. One can also envision Hell being used as inspiration for academics to gain enlightenment and research further.

C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell is available through For more information, you can also check out the official web page,

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Creative collaboration demonstrated in the Oxford writers group the Inklings

Review of Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of
the Inklings

The Inklings was an Oxford writers group which met during the 1930s and 40s, and included JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. It is unusual for a writers group to garner the attention the Inklings have over the years. A few select scholars have devoted much of their lives to not only studying the lives of the men who were part of this group, but the group as a whole. As early as 1979, scholars such as Humphrey Carpenter realized the importance of the interaction of the Inklings to their lives and writings. Colin Duriez' recent book has helped amend and clarify much of what we thought we knew. In 2007, Diana Pavlac Glyer went a step further in her book, The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, examining the extent of influence the Inklings had on each other's writings. Glyer may not be as well known to Inklings fans as Carpenter and Duriez, but she is considered one the foremost Inklings scholars in the academic world.

Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings is the newly published adaptation of her 2007 book, re-written for a wider audience. The Company they Keep was meant for academic use. However, although the earlier book has been described as "easy and enjoyable to read" with "plenty to enjoy" for new fans and scholars alike, Glyer realized the "fundamentally academic" work should be updated. Besides being of interest to fans of Tolkien, Lewis, and the other Inklings, Bandersnatch also is also helpful to aspiring writers, artists, and inventors, providing suggestions on how to interact with others in the same kind of creative collaboration the Inklings did.

The title of the book comes from an often quoted line from a letter Lewis wrote to Charles Mooreman in 1959. Mooreman was researching a book about "the Oxford Christians," which came out in 1966. After admitting the influence Charles Williams and he had over each other, Lewis writes, "No one ever influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch." (A "bandersnatch" is a creature created by Lewis Carol. Lewis was undoubtedly borrowing from a quote from "Through the Looking-Glass" where the White King describes his Queen: "She runs so fearfully quick. You might as well try to catch a Bandersnatch!")

Lewis' "bandersnatch" quote has been often used to affirm the idea the Inklings really did not have much influence on each other's writings. However, the context of the quote demonstrates the group did have a significant influence over Tolkien. The next two sentences read: "We listened to his work, but could affect it only by encouragement. He has only two reactions to criticism; either he begins the whole work over again from the beginning or else takes no notice at all."

As Glyer points out, "listening and encouraging are neither passive activities nor insignificant ones." And "starting over" when criticized "represents major influence, indeed." [p. 152] And there is evidence that Tolkien rarely took "no notice at all." Tolkien's papers indicate he often jotted down notes to himself based on suggestions he was given by others.

Dr. Glyer presents this and other evidence to show quite convincingly how the Inklings not only influenced each other's work, but often quite literally helped edit one another, "officially" collaborated on projects, and wrote each other into their works. She gives some help along the way for writers and others to work "in community" with others, doing what the Inklings did. Well worth the time for any Inklings fan, or those who just want some ideas on how to collaboratively work with other in the creative community.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

C S Lewis and intellectual hospitality: learning to listen to the opposition

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, is shutting down, so I will gradually be posting my articles from there in this venue. This is probably my favorite, so I'll begin with it. 

C.S. Lewis at Table with Dante and Zeus: Pushing (Against) the Limits of Intellectual Hospitality

In 2014, Diana Pavlac Glyer gave an address at the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute at Oxbridge. She spoke on "Intellectual Hospitality"—the importance of listening carefully to the opinions of others, and treating those with whom we disagree with kindness and respect.

Glyer, Professor of English at Azusa Pacific University in California, is one of the foremost C S Lewis scholars. She is best known for her 2008 book The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, and has authored and contributed to many articles and chapters in scholarly works. She is also a highly sought-after speaker for conferences.

Glyer began her address describing the "great works approach" she uses in her classes at APU. She explains this is more about how we read the "great texts of the world" than what we read—not merely a list, but learning to listen and taking the time to understand what the text is saying. This involves reading the works themselves – avoiding summaries and commentaries.

This approach is certainly needed in the atmosphere of hostility in which we find ourselves in America, where polarization is becoming more and more the norm. We too often argue with out-of-context snippets, soundbites, and memes, rather than actually trying to understand what the opposition is actually saying. Glyer quotes from C S Lewis' book An Experiment in Criticism.

We read in order to remove our gaze from the mirrored face, to deliver us from solitude. I suggest we should be concerned with entering fully into the opinions, and therefore, also, the attitudes, feelings, and total experience of others. ... What is the good of listening to what anyone else has to say? Unless you contain in yourself the sources that can supply all the information, all the entertainment, all the advice, rebuke, and all the merriment you want, the answer is obvious. ... If it is worthwhile listening, or reading, at all, it is worth doing it attentively. Indeed, we must attend even to discover if something is worth our attention.

Professor Glyer recounts at length how her students in her class of Lewis's Mere Christianity learned to listen to each other as the course progressed. Mere Christianity is about the commonality shared by all Christians summed up in his words, "The death of Jesus Christ has made us right with God." But he also talks about the various rooms within the house of Christianity where life is lived. We choose which room (Catholicism, Episcopal, Baptist, etc.) to enter, and this should be based on our search for truth, not merely what we feel. Lewis encourages us to enter a room and not linger in the hallway. However, once in a room, he gives this advice.

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors, and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong, they need your prayers all the more. And if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.

Lewis is not talking about differences in preferences, such as music styles, buildings, etc. He is talking about truth. How do we treat those who disagree with us in matters of truth?

A June 2014 Pew Research study shows the trend in America is not from conservative to liberal, or from liberal to conservative, but away from the middle toward both ends of the spectrum. They also found the two extremes are growing more and more hostile toward each other. Glyer quotes the study.

Growing ideological uniformity on both sides is leading an increasing number of Americans to see followers of the other Party as a threat to the nation's well-being.

The problem is, with all the choices we have on cable television and the internet, we tend to surround ourselves with those who agree with us and isolate ourselves from the opposition (except for shouting matches on social media). When was the last time you actively listened to, or tried to read with an open mind, someone with whom you fundamentally disagree?

For once, take yourself away from the ideological bubble and take time to listen to Professor Glyer's address, which is embedded above. In this age of growing hostility, may we learn kindness and understanding.

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." James 1:19-20 NIV

Friday, July 1, 2016

Inkling Blogger Thrown a Curve Ball

I guess in the back of my mind I knew this was going to happen. I am losing my freelance writing outlet as will be shutting down in less than two weeks. I have to make copies of all my work in order to save it, as all content will be gone from the internet. I guess I know what I'm going to be doing on my week's vacation. 
So, I guess it's time to dust off the old blog and use it to communicate my thoughts. Those who have been following me on Facebook may know I have contributed some articles for the fairly new movie website, I plan to continue to write for them.
I also eventually want to begin a companion blog here on where I can post about more generic topics (unless some website invites me to join their team). 
Undoubtedly, I will be dredging up the Examiner articles and posting them here for posterity. I have been thrown a curve ball, but I know God is in this. And it's often the curve ball that gets hit out of the park. I just hope my life (and writing) skills are better than my baseball skills were when I was in Little League. 
A big "thank you" to those who have followed my writing through the years and encouraged me. Hopefully this change of venue will bring in some additional readers. 
"Not all who wander are lost."

"Further up and further in."