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.

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