Review: Reading C. S. Lewis

9780190221348Wesley A. Kort is Professor Emeritus of Religion at Duke University. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Chicago and has received numerous awards, honors, and distinctions throughout his academic career. Kort is the author of the well-received C. S. Lewis Then and Now (Oxford, 2004), where he sought to rehabilitate Lewis to demonstrate the continuing value and relevance of his work today. Most recently, in Reading C. S. Lewis: A Commentary (Oxford, 2015), Kort has delivered yet another excellent volume into the hands of Lewis enthusiasts everywhere. It is here that Kort offers an exciting investigation into some of Lewis’s major works, providing a fresh literary and academic evaluation that has set a new standard for C. S. Lewis studies.

Reading C. S. Lewis begins with an introduction that positions the reader to recognize the cultural milieu of Lewis’s day. Kort does the reader a service by bringing attention to the backdrop of the story before directing the reader towards the material that comprises the remainder of the book—which is organized around three structural components that constitute the framework of Lewis’s project (ix).

First, Kort seeks to independently comment on four of Lewis’s well-known works: Surprised by Joy (1955), The Problem of Pain (1940), The Screwtape Letters (1942), and Mere Christianity (1952). For Kort, these four books display Lewis’s assumptions concerning “basic and important moral and religious matters [that] are and have been generally agreed upon by reasonable people” (109). This is the preliminary structural component of the larger framework mentioned above—Lewis’s philosophical and moral theory. The commentary on each of these works is consistent and helpful throughout, and he often provides insight that would be unknown by the average reader with little exposure to Lewis (myself included).

Second, Kort guides the reader through the next major structural component, namely, Lewis’s cultural critique of modernity. Kort again provides commentary on four of Lewis’s well-known works: Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), The Abolition of Man (1944), and The Hideous Strength (1945). For Kort, the critique of modernity expressed in these texts “is sharply focused, well informed, consistent, and both theoretically and practically defended” (189). The reader will likely agree with Kort’s assessment at this point. I was personally intrigued by this section considering Lewis’s interaction within the academy and the cultural shift that was taking place therein. However, I anticipated more interaction by Kort regarding Lewis’s adoration for Dante and his influence on Lewis’s work—especially that of the Space Trilogy.

Third, Kort turns attention to the final structural component of Lewis’s project as he comments on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe (1950) and Prince Caspian (1951), The Four Loves (1960), and The Magician’s Nephew (1955) and The Last Battle (1956). Kort explains, “the third component, applied principals, relates to his distinction between principles and their embodiments and, second, to his [Lewis’s] constructive application of moral and doctrinal principals to delineate a worldview that he sees as preferable to its modern, particularly nonreligious, alternatives” (viii). The reader will find the observations that Kort details here both helpful and insightful. I personally found Kort’s discussion on charity within The Four Loves (233-235) to be of great practical significant, and it was full of witty and quotable content.

Reading C. S. Lewis by Wesley A. Kort is a brilliant book by a scholar well-acquainted with Lewis’s life and works. Kort was both fair and generous in his assessment, and the organization of the book was planned well for the interested reader. Some readers, especially those who are more familiar with Lewis’s work, will likely be disappointed in the limited scope of Lewis’s corpus presented here. Moreover, I was personally disappointed by the use of endnotes over footnotes. There is some truly outstanding material lingering in the endnotes of this book and it would have been more readily available for the reader at the bottom of the page. Nevertheless, despite these foreseen issues, it is clear that Kort has provided a commendable volume that is certain to be enjoyed by C. S. Lewis fans everywhere. I recommend it with enthusiasm!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Review: Reflecting the Eternal

25578619Marsha Daigle-Williamson is Professor Emerita at Spring Arbor University where she taught English for over two decades and won numerous teaching awards. Daigle-Williamson has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. She has served as translator for the Preacher to the Papal Household and has translated sixteen books from Italian as well as published dozens of articles and reviews. She has also presented at the International Congress on Medieval Studies eight times over the past decade and has been a prominent member of The Dante Society of America for over fifteen years. Most recently, Daigle-Williamson has published a captivating examination into the fiction literature of the beloved C. S. Lewis and his dependence upon the medieval mind of Dante degli Alighieri.

Reflecting the Eternal: Dante’s Divine Comedy in the Novels of C. S. Lewis appropriately opens by building a framework for the reader to rightly recognize Lewis’s permissible usage of his literary forerunners. Daigle-Williamson argues that Lewis saw such usage as not only permissible but utterly appropriate, and quickly brings attention to Lewis’s lifelong appreciation for the work of Dante. The opening chapter concludes with a helpful summation of the plot of Dante’s Divine Comedy—the plot that stands as a scarlet thread interwoven throughout Lewis’s fictional lifework. As the book unfolds, Daigle-Williamson examines each of Lewis’s fiction works in light of this reality, including The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933), Out of the Silent Planet (1938), The Screwtape Letters (1942), Perelandra (1943), That Hideous Strength (1945), The Great Divorce (1946), The Chronicles of Narnia series (1950-1956), and Lewis’s final novel, Till We Have Faces (1956). Daigle-Williamson concludes her exploration with a summary chapter that brings Lewis’s usage of Dante’s Divine Comedy to a threefold pattern: (1) construction of fictional worlds, (2) journey narratives, and (3) Beatrice figures.

At the risk of losing many friends, I have to (reluctantly) admit at the offset of my overall impression of this book that I have not read a single fictional work by Lewis. This may come as a shock to some given this review and the nature of the present volume. However, in many ways, because of this lack of exposure, I am able to represent a unique perspective of Daigle-Williamson’s work and attest to the usefulness therein. It is evident that Daigle-Williamson is well-acquainted with both Lewis and Dante. Her keen ability to grasp the overall themes that transcend both authors, especially Lewis’s fictional corpus, is admirable and well-displayed for the reader. One of thing that I appreciated most about Daigle-Williamson’s work is that she appears to assume that her readers will possess minimal exposure to all of Lewis’s fictional work, and thus each chapter opens with a brief introduction to the specific book in question, including an overview of the content, plot, and themes. This positions the novice reader to better understand the exploration ahead. As one of those novice readers, I can attest that I had absolutely no issue following behind Daigle-Williamson as she carefully guided me through each of Lewis’s books. Now, on the backend of that journey, I have to also admit that Daigle-Williamson has aroused an excitement for Lewis’s fictional work that was not previously there—and for that I anticipate a longstanding indebtedness.

Reflecting the Eternal: Dante’s Divine Comedy in the Novels of C. S. Lewis by Marsha Daigle-Williamson is a fascinating exploration into the fictional corpus of one of modern Christendom’s most beloved figures. Daigle-Williamson has provided a well-researched and thoroughly documented investigation into the thematic underpinning of C. S. Lewis’s dependence upon Dante’s Divine Comedy. By surveying Lewis’s novels chronologically Daigle-Williamson is able to carefully guide the reader into the riches of Lewis and his lifelong appreciation for the work of Dante. She is clear and persuasive in her evaluation of Lewis and sensitive to readers of all levels of exposure to his work, and the same could be said of Dante. Daigle-Williamson has produced an exceptional volume that is certain to excite readers of all interests—both literary critics and Lewis fans alike. Regardless of your acquaintance with or interest in C. S. Lewis and his fictional work, Reflecting the Eternal is a significant volume in the field of Lewis studies, and its influence is sure to reach far beyond this unique academic circle.

 

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.