Saturday, July 16, 2011

Three About Lewis

The Cambridge Companion To CS Lewis ny Robert MacSwain and Michael Ward
The Hidden Story Of Narnia and
The Professor Of Narnia, both by Will Vaus

I might have like the latter two better had I not read them A) expecting an adult book, and/or B) immediately after the first.

The Cambridge Companion is an academic book, with essays about Lewis' influence on Medieval scholarship, his acceptance or rebellions against the debates in philosophy of his day, attempts to rate him as a literary historian - that sort of thing. Big concepts, sometimes referring to obscure or forgotten authors, harsh criticism even from his supporters and surprising acknowledgments even from his critics - and, most important - a not-very-compelling writing style, for the most part.

Vaus's volumes here are for young adults. (I really need to research these volumes better before putting them on my wish list.) Vaus is one of the more persuasive writers against Michael Ward's Planet Narnia hypothesis (which I wrote about in several post in October 2010). He is convincing enough on that score that I have softened, though not changed, my stance on the idea.

"Cambridge" has a bibliography with 200 titles. "Hidden Story" has questions at the end of each chapter. Very different aims. If you are looking for youth's biography of Lewis, or wish to steer a bright Narnia-entranced youngster into an understanding of such things as how Aslan's breath is meant to suggest the Holy Spirit, or Lewis thoughts on kingship relate to the contemporary Christian idea of servant leadership, the Vaus paperbacks may suit nicely. But I hesitate to recommend them, because I didn't like them. They seemed over-obvious.

If you want to fight through some academic writing for concepts that will reward and one can hold onto, the Cambridge was mostly worth it to me. I found I am not nearly as interested in the academic side as I thought - or perhaps I am just stupider or lazier than I once was. It is the sort of book I kept putting down thinking I'm not enjoying this, then finding that something I had just read was the basis of my musings for the next twenty-four hours, and so clearly worth the effort. It's not a fun read, but it's a fun think.

As examples, Mark Edward's essay on Lewis as a classicist had me in well over my head. As I was little interested in Greek and Roman writings, I cared only moderately what Lewis had to say about them. Thus I was unable to have any sense whatsoever of the importance and timing of his his contributions in early 20th C philosophical debates about the use and meaning of the classics - debates which still greatly influence the textbooks and college teaching of ancient history now.

In contrast, Kevin J. Vanhoozer's discussion of Lewis's view of scripture was based on information at least 75% known to me, and the essay filled out rather than challenged my understanding. Paul S. Fiddes' monograph on Lewis's theology starts with the perceptive but uncontroversial point that "the making of persons" is central to the theology - then takes that to some controversial places.

I made it about halfway through the volume before conceding it had won by TKO. I failed to answer the bell for Round Nine. I'm not passing it on, however, as I intend to have another go at it. Or perhaps not. Being smart about things matters to me less than it used to.


Texan99 said...

I read the Planet Narnia book, too, last year, I guess. At first I was highly skeptical. By the end, I was nearly persuaded, though it all seemed a bit precious. There's no doubt Lewis was into all that planetary stuff, and relies on it specifically in the Silent Planet trilogy. It seemed a little unlikely to me, though, that he'd use such an elaborate structural device in the Narnia stories and never mention it to a soul. If anything, he tended to over-explain things. So maybe, maybe not.

I read the Narnia stories first when I was a teenager, an atheist, and nearly ignorant of Christianity, but even then it would have been hard to miss the resurrection references in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

You'd think so, wouldn't you? I thought it was a touch embarrassing, being so over-obvious.

People miss it. Enormous numbers of readers miss it.

james said...

Life is short, and the list of books to read is long. If you stall hard, forget it.

And didn't Louis say you should read the authors' works, and not worry so much about the books about what they wrote?

I used to labor under the rule that "you start it, you finish it." I can't think why. And so I ground through Mervyn Peake. Everybody said it was a great trilogy--probably because they wanted other people to suffer as they had. And on the grounds that I liked The Worm Oroboros I endured A Fish Dinner in Mimison.

I finally wised up. If I don't understand it, don't like it, figure that "I got the point already," or find I'm not involved enough to add it to my interests--back to the library with it, or put a bookmark in it (in case I'm wrong) and file it away.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I will take your advice, especially as I had the same experience with Gormenghast and Eddison.

Anonymous said...

Here are some links that shed further light on the topic of PLANET NARNIA:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you, anon.