“So I am finding him still at this stage, and I expect still to be finding him when I’m 80, as a welcome and at the same time endearingly infuriating interlocutor. I can never quite let him go...”
— MALCOLM GUITE, YEARNING FOR A FAR-OFF COUNTRY (C.S. LEWIS AND HIS CIRCLE)
Although C.S. Lewis was the author of the beloved Chronicles of Narnia series, he was many other men besides. A professor, an intellectual, a theologian, a philosopher, a brother, a husband, and a Christian, Lewis contributed much to the world in varying ways throughout his life. Largely considered one of the most influential thinkers of modern Christianity, he brought his profound theological insights into his fiction writing; and likewise, the imagination that gave birth to the wonders of Narnia served as his greatest resource as a philosopher. To study Lewis, whether as an academic or a devoted reader, is to uncover a world of new ideas, much in the same way the Pevensie children discovered a new world at the other end of a magical wardrobe. A sense of wonder and a fathomless imagination were the foundations of Lewis’s great work. Whether conjuring unforgettable characters or unraveling in his way the complexities of faith, Lewis was tireless in his celebration of curiosity and his reverence of beauty.
“Alongside Lewis the cool-headed thinker we find a very different style of thinker - a man who is aware of the power of the human imagination, and the implications of this power on our understanding of reality. Perhaps one of the most original aspects of Lewis’s writing is his persistent and powerful appeal to the religious imagination.”
— ALISTER MCGRATH, C.S. LEWIS, DEFENDER OF THE FAITH (C.S. LEWIS AND HIS CIRCLE)
Oxford was, of course, a significant part of Lewis’s life and it continues to hold an impenetrable connection to his legacy. It was here that the Inklings first began to meet, and it was the setting wherein tremendous ideas took shape - ideas of literary, academic, and theological importance. Born of Lewis's inspiration, the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society has for decades been an important institution in the continued study of Lewis and his ideas, as well as a tribute to the lives and works of those who shared his intellectual circle. By sustaining the ideas of the Inklings, the society stands as a guide for generations of thinkers whose visions would blossom under such influence.
This year the society released C.S. Lewis and His Circle, a new book which adds to the extensive library of publications exploring Lewis's ideas and insights. C.S. Lewis and His Circle contains many previously unpublished talks from influential speakers, giving Lewis enthusiasts a new chance to witness what the study of Lewis is like in the writer’s own home, so to speak.
“The great feature of his teaching was his obvious delight in and enthusiasm for many of the books that we were studying, and his ability to communicate this enthusiasm. He had wide taste: Writers he loved best included Spenser, Milton, Wordsworth, Jonson, but he was also an enthusiastic champion of lesser known writers... He was helped in this advocacy, and indeed in all his teachings, by his ability to quote from memory many of the best passages. If you were his pupil, you had the enjoyment of an anthology of the best and most interesting passages, splendidly declaimed in his rich and powerful voice, with its slight and to my mind rather delightful northern Irish accent.”
— GEORGE SAYER, RECOLLECTIONS OF C.S. LEWIS (C.S. LEWIS AND HIS CIRCLE)
The book takes off on an academic bent with lectures and essays on Lewis as a philosopher and theologian. For those whose interest in Lewis stems from his works of fiction, these talks offer a way for readers to challenge themselves with some of the more intricate details of ideas which are at the root of perhaps all of Lewis's literary works. As a result, these talks on his theological work will serve to broaden one's experience of Lewis as a poet and novelist, which brings us into the book's next collection of essays: that of his literary background and experiences.
“There is hardly a page of the Chronicles in which some incident does not have behind it a profound truth.”
— WALTER HOOPER, IT ALL BEGAN WITH A PICTURE: THE MAKING OF C.S. LEWIS'S CHRONICLES OF NARNIA (C.S. LEWIS AND HIS CIRCLE)
The literary talks are wonderful and invigorating, from Malcolm Guite's delightful observations on Lewis as a poet to Tom Shippey's examination of Lewis's diaries when he came up to Oxford's Magdalen College. Of particular interest to fans of the Narnia chronicles will be Walter Hooper's talk on the making of the series, an essay of a slightly more personal nature which guides the book into its next section: memoirs of Lewis and the Inklings by family, friends, and members of their circle. This collection draws a certain warmth to the book, ultimately; those who are not interested in reading about Lewis from an academic standpoint will likely enjoy these personal talks over the more structured lectures that begin the book. While Walter Hooper guides the reader through the formation of the famous Inklings, group member John Wain recounts his experiences of Warren "Warnie" Lewis in a delightful homage to the Lewis brothers. There is an account of C.S. Lewis's marriage to Joy Davidman by the friend who officiated their wedding, and an admiring cousin recounts her childhood experiences of "Jacks" as a joyful member of the family.
“At many many points in C.S. Lewis’s writings there is evident a keen sense of the wonder and mystery of the created world. Lewis was far-ranging in his imaginative power, masterly in his command of words, and he used both imagination and language to full effect when describing the realm of nature.”
— KALLISTOS WARE, SACRAMENTALISM IN C.S. LEWIS AND CHARLES WILLIAMS (C.S. LEWIS AND HIS CIRCLE)
Altogether, the essays collected here make up a terrifically diverse sampling of what it's like to study Lewis. Editors Roger White, Judith Wolfe, and Brendan N. Wolfe bring to this unique collection the very sense of Oxford’s academic and intellectual aesthetic, creating a doorway through which Lewis enthusiasts can study this extraordinary thinker amid the very atmosphere that Lewis himself was likely ensconced. At turns scholarly and reflective, C.S. Lewis and His Circle is a collection that will challenge, surprise, and delight those new or long-time admirers of Lewis and his Inklings companions.