#12. “‘Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said’ by C.S. Lewis.” Perhaps no one would be more surprised than C.S. Lewis himself at the success of his classic children’s stories, The Chronicles of Narnia. Hundreds of millions of copies of the Narnian tales have been sold, and they are read and reread by children and adults everywhere. It won’t be surprising that C.S. Lewis’ Christian worldview emerges in Narnia, though some (like a character in one of Neil Gaiman’s stories) can feel betrayed by this emergence. For some, the Christian ideas break into a world and destroy the art and beauty. For others, they assume that Lewis began with a Christian message and squeezed a story around it. And there are some that read Narnia only for that message. But for Lewis, it was a much more complex and organic project.
#11. “Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism: A Confessional Review.” I read this book quite by accident, and at a time when I should have been attending to other matters—in particular, getting assignments back to my students in a timely manner. My hope was that this inexpensive book from prominent scholars would make a good baseline textbook for a course. On a Wednesday afternoon in the rush of a semester’s end, I sat down with the intention of scanning the text to get a quick sense of its value for the course. Very quickly, however, I got drawn in to a detailed read, and found myself pouring over every page of this engaging book. What began for me as a quick pragmatic scan ended with answering the question of where I fit within The Spectrum of Evangelicalism. I’m not sure why this long post has been so popular, but I hope you enjoy.
#10. “The Land Where Oz is North of Middle Earth: Reflections of a Speculative Cosmographer.” This is one of my favourite posts, and was Freshly Pressed by the good folk at WordPress.com. When I write, as all fantasy writers do, I create a world that is consistent within itself. These “Other Worlds” may have their own languages, beliefs, sciences, social structures, laws, and arts. When the author does this well, as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, or Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea, the world must rhyme with itself, if you will. It cannot have jarring inconsistencies, or tears in the social or scientific fabric that betray the authenticity of that world. The boundary between that world and our own is clear. Middle Earth has some connection to our world today, but you won’t find it accidentally by taking a wrong turn on Crescent Ave.
#9. “Be Careful What You Read… C.S. Lewis’ Literary Encounter with George MacDonald.” Perhaps one of C.S. Lewis’ more famous—or infamous—quotations is this: “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading” (Surprised by Joy, 182). Hidden in this 20th century tweet is the idea that serious study will bring an intelligent and engaged thinker to a belief in God. The pre-Christian Lewis, however, was besieged not just by the philosophical proofs for the existence of God, but by the spiritually infused worldviews of the writers he most admired. This post has been reblogged by numerous apologists, making it a reader’s favourite.
#8. “C.S. Lewis’ “On Other Worlds: Essays and Stories”: A Review.” My own journey in studying C.S. Lewis has led me to the consideration of the fictional universes he created—these are the “real worlds” that sit behind his stories, like the worlds of Narnia in his fantasy novels or the Field of Arbol in his science fiction. Unfortunately, what is true in Narnia isn’t
always true in the world that most of us reading this live: the growl of the lion in a Narnian forest is a moment of great hope; in an American forest, it is a reason to rapidly evolve the necessary appendages for flight. Fantasy writers carefully construct these fictional universes, and a sophisticated world like Middle Earth or Discworld or Arbol or Cthulhu, with its own maps and languages and sentient races and tax offices, is worth studying. This book is an exploration of worlds and world creation.
#7. “6 Surprising Celebrity Audiobook Narrators.” I first discovered audiobooks while taking graduate courses by distance in Japan. I received these world-class lecture packages in the mail, pulled the cassette out of its cellophane wrapper (yes, a tape!), and then popped it into my car’s tape player. These lectures filled my commutes in Japan, from the rice paddies of Asashina-mura with old farmer wives knee-deep in water, crooked backs bending to plant tender shoots of grain, through the Miyota river valley filled with its onion fields and cherry blossoms and Coca Cola vending machines, to the mountaintop tourist village of Karuizawa–a hidden paradise of pine trees and ancient roads and large families of monkeys that wandered across your path….
#6. ““The Planets” in C.S. Lewis’ Writing.” It does not take long for a serious reader of C.S. Lewis to realize that he was in love with cosmology—the planets and the stars as they sit within the vast expanse of space. His first popular fiction was science fiction, with characters visiting the planets of Mars and Venus. References to the cosmos fill his poetry, and all the characters in Narnia look up to the heavens at one time or another. In this poem, Lewis lays out the mythopoeic characters behind the “dance of the heavens”–cosmology as medieval writers understood it. This is the poem that also inspired Michael Ward in his Planet Narnia exploration.
#5. “Screwtape on Pleasure and Distraction.” Unsurprisingly, blogs on The Screwtape Letters tend to be popular. This is the book that really launched C.S. Lewis into the public spotlight, and it still has a powerful impact even today. It is also where I have focussed some of my academic work. My first C.S. Lewis conference paper was on Screwtape, and I had a series last fall highlighting my research findings. This included my manuscript discovery that suggests that these demonic letters were found by Dr. Ransom of the Space Trilogy. This blog is a small quotation from the Letters that has seemed to made a difference to thousands of readers.
#4. “The Marriage of Now and Then: A Review of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.” Readers of A Pilgrim in Narnia will know that I think that The Great Divorce is a sleeper cell of great ideas and clear thinking about everyday discipleship. I ran a series in 2014-15, paralleling the release of Great Divorce in a weekly newspaper. I have done a couple of dozen posts on this little novella, and it has been our most popular guest post series. If you have not read much of Lewis’ theological work, I would encourage you to start here in 2016. Be warned, though: like The Screwtape Letters, the characters in The Great Divorce can cut a little close to the bone.
#3. “And The Greatest of These…: A Review of C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves.” The popularity of this post puzzles me a little. I have very few comments, and yet it gets new readers every day. It is not a very daring review of what is not a very popular book. Neither is it an overly positive review. Actually, I am rereading the book right now, and am inclined to give Lewis more credit than I did when I first read it. Yet it is an important post for me because The Four Loves was actually my introduction to C.S. Lewis as an academic possibility. Most people come in through Narnia or Mere Christianity, but I think The Four Loves is the most influential Lewis book that people have never read.
#2. “Between Mars and Malacandra, Fantasy and Real Life.” This is a post I quite like, and I’m glad that it (nearly) tops the list. What interested Lewis about planets as a literary backdrop was not their physical properties but their mythical properties—both how they worked in classical and medieval mythology, and how they can help shape the mythology of contemporary culture. In “There is No Such Thing as Space,” I had already written about how Lewis was trying to challenge popular beliefs about the human’s place in the universe by substituting the idea of “High Heavens” for “Outer Space.” While he did not deny the scientific realities of the universe, he did critique the stories that people told based upon new and evolving science. I find it an elegant subversion.
#1. “Fifty Shades of Bad Writing.” I am sad to say that this is, by far, my most popular post ever. Granted, the absolute failure of the film in early 2015 meant that traffic jumped again only for a few days. Still, it is a popular post. I have not seen the film, and did not read the book. Instead, in this post I do the eyes-closed-and-point test of the book’s quality, opening it up at random and then making fun of the “prose” I see on the page. I learned two things: 1) most of the writing I complain about in pop culture is not that bad, actually, when you consider this is one of the most popular series of all time; and 2) it isn’t sexy. I talked here about the confusion about intimacy in our culture, but it is more than that. It is a pale book, too clumsy to be alluring and too gynecological to be beautiful. We can learn a lot about what not to do as writers here, even if we don’t learn anything about how to be lovers.