C.S. Lewis was an acclaimed children’s writer, setting the stage for generations of children’s books that speak in a new way to kids and adults with curious minds. Behind this children’s work was C.S. Lewis’ experience as a teacher of English literature, a writer about the history of literary movements, and a tinker in other forms of fiction. In that tinkering, and in his letters and essays, he didn’t mind creating new turns of phrase when it was needed. This is the third in the series on words that C.S. Lewis coined. You can read the introduction and the first article here and the second piece here.
Essays Presented to Charles Williams is a remarkable book. It is a meeting of the Inklings and their friends between two boards, bound to the page but playing with ideas that would have an impact. Meant as a gift to their friend Charles Williams, it became a memorial volume instead. And if T.S. Eliot—a dear friend of Williams—had completed a piece as he intended, more than just a few of us may remember it still.
Beyond Lewis’ preface to the volume is remarkable for his characterization of Williams:
In appearance he was tall, slim, and straight as a boy, though grey-haired. His face we thought ugly: I am not sure that the word ‘monkey’ has not been murmured in this context. But the moment he spoke it became, as was also said, like the face of an angel (Essays Presented to Charles Williams, ix).
While Lewis was moved by Williams’ charisma more than his simian architecture, he was also struck by his facility with fireside literary criticism:
He delighted to repeat favourite passages, and nearly always both his voice and the context got something new out of them. He excelled at showing you the little grain of truth or felicity in some passage generally quoted for ridicule, while at the same time he fully enjoyed the absurdity: or, contrariwise, at detecting the little falsity or dash of silliness in a passage which you, and he, also, admired. He was both a ‘debunker’ and (if I may coin the word) a ‘rebunker’. Fidelia vulnera amantis (Essays Presented to Charles Williams, xi).
The Latin phrase Lewis slid in at the end of that part of this eulogy is perhaps best translated as, “the wounds of a lover are faithful” (or, loosely, “lovers are vulnerable to one another”). Williams’ ability to play with the authors he read came from a deep well of respect, and we see that respect Lewis has for Williams. Anyone who wants to understand The Four Loves needs to read this preface. Anyone who wants to read the work of a rebunker (and remythologizer) should turn to Williams’ strange thrillers from the 1930s-40s. “Rebunking” might be the best name for the genre that holds all of Williams’ disparate works together.