Thesis Submitted!

Well, the time has come. Last Thursday, just after noon, I submitted my thesis for a PhD in theology and literature at the University of Chester. I spent the Friday cleaning my digital and actual desk–a task with a few days more ahead–and the weekend with family. But I wanted to take a brief moment to celebrate and share with you why I have been sequestered away for these last few months.

The thesis is titled:

“The Great Story on Which the Plot Turns”:
Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’ Narrative Spiritual Theology

I include the abstract below. I argue that there is an image that was central to C.S. Lewis’ conversion, and that image orients his entire thought process about life. The image is death and resurrection, patterned in the cross as a way that we are to live. When we refocus our lens of reading Lewis upon his vision of spiritual life–rather than, specifically, Lewis as apologist or critic or whatever party people want to align him with–we can see this image not just in his Christian teaching, but in the heart of his fiction and even his approach to literary theory and cultural criticism. It is this idea, I believe, that integrates all of Lewis’ thought.

I will spend the next three months preparing to defend this thesis, and at some point it will be a book–either in a dissertation series, or rewritten for more popular audiences. We will see!

The Deets

  • 73 months since I first registered, though I began “pretending” I was in a PhD in August 2011, which was 2,884 days ago; that means I will have been at this for 8 years when I defend
  • 110,269 words including bibliography and front matter; 99,969 words of body text
  • 279 pages at A4/1.5 space; 348 pages at 8.5×11/2 space
  • 1,334 footnotes; 445 bibliographic entries–92 of which are C.S. Lewis’ materials
  • 6 chapters (I didn’t count the sections) made up of 2,579 paragraphs

The Dedication and the Blog

I will wait until I actually pass the PhD before I share the full dedication, but I wanted to say that I included you readers in my brief dedication. I really have used this blog to test out my ideas, knowing that if I haven’t clarified my ideas in writing them, the audience of book fans, scholars, and students who read this blog would work on my blunt edges. I mention some of the senior scholars in Inklings studies who have reached out to me personally for support, but also this “strange” blog that I write. Some of my colleagues have looked at part or all of the thesis, and I thank them, but then I note some people–some of you–who have read parts or all the thesis:

“the online forum at A Pilgrim in Narnia, which I have used as a thesis sandbox over the years. Others in that community have also read portions or all of this thesis, including David, Yvonne, and Dana—who revealed all of my typographical oddities.”

Thanks so much, folks, for your strong reading and thinking.

I have found it increasingly difficult over the last seven months to multitask–as I have always done well in the past. In the last three months, I have failed to keep up with comment conversations and the many places this blog has been shared in digital forums. At one point, I grew quite impatient and left a conversation in our comment section; other times I am told I sounded grumpy: what were happy and short comments from me, unfortunately came out as brusque or dismissive (I tried to fix the ones I recognized as such, but my apologies to others whom I’m sure I’ve missed). I’ve realized that I have also come to loathe public controversy, and found myself worrying at night about this space. I used to relish in the classroom and dinner table spaces of battle and friendship, but when I can’t see people’s eyeballs I now know that I don’t love it. This experience will shape my writing, I think.

I suspect that this blog space will still be pretty speculative and playful over the summer and early part of the fall term–including some lessons learned from this process. But I think it will settle in again to more familiar patterns. I hope to have a Narnia series in Winter 2020, another L.M. Montgomery series in Spring 2020, and later that year something about a book.

The Outline

The thesis has six chapters. I’ve included the Table of Contents below, and I probably should have split the conclusion, but here’s the outline:

  1. Introduction: Cruciform Spirituality in the Works of C.S. Lewis
  2. Where the Secret of Secrets Lies Hid: C.S. Lewis as Spiritual Theologian
  3. “Die Before You Die”: C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity
  4. The Shape of Cruciformity: Narrative Patterns of the Cross in Lewis’ Fiction and Nonfiction
  5. The Long Shadow of the Cross and the Cruciform Heroic in C.S. Lewis
  6. Conclusion: The Inversive Shape of C.S. Lewis’ Theology of the Cross


This thesis presses in on C.S. Lewis’ extremely diverse corpus to explore his integrative narrative spirituality of the cross. Chapter one argues that attention to the concept of spiritual self-death and resurrection in Lewis is lacking critical treatment despite the spirituality of the cross that I argue is deeply woven into the fabric of Lewis’ poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and letters. This cross-shaped spirituality, what Michael Gorman calls “cruciformity,” is central to Lewis’ understanding of Christian life. Though neglected because of reductive readings of Lewis as an apologist, chapter one surveys occasional notes about this death-and-resurrection motif in Lewis scholarship and provides definitions for methodological approaches to the study. Following definitions of spiritual theology by Eugene Peterson, chapter two turns from systematic theological explorations of Lewis to consider him as a spiritual theologian, a move that is organic to his theological enterprise, his epistemology, and his fiction. Chapter three explores Gorman’s biblical-theological approach to Pauline cruciformity, arguing that there is a six-point Logic of Cruciformity in Lewis’ so-called apologetics writings that moves past and refocuses Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. As Lewis’ spirituality is embedded in narrative form within poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, chapter four explores “The Shape of Cruciformity” in Lewis’ œuvre, using Northrop Frye’s narratology and J.R.R. Tolkien’s theory of eucatastrophe to argue that there is a comedic, U-shaped pattern of cruciform imagery in Lewis’ fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Chapter five interrogates Lewis’ integrative, normative narrative cruciformity with feminist theological critique, provoked by Anna Fisk’s concerns about cross-shaped spiritualities in women’s experiences. A response to this problematisation reveals an inversive quality inherent to Lewis’ thought that is itself U-shaped, comedic, and eucatastrophic. This thesis concludes by exploring this inversive U-shaped thinking central to Lewis’ theological project, arguing that the shape of cruciformity in Lewis is the shape of his spiritual theology. I conclude with “sacred paradoxes” in Lewis’ thought that invite further work and deepen our understanding of Lewis’ concept of spiritual life, thus inviting a prophetic self-critique for Christian believers.

Table of Contents

Abstract          i
Declaration     ii
Table of Contents       iii
Abbreviations vi
Acknowledgements    vii

Ch. 1: Introduction: Cruciform Spirituality in the Works of C.S. Lewis        1

Introduction: Accounting for the Integrative Nature of C.S. Lewis’ Thought 1
Definitions as Methodological Approaches   7
Death is at the Root of the Whole Matter     16
“The Macdonald Conception of Death”         20
A Brief Survey of Lewis’ Theology of the Cross          27

Ch. 2: Where the Secret of Secrets Lies Hid: C.S. Lewis as Spiritual Theologian    34

Introduction   34
An Approach to Spiritual Theology: Eugene Peterson and “Living, living fully and well”            34
C.S. Lewis as Spiritual Theologian      38

Secondary Literature on Lewis and Spirituality         39
Social Thought and a Spirituality of the Cross in Conversation         42
A Tilt of the Head: From Systematic to Spiritual Theology    51
The Great Divorce: Eschatology to Spirituality          53
Lewis’ “Meditation in a Toolshed” as Epistemology 56
Mere Christianity: Lewis’ Emphasis on the Spiritual Life       57

An Experiment in Narnia: From Atonement Theory to Spiritual Theology   64

C.S. Lewis and The Cross Event          64
Aslanic Sacrifice as Imitation Motif    69

Conclusion      75

Ch. 3: “Die Before You Die”: C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity        77

Introduction   77
Michael Gorman as Conversation Partner for C.S. Lewis       77
C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity        80

Mere Christianity: Incarnational Necessity and the Echo of God      80
The Problem of Pain: Lewis’ Six Point Logic of Cruciformity 82

Cruciformity in Lewis’ Fiction 89

The Great Divorce (1944-45)  90
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)       93
Till We Have Faces (1956)       98

Conclusion: Clarifying and Moving Past Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ        104

Ch. 4: The Shape of Cruciformity: Narrative Patterns of the Cross in Lewis’ Fiction and Nonfiction           107

Introduction: Recognisable Narrative Patterns of Spirituality          107
Lewis as Imagistic Mythmaker: “It All Began with a Picture” 108
Lewis’ Imagistic Story-making and Frye’s U-Shaped Pattern 111
Dive: U-Shaped Cruciform Imagery in Lewis’ Life and Writing          114
The Fairy Tale Form in Lewis’ Fiction 121

Eucatastrophe and Fairy Tale 121
The Pilgrim’s Regress  124
Narnia 126
That Hideous Strength           128
Descent and Ascent in Planetary Journeys    136

Death Restored to the Baptised Imagination 141
Conclusion: The Zenith of the Cosmic Story  150

Ch. 5: The Long Shadow of the Cross and the Cruciform Heroic in C.S. Lewis        155

Introduction: A Black and Scarlet Cord: Violence and Death in the Shadowlands   155
The Long Shadow of the Cross: A Feminist Critique of Crucicentric Spirituality       160

Approaches to Feminist Christologies           160
Anna Fisk and Images of the Cross     164

Kath Filmer and the First Generation of Critics on Lewis and Women          170
Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen and the Second Generation of Lewis Gender Critics    178
Integrative Cruciformity and Inversive Qualities in Lewis’ Life and Work     183

Ann Loades and Lewis’ Christological Inversion        183
Inversive Cruciform Elements in The Four Loves and A Grief Observed       184
The Cruciform Principle and A Severe Mercy 187
Lewis’ Deepening Cruciform Inversion of Hierarchy in Love 192

Monika Hilder and the Lewisian Spiritual “Feminine” Heroic           194
Lewis as Conversation Partner in a Cruciform Spirituality of Sex and Gender          199

Ch. 6: Conclusion: The Inversive Shape of C.S. Lewis’ Theology of the Cross         202

Introduction: The Shape of Lewis’ Spiritual Theology           202
Comedy, Satire, and Ironic Inversion in Lewis’ Work 204
The Screwtape Letters as Moral Inversion    208
Comedy and Inversive Thinking         213
“As High as My Spirit, As Small as My Stature”: C.S. Lewis’ Theology of the Small   214
Criticism as Conversion: Active Surrender in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology 224

C.S. Lewis’ Experiment in Criticism    226
On A Grief Observed  229

Sacred Paradoxes: Limitations and Invitations to Further Work       232

Bibliography   243

C.S. Lewis Bibliography          243
Secondary Source Bibliography         247
Primary Sources and Archival Material          271


About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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39 Responses to Thesis Submitted!

  1. Laura Selinsky says:

    Congratulations! Having watched (and edited) as my husband and both our adult children took this path, I know how much time and heartache make up a doctoral thesis. You should be so proud.


  2. louloureads says:

    Congratulations and well done! I defended last year and am just waiting for my final corrections to be approved – hopefully in the next day or two. I remember feeling quite disorientated for a few days after I submitted – my brain took a little while to adjust to the idea that I didn’t have to be thinking about skin and statistics 24/7 any more. It’s such a long haul, but it’s so worth it once it’s done! Will your thesis be deposited online anywhere? There are several sections I would be really interested in reading.


  3. Congrats, Professor! That is so wonderful – what an achievement! I was disappointed when I heard the Signum was only to be 30 pages – I wanted something more like a book length being the research nut and scribe that I am. This sounds like an interesting thesis! 🙂

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂


    • Thanks Anne Marie, yes, the MA thesis is meant to be a much more compact and precise research piece, where you make a single argument based on scholarship. Of course, you can make that anything you want after!
      Namarie to you Urendi Malendil!


  4. hannaheag says:

    Hi Brenton,

    So many congratulations! That’s truly an amazing and wonderful moment, and I’m so glad to hear of it.

    Hannah (Interim Associate Director, InterVarsity Emerging Scholars Network)



  5. Stellar! I’m so very interested in your work. I’ve got no academic cred behind my name, but for the wonder of minds- people who share and cause thinking deeply – I am most grateful. I can not wait to read this. All the very best Brenton. Joy and rest and much Love in the days ahead

    Liked by 1 person

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Hurrah! Congratulations – well done! Best wishes for the rest of cleaning your digital and actual desk, and preparing to defend this thesis (whew)! Your multitasking is always amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A Writer says:

    Congratulations! I just finished the first year of my PhD and am beginning to understand how much work the thesis/dissertation is. It looks like a fascinating topic and I’m looking forward to hearing more about it in the future. I’m sure it must feel great to be done.


  8. robstroud says:

    It’s about time!

    Seriously, congratulations, brother.


  9. Yewtree says:

    Really happy for you, and hope you will turn it into a popular book (and leave in the bits about atonement theology that had to be edited out for lack of space).


  10. Dorothea says:

    Congratulations Brenton! A huge accomplishment and well-understandable if keeping up with blog comments was a challenge at times. Best of luck in the viva preparation and getting back some semblance of a normal life… sounds like you have a few small things lined up to fill the gap this leaves behind


  11. Kevin Cloud says:

    Congrats this is a huge accomplishment! Hey I’m trying to get in touch with you because I’m working on my second book on creativity and faith. I’m wanting to do a section on Tolkien and the criticism he faced (both external and internal). I came across your blog post about Tolkien’s self-doubt and would love to interview you to learn more. You can find me on my website ( and you can connect with me there. Hope we can have a conversation about this!

    Kevin Cloud


  12. Congratulations! There is a phenomenal amount of work involved in a PhD! Good on you for finishing it and all the best for your viva.


  13. hannahdemiranda3 says:

    Congratulations! Inspiration for your preparations to defend it!


  14. Congratulations! Eight years is a lot of work!


  15. Well done, mate! I hope you can take a bit of a vacation to delight in the completion of your thesis. Time to smell some roses… or apple blossoms… or go frolicking with Dryads? 🙂


  16. Anne Worthwine Anderson says:

    Looking forward to reading the book in whatever form it is published! Well done.


  17. Catherine Conners says:

    Congratulations! This is very exciting 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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