I Passed my Viva!

I am very pleased to announce that I have successfully defended my PhD at the University of Chester! The viva voce was strong, with critical feedback and some verbal sparring. Overall, though, it was a great experience, with some levity and a little fun! I have minor corrections, but I am feeling good about finishing those up well within the time frame this fall.

I want to say “thank you” to so many people, near and far, digital and in real life, friend and foe, teacher and student–so many who have encouraged me, challenged me, and believed that this was a worthwhile cause. Thank you all.

I said the other day that a PhD is a “ten-year ageing app.” Too true. I am weary and remained pressed as the school term is beginning and I have both a publication deadline and a grant deadline this month. I told my son that I was experiencing what Bilbo experienced in the title of ch. 6 of The Hobbit. “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire!” he cried. And then, “oh, right.” In my case, it is not really moving from trouble to trouble, but from life-defining pressure to life-defining pressure–good things, no less as transformative than adventures, and exchanging swords for deadlines. So I may take a few weeks to find my blogging pattern again. As I have said, I am doing some occasional pieces on immigration, and planning a Narnia series in the winter and another L.M. Montgomery series in the spring.

However, until then, many minor deadlines will be missed, many thank you notes will remain unwritten, and many great ideas will remain secreted in locked files. But I do hope to emerge. Meanwhile, here is some information about the thesis, which 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 have some clarifying and precision work to do, but at some point, this 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 to the time I submitted in May, 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 to the point of my defence date
  • 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 have finally finished all the detail work and paperwork 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.

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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61 Responses to I Passed my Viva!

  1. Faith says:

    Congratulations, Brenton! A wonderful and hard-won accomplishment. I hope you have time to celebrate (and to see your family a little more!) even in this “pressed” moment.


  2. pbeall8581@aol.com says:

    Well done! You don’t know me at all – but I’ve been praying for you, the Viva, etc.And for your wife! Do take a break, one or two days, or a full weekend, in the next few weeks – although of course it looks impossible to do so.But would really do you well Patricia Patricia Beall Gavigan


    • Well thank you so much Patricia! That is very much appreciated. Yes, I’m taking the last two weekends of the month off, actually, and another one each in October and November. Time to transition. I do covet the prayers!


  3. danaames says:

    Congratulations! I knew you’d do it 🙂

    Now take a deep breath, and another long walk… then back to the frying pan.



  4. Don Johnson says:

    You are a scholar and a gentleman! Great work.


  5. successbmine says:

    A huge shout of “Congratulations!” to you for your accomplishment. Keep up the good work, Brenton.


  6. robstroud says:

    God has now blessed you with a new tool to use in blessing others and bringing glory to his name.


  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Hurray – congratulations! Any delightful ceremonies in the offing where the conferral of degrees is concerned – or do they keep you in suspense awhile about that? (You look surprisingly well-rested!)


    • Well, maybe we’ll go out for dinner as a family. Japanese I think! But no, I probably won’t get to graduation. I will get the hood, though.
      I didn’t balance the life of the PhD perfectly well, but I did okay in the last week. I feel pretty good, though a little jet-lagged.


  8. Ken Miller says:

    Congratulations! but not a big surprise. It sounds like you have enough going on that you might well miss the “after dissertation depression”. It was quite severe for me as all I had to do was to fall back to the routine of full time graduate school teaching. Days long gone, but remembered.

    Great job! Kenny Miller

    Sent from my iPhone



  9. Kent says:

    ᚳᚩᛝᚱᚪᛏᚢᛚᚪᛏᛇᚩᚾᛋ (“congratulations” in Anglo-Saxon runic letters)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. akfinch47 says:


    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dorothea says:

    I think it’s less out of the frying pan, into the fire, but rather the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another (the adventure seems far from over). Congratulations, Brenton! You are an inspiration to me as I head into the (hopefully) last year of the process myself.


    • You may be right, Dorothea! I probably should chapterize my life more often, really. I don’t allow enough time to fold down th e page and start again the next day.
      I think we both were in England this year. Seems your trip was good?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dorothea says:

        It was very good… I guess being an English lit person yourself, you would understand just what it means to be in the places one’s beloved authors were. It’s sentimental and not integral to the experience of the literature, sure, but it does add a new dimension. From your blog, I think yours was good, too!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. river42song says:

    Congratulations for a job well done! We appreciate all you do.


  13. salooper57 says:

    Congrats. I’m eager to read “The Great Story on Which the Plot Turns.” Sounds terrific.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Laura Selinsky says:

    Congratulations- Now go and rest on your laurels for a bit!


  15. hatrack4 says:

    Congratulations, again. I know that is a load off your shoulders, even though it means more work in the short term.


  16. H.P. says:

    Congrats! Your prize is . . . more pie.


  17. Fantastic! Well done, Brenton!


  18. sonam@1111 says:

    congratulations Sir, I am also waiting for my final Ph.D. submission, feeling little bore and little tired about the slow and long process of Ph.D. but seeing you and going through your blog, I got some inner strength and inspiration.
    Thank you for sharing your experience and your Thesis.
    congratulations once again
    i am a new blogger here any mistake pardon


  19. May I add my congratulations to the others that you are rightly receiving?


  20. Allyson says:

    So happy to read this posting. Congratulations! Enjoy a well-earned rest. Looking forward to future excerpts from your dissertation.


  21. Charles A Huttar says:

    Congratulations! I’m eager to see the publications that result — sooner or later, but knowing you I’d guess it won’t be long. The abstract itself is appetizing.


  22. David says:

    Another hearty congratulations! It’s hard enough doing postgrad work, but you kept up a deep and busy blog as well. You have much to be proud of!


  23. Mary Baron says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Dickienson,
    Dr. Mary Baron ’73


  24. Congratulations! It’s a great achievement, but I’m sure just a milestone on the way to even greater ones.

    Liked by 1 person

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