C.S. Lewis, Gender, and The Four Loves: An Open Class (Tues, Sep 17, 7pm Eastern)

C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves is a book that is building in popularity. My original review of the book 8 years ago remains one of the top posts on this blog, and I have returned to the ideas again and again. I still think he says some important and powerful things about friendship, and I think his main thesis is right, that agape love–divine, unconditional love–fills out, lifts up, and perfects all other kinds of natural love.

While there are limitations to the book–it really is a pretty ad hoc exploration of ideas, an expansion of a lecture series and the fruit of a couple of decades of thought–I like the use of different kinds of love enough to build a literature class around it. This fall I am teaching at Signum University a class called “C.S. Lewis and Mythologies of Love and Sex.” In this masters-level course, I use C.S. Lewis’ concept of four loves to structure a course about the great myths at the foundation of our culture. Ranging from the ancient world until now, these are the moments where stories of friendship, love, sex, marriage, fidelity, and devotion have intersected with the hinges of history. With great students and a strong reading list (see below), it has already promised to be a great semester.

But there are clearly some limitations in the course. One is the deeply Christian nature of The Four Loves. Students from other traditions and with other worldviews will need to do some adjusting to get value out of the book. Another point is that Lewis makes some comments about gender and sexuality–including homosexuality and marriage–that sound strange or even troublesome to today’s ears. Yet it is a uniquely situated book, written not long after Lewis had fallen in love, and written in conversation with Joy Davidman.

There is no area of Lewis’ life and thought that is more scrutinized than that of gender and sexuality. Yet the conversation is worth having. So we are opening up the Signum classroom a little wider this coming Tuesday, inviting you to join us for a discussion about Lewis & Gender. As a Lewis scholar, I can speak to his lifetime of thought on the matter; as Lewis readers, you can bring your own questions, critiques, and curiosities. I also think that this discussion can make us sharper as readers and challenge our own assumptions (i.e., biases) when we read.

The discussion is open and free, Tues, Sep 17, 7pm Eastern. You can sign up here. I’ve left details about the class below, for those interested.

About Signum University

Signum University believes education should be accessible, dynamic, and affordable. Signum is committed to establishing a completely virtual campus that will cultivate fruitful intellectual exchange between students and teachers, prolific vocational growth for our staff, and a vibrant academic community among our students.

Signum University and Mythgard Institute offer a unique digital campus environment in which students all over the world can engage throughout the course. Each class encourages rigorous academic conversation through multiple points of instruction and dialogue. Classes are available as part of the MA program, or as an inexpensive audit.

  • The Signum Classroom provides a convenient interface for live, direct interaction with instructors
  • A Class Forum provides a place for students and instructors to hold in-depth conversations about class-related topics
  • Discussion Sections offer a moderated setting where M.A. students can talk with each other on a weekly basis
  • Lecturer and preceptor Office Hours allow further conference opportunities to ask questions, clarify ideas, and present paper topics

C.S. Lewis and Mythologies of Love and Sex (Fall 2019): Course Description

Taught by Brenton Dickieson

This course explores some of the great mythologies of love that provide a background to today’s culture. Sketched out along the twin paths of C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves and a chronological development of the idea of romantic love, we explore foundational stories of love, sex, fidelity and betrayal, romance, loss, marriage, and divine and devotional love.

This treatment of love and sex has six movements. In the prologue we ask questions about the conversations of sex and love today, we begin in the civilizational nursery by looking at some of the ideas of love in ancient Mediterranean cultures. As we move into the first chapter, we look at the emergence of Greek and Jewish understanding of love, and the Christian idea of agape, or unconditional love.

In the second chapter, we will see the development—and in some cases a recovery—of the myth of romantic love in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, including themes of devotional, courtly, forbidden, and erotic loves, as well as the forms of storytelling that blended them all. Once love stories have shed their allegorical undertones, Shakespeare is an accessible starting point to discuss the place of romantic love in culture. Shakespeare is in this way the inventor of the modern romantic tradition, though his work suggests an inversion of that tradition. While Goethe captures romantic love in all its poignancy, we see Jane Austen’s inversive mind expand the theme, and turn to the four loves with a powerful cultural treatment in Pride & Prejudice.

In chapter three we turn to familial loves. Perhaps no more rapid change in relationships has come in the family loves, particularly those between parents and children. We will read pieces that suggest that the reassertion of this parental love makes for new problems as romantic, religious, and vocational love sit in uncomfortable tension with that earliest of all loves. Problematizing parental love, then, serves as an opportunity to return to the messages and stories of love in culture today.

Chapter four’s consideration of friendship love leaves us in a difficult situation. Though popular culture is beset with friends on facebook and television, the deep traditions of friendship are largely lost to us. So we turn to some children’s literature to discuss this almost forgotten love.

As an epilogue to the class, we ask some questions about love and culture today. Are we really in a renewed romanticism? What is love in a digital age? What happens when love fails—or when the mythologies of love fail? Which is the most important of the loves? We will close by returning to an ancient theme of “calling,” meant to open questions as to where the reader sits in the world.

Course Schedule

Prologue: Who Did Write the Book of Love?

Week 1: “Art is a Lie Which Makes us Realize the Truth”

    • Read: Tolkien, “Mythopoeia,” Genesis 1 – 3, Lewis, The Four Loves
    • Watch: The Princess Bride
    • Recommended: Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” Lady in the Water Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, 1980s Brat Pack films

Week 2: Introduction to Love, Religion, and Mythology

    • Read: Song of Solomon; Lewis, The Four Loves
    • Recommended: The Epic of Gilgamesh; Homer, The IliadThe Odyssey; the Cupid and Psyche cycle in Books 4 – 6 of The Golden Ass

Chapter One: The Emergence of Agape

Week 3: Greek and Christian Inventions of Love

Chapter Two: The Establishment (and Inversion?) of Eros

Week 4: Form, Flesh and Fidelity: The Art of Courtly Love

    • Read: Selections from The Letters of Abelard & Héloïse; Patristic and Medieval Writings handout; Selections from Lewis, The Allegory of Love
    • Recommended: Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur; Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love

Week 5: Shakespeare: The Invention (and Inversion?) of Romantic Love

    • Read: Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Sonnets handout
    • Recommended: Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet

Week 6: Goethe and the Romantic Tradition

    • Read: The Sorrows of Young Werther
    • Recommended: Orlando

Week 7: Jane Austen and the Change of the Heart

Chapter Three: The Problem of Storge

Week 8: The Forbidden Love of Asher Lev

    • Read: Potok, My Name is Asher Lev

Week 9: When Love is No Better than Hate

Chapter Four: Can We Recover Philia?

Week 11: Where did Friendship Go?

HarperCollins Signature EditionEpilogue: Love and the Cosmos

Week 12: Plastic Bodies and Broken Hearts: Myths of Love Today

    • Read: Coelho, The Alchemist
    • Watch: Lars and the Real GirlEasy A
    • Recommended: Lewis, A Grief Observed


Most of these books are widely available in local libraries or in inexpensive editions. Any edition of the books is fine. Translation in parentheses; it is okay to choose a different translation. In some cases, handouts will be provided in class, as noted below.

We’ve linked to free online resources where possible. Where no legally free version is available, links point to the Amazon page where a copy of the text may be purchased. Purchases made through these links help Signum University at no additional cost to you.

Required Texts

Required Films

Suggested Works

Note: Course schedules, texts and other details are subject to change. Upon enrolling, students should refer to the syllabus and Moodle course page for the most current information.

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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5 Responses to C.S. Lewis, Gender, and The Four Loves: An Open Class (Tues, Sep 17, 7pm Eastern)

  1. k8neville says:

    I wish I had the time to take this course. The very first for-credit class I took at Signum was Dr. Sturgis’ Harry Potter class. My final paper started out to look at HP in light of Lewis’ Four Loved. It quickly got out of hand, and I was reduced to discussing the importance of Storge in the first three books. I still think HP covers all 4 loves, practically in sequential order. Good luck with the class. It is a great addition to the Signum curriculum.


    • Hi Kate, yes Harry Potter is one of the critical examples I use throughout the course. An interesting thing about the series is that we would be tempted to see motherly love as the critical paradigm of love until we get to the last couple of books. A “theology of love’ in HP would be a good book to write (or read).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sharyn Honor says:

    Thankyou for sharing your efforts and writing for this course it read through the course outlines it looks so interesting, I’m possibly interested in audit class if I have time , but it looks so very good


  3. Pingback: C.S. Lewis’s “To love at all is to be vulnerable” Infographic by Gavin Aung Than | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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