Crystal Downing, Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers (Book Launch, Friday Feature)

I am pleased to share the video of the Book Launch for Crystal Downing’s new book, Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers. Famous detective club novelist, strident correspondent, generation-leading scriptwriter, essayist, lecturer, and controversialist, and the producer of a compelling poetic translation of much of Dante’s Comedy, D.L. Sayers remains such a compelling figure for me. Sayers’ Mind of the Maker is a critical Christian resource for artistry in the last century. And although most will remember Sayers for her Lord Peter Wimsey character, for me it will be the BBC radio play of the Christ story, The Man Born to be King. Or maybe it is her essay, “Are Women Human?” Or perhaps its the sheer literary artistry and pen-sharp comedy of her letters….

In any case, you can see why I am so excited that there is a new book on Dorothy Sayers, and I am excited to dig into it.

Beyond the content, I am pleased that it is Crystal Downing who is giving us this new look at Sayers. You can see her full bio below, but Crystal is the Co-Director of the Wade Center, Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought, and Professor of English. Before publishing this book, she had already received the Barbara Reynolds Award for best Sayers Scholarship and a Kilby Research Grant. I first encountered her work in a pair of books on postmodern critical thought, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith and Changing Signs of Truth (IVP Academic 2006 & 2012)–the first one a little more of a popular introduction, and the latter one a more technical and academic volume. I have signed copies of these books because Crystal and I clicked in 2012 at the Taylor C.S. Lewis & Friends conference, particularly on the questions of how language works, how culture is developing, and how we tell stories these days. Since 2012, Crystal and her Lewis scholar husband David Downing–who share in the Wade centre directorship–have become my dear friends, and I appreciate their work.

Crystal’s first major academic work was on Sayers, Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers (Palgrave 2004). Crystal shared in a recent InklingsFolk Friday chat that the idea of working with Sayers came to her when she was accompanying David on a research trip to the Wade centre a couple of decades ago, and Crystal was attracted to Sayers because she was the only female in the Wade’s catalogue of major authors–the “Seven” that title their academic journal. As she dug into Sayers’ work, Crystal found that there were compelling things to say about Sayers. Moreso, however, Sayers had interesting–indeed, subversive–things to say about faith and culture today, more than a century since Sayers began her writing career. At the Taylor keynote in 2018, Crystal created a beautiful visual presentation on a piece of Sayers’ work in film, and I am excited to see all the links made in this new, critical Sayers volume.

I am told that folks may purchase Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers, signed by Crystal Downing, from the Wade Center with a 10% discount and free shipping in the US. Contact the Wade Center to order your copy (; 630-752-5908 M-F, 9am-1pm CST). You can find the paper or e-copy in fine booksellers anywhere. And here is the video of the Book Launch. Congratulations to Crystal and the Wade Center!

After being named Distinguished Professor of English and Film Studies at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, Crystal Downing accepted a position as Co-Director of the Marion E. Wade Center and co-holder of the Marion E. Wade Chair in Christian Thought at Wheaton College: a position she shares with her husband, David C. Downing. Crystal’s first book, Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers (Palgrave 2004), was granted the Barbara Reynolds Award for best Sayers scholarship in 2009 by the international Dorothy L. Sayers Society. Her next two books, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith and Changing Signs of Truth (IVP Academic 2006 & 2012), explore the relationship between cultural studies and Christianity and continue to be studied by graduate students in seminaries around the world. Crystal’s fourth book, Salvation from Cinema: The Medium Is the Message (Routledge 2016), assesses the field of “religion and film,” encouraging people of faith to acquaint themselves with film theory in order to better understand movies—not only as cultural statements but also as works of art. In addition to her books, Crystal has published nearly eighty essays on topics ranging from the Amish to Jane Austen, and her literary criticism appears in eight critical editions of canonical texts. Delivering nearly fifty juried papers at professional conferences, she has also been invited to serve as a keynote speaker at over thirty conferences in North America and Europe. In her rare leisure time, Crystal enjoys hiking or bicycling through rural countryside, climbing up waterfalls, and exploring distinctive architecture.

Biography taken from Crystal’s Wheaton College faculty page, here.

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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16 Responses to Crystal Downing, Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers (Book Launch, Friday Feature)

  1. Cecilia Zeichner says:

    Many congratulations to Dr. Crystal Downing! I started listening to the Wade Center podcast when they released the “Lost Lewis Tapes.” It was such a treat to hear the recent episode devoted to Crystal’s book—finally she gets an episode all to herself! I am looking forward to hearing more about Sayers through the podcast. Here’s to many more Sayers and Crystal Downing-driven episodes.


  2. Thank you so much for posting this and for introducing me to Crystal Downing. I am so glad that Sayers is still being read. My copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy is her translation (largely as you say) and there are images in her Nine Tailors that are still clear in my memory.


  3. hatrack4 says:

    Great! A new book for my wish list. I have read all the Sayers fiction, of course, loving Lord Peter Wimsey. I need to dig into Sayers herself.


  4. Mel Hughes says:

    I guess I am a subversive too, since the things Sayers said are all things that resonated in me. I put this book on preorder when I first found out about it from Brenton Dickieson’s blog. Haven’t read it yet though, but everything in this brief video had me fairly drooling, so I had the book out and started reading it before the video ended. Now that’s good promotion. 🙂

    I’d like to be included on your mailing list for your next Sayers book, please.


  5. Tom Wills says:

    I look forward to it. Sayers is probably most connected to the Inklings through Charles Williams who introduced her to Dante. Her essay about it in the Inkling’s tome “Letters Presented to Charles Williams” is a joyful read. Years back, I pounced on the opportunity to buy some books from her personal library, including many Charles Williams titles.
    I think her perspective as a woman and her not being so closely associated with (or maybe allowed in the boys club of) the Inklings has allowed her to establish her own unique identity.


    • Yes, excellent. In my head I call that Essays to CW volume an “Inklings between the covers” meeting, because it has some of the INklings, dedicated to CW, and includes Sayers.
      I kind of think she would have both sort of enjoyed Inklings meetings and chuckled at them.


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