Following news that “Tolkien Studies Projects Sweep the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award Shortlist in Inklings Studies,” and on the heels of a series encouraging strong Lewis studies books, I decided to share some of the good and useful Lewis studies books of the last decade that did not get a Mythopoeic Award nomination. I began the “Good C.S. Lewis Studies Books That Did Not Win the Mythopoeic Award” series by talking about various good and excellent studies on C.S. Lewis on Theology, Philosophy, and Spiritual Life, which is the centre of my particular studies these days. I then followed up with a resource-filled post on “C.S. Lewis Biographies.” Today, I will focus on Literary Studies, which include studies on intertextuality, Medieval studies, and focussed book studies.
I have warned you that I would cheat here and there, including books by friends of mine, and some studies that are important and hepful, though they may lack gradeur in other ways. If I am missing something crucial, let me know. I will note that I have not included 2021 books, which are particularly strong in this category. Here are some more good, helpful, interesting, or excellent Lewis (and Lewis-related) lit studies from the last decade that did not win the Mythopoeic award but that any student or committed reader of C.S. Lewis should read.
- Part 1: C.S. Lewis on Theology, Philosophy, and Spiritual Life
- Part 2: C.S. Lewis Biographies
- Insert: Marsha Daigle-Williamson’s Reflecting the Eternal and Dante in the Work of C.S. Lewis, with Thoughts about Intertextuality
- Part 3: Literary Studies on C.S. Lewis
- Part 4: C.S. Lewis Reception Studies
Literary Studies (Including Intertextuality, Medieval Studies, and Book Studies)
Marsha Daigle-Williamson, Reflecting the Eternal: Dante’s Divine Comedy in the Novels of C.S. Lewis (2015)
Dante was, for Lewis, the West’s master poet–a writer with a genius science fiction mind who wrote the most theologically rich and integrated work of the late Middle Ages. As Lewis was a literary historian of Medieval and Renaissance literature, Dante was—and remains for researchers after Lewis—an almost unmatched figure. The most critical tool for reading Dante in and with C.S. Lewis (so far) is the 2015 volume, Reflecting the Eternal: Dante’s Divine Comedy in the Novels of C.S. Lewis by Dr. Marsha Daigle-Williamson. In this late-career major rewriting of her doctoral dissertation, medievalist Daigle-Williamson invites readers to imagine the many obvious and subtle links between Dante’s classic text and C.S. Lewis’ fiction. I have a review essay of Reflecting the Eternal in VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center, which you can find free here, and I have a longer reflective piece as an “insert” to this series–“Marsha Daigle-Williamson’s Reflecting the Eternal and Dante in the Work of C.S. Lewis, with Thoughts about Intertextuality“–on the question of the books we see hidden in other books.
Quite apart from my article in this volume where I first argue that Lewis has a fairly sophisticated understanding of Christology that centres his writing on the spiritual life, I think this little book as a whole has value. First, it includes a number of short, smart pieces that a particularly directed to the ways that Lewis’ “theological imagination” is formative for Christian growth and spiritual vitality. The Narnian pieces by Michael Tutton and David J. Hawkesworth work well as theological introductions to the volume, while the articles by Allen B. Robertson and Gary Thorne represent two visions for Lewis’ imaginative transformations. David Mark Purdy’s genre study on Screwtape is a critical challenge to the field and helps us think about the way we read these demonic letters as spiritual enlightenment. Though we wrote independently, my “’Die Before You Die’: St. Paul’s Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’s Narrative Spirituality” pairs well with Chris Armstrong’s piece on Lewis and the Theologia Germanica. There are reflections on Lewis as a preacher (by Laurence DeWolfe) and the eschatological Lewis (Sarah Layman). Finally, Wayne Smith’s “The Space Between: Observations From the Threshold” is a literary gem with theological creativity. Kudos to Rob Fennel for pulling the volume together and hosting the 2013 conference that gave birth to the idea.
As I mentioned in my discussion with William O’Flaherty and Diana Glyer about the new Tolkien biopic, I think Glyer’s The Company They Keep is one of the most important books on Lewis and the Inklings in this century. It is a book that took decades to complete, offering a rereading of the Inklings by considering the ways that they worked together, wrote together, read with one another, edited one another’s work, offered criticism, and encouraged one another toward writing the books that ended up changing the face of literary history. Glyer is a careful researcher and a lyrical writer, so even in the depth of archival, historical, and literary analysis, we are still in the midst of a story. It was certainly worth its Mythopoeic Award. So I am pleased to cheat a bit. As The Company They Keep is more than a decade old, I can still talk about Bandersnatch, a popular version of the original study that focusses on artistic and writerly collaboration. Indeed, this book reads well with the great books “on writing” or as an artistic self-development text, while getting a great deal of research on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in the mix. And a fun fact is that Lewis scholar Michael Ward reads the audiobook version.
This is a full-on cheat as The Inklings and King Arthur actually won the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies against stunning odds. Quite frankly, Sørina is a remarkably strong editor and pulled together a volume of significance. I’m proud of my piece, “Mixed Metaphors and Hyperlinked Worlds: A Study of Intertextuality in C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Cycle,” which is my most substantial work of literary theory, drawing out Lewis’ methods from his fiction and nonfiction. Quite aside from my piece, The Inklings and King Arthur: J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, & Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain is filled with great chapters on these critical figures from both emerging authors and leading figures like Holly Ordway, Charles A. Huttar, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Suzanne Bray, and Malcolm Guite.
Monika Hilder, The Feminine Ethos in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (2012), The Gender Dance: Ironic Subversion in C.S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy (2013), and Surprised by the Feminine: A Rereading of C.S. Lewis and Gender (2013)
Again, folks might see this as a kind of cheat, lumping three books into a single entry–or a cheat because this trilogy was nominated for a Mythopoeic Award (and deserved a win, I believe). However, while Monika Hilder‘s gender studies work excellently as a resource for scholars as they focus on individual parts of Lewis’ fiction bookshelf, her project is best read together as a trilogy. And as such, the Hilder Trilogy is by far the most important resource in Lewis and Gender research. While Hilder offers an argument about what she calls C.S. Lewis’ “theological feminism,” it is really a gender study. Hilder (rightly, I believe) argues that C.S. Lewis’ fiction challenges and transforms traditional, classical images of the lone, muscular, aggressive masculine hero by presenting heroes and heroines who consistently and surprisingly embody what are traditionally feminine leadership traits. One of the best studies of its kind and deserving of the Mythopoeic award. You can find my long review essay in SEVEN.
Theologian Sharon Jebb’s under-appreciated dissertation is a careful and highly readable study of Beckett’s Three Novels and Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Jebb’s deeply theological study is in conversation with ancient theologians (like Augustine and Teresa of Avila) and contemporary ones (like Charles Taylor and Rowan Williams), offering a cultural theology of the self. Beckett and Lewis are an unusual pairing but a fruitful one. In particular, her analysis of God-knowledge and self-knowledge in Lewis is a significant discovery–even if the study itself is fairly narrow. While this is the oldest volume in our list, I want to mention it because it is too often missed by students and scholars of Lewis and should be on every Till We have Faces bibliography.
Again, a bit of a cheat here. Not only am I a close friend of William’s (and thus not terribly objective), and not only are these popular-level studies rather than academic books, but you are getting a two-for-one. Each of these volumes, though, is an accessible and easy-to-use resource book that, from time to time, I reach for as a scholar. William O’Flaherty‘s guide to The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell, is a handy resource for anyone who wants to study and teach Screwtape on their own. Moving out from a particular book study, The Misquotable C.S. Lewis tackles the phenomenon of internet memes, sermon quotations, and general Lewis wisdom that shows up but is really from another source. As Lewis is so terrifically quotable, his is also terribly misquotable. This book provides a study of 75 “Lewis” quotations that are really from all kinds of sources, including Ryan Seacrest, Anthony Hopkins, Max Lucado, Rick Warren, and, that handy comedian condemned to make Christmas movies for the rest of his life, Tim Allen. Cool and nerdy, listy and not terribly deep, these are two resource books worth a share of your library’s budget.
Though it comes out of a tight, three-lecture series, Splendour in the Dark: C.S. Lewis’s Dymer in His Life and Work is a much fuller volume than most lectureship publications. The volume is actually authored by C.S. Lewis and Jerry Root, as we might imagine, but also by David Downing, Miho Nonaka, Jeffry C. Davis, Mark Lewis, and Walter Hansen. Together, they create a strong, single, forward-facing book for scholars and curious, engaged readers of Lewis’ works who want to explore Dymer more deeply. I quite loved this book as a resource for reading a book–Lewis’ first and only complete long narrative poem–that I am quite attracted to but find quite alien. You can find my longer description, review, and response here.
While Charlie Starr is a friend and writing partner (see our co-written piece on “The Archangel Fragment” in Sehnsucht), I have no concerns about objectivity on this score. Charlie has become a leading C.S. Lewis scholar, particularly on Lewis’ handwriting and, the focus of this book, Lewis’ conception of “myth.” Moreover, I have been critical of Charlie’s work in the past (see here), while still consistently praising his perceptive eye (see the footnotes to my paper here) and publishing his work (see here). Most would not know, but Charlie’s doctoral dissertation, “The Triple Enigma: Fact, Truth, and Myth as the Key to C.S. Lewis’s Epistemological Thinking,” is a study of remarkable philosophical depth and literary capacity–and perhaps the longest study on a single passage in Lewis’ works! The Faun’s Bookshelf is a lighter touch but no less philosophically deft, as it sketches for interested readers Lewis’ multi-level fascination with myth–from being a lover a mythology to his work as a literary critic, Christian public thinker, and the maker of one the 20th-century’s great myths, The Chronicles of Narnia. As we might expect, from Charlie, beyond a study of “meaning” in Lewis, we also have a number of intriguing close readings of things that we might normally pass over–including the book titles on Tumnus’ bookshelf. While this study may lack some of the heft that a Mythopoeic Award nomination might require, and though I would quibble at points, as a literary resource it is critical, accessible, and enjoyable to read. And here is a great interview with Charlie and some of the great folks at the Wade centre.
Again, this is a bit of a cheat as Dr. Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia won the Mythopoeic Award. However, as I think Ward’s project is the most important resource for reading Narnia that has emerged in the new century, it is worth noting this popular-level version of the argument. While one might argue with parts of Ward’s thesis–and I think I am one of Ward’s most vocal critics—Planet Narnia is a great book for providing close readings of Lewis’ greatest works in a literary way that invites us into a deeper understanding of the books behind the Narnian chronicles. For those who want that invitation to reading but in a much more accessible form, The Narnia Code works as a popular version of the Planet Narnia for readers not just of different education levels but also of different ages. My son read this book in middle school and was able to speak knowledgably about different ways to read the Chronicles.
This study is one of a kind–and not surprise, and Kyoko Yuasa is, herself, a surprising scholar. I first heard her work as a scholarly consideration of humour in Lewis, where she suggested certain unusual threads that connected to Lewis and humour. C.S. Lewis and Christian Postmodernism: Word, Image, and Beyond is a rewriting of Yuasa’s PhD thesis under the tutelage of the late Bruce Edwards. Intriguingly, Yuasa plays with postmodernist literary approaches, correctly identifying Lewis as an antimodernist and then recasting him as a Christian postmodernist translating the gospel for contemporary readers. This might seem counter-intuitive to some, and I wish there was a stronger scholarly response to this book, but Yuasa argues that Lewis’ fictional works have ambiguous borders between nonfiction and fiction, as we see in postmodernist literature. However, while postmodernist literature uses micronarratives to deconstruct metanarratives, Lewis’ fiction uses micronarratives to express the Great Story that transcends human understanding. Yuasa’s work is essential for literary approaches to Lewis. Indeed, the Pickwick series includes a number of key texts for study, including Sharon Jebb-Smith’s work noted above, as well as P.H. Brazier’s unusual and thoughtful series on Lewis and theology, Jerry Root’s C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil, and a number of studies I have not read yet (as well as quite a number of Wipf & Stock Lewis studies reprints and small print publications).
Thanks for reading these mini-reviews. If you have literary studies from 2011-2020 that you think I am missing, let me know. Next week will include some “C.S. Lewis Reception Studies.” You can see the three articles composed of a dozen reasons why I think that Lewis scholarship (as a whole) is not as strong as Tolkien scholarship (as a whole):
- Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship? Part 1: Creative Breaks that Inspired Tolkien Readers
- Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship? Part 2: Literary Breadth and Depth
- Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship? Part 3: Other Factors
I followed that up by editing a piece by Connor Salter (see “Lewis and Tolkien among American Evangelicals“), and Connor did a second interesting, though less connected piece: “The Once and Forgotten T.H. White: Lessons from Obscurity.” I also made a resource pack with the hope of transforming readers into better scholars (if they want to make their field stronger: “5 Ways to Find Open Source Academic Research on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings.”