Terry Lindvall’s Heavy Treatment of a Light Topic: A Review of Surprised by Laughter

Surprised by Laughter Revised & Updated: The Comic World of C.S. LewisSurprised by Laughter Revised & Updated: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis by Terry Lindvall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The word “levity” has two main definitions that we walk around with: a kind of frivolity and something that lacks weight. In an irony that would make the author of The Light Princess proud (George MacDonald), Terry Lindvall’s book on C.S. Lewis and humour is one of the weightiest on my bookshelf. My edition has 455 pages, not including notes and indices. Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis may be about levity, and it is written in a light, joyous, but not frivolous manner, but it is a book with significant gravity.

Quite frankly, it is one of the most serious books on comedy that I have ever read. Lindvall categorically works through literally (and literarily) hundreds of humour references in Lewis‘ catalogue. Called “Heavy Lewis” in his early years in Oxford, Lewis makes a deft conversation partner with some heft on issues of hilarity. Not only is he a mirthful writer, dashing his poetry, academic writing, Christian apologetics, and fantasy with generous helpings of wit and hilarity, but Lewis composed formal satire, wrote satirically in various places, evaluated humour in his literary criticism, included something like a theory of humour in his work, and shaped his entire spiritual life around the concept of Joy. Lewis is precisely the right figure for a study on levity of this density.

Beyond those reasons though, there are two deeper ones that Lindvall draws out and one that I would like to add.

First, Lewis’ literary mentors were George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton. While both were funny writers, Chesterton was a genius of wit, irony, and repartee. Along with some contemporary theory of humour, Chesterton structures Lindvall’s assessment of Lewis’ comedic vision. Lindvall not only emphasized for me the deeply ironical, satirical, and evaluative nature of Chesterton’s prose, but showed how Lewis takes that voice and transforms it into his own. More attention is needed, I think, to Chesterton’s shaping of Lewis’ mind at the deepest levels.

Second, Lewis said of himself that “There’s no sound I like better than adult male laughter.” Lindvall anchors his substantial study of Lewisian buoyancy in Lewis’ life–his life of light and darkness growing up, the self-deprecating nature of his humour, Lewis’ life in love and friendship, Lewis’ profile as a public figure, and his peculiar theory of Joy. Lindvall models how a study can integrate life and letters in productive ways.

To these two points I would add a third–something that is not drawn out by Lindvall but that I think is there, lurking in the text. All of Lewis’ spiritual perspective, I would argue, is shaped in comedic form. Comedy follows a U shape: the descent of downward luck or fortune or adventure and the sudden turn to goodness or light or hope. Lewis’ conversion is one of these turns, of course, but Lewis’ entire perspective is patterned after the great U-shaped comedy of all history: the Christ event, where God takes the form of humanity, even that of a slave, and dies upon the cross so that the entire wheel of history turns in Christ’s resurrection and return to heaven. That is Lewis’ pattern, and thus we see in almost everything Lewis ever wrote an ironical, comedic, eucatastrophic, U-shaped perspective that is able to hold together light and darkness, levity and gravity, a real look at the world and a wild abandon to hope.

Professor Terry Lindvall, Virginia Wesleyan University

Critically-speaking I loved the prose in this book, but it is a bit much overall. I think the text could be shorter, though we now have a dense tome of “data” and “analysis” as we do our further work. I took two years to read this book because, frankly, I could only read so much at a time. It is a long book, and though the chapter divisions are generally good, I needed more guidance within the chapters as the text can seem to roll from idea to idea without a linking logic. I also don’t really understand the outline of the text as a whole, but that may be my weakness as a reader. Finally, I know little of theories of humour and felt that this aspect was light in the text–though I think Lindvall is right that Lewis’ humour is typically that of incongruity.

Overall, however, this book is an adipose study on lightness that looks ponderously into the grave subject of levity. It carries its own literary avoirdupois because of the buoyant tone and festive delight in the subject matter. Dr. Terry Lindvall’s Surprised by Laughter is worth reading and available in a cheap Kindle edition for fans and researchers.

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An Update on the 700,000th Hit, or Everybody Needs a Little Time Away

Dear Readers,

With 876 Posts, 6,929 Followers, 15,179 Comments–3,821 of them mine–A Pilgrim in Narnia just passed 700,000 viewers a couple of weeks ago. The stats are pretty good for a blog that hits at a fairly high intellectual level–and after it has been said that blogging is a dead art. The blog has done exactly what I meant it to do, allowing me to test material, hone my craft, and extend my reach. A Pilgrim in Narnia has become a terrifically effective sandbox for playing with ideas about C.S. Lewis, the Inklings, literature, world-building, and theology. It has also allowed me to sharpen my writing skills, though my spelling is still mit and hiss.

And when it comes to the last goal, expanding my network and providing me a platform from which to work as an independent scholar, it has exceeded my best imaginations of what was possible. Without any advertising, no network-growth software, no real focus on design, and no media or celebrity attention, A Pilgrim in Narnia has grown organically over the last 7 years.

The only thing the blog hasn’t done is get me a book deal, land me a major award, provide me an invitation to speak in a warm spot in winter, put me in line for a tenure-track position, or get me a chance to argue about Tolkien with Stephen Colbert.


A Pilgrim in Narnia has grown as I have grown, developing a more academic tone the further I’ve gone into the project, and slaloming back and forth with the questions I am knocking about in my brain. I like that, and I like writing the blog.

And I like readers. Faithful readers and those just passing in for a visit have clicked through to more than 25,000 links to other blogs, websites, writers, and social media. Nice folk have shared this blog on Twitter more than 15,000 times and more than 35,000 times on Facebook–and my ability to track that is pretty limited. Thousands of comments have come in, each one shaping the reader’s experience and the writer’s scope. And many of those readers have become (or began as) guest bloggers, leading to the most popular guest blog series ever, the Inkling and Arthur series from last spring, edited by David Llewellyn Dodds.

All that is pretty cool, but there have been some challenges. I have never been able to get the time to update the platform, for one. I love the header for my topic, but it is more than a wee bit dated. I have refused to monetize–I think that learning and scholarship should be as free as possible–but I have not taken advantage of Amazon accounts or Patreon to get rid of ads on the blog (which I can’t control and might well be offensive). I have also fallen off of reading and commenting on most other blogs, because of a limitation of time. I appreciate you bloggers who still show up, like, share, and reblog my work, and wish I could be more connected.

Ultimately, I have been unsuccessful in being able to control the time this blog takes to research, write, edit, design, moderate, facilitate, and promote. I am at the very last stages of Ph.D. thesis writing. In a few months when someone on an airplane shouts, “this man is having a heart attack, is there a doctor on board?”, I can confidently stand up and provide the dying man with a list of critical tools for reading fantasy literature theologically. As he will no doubt be grateful for.

But for now, my time is incredibly full. So it is time to take a wee break.

Not a total break, just a kit kat break. I have blog posts lined up for the next six weeks or so, including a series of “Throwback Thursday” posts that draws out old material. This is what my break looks like:

  • I will not be engaged on social media like Facebook and Twitter, though I will probably still share things
  • I am turning down all unpaid speaking, teaching, guest blogging, preaching, consultation, editing, writing, podcasting, and reviewing requests until the summer; requests come almost weekly now so I have to take this step
  • I am putting off the “Other Fiction of C.S. Lewis” series until the end of March; more anon
  • I am moving the Planet Narnia series to this fall (a bit awkward, but I have another reason for doing so)
  • I will not be moderating comments on blog posts for the next 6 weeks; this is not really a problem as 90% of comments are from a few dozen intelligent and generous thinkers, but I will miss the dialogue (note: most of you know how to contact me if things go awry)

How can you help? I know you were wondering!

First, if you happen to have a book deal for me, or want to give me a major award, or provide me with an invitation to speak in a warm spot this winter, or you have the ability to put me in line for a tenure-track position, or if you are on Stephen Colbert’s team, you can drop me an email: junkola [at] gmail [dot] com. Oh, and if you are a wealthy patron who wants to support independent scholarship, I’d also take that email.

Since those are sort of superhuman things, for most readers this is where I need help from you:

  • 2019 will be the first year that I (likely) won’t experience growth on the blog. We are still on track to get 150,000 visitors this year, but I expect numbers to soften. If you would be so kind as to share by email, social media, or personal invitation, it would be a blessing. This is especially the case with facebook groups, where I typically find the best conversations (outside of the comments on this blog). I’m not all that fussed with numbers, personally, but they do help independent scholars convince editors and committees their work is worthwhile.
  • Is there an older blog post that you liked that you think could use a new audience? Let me know in the comments here (or email me).
  • I have 2 or 3 guest blog spots open for March if you are interested (just email me).
  • I have need of beta readers of my thesis of two types. First, I could use critical readers for logic, flow, and scholarly conversation. Second, I could use bright readers who have an attention to detail (either grammar or format).

Besides a magic focus fairy, or a Gandalfian mentor with magical editing abilities at my elbow, these are things that I could use in this season.

Asking for help is tough, and so is taking a break. I have worked here for years with no supporting institution, no patronage, no grants, and absolutely no income for the blog (or for most of my writing). I have taught more than 80 courses in the last 13 years, and have only twice received a short-term contract at full pay–and have never received medical insurance or other benefits. I am in year 6 of an unfunded, full-cost Ph.D., and I am still very much in the midst of it. The statistics at the top of this post make these numbers look pale, but there is a weariness that sets in from longterm overwork combined with insistent poverty. So a breath, now, while I can.

Most of the Ph.D. student bloggers I know have had to stop, so I hope that this shift gives me space to breathe so I can begin a new life as A Pilgrim in Narnia later this year. Readers will be pleased to know there is a book in the works for late 2020 or early 2021, and I am looking to do some travelling (and hopefully some speaking) in spring-summer of 2020. There is more ahead, but long ago Bilbo warned us of the danger of pilgrimage:

“It’s a dangerous business … going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Hopefully, this move steadies me a bit! Everybody does need a little time away, apparently, so I leave you with Chicago. Boy, they can write a break-up song, but I am pleased that this isn’t a break-up post! I’d love to hear from you before I slide into the ether, so leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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Narnia’s Lost Poet and C.S. Lewis’ Lost Biographer: A Further Note on A.N. Wilson

Last Monday I produced a review that was a bit tetchy (despite my own apparently hypocritical protestation that I don’t write bad book reviews). Therein I used a big sophisticated word that I clearly didn’t know (“coy”), and tried to highlight some strong features in A.N. Wilson’s work. Overall, I argued that Wilson is selling us a biography but really providing a mythology of an Oxonian literary historian of note who became known for apologetics, controversy, and Narnia.

My review is out of step with scholars of Lewis only in that it offers some positive things.

I should note, though, that outside the relatively tight fellowship of Lewis critics there are smart readers of Wilson’s biography that appreciated the iconoclastic yet appreciative tone of the book. I suspect that Wilson’s Lewis book was the strongest selling one until Alister McGrathAlister McGrath’s 2013 critical biography. By contrast, Lewis biographers tend to write much more positive, cozy books that are often described as hagiography or even idolatry. If you are curious about the conversation, check out Samuel Joeckel’s The C.S. Lewis Phenomenon: Christianity and the Public Sphere (2013), especially ch. 11.

Because of great A Pilgrim in Narnia readers, I have been led on to a couple more A.N. Wilson resources. One of these is a documentary, “Narnia’s Lost Poet: The Secret Lives and Loves of C.S. Lewis,” produced for the BBC. Despite the lurid subtitle and the curious title–lost how? lost where?–it is a pretty good documentary overall. Wilson is a bit goofy at moments, and the filmmakers were tempted to presume more drama than I feel in watching at times. However, the film is visually tight and well-scripted, using A.N. Wilson as a well-connected clubable guide to an hour with the main points of C.S. Lewis’ life and influence. Most of Wilson’s controversial biographical choices are missing from the film, but he allows a couple of those points to sneak in. He ends up being most frustrating in this piece for what he leaves out. For example, he says that Narnia has evocative medieval elements, but he doesn’t really tell us what they are. Given his knowledge and history, I would love more content packed within this pretty piece.

I’ve included the documentary below because it is worth watching. But in looking to see if the audio of Wilson’s C.S. Lewis was available at audible.com (it’s not), I found a shorter book of his, The Man Behind Narnia (2013). This little (3.5 hours/70 pages) book is a lot of fun to read.

Wilson doubles down on most of the controversial aspects of C.S. Lewis’ biography, but the book is not about C.S. Lewis. Critically, The Man Behind Narnia is about Wilson’s relationship with Lewis, and is, therefore, a very engaging read and a worthwhile journey of words. There is a touch of bosh in the Lewis bio bits, but I still very much enjoyed reading (by audio) this companion volume to a documentary of 2013.

I am writing this follow-up post for a few reasons.

First, the documentary and companion volume are worth reading for fans of C.S. Lewis who can forgive a couple of gaps. Wilson’s experience of reading Lewis, of returning to the church, and of fighting with his own demons is quite moving and sometimes funny or heartwarming.  Also, because Wilson is such a critic of Lewis, he can get away a chapter entitled “A Really, Really Good Man.” Honestly, it is such an audacious claim–that Lewis was a personally honourable, ethical, and “good” person–in today’s world of scholarship. I would not do it but would leave that conclusion to my readers. Yet Wilson’s ironical wit and loss of pretence of distance disarm me, so I took the chapter well.

And for $2, the book is a pretty easy purchase.

Second, Wilson admits in The Man Behind Narnia that he did not write the 1990 biography when he was in a personally good place. Honestly, I don’t think that books are dead things. I know he did some revision of the 1990 volume (which I haven’t read), and so I want to be fair to authors admitting growth. On a number of points, Wilson admits that he has changed his views of Lewis’ writing, or made a misstep in the original assessment. I like that, and right or wrong I honour him for doing so.

Third, frankly, I am a bit resistant to (my own) Lewis scholars community that has a tendency to retell the same Lewis stories from the same appreciative perspective over and over again. We also tend to resist anyone who resists or criticizes Lewis. I don’t know that Wilson always gets Lewis, but intellectual honesty requires us to widen our conversation a bit.

I know that people might be annoyed by today’s post, but I was honestly a little ill about how well received my last week’s negative review was received in discussion boards and facebook groups. The leap to crucify A.N. Wilson–or John Beversluis, David Holbrook, Kathryn Lindskoog or Walter Hooper–disturbs me at a deep level. I will not do it. So this post is a bit of resistance to all the nice people that said “huzzah!” when I slagged Wilson.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it does make me feel better.

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TOLKIEN, the Teaser Trailer: A New Biopic by Fox Searchlight (Friday Feature)

There has been buzz about this for a few months now, and really years of wondering and wandering on Hollywood-quality biopic of Tolkien. Fox Searchlight has picked up the idea and has finally announced a release date of May 10th. Jeepers, I’m guessing five years or more since this was announced and we started speculating about it–at least since the Hobbit films were rolling out. Now we have a teaser trailer that shows some skill. It can’t answer the question yet of whether they will get J.R.R. Tolkien on the deeper levels, but it will no doubt create some buzz. I’ll probably have to travel to a different province to see this, but you big city folk should have a chance to get in line in 3 months! Fingers crossed.

TOLKIEN explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school. This takes him into the outbreak of World War I, which threatens to tear the “fellowship” apart. All of these experiences would inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-Earth novels.

Only In Theaters May 10, 2019

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The Mystery of Love and C.S. Lewis’ Morning Song

C.S. Lewis’ love story with poet and author Joy Davidman has been made famous by Lewis biographers and, especially, the stage production and film, Shadowlands. Abigail Santamaria’s fairly recent biography of Davidman, Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis–which I have reviewed here–goes some distance in helping us see the story from another angle. Some biographies tell the story well, but there are hints of sexism and peculiar judgments of Lewis and Davidman sprinkled through the literature. Frankly, it gets weird sometimes, and we must admit that although Lewis was a leading Christian figure his lifestyle choices were pretty controversial. For 30 years he lived with a woman and after publishing Narnia and Mere Christianity, married a divorced American poet. It will always be a story that required a deft hand in telling.

The details are fairly well known. And yet, there will always be, I think, something of a mystery about the story of how these penpals met, became friends, married to avoid deportation, and then fell in love just when it was clear they couldn’t be together long. I like that there is mystery–a story that goes deeper than my own curiosity as a scholar and reader.

C.S. Lewis shared very little of his own love affair while it was happening, except to certain friends. When Davidman was in deepest pain or suffering, he reached out to letter-friends for prayer. But he was very private in his relationship, at least to those outside Oxford. And when Joy finally passed away, Lewis even used a pseudonym for his memoir of loss, A Grief Observed.

One of the beautiful things about historical and biographical work, though, is that the mystery can take unseen turns. One of these twists in the story is a poem, “Aubade,” published for the first time in 2015 by editor Don King in The Collected Poems of C.S. Lewis. “Aubade” is based on a copy found in an archive, and is part of a 12 Jul 1957 unpublished letter to Lewis’ longtime friend, Owen Barfield.

An aubade is a morning poem, where lovers take a parting glimpse at one another as the dawn breaks into the room. In the summer of 1957, after Joy was taken home from the hospital after their Christian marriage blessing, Lewis wrote an aubade to his surprising love. Normal to the genre, Lewis attends to his partner’s body. But this gaze is, of course, different, for Davidman’s body is betraying her–betraying them both now that they are a union of two. Yet, Lewis finds a completeness in her body, a sexual something that evokes youth. No, it is not the classic poem that John Donne’s “The Sun Rising” has become–I love few poems as much as this one–but I do think this is an evocative piece that adds a little bit more to the mystery.

“Aubade” by C.S. Lewis (1957)

Somehow it’s strange discovering, dear,
That your given body has complete
As any woman’s has, those sweet
And private things on which (too many a year)
Youth’s casual act or more persistent thought
Unwearyingly, wearisomely, wrought;

As if, now raised to wealth, some boy
Who had tossed, and begged for, grimy pennies,
Allowed to bathe wrist-deep in guineas
Incredulous arms, should feel amid such joy
Some wonder that even these, so bright, clean, new
Were round and clinked and were a Queen’s head too.

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A.N. Wilson’s C.S. Lewis: A Mythology

C.S. Lewis: A BiographyC.S. Lewis: A Biography by A.N. Wilson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If this were a drinking party instead of a book, A.N. Wilson‘s C.S. Lewis: A Biography would be a five-star story. Humorous, light in tone, deftly written, the life of C.S. Lewis told here is engaging, moving, and poignant. Unfortunately, this was not a night around the dinner table, picking and eating and drinking and talking about this Oxford don that our new friend Wilson had met one time. It is a book that purports to be a biography but has the unfortunate condition of not being terribly accurate.

You can see a list of errata by Kathryn Lindskoog here. The list is as telling about C.S. Lewis studies as it is about Wilson’s work. Many Lewis fans will have rejected the book because it has damning or lurid things in it, and because it drifts toward the Freudian, psychoanalytic view of history. I don’t reject it out of hand for these reasons provided there can be sufficient evidence that the author can bring us truthfully into the history of the moment.

Wilson’s smoking jacket old boys club approach to biographical approach to storytelling, though, left me with no confidence whatsoever that I could either trust his account where biographers differ, or that I could test his hypothesis. The errata is part of it. Even when you take out the protectionistic and interpretive bits, there are simply dozens of errors. As Arend Smilde coyly noted in his much more complete review of the book,

“Wilson might have been practising a kind of biography which is legitimate in its own way but which I have not yet learnt to appreciate” (see here).

I will surmise what that technique is below, but we should watch as Smilde goes on to list pages of errors that we can divide into rough categories: 1) error of fact due to sloppiness; 2) error of interpretation due to uncareful weighing of evidence; 3) concerns or errors due to the fact that Wilson’s evidence is based on hearsay, gossip, or private conversations not open to historical testing; and 4) places where Wilson just simply seems bent against a sensible or evidence-based interpretation.

These categories are a bit puzzling to me as I have read Wilson’s biographies on St. Paul and Tolstoy. I enjoyed Tolstoy, though I know almost nothing about the figure. I have done a masters degree on Paul, however, and that book made me angry at times. As scholars we make biographical and historical choices based on the best of our reading, and hopefully keep checking our biases. Wilson’s bio of Paul simply slalomed through, grabbing the best interpretation from scholars to suit his purposes. It was a frustrating read, but what makes his bio of Lewis so different is that the Paul bio was pretty well researched for a popular biographer’s work. This Lewis biography was not well researched, leaving out the most important biography of the generation: Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis by George Sayer, Lewis’ student and friend. This makes me wonder if Wilson’s Lewis book is a bit of a gap in his must stronger (though still controversial) work.

I won’t repeat the errors in the text–not simply because others have done that with startling attention to detail, but also because I just really enjoyed reading this book. To be fair, this was my “jammed between the seats of the car to read while I’m waiting for things book” book. It is a special category of book, made up of a soft-cover text that can hold a pencil, about 300-350 pages so it sits nicely between the seats, one that I can both hold the story together in my head and one I don’t mind taking 2 or 3 years to read. Because I read it in such small segments, and because my expectations were low, I never got really angry at any one point. It was an entertaining read that filled time in the dentist’s office or the garage or while waiting for the traffic behind the water main break to flow again.

It is not, however, the first or last biography of C.S. Lewis anyone should read. That is, of course, if you are thinking of history. Wilson himself admits as much to the reader after more than 300 pages that

C. S. Lewis has become a mythological figure, and it has therefore seemed legitimate to some to retell his story without too much regard for empirical evidence, just as poets have told and retold the tales of Greek or Norse mythology (306).

by C.S. LewisAnd that’s it, right there. This is a four-star or five-star mythology, but a pretty poor biography. I love mythology, but I think A.N. Wilson is being unjust to readers who buy his book and has got the work of an amateur mythographer where they expected the work of a professional biographer.

To honour the late-night story feeling of the book, though, I think sharing a few points worth pondering when we are feeling speculative could be fun (or infuriating):

“Most of Lewis’s important experiences were, in fact, literary ones” (44, is this true? Perhaps not, but a great quote).

“How much is the bookish man distinguishable from his imagined self, the self he projects into the books he reads?” (45, note, Wilson uses “project” a lot this good, at least a half-dozen times to pose this question, unfortunately not doing the historical work to answer it; at least as many times Wilson suggests Lewis is obssessed with one thing or another).

“It has become customary for those who write about Lewis to speak of his fondness for Mrs Moore and the domestic routines in which she involved him as a tyranny which he endured with a martyr’s patience. Almost any domestic routine which involves more than one person can be viewed in this light; and it is unquestionable that Mrs Moore was a demanding companion whose desire for Lewis to be involved in the smallest detail of her life did not diminish with the years. But though she may have given him more than he bargained for, it would be unfair to her memory to deny that she was providing something which he very much needed and wanted” (72, there really is a villainization of Mrs. Moore in some circles, largely because of Warren Lewis’ feelings about her).

“The feeling abroad was that English was not really a man’s subject – more suitable for girls. It was too nebulous in its intellectual range. Criticism as a pseudo-science had scarcely begun and when it did so, in other universities, it was not welcomed at Oxford. English Literature was studied there, in Lewis’s time as an undergraduate, from a relentlessly philological and historical point of view” (76, so reading is a girls game, words a boys one).

“Tolkien was by temperament a very different man from Lewis. He could be touchy and irritable; Lewis could be brash and tactless. There was a touch of elfish melancholy, as well as of delicacy, in Tolkien which would never respond to the broader outlines of Lewis’s essentially sunny disposition. Lewis would not have guessed that Tolkien’s Lay would remain unfinished. It must have seemed clear to him at once that Tolkien was a man of literary genius, and this fact only brought home to him his own sense of failure as a writer. ‘From the age of sixteen onwards, I had one single ambition, from which I never wavered, in the prosecution of which I spent every ounce I could, on which I really and deliberately staked my whole contentment; and I recognise myself as having unmistakeably failed in it.’9 He knew that as yet the appropriate style eluded him. He knew neither what to write nor how to write it. In Tolkien, by huge contrast, he met a man whose style had been with him from the beginning” (119).

“Like many sexually naive people, Lewis supposed that if he eliminated the consciously erotic elements of his sexuality from the surface of life, he would be able to dispel the habits and characteristics of which these particular tastes were a mere symptom. Perhaps if he had worried less about them, and taken a less self-reproachful line, the outlines of his personality would have softened with the years. Perhaps, too, if they had known about his ‘tastes’, his friends would have been less puzzled by two of his most mysterious personality traits: his delight in verbal bullying, of students or intellectual opponents, and his apparently cheerful domestic enslavement to Mrs Moore” (129).

The Discarded Image is a book which was written by a man with an unusual sensitivity to the differences between past and present. The men and women of the past saw the same physical universe that we did, but their way of seeing it was quite different; their way of describing it in written form more different still. This does not mean that the old books can provide us with no concrete evidence from the past, but it does mean that old books must be read with delicacy; with a sense that if we go blundering into them, assuming that they mean what we mean by words like sky, earth, history or nature we shall get everything wrong. If we read the book in their way – whether we are reading Dante, or Chaucer, or Isadore of Seville – we will get something from it. The more we soak up their way of looking at things, their method of understanding, the more we shall get. Read it in our way and we shall merely be, as Lewis says in the preface to The Discarded Image, like ‘travellers who carry their resolute Englishry with them all over the Continent, mix only with other English tourists, enjoy all they see for its “quaintness” and have no wish to realise what those ways of life, those churches, those vineyards mean to the natives’.15 As an apologist, he seems totally blind to the fact that the New Testament is just such a collection of old books, which require, if we are to understand them aright, patience and a willingness to listen to scholars who have meditated for a long time on the nature of the (often quite puzzling and contradictory) material which they contain” (164).

“Lewis never lost his schoolboyish sense of wonder and enjoyment. It is what makes him such a refreshing literary historian” (173).

“To the comedy of such pen-portraits (and Screwtape, it has to be admitted, is a cruel book), is added moral wisdom and a developing religious vision. Lewis is extremely good at describing the actual territory in which the moral life, for most of us, is thrashed out, and the extent to which we enable ourselves to be deluded about ourselves and other people” (177).

“It is not whimsical to say that Narnia is the inside of Lewis’s mind, peopled with a rich enjoyment of old books and old stories and the beauties of nature, but always threatened by a terrible sense of loss, of love’s frailty” (221).

“The Experiment [in Criticism] ends with one of the finest paragraphs in the whole Lewis œuvre” (289).

“a taste for Lewis is, in large part, a taste for reading about him. Though it was denied him to become a great poet, he shares with ‘the last Romantics’ a vivid awareness of his own consciousness, a sense that the chief end of writing is to communicate sensation and experience” (290).

Lewis “himself as a writer is so constantly accessible and interesting because he is unashamed of the story-telling element in all literary modes” (291).

“Physical extinction was a perpetual nightmare to him and, whatever his theological convictions and hopes, he was unable, before his wife’s death, to reconcile himself to the transition which death must inevitably entail” (293, I would love to see evidence of that).

“The disputes between scholars and the guardians of C. S. Lewis’s memory are unedifying, but they reflect something much more than a learned debate or a purely mercenary desire to lay hands on valuable manuscripts. Indeed, despite the claims of cynics, mere would appear to have been very little element of avarice in these wrangles. What was emerging was a profound divergence of imaginative views of rival mythologies” about C.S. Lewis (303-4).

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360° Aerial View of Oxford (Friday Feature)

Oxford is a grand town. You can wander those cobblestone-streets forever, gazing up at the dreaming spires of one of the world’s great centres of learning. I have tried to give readers a flavour of the town as I read Harry Potter or haunted Inklings’ graves on a sunny Friday afternoon. I have visited churches, frequented pubs, held libraries hostage, and hiked the old hill where C.S. Lewis and his family lived, but it is truly difficult to catch the essence of the town with my meagre words and cheap camera.

Recently, though, someone in the Tolkien Society shared a BBC Oxford video that can change our point of view. It is an aerial photograph that gives a 360° view of Oxford. WordPress won’t load the interactive photo, but if you click through to facebook you can see the picture. Scrolling over with your mouse will let you explore various sites of Oxford, but it is even cooler with your phone or tablet, as the camera rolls as you do.

When we do finally get to visit Oxford, we spend so much of our time with necks craned upward looking at the sites. With this facebook post, we can finally look down on Oxford town.

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