5 Affordable Ways to Purchase Digital Books By and About C.S. Lewis

It is true for me that there is no pleasure quite like pulling a book off the shelf, flipping to the first page, and wandering into a new world of ideas or imagination. Whether this is a new adventure or paths often trod, there is something peculiar to the pleasures of a good book. As the shelves groan under the weight of my many, many books, my wife has occasionally wished that I did not find reading so beneficial. Still, she has her own shelves, her own bedside table piles, and her own favourite books–though she is wonderfully good at giving away novels she likes. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful thing to give away a book one loves, and I admire her for it.

Though we were very poor growing up, my family valued books. My library card is perhaps the only card I have never lost. As I kid, I read all I could find–reading that was bolstered by a family and community love of storytelling, my father’s Classic Illustrated comics, and occasional gifts of books of my very own. The Scholastic catalogue and my bottle-collecting money were fast friends in elementary school.

As a scholar of literature, the economic necessity of book-buying never quite leaves me. And though my wife doubts that I have any resistance whatsoever, I can never quite give into the need to purchase books. Whenever I need a new paper book that is not in my library, I check my local bookstores–and have found some great things there. As I find myself reading and rereading many of the same things in the authors that I am studying (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, L.M. Montgomery, Ursula K. Le Guin, the Inklings and the like) I find myself reaching for other ways of reading.

For example, in returning to C.S. Lewis’ early poetry last week, I found Dr. Gordon Greenhill‘s earnest and robust readings of “Clive Hamilton’s” two volumes of pre-Christian poetry. Although I still had the text of Spirits in Bondage in my hands as Gordon read, it brought out new resonances in the lyrical poetry. Last month, when I wanted to reread The Personal Heresy and An Experiment in Criticism–C.S. Lewis’ first and last books of literary theory–I purchased the kindle e-books and was able to export my highlights and annotations. And the timing was good. At one point I was trapped for well over an hour in a doctor’s office waiting room and was able to read half of Lewis’ unusual Experiment on my phone.

As someone who has collected all manner of Lewis materials, then, I thought I would share my discoveries of great places to find Lewis audiobooks and ebooks inexpensively. In e-books, I am speaking mostly to American readers and all prices are in US$, for many of Lewis’ works are out of copyright outside of the US and available online. Plus, I cannot guarantee which of these resources might be available in your country. And with some regret, the Amazon juggernaut features highly in this list–but the connections along the way are excellent, and I encourage you to keep your local bookstore on speed dial. Moreover, the audiobooks, when well done, can be a wonderful discovery of a new way of reading Lewis’ classics or of thinking about Lewis’ works and ideas. Some of these resources are time-bound, but in principle, these five streams will bring you to great Lewis resources.

Chirpbooks

A year or two ago, I subscribed to the Chirpbooks newsletter. A handful of times a month, Chirpbooks offers high-quality and surprisingly relevant audiobooks at extremely low prices. Right now, there is an unusual number of C.S. Lewis books on sale. For example, for $3.99 or less, you can get The Weight of GloryLetters to Malcolm, and various of Lewis’ essay collections, such as Philosophical Thoughts, Some Everyday Thoughts, What Christians Believe, The ChurchThe Christian in the World, and Letters.

Most of Lewis’ other works are reasonably priced at $10-$15 each, and you can find some scholarly and popular works about Lewis as well. For example, through the month of June, Michael Ward’s great books course, “C.S. Lewis: Christology and Cosmology,” is only $5.99–especially of interest for those thinking about Ward’s Planet Narnia thesis.

Kindle E-Book Sales

While this particular resource rotates quickly, I have found that there is almost always one C.S. Lewis book on sale on Amazon in the Kindle store. Today, for example, I was able to get Reflections on the Psalms for $1.99. Last week it was Till We Have Faces–also $1.99, and in both cases available in Canada as well as the US. If you are patient, you can find what you need. Moreover, many scholarly books are inexpensive in various e-book formats, such as Sørina Higgins’ award-winning The Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain, available for $10.

I find these e-book sales in a couple of ways. One is through the Facebook group called “Free and Discounted Kindle/E-Books for Christians and Bible Scholars”–a very useful resource that lives up to its lengthy name. Another newsletter I follow is that of the great folks at the Englewood Review of Books. Their “5 Essential Ebook Deals for Church Leaders” weekly resource list is pretty great–along with interviews, reviews, and giveaways. I love what C. Christopher Smith and his gang are doing, and I would recommend the podcast hosted by Jen Pollock Michel. With both of these resources, sometimes the e-book sale is a US-only deal, though occasionally I do well in Canada. Half of my Kindle purchases have come from ERB, I believe.

ChristianAudio’s Twice-Yearly Sale

Twice a year–in June and December–ChristianAudio.com offers thousands of its digital audiobooks for $7.49 each. Many of the course packs and omnibus editions are not included, but my issue each year is trimming my “to buy” list down to a reasonable proportion! ChristianAudio is kind of a cool site, in any case, with a free audiobook of the month and some $5 sales from time to time.

But as a C.S. Lewis resource, it is very helpful. There are more than two dozen audiobooks of C.S. Lewis’ works for $7.49 or less, including the apologetics trilogy, the Ransom Cycle, collections like God in the Dock and The Weight of Glory, his theological quasi-fiction, his classic Till We Have Faces, and individual books like The Pilgrim’s Regress, A Grief Observed, and Reflections on the Psalms. Of the “7 New Audiobooks on C.S. Lewis: Michael Ward, James Como, Stephanie Derrick, Patti Callahan, Joe Rigney, Diana Glyer, Gary Selby” I wrote about a couple of years ago, they have 4 of them–as well as Lewis studies books by Devin Brown and Alister McGrath, a new bio by Colin Duriez, and the Women and C.S. Lewis collection. While we takes our chances in passing up a sale, this is likely a resource you can save up for when the next sale comes around.

Audible Plus Catalog

Though the membership is costly, Audible members have a number of perks. One of them is the “Daily Deal”–and I have purchased dozens of these great volumes for $2-$5 over the years. A recent feature for US Audible members is the “Audible Plus Catalog,” a collection of hundreds of audiobooks available absolutely free for those with an active membership.

Most of the “Audible Plus” books in my “Top Picks for You” section of the website are classics, including older theological texts and early 20th-century fiction. However, what is intriguing is that there are more than two dozen C.S. Lewis books absolutely free to members–including the traditional readings by Ralph Cosham/Geoffrey Howard or Simon Vance of most of Lewis’ classics listed in the previous entries (all except for Wanda McCaddon’s gorgeous reading of Till We Have Faces). At least for the time being, the Audible Plus Catalog includes scholarly books like Armand Nicholi’s provocative book on Lewis & Freud, George Sayer‘s lovely biography, Jack, Humphrey Carpenter’s The Inklings, Abigail Santamaria‘s excellent biography of Joy Davidman, and David Downing‘s smart and readable Into the Region of Awe and The Most Reluctant Convert. Audible memberships are expensive, but they have benefits in this season for lovers C.S. Lewis and some of his real-life and literary friends.

New Audible Lewis Resources

For the audiobook lover, there is a flurry of new activity on Audible (in Canada and the US, at least). I am amazed at how many new audiobooks of Lewis’ works are popping up. There are new readings of classic works like Mere Christianity and Narnia–it is surprising it has taken so long–but there are also readings of more obscure books. Matthew Erwin has provided a new reading of The Great Divorce and The Four Loves (the book–and another by John Hopkinson), though I have only heard the samples thus far. What really impresses me, though, are Gordon Greenhill’s dramatic readings of Lewis’ poetry and Richard Elwood’s unusually adept reading for the first time of The Discarded Image and An Experiment in Criticism–two of Lewis’ more intriguing and helpful late-in-life books.

There are also new studies of Lewis on audiobook worth reading, such as the “7” I featured here, but also new volumes appearing regularly. I am looking forward to listening to Gina Dalfonzo’s Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C.S. Lewis. I like Gina’s work and am intrigued by the connection. I have already featured Alan Duncan’s Gilbert and Jack, and I am thinking about Christiana Hale’s new A Reader’s Guide to C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy–though that is a volume I’m likely to prefer in a printed or e-book. Audible informs me that Michael D. Aeschliman’s The Restoration of Man C. S. Lewis and the Continuing Case Against Scientism is available for pre-order, which might take up one of my monthly tokens. We’ll see–but I am confident that new materials will be arriving with some frequency.

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5 Ways to Find Open Source Academic Research on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings

“Why don’t you monetize your blog?” I am asked this question with some frequency by caring folks who see me slogging it out here, week after week, producing well-researched imaginative and literary resources for some of the great storytellers of the last century. Why not cash in?

It is true that I should be smarter about newsletters, search engine optimization, branding, and converting the 100,000 or so people who visit this website from casual readers to “members” of some kind. Honestly, though, this kind of approach isn’t to my taste. I don’t love clickthrough newsletters, paywalls, and the cult-like savvy needed for social media management. I am tempted to a visual redesign, but I admit that I still like that decade-old image in the header: someone who looks suspiciously like C.S. Lewis walking down an English(ish) road. It is just the right image for what I’m doing and I found it entirely by accident. There are other images that might work: a panorama of Gondor, a pathway into Lothlórien, the bridge in the Bridge to Terabithia film, or (one of the few redemptive parts of the Narnia Disney films) a screenshot of Lucy discovering Narnia.

There are options, no doubt. Truthfully, the whole thing makes me weary. If you would like to take up the task of redesign, I would be open to your help! However, website analytics suggest a pretty minimal return for a big culture shift at the open-source, free-access A Pilgrim in Narnia.

But I do love to write, and I love to dig around the digital stacks. So, among the reasons I keep writing and editing free content on A Pilgrim in Narnia is my passion for providing readers with access to research. It is just something that I believe in as a scholar and as a writer.

Moreover, there is the question of impact. A good academic piece by a relatively obscure scholar like myself might get 200 or 300 solid readers over its lifetime. I can usually achieve that in the first day or two of an article, or within the first week of a weighty piece. And some of my experiments of thought–using this space as an intellectual sandbox–have had thousands of readers. Plus, I get to add links and pictures, update the material, and invite others into the conversation. There is an active, dynamic quality to producing open-access materials in today’s digital world. Since I am not being paid to do this work by a university or publishing firm–indeed, I pay to keep this website ad-free–I might as well make it as open as possible.

Therefore, partly in response to student need and partly to encourage great research by you, dear reader–who also may not have a university behind you–I thought I would feature some places where you will find open-access Inklings research beyond my little website.

1. Mythlore: A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Mythopoeic Literature (Mythopoeic Society, 1969-today)

Mythlore is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal published by the Mythopoeic Society that focuses on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and the genres of myth and fantasy. Begun in 1969 as a literary zine, Mythlore has been critical to the development of scholarship–with a particular focus on the Inklings, specifically, and fantasy studies more broadly. I have a handful of old copies of Mythlore that I love to read through from time to time. And because of brilliant leadership and innovative thinking, the entire text of Mythlore from 1969 onward is available free, online, with no embargo (click here). Mythlore is widely indexed, but as a free, text-searchable, open-access journal with a strong index, Mythlore provides me with a fingertip-ready research tool.

Speaking as a contributing scholar (you can see my piece on the Ransom Cycle here), it is worth noting that Mythlore does not charge any author fees for publication (I think none of these Inklings studies resources do), copyright remains in the hands of the creator, submission and editorial processes are quick and light, the peer-review process is respected, and simple metrics are available for understanding publishing impact. Mythlore is a strong go-to research resource and a journal I follow with each issue.

2. Mallorn (Tolkien Society, 1970-today; 2-year Society Embargo)

Mallorn is the peer-reviewed journal of the Tolkien Society and quite famous within its own circles. It publishes articles, research notes, reviews, original poetry, and artwork on subjects related to, or inspired by, the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Mallorn is the more scholarly companion to Amon Hen, which is a member-driven newsletter of the Tolkien Society. Historically, I believe Mallorn evolved out of Vera Chapman’s Belladonna’s Broadsheet, and functioned also as a Tolkien Society bulletin in the early days. While Tolkien Society membership is pretty accessible, especially for students, the digital age and recent Mallorn leadership means that the 50-year resource is completely available online to everyone. All past issues of Mallorn are available on the Mallorn website except the issues published within the past two years, which are embargoed and available only to members of the Tolkien Society.

Find the full catalogue here, and I would encourage you to, join the Tolkien Society if you are a fan and scholar.

3. Inklings Forever (1997-2016)

I have been pretty open about the high regard I have for the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium, a biannual conference at Taylor University in Indiana. Indeed, it was my first academic conference presentation, where I offered my paper, “The Pedagogical Value of The Screwtape Letters for a New Generation,” which won 2nd place for a paper in the Scholar/Faculty Writing Category, as awarded by the C.S. Lewis & the Inklings Society. The paper is frankly a wee bit amateurish, but a cool enough study, I think, and unusual enough to be noticed.

One of the great things that the Colloquium has done is to gather the conference proceedings and publish them. The most recent volume, The Faithful Imagination, was edited professionally by Joe Ricke and Ashley Chu and published by Winged Lion Press (see review by Allison McBain Hudson here). All of the essays, talks, and literary notes from 1997-2016 in Inklings Forever are available here for free, with a pretty good search engine for discovery.

4. Signum University Materials (2013-today)

This is a smaller resource than the other open-source society and conference journals, but it is a resource that will no doubt grow in time–and others like it in reading collections throughout the world. Though some library materials are reserved only for students, there are some streams of content that are open to researchers who happen by Signum University’s website. The annual conference, Mythmoot, is an intriguing resource. While there is not yet an easy way to search these materials, the themed conferences include abstracts and sometimes the full-texts of various papers and presentations by the Signum community over the last near-decade. With a little patience, combined the huge wealth of free resources available at the Mythgard Academy and Signum Youtube channel, a good researcher will find some needed materials. In particular, the “Thesis Theater” playlist has the original research of a couple of dozen MA students talking about their final project–and usually open to sharing their thesis with researchers.

5. Free Materials Among Print Journals

Finding the right open-source material is always a challenge. Even though I am a faculty member at several libraries, I am always using my networks to find things that I need. There are some resources that we use as go-to places for accessible research:

  • Open JSTOR and Artstor, offering tools for search for materials online and in partnership with the libraries where you do have access
  • Also check out Open Access On MUSE
  • DOAJ.org lists open-access journals and articles
  • Google Scholar, a weirdly dated but moderately helpful resource for materials where you have specific texts or search-words; it does not distinguish between reviews, articles, and other academic resources–though it does list most of what I’ve done in the last 10 years (not everything is linkable)
  • Google Books, deeply limited but sometimes quite helpful in searching a phrase or two or finding an outdated resource, and includes the Books Ngram Viewer–a visual history of term usage
  • Kindle Samples are a good way to get a sense of what books might be helpful in your research and often includes a copy of the introduction or preface
  • Universities usually archive their MA and PhD thesis and dissertations, though some may be embargoed; and check your national research resources: Canada, for instance makes all of their publicly funded major projects searchable (see here, where there were four dozen results each for “C.S. Lewis,” “Tolkien,” and “L.M. Montgomery”)

Beyond these open-access depositories, it is worth noting that The Journal of Inklings Studies and SEVEN: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center offer their book reviews and occasional other feature articles for free online. These are both leading journals in which I would be proud to see my research–and in each I have published reviews or review essays (see this recent review, this review essay on Marsha Daigle-Williamson’s Reflecting the Eternal, and this substantial piece on Monika Hilder’s trilogy of Lewis studies books, behind a paywall). Sehnsucht: The C.S. Lewis Journal is a uniquely focused project that consistently produces high quality content. Sometimes, however, I can read enough of a preview on Google Books to see whether or not I need to order the article–such as my piece with Charlie W. Starr on “The Archangel Fragment.” Recently, Sehnsucht has been more widely indexed and available through libraries or digital purchase online.

There are also some broader resources for scholars in the field with full or limited access:

Don’t forget to Google a scholar to find their pieces on their own Academia page, LinkedIn, or their website. You can even reach out if you are in need–but a note that scholars get very frequent requests for help and cannot always respond.

There is a lot of great “nerd” stuff on the web that has content that might be dynamic and useful, even if it is not peer-reviewed–like A Pilgrim in Narnia and our friends! The Tolkien world, in particular, has had stunning online resources for decades.

Finally, I would give a nod to The Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies, the leading academic journal in the field that is completely open access and welcomes artistic as well as academic content–including my study, “Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven: Initial Explorations into L.M. Montgomery’s Spirituality in Fiction.”

Now to you, dear reader: what open-source or partially free academic resource would you recommend to others? I cannot list all the cool nerd sites, but I can link resources for traditional researchers in a digital age.

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A Conversation about Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow with Michael Boyce (Geek4 Podcast) and Emily Strand (Potterversity Podcast)

I recently had a chance to sit down with a couple of thoughtful and funny folks to talk about a book that was entirely absent from my bookshelf. Emily Strand is an artist, Roman Catholic liturgist, and American educator, well known for her thoughtful articles and ideas about the Harry Potter world, including being the co-host of Potterversity: a Potter Studies Podcast. Michael Boyce is a Canadian scholar of English and Film at Booth University College and the host of the Geek4 Podcast. Spurred on by our work together as experts on Refuge 31’s recent documentary, The Science Fiction Makers, we decided to explore some Christian experiments in science fiction a bit further. We knew C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, pretty well, and have all read and taught or talked about books like James Blish’ A Case of Conscience and Walter Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz. Where should we turn next?

Someone suggested Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, a 1996 winner of the Arthur C. Clarke, James Tiptree, Jr., Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis, and the British Science Fiction Association Awards. Despite the shelf-full of awards confirming its strength as a work of speculative fiction, I had never heard of it and jumped at the chance to discuss it with these great people.

Goodreads.com summarizes the plot of The Sparrow thusly:

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be ‘human.’

Wow, what a book! This novel was excellently written and a brilliant opportunity for conversation. Fortunately, you can join in the conversation by watching the video (see below) or listening to the podcast (at the Geek 4 Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, or here). This was such a rich novel and conversation that we’ve already agreed to discuss Russell’s 1998 sequel, The Children of God. I am both excited and a little scared to start the new novel!

You can follow Emily on Twitter @ekcstrand and check out her excellent website (emilystrand.com) or her blog LiturgyandLife.com. You can follow Michael on Twitter  @mwboyce and Instagram @mwboyce and follow his website (michaelwboyce.com). And you can always catch me on Twitter @Brenton, on Instagram, or on the MaudCast.

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Mythmoot VIII: The World Ahead! (June 24-27, 2021 Live-Online Hybrid)

mythmoot treat 2

“Home is behind, the world ahead / And there are many paths to tread”
— J. R. R. Tolkien

Although Signum University is a completely online school, offering a global-leading MA programme in imaginative literature and Germanic languages, we do like to gather from time to time. I say “we” but I have not yet gathered in the flesh, except in rogue meetings with students and faculty hither and nigh in various lands. There are regional “moots” (gatherings) throughout the US and now in Europe, but there is also the annual conference, Mythmoot, meant to gather lovers of speculative literature and film into a great collective of ideas and connection.

In 2020, of course, all that was disrupted. After waiting a few months to see if the world would end, the “Here Be Dragons!” Mythmoot went online and was, I believe, a pretty brilliant success. It was certainly one of my favourite online events in what has been more than a year now of creative digital connections.

I am pleased to say that Mythmoot VIII will be a hybrid event this year on June 24-27, 2021. There will be a live event at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia (as in years past), while also simulcasting and meeting online (MootHub), like last year’s digi-moot. The theme is “The World Ahead is Coming!”–certainly a theme that invites much in our apocalyptic days. The schedule and slate of guests (for the most part) make it look like a strong weekend.

Although I will miss caballing together in dining rooms and nearby pubs, arguing in hallways and crowding around doorways, I am pleased to be part of Mythmoot VIII and look forward to a great event. Besides a talk on what I call C.S. Lewis‘ “Apocalypse of the Imagination,” I am going to be online for the entire weekend, attending panels and papers and discussions–and hanging out in the digital halls. Registration is reasonable and there are multiple options. I hope to see you there!

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“The Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery” and the Critical Virtue and Vice of Editors

The Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery by John Ferns and Kevin McCabe 2One of the earlier biographers of C.S. Lewis, Chad Walsh once said that although Lewis was not a poet of greatness, he was (and remains) an interesting poet.

This observation is relevant for many of the early-to-mid-20th century authors I like to read, many of whom wrote poetry that is now nearly forgotten. Even outside the academic literary worlds of Lewis and his friends (like Tolkien, whose poetry is worth a reconsideration), in a rural farming village in Canada’s smallest province, Lucy Maud Montgomery has left a stunning poetic legacy. Beyond five hundred short stories and twenty novels, Montgomery published more than five hundred poems. For lovers of Montgomery’s fiction, for those interested in early Canadian writing, and for students of the period, Montgomery’s poetry does–as Walsh claims of Lewis–provide interest even when it is not always of the highest literary quality.

In the male-centred, academic, anti-traditionalist and modernist literary world of the period, Montgomery’s public profile was neglected or suppressed for the triple indignities of being a woman, a popular author, and a children’s writer. As a result, Montgomery’s poetic legacy took decades to recover. Though parts of Montgomery’s last literary work were published as The Road to Yesterday in 1974, her poems were scrubbed from the manuscript. Thus, it in not until 45 years after her death that The Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery is published.

LM Montgomery short stories road to yesterdayI acknowledge gratefulness to the editors, John Ferns and Kevin McCabe, as well as the Montgomery family, for bringing this collection to print in the 1980s. As a first major step in Montgomery’s poetic recovery, it is an essential volume–particularly in the pre-internet age.

Considering the quality of the project as a whole, however, it is a bit mixed.

Within the collection there are some very striking poems by Montgomery, though there are a few weaker ones (particularly among the more moralistic poems of the early 1900s). When a poem fails, as in the hilarious “I Feel (Vers Libre)”–that this critique was written as T.S. Eliot‘s “The Waste Land” is being published shows a contrast of literary possibility in their respective works–there can still be an experiment of thought or lyricism or moral that works. There are also metrical experiments that fail for me, like “When Autumn Comes,” that still have strong imagery and rhyme. The Romanticism in the background is revealing, including a sense of place and a play at the margins of the real world. Much of the “Religious Verse” and “Ethical Verse” shows skill, and is always provocative in another way. Although I am not sure that Montgomery succeeds fully in her title poem, I still think “The Watchman” is close to a great historical poem.

In terms of writing, the last poem in this collection is “Night,” and followers of Montgomery’s life would love for that to have been her last word to the world.

montgomery Lefebvre World of SongsThere are few poems that simply are not good and none that lack value. The arrangement of the poems by the editors is fair, but does not show the skill of the recent Benjamin Lefebvre World of Songs collection. Reading in the collected order, I found a repetitiveness in the first half of the book: seasons, water, land, wood, sunrise, sunset, night, etc. Reading chronologically–which, by the way, was a great deal of work because the editors did not date the poems, but Rea Wilmshurst and Carolyn Strom Collins have created bibliographies in concert with a whole host of contributors working collectively–I found an exciting and engaging collection with a sense of the seasons of Montgomery’s poetic life. Oddly, there is no index and no list of where the poems were published or discovered. While being grateful to Ferns & McCabe for this publication, I eagerly await a critical edition of Montgomery’s poetry.

What is particularly of interest to me when thinking about how we consider authors of other times and places and worldviews is the introductory essay by editor Kevin McCabe. Though quite compelling in some ways, this essays is, frankly, frustrating to read.

McCabe puts Montgomery in the context of Confederation poets, which is brilliant and helpful as we see the significance of Montgomery’s poetic output, the themes and interests of her age, and the kinds of markets where she published her first collection, The Watchman and Other Poems. McCabe includes thoughtful contextual observations about Montgomery’s work, such as “Wounds are no less painful for being self-inflicted” (15), “For Montgomery writing poetry was more than a literary activity…” (5), and “Because poetry is more demanding than prose certain weaknesses show up in Montgomery’s verse which are not very noticeable in her fiction” (6).

Lucy Maud Montgomery watchman 1sThis last observation, however, shows a critical weakness in this introduction. Too often McCabe provides no examples–or only brief sketches of the scene–in making what are pretty sweeping and important claims.

For example, McCabe suggests that Montgomery’s work in the newspaper industry may have decreased the freshness and individuality of her verse. I would like to see what led McCabe to make this claim. Indeed, his core argument–“Montgomery wrote verse in large quantity and in varying quality” (2), that large quantities of writing decreases quality, that Montgomery changed her focus to prose in the early 1900s, and that she wrote for a popular audience–is repeated frequently without anything like reasons for the reader to agree with him. I want to know what is garish, self-indulgent, fresh, or individual in Montgomery’s verse–or what demonstrates his observation that Montgomery “developed an unhealthy preoccupation with the disadvantages of her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood” (14). He has told us that he is right about his observations, but McCabe not terribly interested in showing us where he sees these vices and virtues in Montgomery’s work.

There are times when McCabe makes an assertion and provides evidence, such as his comment that “Montgomery was not the most judicious editor of her own work” (12). He also brings to mind some of strengths in the volume he is providing for Montgomery readers–which McCabe thinks is largely her earlier work, before story-writing took most of her time.

The Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery by John Ferns and Kevin McCabeThese strong points, however, are counter-balanced by missing links in his work as an editor. For example, the weakness of McCabe’s sketch of Montgomery as driven by her own sense of orphan-hood is, perhaps, forgiven when we think about the lack of biographies in near the time of publication. However, that McCabe seems to be unaware of the dozens and dozens of stories Montgomery published in her early years of writing–i.e., with regards to his suggestion of a turn from poetry to prose–makes me wonder if McCabe could have been more invested in what was known of Montgomery’s biography at the time. Ultimately, this is an introduction with a thesis that the editor asserts rather than argues. His writing is often breathtaking, as broad landscapes are. I am not sure that he has understood the contours of shape and colour, shadow and light in Montgomery’s poetry.

Frankly, to make the assertions he makes, McCabe should have been stronger in literary examples and biographical criticism.

There is another approach, though. An editor can bring together a collection without being a textual expert in the author’s entire corpus. That editor should then approach the material itself more tentatively, staying close to the available texts, and work to make tangible links between the reader, the poet, and the texts and contexts the editor thinks are essential. A more humble and less grand approach–or the editorial rule of providing evidence when making a claim–would keep McCabe from making the four linked errors that sometimes happens when considering Montgomery’s religious life:

  1. A false division of religious focus (e.g., “interior” vs. “form”); and/or
  2. A false division between religious feelings (e.g., “pantheism” vs. “orthodoxy”); which is/are then considered in
  3. An often unrecognized bias in the critic for one over the other (i.e., that internal experience  is more authentic than religious ritual, or a preference for spiritual experimentation over traditional beliefs); and is then sometimes combined with
  4. A temptation to reduce Montgomery’s religious life–all of her ideas, dreams, doubts, desire, duties, habits, instincts, wounds, structures, and experimentations–to a single, two-dimensional picture rather than a living, moving thing.

McCabe not only makes errors #1 and #2, but makes these divisions key to his vision of Montgomery, arguing that Montgomery lived two different lives, carefully segregated and maintained (see pp. 4-5, 13-15). And in doing so, consistently commits himself to error #3 and #4, selecting out themes for as negative or creative, and then freezing Montgomery’s biography in that particular moment.

l m montgomery selected journalsIt isn’t that I completely disagree with McCabe. I think his divided-self argument is deeply problematic–not because Montgomery did not have a voluble and divided self but because he is unable to explain what is integrative about her perspectives. Because Montgomery created a public self and a private self, it does not mean that there is no single self. Self-consciousness about segmentation is evidence itself of holistic thinking. Moreover, Montgomery’s journals should be evidence enough to show how stunningly complex making generalities about her “interior” life can be. McCabe’s sketch of Montgomery’s growth as a poet has some truth in it–though some of my favourite Montgomery poems are after Anne of Green Gables, and some of her ethical and religious verse is surprisingly good as popular poetry. But what about her growth as a religious person?

If McCabe had not transgressed upon the material with these four sins of religious reductionism, I would have forgiven him for his generalities. Indeed, the lyrical quality of his own writing is exciting to read. He is a smart writer and when I am reading for enjoyment I want to go along with him. However, this introductory essay is at times more helpful for showing us literary sensibilities in 1980s CanLit and academic circles than in inviting us to read Montgomery’s almost-forgotten poetry well.

Yet, not all the time. As I have noted, there are some strong points in the essay. Moreover, with or without arguments and speculations, this collection provides 86 of Montgomery’s poems for those who want to see what is of greatest interest in her popular poetry.

Posted in L.M. Montgomery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

“The Personal Heresy” and C.S. Lewis’ Autoethnographic Instinct: An Invitation to Intimacy in Literature and Theology

Personal Heresy 1st slide

Canada’s annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress2021) is now winding down. I missed being live on the ground, stumbling with weary feet and droopy eyes from one brilliant intellectual session to another, discovering great local craft brewpubs and unique coffee shops and the secret walk that every university town hides from the world, making personal connections with like- and contrary-minded friends. I love feeling the room as I speak, knowing who is with me and who is somewhere else. I wanted to stand before an editor in a large conference centre, seeing their eyes as I made my pitch. I think I can learn more in a few moments like these than in a week of reading and researching.

Personal Heresy by CS LewisHowever, I was able to enjoy a great time of connection with the Canadian-American Theological Association (where I presented a paper on C.S. Lewis’ spiritual theology; see video here) and at the Christianity and Literature Study Group (CLSG). The folks at the CLSG were personable and bright, engaged in the papers that scholars and students brought to the conference and invested in the outcomes. There was nothing disconnected in this fellowship, where all the high and heady thoughts were still grounded in our Canadian classrooms, connected to our city streets, and rooted in faithful artistry. More than anything, the CLSG seemed to me to be a community very much invested in seeing in new and deep ways–in particular, in understanding the way our institutions and communities have failed to see, in many ways, what First Nations people have been trying to show us.

My CLSG paper was a project of fairly high literary theory. However, I believe that “The Personal Heresy and C.S. Lewis’ Autoethnographic Instinct: An Invitation to Intimacy in Literature and Theology” has deep implications for the way that we relate to one another in our increasingly diverse worlds of connection. Though Lewis’ thinking is often emergent and instinctive, and although it often needs our thoughtful engagement to carry it to its conclusions, I believe that Lewis is a profound dialogue partner for teachers, scholars, writers, and Christian public intellectuals today.

Lewis what you see depends on where you stand magician's nephew quoteThis piece is part of a long-term project on Lewis and literary theory. Some of the implications are in my (hopefully) forthcoming book, The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, but it won’t be fully worked out there. As I continue to tease these ideas out, the CLSG community is a great collection of writers, teachers, and scholars thinking about literature and theology–and thus a good space to tentatively draw out a thread of my discoveries thus far. Certainly, the conversation after the papers in the Lewis section where helpful in clarifying my own thought. 

This video is not of the live conference but prepared specially for you. I hope you find it a fruitful discussion. There are some resources below (including abstracts and a PDF of the slides), and my announcement last week has more detail. In particular, the “Resource Sheet” in this Google Doc link is becoming a kind Lewis & Lit Theory resource page that could be useful to those interested in understanding how Lewis understood the tasks of reading (and writing or talking about reading).

The Personal Heresy and C.S. Lewis’ Autoethnographic Instinct: An Invitation to Intimacy in Literature and Theology” by Brenton D.G. Dickieson

lewis personal heresy 4Short Abstract

In his diverse literary catalogue, C.S. Lewis makes numerous attempts to tell his life story, uses poetry to frame philosophical beliefs, writes himself into fiction, narrates stories and lectures with intimacy, and uses his own experience as evidence for argumentation. Lewis displays a tendency for what later critics will call an “autoethnographic” instinct. Lewis shows a proto-critical instinct for autoethnography that sits in interesting tension with his own literary theoretical work in The Personal Heresy. This autoethnographic instinct, however, invites fruitful possibilities for those who would seek to undertake an exploration of Christianity and literature in a Lewisian vein.

Personal Heresy by CS Lewis 60sLonger Abstract

Of the forty-five books C.S. Lewis completed in his lifetime—a literary catalogue that spans diverse genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—an almost unrecognized unity in this diversity is the degree to which Lewis is present as a voice in the text. Lewis makes numerous attempts to tell his life story, uses poetry to frame his philosophical beliefs and religious doubts, writes himself into his fiction, narrates his stories and lectures with personal intimacy, and uses his own experience as evide nce for his literary and theological arguments. Lewis argues in his inaugural Lecture from The Chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University that “my conviction is a historical datum to which you should give full weight” (“De Descriptione Temporum” 14) In “On Stories,” Lewis confesses that he must be “autobiographical for the sake of being evidential” (93).

Lewis displays not only a tendency to be autobiographical but an instinct for what later anthropologists, theologians, and critics will call “autoethnography.” In this paper, I set the context for autoethnography as an emergent discipline using the critical approach to literature and theology by Heather Walton and others. In considering Lewis’ extensive and diverse corpus, I argue that Lewis shows a proto-critical instinct for autoethnography. Lewis consistently offers a critique of modern scholarship as critical, distant, external study and turns to autobiographically integrated explorations of literature, philosophy, and religion.

The autoethnographic nature of Lewis’ poetry and prose problematizes his literary theoretical work. In The Personal Heresy (1939), Lewis warns against confusing the author and the text: to “see things as the poet sees them,” Lewis argues that we must share the poet’s “consciousness” but “not attend to it” (14)—an argument used as the launching point for the famous essay on “The Intentional Fallacy” by Wimsatt and Beardsley. Thus Lewis, a thoroughly autographic writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, shares in the legacy of the so-called “New Criticism” and the eventual “death of the author” movement.

This tension is particularly intriguing when we consider that Lewis’ Experiment in Criticism (1961) is specifically about the experience of reading and predicts the critical turn to readers’ response. Moreover, in his final work of literary history, The Discarded Image (1964), Lewis criticizes readers who do not respect the cultural distance between their own context and that of the text. He compares these readers to English tourists “who carry their resolute Englishry with them all over the Continent, mix only with other English tourists, … and have no wish to realise what those ways of life, those churches, those vineyards” mean to locals (x).

Clarity is needed bridge the divide between Lewis’ theory and praxis on this point. When this clarity is achieved, Lewis’ work invites fruitful possibilities for those who would seek to undertake an exploration of Christianity and literature in his vein.

Lewis De Descriptione Temporum

Sorina Higgins Brenton Dickieson Inklings and King ArthurResources for More

Here is a PDF of the slides that I will use for my paper: Dickieson-CSL Autoethnographic Instinct-CLSG 2021. You can also find my still-being-updated “Resource Sheet” in this Google Doc link.

Checking out my biography will give you a sense of the kinds of things I’m am doing as a theologian of literature and literary theologian. This paper is part of a long-term project on Lewis and literary theory. There are some threads and implications are in my (hopefully) forthcoming book, The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology (which came out of my PhD research; you can read about that here). My other published work of literary theory and Lewis is “Mixed Metaphors and Hyperlinked Worlds: A Study of Intertextuality in C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Cycle,” in the Mythopoeic Award-winning The Inklings and King Arthur: J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain (ed. Sørina Higgins, Apocryphile Press), pp. pp. 81-113.

If you are interested in publishing The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, of if you are a researcher looking for the larger, detailed chapter in my embargoed thesis, “The Great Story on Which the Plot Turns”: Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’ Narrative Spiritual Theology, email me: junkola [at] gmail [dot] com.

Finally, I do recommend the approaches of Heather Walton (and some of her friends, colleagues, and students of the University of Glasgow) to theological reflection, feminist theology, and her work in theology and literature.

Heather Walton and Friends Literature and Theology books

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Michael Gorman’s Narrative Spiritual Theology and C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity: A Conversation Across Generations and Disciplines by Brenton Dickieson

My past past few days has been taken up by Canada’s annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress2021–what scholarly Canadians used to call “the Learneds.” It was certainly a learning experience for me–and I am a bit mentally tapped as I start a new week of work.

At the Canadian-American Theological Association (CATA), I presented material from my forthcoming book, The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology. As I hunt for a publisher, this presentation allowed me to return to one of my early discoveries for C.S. Lewis. As CATA is filled with dynamic, bright, and integrative thinkers, I was able to think about the implications of my work both for Lewis studies and for theological method. 

I am pleased to be able to share a video of the lecture for you. This video is not of the live conference paper but prepared specially for you. I hope you find it a fruitful discussion. There are some resources below (including abstracts, a PDF of the slides, and links to background reading) that might be helpful.

“Michael Gorman’s Narrative Spiritual Theology and C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity: A Conversation Across Generations and Disciplines” by Brenton D.G. Dickieson

In 2001, Michael J. Gorman produced a ground-breaking study in biblical theology. Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross was unique in its focus on Pauline spirituality as revealed in the story patterns within the text. For Paul, the cross is not merely the redemptive hinge of history but also the normative pattern for Christian spirituality. Discipleship is cross-shaped, so the believer’s life echoes the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul captures this cruciform principle of spirituality in narrative patterns of the cross embedded in his letters, speaking less in terms of theological systematization and, more commonly, in terms of pastoral, spiritual theology. The cross event, then, invites believers into narrative unity with Christ in spiritual life.

Though writing as a popular theologian lacking Gorman’s systematic treatment, and writing in an older generation, C.S. Lewis anticipates Gorman’s approach to Pauline narrative spiritual in intriguing ways. There is, I argue, a “Logic of Cruciformity” evident in Lewis’ apologetics trilogy and throughout his corpus. The Pauline cruciform spirituality that Gorman describes is the all-encompassing, integrating narrative reality that informs all of Lewis’s life and works. This proto-theological instinct in Lewis makes Gorman useful for framing Lewis’ ideas into a coherent whole. Moreover, the fact that Lewis’ nonsystematic understanding of Cruciformity is revealed not only in his theological works but also in his popular fiction and literary theory confirms Gorman’s interest in the embedded, storied nature of spirituality and the power of these patterns for creating narrative unity between the cross event and spiritual life.

Resources for More

Here is a PDF of the slides that I will use for my paper: Dickieson-CSL-Gorman Cruciformity CATA 2021.

Checking out my biography will give you a sense of the kinds of things I’m am doing as a theologian of literature and literary theologian. This work will be part of what will appear (hopefully) as The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, and came out of my PhD research (which you can read about here). I first discerned the heart of this particular work in the autumn of 2013, preparing for a conference at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, NS (you can see the details here). I wrote my initial findings in a chapter entitled “‘Die Before You Die’: St. Paul’s Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’s Narrative Spirituality” in Both Sides of the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis, Theological Imagination, and Everyday Discipleship, edited by Rob Fennell (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2015), pp 32-45. For a popular, brief vision of these findings, see my guest blog post at “Theological Miscellany” of the Westminster Theological Centre.

If you are interested in publishing The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, of if you are a researcher looking for the larger, detailed chapter in my embargoed thesis, “The Great Story on Which the Plot Turns”: Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’ Narrative Spiritual Theology, email me: junkola [at] gmail [dot] com.

Finally, I do recommend Michael Gorman’s biblical-theological works as smart, excellently conceived and executed, and practically oriented.

Posted in Original Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Personal Heresy” and C.S. Lewis’ Autoethnographic Instinct: An Invitation to Intimacy in Literature and Theology (Congress2021 Paper)

Personal Heresy 1st slide

As I noted yesterday, this week is Canada’s annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress2021. In the same morning, I am presenting twice, at two different societies–at the Canadian-American Theological Association with a paper on C.S. Lewis’ spiritual theology, and at the Christianity and Literature Study Group (CLSG). For the CLSG, I am presenting my paper “The Personal Heresy and C.S. Lewis’ Autoethnographic Instinct: An Invitation to Intimacy in Literature and Theology.” At its simplest, “autoethnography” simply means self-writing, where we implicate our selves–our stories, our bodies, our worldviews, faith, hopes, and dreams–in our research and writing. In autoethnographic writing, our lives become a “text,” part of the data set for our work of reflection.

This piece is part of a long-term project on Lewis and literary theory. Some of the implications are in my (hopefully) forthcoming book, The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, but it won’t be fully worked out there. As I continue to tease these ideas out, the CLSG community is a great collection of writers, teachers, and scholars thinking about literature and theology–and thus a good space to tentatively draw out a thread of my discoveries thus far.

Lewis till we have faces 9There are three other Lewis papers at this year’s CSLG:

  • Katharine Bubel and Laura Van Dyke (Trinity Western), “The Liminal Land of Glome in Lewis’s Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold” (in the Environmental Relations/Narratives of Nature section)
  • Monika Hilder (Trinity Western), “Darwin or Ptolemy? Asking Mr. C.S. Lewis About the Divided Human Consciousness” (in the The Inklings: Inner Relations section)
  • Brett Roscoe (The King’s University, Edmonton), “The Fear of the Lord in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia” (in the The Inklings: Inner Relations section)

Katharine Bubel and Laura Van Dyke gave their brilliant paper already, challenging me to rethink some imaginative contexts for Till We Have Faces (including an intriguing Charles Williams link). I have already talked about the importance of Monika Hilder’s work in Lewis studies, and I look forward to Brett Roscoe’s thoughts as a medievalist.

Despite what my longer description below promises, I am not sure I get quite to “clarity” in my presentation. My conclusions are tentative–not because I don’t think I am reading Lewis correctly, but because it is hard to talk about Lewis on the way he thought about reading and writing without talking about everything he thought on the matter. I hope that this over-full presentation, though, will inspire us to weave our own story into our work as teachers, storytellers, and researchers.

The Personal Heresy and C.S. Lewis’ Autoethnographic Instinct: An Invitation to Intimacy in Literature and Theology” by Brenton D.G. Dickieson

lewis personal heresy 4Short Abstract

In his diverse literary catalogue, C.S. Lewis makes numerous attempts to tell his life story, uses poetry to frame philosophical beliefs, writes himself into fiction, narrates stories and lectures with intimacy, and uses his own experience as evidence for argumentation. Lewis displays a tendency for what later critics will call an “autoethnographic” instinct. Lewis shows a proto-critical instinct for autoethnography that sits in interesting tension with his own literary theoretical work in The Personal Heresy. This autoethnographic instinct, however, invites fruitful possibilities for those who would seek to undertake an exploration of Christianity and literature in a Lewisian vein.

Personal Heresy by CS Lewis 60sLonger Abstract

Of the forty-five books C.S. Lewis completed in his lifetime—a literary catalogue that spans diverse genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—an almost unrecognized unity in this diversity is the degree to which Lewis is present as a voice in the text. Lewis makes numerous attempts to tell his life story, uses poetry to frame his philosophical beliefs and religious doubts, writes himself into his fiction, narrates his stories and lectures with personal intimacy, and uses his own experience as evide nce for his literary and theological arguments. Lewis argues in his inaugural Lecture from The Chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University that “my conviction is a historical datum to which you should give full weight” (“De Descriptione Temporum” 14) In “On Stories,” Lewis confesses that he must be “autobiographical for the sake of being evidential” (93).

Lewis displays not only a tendency to be autobiographical but an instinct for what later anthropologists, theologians, and critics will call “autoethnography.” In this paper, I set the context for autoethnography as an emergent discipline using the critical approach to literature and theology by Heather Walton and others. In considering Lewis’ extensive and diverse corpus, I argue that Lewis shows a proto-critical instinct for autoethnography. Lewis consistently offers a critique of modern scholarship as critical, distant, external study and turns to autobiographically integrated explorations of literature, philosophy, and religion.

The autoethnographic nature of Lewis’ poetry and prose problematizes his literary theoretical work. In The Personal Heresy (1939), Lewis warns against confusing the author and the text: to “see things as the poet sees them,” Lewis argues that we must share the poet’s “consciousness” but “not attend to it” (14)—an argument used as the launching point for the famous essay on “The Intentional Fallacy” by Wimsatt and Beardsley. Thus Lewis, a thoroughly autographic writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, shares in the legacy of the so-called “New Criticism” and the eventual “death of the author” movement.

This tension is particularly intriguing when we consider that Lewis’ Experiment in Criticism (1961) is specifically about the experience of reading and predicts the critical turn to readers’ response. Moreover, in his final work of literary history, The Discarded Image (1964), Lewis criticizes readers who do not respect the cultural distance between their own context and that of the text. He compares these readers to English tourists “who carry their resolute Englishry with them all over the Continent, mix only with other English tourists, … and have no wish to realise what those ways of life, those churches, those vineyards” mean to locals (x).

Clarity is needed bridge the divide between Lewis’ theory and praxis on this point. When this clarity is achieved, Lewis’ work invites fruitful possibilities for those who would seek to undertake an exploration of Christianity and literature in his vein.

Lewis De Descriptione Temporum

Sorina Higgins Brenton Dickieson Inklings and King ArthurResources for More

Here is a PDF of the slides that I will use for my paper: Dickieson-CSL Autoethnographic Instinct-CLSG 2021. You can also find my still-being-updated “Resource Sheet” in this Google Doc link.

Checking out my biography will give you a sense of the kinds of things I’m am doing as a theologian of literature and literary theologian. This paper is part of a long-term project on Lewis and literary theory. There are some threads and implications are in my (hopefully) forthcoming book, The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology (which came out of my PhD research; you can read about that here). My other published work of literary theory and Lewis is “Mixed Metaphors and Hyperlinked Worlds: A Study of Intertextuality in C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Cycle,” in the Mythopoeic Award-winning The Inklings and King Arthur: J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain (ed. Sørina Higgins, Apocryphile Press), pp. pp. 81-113.

If you are interested in publishing The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, of if you are a researcher looking for the larger, detailed chapter in my embargoed thesis, “The Great Story on Which the Plot Turns”: Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’ Narrative Spiritual Theology, email me: junkola [at] gmail [dot] com.

Finally, I do recommend the approaches of Heather Walton (and some of her friends, colleagues, and students of the University of Glasgow) to theological reflection, feminist theology, and her work in theology and literature.

Heather Walton and Friends Literature and Theology books

Posted in Original Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Michael Gorman’s Narrative Spiritual Theology and C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity: A Conversation Across Generations and Disciplines (Congress2021 Paper)

This week is Canada’s annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress2021–what scholarly Canadians used to call “the Learneds,” I believe, a short form of “the Learned Societies” that make up the conference. I am presenting twice, at two different societies–and in the same morning! this is a reality for this huge conference–and I am showing some restraint in only haunting two of the four Congress societies in which I am active. Last spring, I had intended to trip across Western University’s campus from event to event on my way to the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium at Taylor University in Indiana. With all things delayed, this year’s Congress is digital–making navigating the distance fairly easy, though somewhat less scenic.

At the Canadian-American Theological Association, I am presenting material from my forthcoming book, The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology. As I hunt for a publisher, this presentation allows me to return to one of my early discoveries for C.S. Lewis. Then I am able to throw the discussion forward, suggesting that there are implications of my work both for Lewis studies and theological method. Here is my paper abstract. Beneath it, those who are interested in the topic can find some links and resources.

“Michael Gorman’s Narrative Spiritual Theology and C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity: A Conversation Across Generations and Disciplines” by Brenton D.G. Dickiesons

In 2001, Michael J. Gorman produced a ground-breaking study in biblical theology. Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross was unique in its focus on Pauline spirituality as revealed in the story patterns within the text. For Paul, the cross is not merely the redemptive hinge of history but also the normative pattern for Christian spirituality. Discipleship is cross-shaped, so the believer’s life echoes the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul captures this cruciform principle of spirituality in narrative patterns of the cross embedded in his letters, speaking less in terms of theological systematization and, more commonly, in terms of pastoral, spiritual theology. The cross event, then, invites believers into narrative unity with Christ in spiritual life.

Though writing as a popular theologian lacking Gorman’s systematic treatment, and writing in an older generation, C.S. Lewis anticipates Gorman’s approach to Pauline narrative spiritual in intriguing ways. There is, I argue, a “Logic of Cruciformity” evident in Lewis’ apologetics trilogy and throughout his corpus. The Pauline cruciform spirituality that Gorman describes is the all-encompassing, integrating narrative reality that informs all of Lewis’s life and works. This proto-theological instinct in Lewis makes Gorman useful for framing Lewis’ ideas into a coherent whole. Moreover, the fact that Lewis’ nonsystematic understanding of Cruciformity is revealed not only in his theological works but also in his popular fiction and literary theory confirms Gorman’s interest in the embedded, storied nature of spirituality and the power of these patterns for creating narrative unity between the cross event and spiritual life.

Resources for More

Here is a PDF of the slides that I will use for my paper: Dickieson-CSL-Gorman Cruciformity CATA 2021.

Checking out my biography will give you a sense of the kinds of things I’m am doing as a theologian of literature and literary theologian. This work will be part of what will appear (hopefully) as The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, and came out of my PhD research (which you can read about here). I first discerned the heart of this particular work in the autumn of 2013, preparing for a conference at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, NS (you can see the details here). I wrote my initial findings in a chapter entitled “‘Die Before You Die’: St. Paul’s Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’s Narrative Spirituality” in Both Sides of the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis, Theological Imagination, and Everyday Discipleship, edited by Rob Fennell (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2015), pp 32-45. For a popular, brief vision of these findings, see my guest blog post at “Theological Miscellany” of the Westminster Theological Centre.

If you are interested in publishing The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, of if you are a researcher looking for the larger, detailed chapter in my embargoed thesis, “The Great Story on Which the Plot Turns”: Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’ Narrative Spiritual Theology, email me: junkola [at] gmail [dot] com.

Finally, I do recommend Michael Gorman’s biblical-theological works as smart, excellently conceived and executed, and practically oriented.

Posted in Original Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Gilbert and Jack: What C.S. Lewis Found Reading G.K. Chesterton”: Audio Drama by Alan C. Duncan

I am sometimes asked to provide a blurb for an upcoming book, usually something to do with C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. I rarely get the book read in time to meet a publisher’s schedule, so don’t bother heading to your bookshelf to see if I am there on those glowing inside flaps–though I did get my note in on time for Christine Norvell’s second edition of Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold: A Reading Companion.

In the past little while, though, I have been in dialogue with Alan C. Duncan, an American writer and broadcaster. Though we have never met, Alan reached out to me because, if I recall, of my archival work on C.S. Lewis and some of my writing about the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, IL. Alan had a kind of cool project in mind. Inspired by the possibilities, Alan travelled to the Wade archive to read the marginal notes that C.S. Lewis made on his copies of G.K. Chesterton‘s books. Chesterton was one of Lewis’ literary guides and spiritual masters, and the Wade keeps these books safe for researchers. It seems like a natural fit, as we see in this brief clip from a Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton interview (the full clip is below):

After he had done the hard work of spending the hours and days reading marginal notes–and sometimes Lewis’ scrawl is pretty challenging to read–Alan and I dialogued a bit about the potentials of his project. My help was actually pretty limited. Alan went away and set to work pulling all of these notes into a project that would be meaningful to others. The outcome includes a Kindle ebook. What Alan invited me to preview, though, was the audiobook that he wrote and produced. Without saying anything negative about the book version, I found full cast audiobook not only excellently produced but also compelling on a personal level.

And I told him so. As a result, Alan included a brief blurb in the Audible description:

“One of the things that makes this a unique project is the archival work. In Gilbert and Jack, Duncan makes dozens of links that come from personal notations in Lewis’ copies of Chesterton’s books, providing an introduction to their theological kinship that we are unlikely to get anywhere else.” (Dr. Brenton Dickieson)

I think, though, that is worth sharing the longer version of the blurb which he wisely edited for Audible but has kept in the book and on various parts of social media:

In a skillfully produced and casted audio performance, Alan Duncan is able to narrow in on one of the more powerful and effective literary mentorships of the 20th century, that of C.S. Lewis and a critical influence in his faith and life, G.K. Chesterton. Yet, little is known in the popular world about how important Chesterton was to Lewis’ faith formation and intellectual development. Duncan’s “Gilbert & Jack” seeks to close that gap, using the good old-fashioned tools of close-reading to make literary links between the two British Christian thinkers. One of the things that makes this a unique project, though, is the archival work. In “Gilbert & Jack,” Duncan makes dozens of links that come from personal notations in Lewis’ copies of Chesterton’s books, providing an introduction to their theological kinship that we are unlikely to get anywhere else. This is a huge wealth of notations, and Duncan allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about the value and uses of the material, while also sharing personal essays of their own spiritual encounters. Because of their approach–both personal and academic–listeners can get a sense of the joy of doing Inklings archival work at places like the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, IL. The result is a work of great use, deep interest, and much beauty–all within a devotional cast.

The longer blurb captures what I think is best about the project: careful close reading, evidence-based links between Chesterton and Lewis, and nerdy archival work all brought together in a personal story of discovery.

I should note a couple of things.

While I liked Alan’s initial ideas, I was not overly hopeful about an audio version. My confidence in small-project film and dramatic productions isn’t very high, so I had pretty low expectations. Alan has shifted my expectation of what is possible for small-budget projects. The excellence and entertainment value of the production enhances the work at the core.

And part of that work is the personal journey. I would be pleased to have read a long, boring, 40-page academic article that I would find quite exciting. However, Gilbert & Jack is not merely a long article or short-book write-up of archival findings, but a faith-implicated study of the link between these two famously popular British Christian public intellectuals. I believe this is a strength of the project, though it means the material is coming from a rooted perspective.

If you look up the background of the American Policy Roundtable that published the book, most will recognize it as a deeply conservative and very pro-American think tank. The Roundtable is a constitutional conservativism rather than the kind of conversation the current US Republican party is most interested in. Not being in that context but believing the US to be one of the greatest political experiments in history with a great propensity for creating a space for human flourishing, I wish the Roundtable could see “liberty” in a broader way. I have never understood why liberty-loving Americans of conservative leanings don’t have a love of liberty for those who want to be free to live morally different lives (like LGBTQ+ folk). I don’t understand why liberty-loving Americans who find by C.S. Lewisgovernment systems so distasteful and abusive of freedom–and I largely agree–can’t see how those systems can select out certain kinds of people on the margins for greater abuse than others. The Hebrew prophets saw it. And why do American conservatives in conversation with C.S. Lewis avoid Lewis’ argument that anti-environmental policy restricts the freedom (without consent) of future generations? Or that the state must intervene to ensure people are treated equally? C.S. Lewis’ liberty-loving thread in his work will always be subversive and cuts both ways against anti- and pro-state action–as we see in a humorous form at the close of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

“And they made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down, and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.”

While my reading of Gilbert & Jack picked up the American context and a faith journey of a conservative Christian, I did not sense a kind of backdoor political recovery movement. What I think Alan Duncan does is to take two Christian thinkers that he admires, read them well, and then draw them into his own context in meaningful ways. This is where G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis can shine for theological conversation, popular philosophical debate, ethical exploration, spiritual development, and for the pursuit of social justice in all kinds of contexts.

Sometimes people roll their eyes, for here is another conservative or another American taking these figures up to challenge, reshape, and communicate their conservative, American perspectives. But frankly, they’re just better at doing it! When read well, neither Gilbert nor Jack would make an American conservative–and, particularly, an American Evangelical as in the case of many other projects–very comfortable for very long. CSL & GKC are too subversive, ironical, inversive, counter-cultural, and rooted in a worldview and place much different than the context in which they are being read. If we take it seriously, their thought will challenge our own.

And is that not the journey we share as Christians–not a commitment as a nation, time, ideology, or political movement, but a commitment to the discovery of truth, the doing of goodness, and the sharing of beauty? Thus, I am not afraid of honest disagreement–though I will always resist appropriations that are essentially rebranding attempts for ideological purposes.

So I would encourage you to read and enjoy Gilbert & Jack: What C.S. Lewis Found Reading G.K. Chesterton for its inherent value. You can find the kindle book on Amazon in your country, and you can find the audiobook at Audible or through Alan Duncan’s website.

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