The Imagination of C. S. Lewis

c s lewis bookC. S. Lewis (1898-1963) is famous for his imaginative literature – the Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56), his science fiction trilogy (1938, 1943, 1945), and the satirical works The Screwtape Letters (1942) and The Great Divorce (1945). Less well known is Lewis’s use of the imagination in his autobiography, religious writing, literary criticism, and poetry. Jerry Root and Mark Neal address this oversight in The Surprising Imagination of C. S. Lewis: An Introduction (2015).[1] As a work of criticism, their book succeeds. However, it falls far short of the authors’ purpose.

Root and Neal praise their publisher for seeing the book’s “potential as an introductory textbook for C. S. Lewis courses,” at “both secular and religious” schools (ix). It has detailed endnotes and a 30-page bibliography. The essays are also strong in content, although the authors discussed only two Narnia novels and in separate chapters. Of these two, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) is an obvious choice. The Horse and His Boy (1954) is not. One essay discussing the Narnia series as a whole would have made more sense, as would a single essay discussing Lewis’s science fiction trilogy (instead of two chapters on two novels). In ‘religious writing,’ I would have chosen The Four Loves (1960) instead of Letters to Malcolm (1964). Missing altogether is a section on Lewis’s allegorical work, namely The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933).

Root and Neal’s book is still criticism, not a textbook. It certainly isn’t readable. I’ve taught undergraduate literature and writing for four years, so I’ve chosen many a textbook for many a class. I’ve also read some of C. S. Lewis’s work, both in literature classes and in independent study. If I ever taught a course on Lewis, I would never use this book as a textbook. I’d assign a Lewis anthology instead. Any introductory course on a major author studies his or her work, not criticism on it. The purpose of a university education is to teach students to read and critique primary works. I wouldn’t assign this book as a supplement either; a focus on Lewis’s imagination is too narrow. The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis (2010) is a better choice, since its purpose is broader. The 21-essay anthology examines Lewis as a historian, theologian, and writer. It also places the writer in his academic, professional, and cultural milieus.

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[1] This book was published by Abingdon Press in Nashville, Tennessee. I received a free copy in exchange for an online review. All opinions are my own.

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