It amazes me how quickly this year has passed by. For whatever reason, for me, 2017 has absolutely flown by! That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it really has.
Practically everything I’ve read this year has been from CS Lewis. Everything. I’ve always been a CS Lewis fan but wanted to be intentional in reading books from his pen this year, as well as what others have said about his life and work.
If you’re looking for a place to start with CS Lewis, start with The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is a fictional work in which Lewis, through his vivid, brilliant imagination, allows us to peer into the spiritual realm of darkness. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis grants us access into the “correspondence” between the “elder devil” Screwtape as he communicates to the novice Wormwood on how to best derail his “patient” (his assigned human) and turn him against “the Enemy” (God). I’ve read Screwtape a number of times over the years. Over a decade ago I told my friend Kevin that I was not interested in reading anything fiction: “I’m an academic I don’t have time for that nonsense.” Kevin replied, “But surely you’ve read The Screwtape Letters?” He was appalled when I said that I had not and immediately sent me a copy in the mail. I read it in two days. And I was hooked! Each and every time I’ve read it since it draws me in. What a concept! Since reading Screwtape, I’ve ventured in to the lands of Lewis’ Narnia, as well as Tolkien’s Shire and Middle Earth. These adventures are dear to me.
The next stop should be Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Bringing together Lewis’ legendary broadcast talks during World War 2 Mere Christianity provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear this powerful apologetic for the Christian faith.
Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life is Jack Lewis’ autobiography. And when you read it you’ll find out why family and friends called him “Jack.” In Surprised by Joy, Lewis takes readers on a spiritual journey through his early life and eventual embrace of the Christian faith. He begins with his childhood in Belfast, surveys his boarding school years and his eventual atheism in England, reflects on his experience in World War I, introduces us to his friend and colleague JRR Tolkien, and then concludes with Oxford where he became “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” As he recounts his lifelong search for joy, Lewis demonstrates its role in guiding him to find God.
Another book that I thoroughly enjoyed this year was A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War by Joseph Laconte. I read this book just a couple of years ago but reread it anew recently. The subtitle of the work is: How JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918. One commentator writes, “The First World War laid waste to a continent and permanently altered the political and religious landscape of the West. For a generation of men and women, it brought the end of innocence—and the end of faith. Yet for JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, the Great War deepened their spiritual quest. Both men served as soldiers on the Western Front, survived the trenches, and used the experience of that conflict to ignite their Christian imagination. Had there been no Great War, there would have been no Hobbit, no Lord of the Rings, no Narnia, and perhaps no conversion to Christianity by CS Lewis.” I will say that A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War is not for everyone, but if you are a CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien fan you won’t be disappointed.
Another biography that I’d recommend is The Narnain: The Life and Imagination of CS Lewis by Alan Jacobs (Humanities Professor at Baylor). Tiersa and I went to the play earlier this year, The Most Reluctant Convert at the Eisemann Center and the actor who portrayed Lewis recommended Jacobs’ biography. From the description on Amazon: “Alan Jacobs masterfully tells the story of the original Narnian. From Lewis’s childhood days in Ireland playing with his brother, Warnie, to his horrific experiences in the trenches during World War I, to his friendship with JRR Tolkien (and other members of the ‘Inklings’), and his remarkable late-life marriage to Joy Davidman, Jacobs traces the events and people that shaped Lewis’s philosophy, theology, and fiction. The result is much more than a conventional biography of Lewis: Jacobs tells the story of a profound and extraordinary imagination. For those who grew up with Narnia, or for those just discovering it, The Narnian tells a remarkable tale of a man who knew great loss and great delight, but who knew above all that the world holds far more richness and meaning than the average eye can see.”
There are so many books from CS Lewis you could read and not go wrong: Narnia, The Weight of Glory, Reflections on the Psalms, The Four Loves, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, God in the Dock, and on and on and on. All are challenging and inspiring and timeless. But if you’re interested, these first five that I’ve listed by or about Jack Lewis are a great place to start.
There you have it! 2017’s top five….
Glory to God!