Jim Bell and Tony Dawson have compiled a selection of readings that will nourish the spiritual and intellectual hunger of healthy souls in several ways. First, these readings are in and of themselves a superb tonic to refresh the thirsty soul. Second, these selections reveal much about C. S. Lewis’s inner life. Included here are samplings from the massive collection of authors whose writings shaped one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. Finally, these splendid readings serve as an introduction to a large group of writers whose works enriched Lewis’s soul. I would expect many readers to discover for the first time some of the authors who profoundly shaped Professor Lewis’s mind and heart. For people who are unfamiliar with many of the authors included here, this book will be the beginning of a delightful educational journey.
In brief, I have found this book to be at once a unique and rich selection of daily readings. It should have a wide audience and a long life.
–‑Lyle W. Dorsett, professor of Christian Formation and Ministries, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
Special thanks go to Professor Jerry Root, Lewis scholar at Wheaton College, for his keen insights into Lewis. We would also like to express our gratitude to Corey Thomas, Marjorie Lamp Mead, and the staff of the Marion E. Wade Center for their kind and invaluable assistance as we consulted books from C. S. Lewis’s library. We also want to thank Anna Thiel for proofreading the manuscript; her careful attention to detail and insightful comments proved most helpful.
Note to Reader
Scholars tend to make subjective value judgments about the degree to which various authors influenced Lewis. It is not our purpose to quantify or rank the influence of any of these writers.
At times Lewis in his own writings clearly states that an author had a favorable impression on him. At other times he quotes an author with approval or to support a point. These writers have (to the best of our knowledge) been included in this volume.
In Lewis’s professional capacity as literary critic, he dealt with authors who made a positive contribution to the field. Other authors he may have simply enjoyed for his own reading pleasure. With this in mind, we have included writers who are consistent with Lewis’s own viewpoint and whose works are found in his personal library, housed at the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois. Many of these volumes have been annotated and the marginalia betray a positive bias.
We have included some works that played a role in the evolution of his thought that he may, in turn, have left behind. We have not included writers he was familiar with but was either neutral or hostile toward throughout his life. Finally, we have attempted to please those who are aficionados of the complete range of “Lewisiana” as well as those who are familiar only with his popular works.
Please note that we have assigned categories to the selections to help identify some of the themes that would attract Lewis in his reading and research. They are somewhat arbitrary and subjective but will help avoid a random approach and allow readers to gravitate to their initial areas of interest.
When I wrote my master’s thesis on C. S. Lewis twenty-five years ago at University College Dublin, I thought there had already been an exhaustive study of possible spiritual and literary influences on this towering twentieth-century shaper of Christian thought. Yet still today, readers and scholars pour out a perpetual torrent of books, articles, and graduate theses, continuing to speculate on these same influences. This proves there is still much to be learned about the origins of Lewis’s intellectual and spiritual backgrounds. Yet, except for the scholars doing the research, most of us are probably not familiar with these sources of his inspiration.
The “Hound of heaven” pursued the self-described “most reluctant convert in England” using the arguments of friends and other factors to draw him, but it was primarily the Christian wisdom of the ages that brought Lewis to his knees and caused him to grow spiritually. Lewis would agree with the statement that great thinkers stand on the shoulders of giants. His conversion to Christianity began by acknowledging respect for those writers he considered truly great (people like George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Spenser, and John Milton) in spite of the fact that they were Christians.
Lewis would later admit that without these and other profound spiritual influences he could not be the kind of Christian he was, nor could he have the impact on the world with his own writings that he did. If that is so, these writings should have intrinsic value for all of us, as well as help us better understand the spiritual formation of C. S. Lewis himself.
To truly understand Lewis and his works we need to get behind his role as Christian apologist to his interest in philosophy and literature, in reason and romanticism. Lewis was not a one-dimensional reader. His eclectic tastes ranged over a wide variety of genres and time periods. He was a fan of science fiction and fantasy writers as well as Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Augustine. In Lewis’s world, myth and allegory mix with precise logic in philosophical debate. Scholars continue to explore how these influences fit together, but there is no magic formula; Lewis was a complex figure who didn’t quite fit the trends of his own generation and is able to speak to the needs of each succeeding one.
This volume doesn’t attempt to “figure out” C. S. Lewis but to provide a smorgasbord of the content and style of those who have shone forth as messengers of light in his life. In meditating upon these passages we get short impressions of what Lewis valued; these works in many cases affected his thinking, writing, and behavior. They give us a glimpse of the inner world that provided the fuel for his stunning works of theology, poetry, science fiction, fantasy, literary criticism, letters, and children’s literature.
Lewis called himself a “dinosaur” who was a repository of the old Western values, one who upheld the legacy of classic Western civilization. In today’s postmodern environment this vanishing world is dismissed or vilified. Yet as Lewis knew, the flowering of the best of Christian culture took place prior to the Enlightenment. These writers were in turn influenced by the Greek and Roman cultures that preceded them.
So I believe that from these readings we can obtain clearer insight into C. S. Lewis as well as feed our imaginations and intellects upon those whose talents produced works of theology and literature that contain timeless stand-ards. Many will discover a world they never knew existed and would never enter save for the high recommendation of their trusted friend Lewis. So come along with me and walk the same pilgrim path as our great spiritual mentor and drink from the fountain that blessed those who have gone before us, giving them strength and refreshment for the journey.
–James Stuart Bell
“Follow After Agape”
Julian of Norwich
Revelations of Divine Love
He showed me a very lofty spiritual delight in my soul, and in it I was completely filled with everlasting certitude, firmly sustained, without any painful dread. This feeling was so glad and so spiritual that I was entirely at peace, at ease and at rest, so that there was nothing on earth that could have disturbed me.
This lasted only for a while. Then I was transformed and left to myself in depression, weary of my life and irked with myself, so that I kept the patience to go on living only with difficulty. There was no comfort and no ease for me, except faith, hope, and charity, and these I had in reality, though I had very little feeling of them.
And immediately after this our Lord again gave me comfort and rest of soul in delight and certitude, so blessed and so mighty that no dread, no sorrow, no bodily or spiritual pain that could be suffered should have caused me distress.
And then the pain returned to my feelings, again followed by the joy and delight–first the one and then the other, at, I suppose, about twenty different times. In the time of joy I could have said with Saint Paul, “Nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.” And in the pain I could have said, “Lord, save me! I perish!”
This vision was showed to me to teach my understanding that it is profitable for some souls to experience these alterations of mood–sometimes to be comforted and sometimes to fail and to be left to themselves. God wills that we know that he keeps us ever equally safe, in woe as in well-being.
Julian of Norwich (1342—?)–An English Benedictine nun, Julian of Norwich was very ill on May 8—9, 1373, and was visited with sixteen visions of God’s love. She became a recluse and spent twenty years meditating on these visions, after which she wrote the Revelations.
Love is one, and love is changeless.
For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected–not in itself, but in the object. As it was love that first created humanity, so even human love, in proportion to its divinity, will go on creating the beautiful for its own outpouring. There is nothing eternal but that which loves and can be loved, and love is ever climbing towards the consummation when such shall be the universe, imperishable, divine.
Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed.
And our God is a consuming fire.
George MacDonald (1824—1905)–Scottish Congregationalist pastor, novelist, myth maker, and poet, MacDonald had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis. Lewis said that MacDonald’s Phantastes “baptized my imagination.”
From the Hardcover edition.