This encyclopedia of C. S. Lewis's life works includes thoughts and ideas by a wide range of Lewis experts.
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Thirty-five years after his death, C. S. Lewis remains one of the most enduring and often-quoted writers in England and America, and one of the very few writers of his time who has never gone out of print. Lewis was already a best-selling author by 1942 and in 1947 was heralded as "one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world" by Time magazine, which featured his picture on the front cover. In 1963, the year of Lewis's death, distinguished poet and teacher Chad Walsh measured the impact of Lewis on American religious thinking as something rarely, if ever, "equaled by any other modern writer." Perhaps even more telling was the whimsical proposal offered by Catholic editor Joseph Fessio to a meeting of leaders from Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant traditions who in 1995 gathered in South Carolina to re-examine the theological differences that separated them: "What if we all agreed to accept," Fessio proposed, "sacred Scripture, the early creeds, the first four ecumenical councils, and the writings of C. S. Lewis?"
But continued interest in Lewis has not been built solely on Lewis's religious writings. While less pronounced than his influence as a representative of traditional Christianity, Lewis's writings as a scholar of Medieval and Renaissance literature and his popularity as a writer of fiction evince a similar enduring quality. A striking example of the sustained popularity of Lewis's fiction is reflected in the sale of over a million copies, in little more than a year, of the HarperCollins 1994 reissue of the Chronicles of Narnia (which had never been out of print). Lewis's reputation in literary history and criticism is rather more difficult to assess. Yet, even here, his work in these fields continues to garner respect.
There are those who are baffled, possibly even dismayed, by the enduring popularity of Lewis's work. Certainly he has attracted his share of debunkers. There is as well a persistent claim that an enormous amount of hagiography has grown up around Lewis, especially with regard to his person. While an over-idealized Lewis may be found at times in the vast corpus of writing on him, the great majority of it simply cannot be characterized as hagiography. In fact, it may well be that in recent years there is a growing tendency to over-exaggerate Lewis's character flaws in an attempt to "humanize" him.
On balance, it is not Lewis the man, however, but rather Lewis the theological and philosophical writer, the literary scholar and teller of stories that accounts for his longevity. Writing to Lewis in 1941 in response to her reading of Out of the Silent Planet and The Problem of Pain, Evelyn Underhill described Lewis's "remarkable" ability for making ideas come alive as his "capacity for giving imaginative body to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity." Lewis had a gift for illuminating a subject, and in an age of often fuzzy thinking, his ability to bring clarity to ideas and to touch both mind and heart with the force of those ideas continues to be compelling for many.
While books by C. S. Lewis continue to sell briskly, books about Lewis (and there are many) sell comparatively sluggishly. The public is far more interested in reading Lewis than in reading books about Lewis. So what commends this present volume in light of the flurry of new books about him marking the one hundredth anniversary of his birth? To begin with, the C. S. Lewis Readers' Encyclopedia (CSLRE) is designed chiefly to help the reader get more out of his reading of Lewis -- to gain a deeper and richer understanding of Lewis's own work and thinking. Further, the serious reader of Lewis is often drawn into the larger world of people and ideas that fill the pages of his books, essays, and letters, and often sent off to explore any number of other literary, theological and philosophical points addressed by him. I have met numerous people who have received a first-rate education by reading the seemingly endless number of books referred to in the Lewis corpus. The CSLRE helps facilitate this wider investigation by offering entries on hundreds of related and interconnecting facets of Lewis's intellectual and literary interests along with bibliographies directed toward further study.
There is, understandably, a certain amount of overlap between this reference work and previous ones, such as Paul F. Ford's Companion to Narnia, Colin Duriez's The C. S. Lewis Handbook, and the more recent C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide by Walter Hooper. The CSLRE, however, offers a more comprehensive approach than others with its more than 800 entries alphabetically arranged, many which are not found in previous works. For example, there are entries describing the sixty-three letters to editors Lewis wrote during his lifetime, the vast majority of which have never been collected and published elsewhere. Likewise, there are entries for the many poems Lewis wrote that are not available in any of the collections yet printed. Another distinctive and strength of this reference work is the diversity brought to the project by its forty-three contributors who, when possible, wrote in the areas of their expertise. Like all reference works of this nature, a certain amount of unevenness with respect to particular entries is unavoidable and to be expected. Yet, as an encyclopedia, the wider range of opinion represented by the contributors is one of the strengths of the book.
I would like to commend Jeffrey D. Schultz for bringing this monumental project together. It is my hope that those who use this volume will not only enrich their reading of Lewis but allow themselves to be drawn into the larger world of ideas it offers.
Christopher W. Mitchell
The Marion E. Wade Center
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