Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings
Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis – by Michael Ward
Is it possible that a scholar today could have a genuinely new insight into Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – an insight that would quite literally change the direction of Lewis studies? Yes, it is possible, and Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia is that book. I started out as skeptical as could be (my attitude could have been summed up with “A secret structure of imagery behind the Chronicles? Sure, and I have a bridge to sell you”) but as my review here explains in more detail, when I read Planet Narnia for myself, I was completely convinced by Ward’s argument.
In Planet Narnia, Michael Ward does more than unpack the medieval planetary symbolism in the Chronicles of Narnia – though indeed he does so, and exceedingly well – he connects his argument to a larger question. Ward starts out by challenging the reader to consider a set of three questions about the Chronicles: their occasion, composition, and reception. What led Lewis to change gears to write in this genre, after many years of working in other genres? Why is the series so apparently varied in its use of biblical and mythological elements? And why have the stories been so successful?
Planet Narnia is extraordinarily good scholarship and absolutely essential for a serious understanding of any of Lewis’ fiction.
Dr Michael Ward is a writer, speaker, and the Chaplain of St Peter’s College, Oxford. Visit the Planet Narnia website here.
Mere Christians: Inspiring Stories of Encounters with CS Lewis – edited by Andrew Lazo and Mary Anne Phemister
Mere Christians is a collection of first-person accounts of how people have been influenced by the work of CS Lewis. Unlike the other books on this list, Mere Christians does not focus on literature directly; rather, it focuses on the way that literature changes people’s lives. Those who are passionate lovers of books will enjoy seeing the ways in which Lewis’ works have impacted others; the real value of the book, though, lies in the cumulative case for the value of literature as a mode of apologetics.
Andrew Lazo is a scholar and speaker on CS Lewis. His web site is www.andrewlazo.com.
The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community
In The Company They Keep, Diana Glyer has given us a tremendous book, one that provides deep insight into the community of practicing writers known as the Inklings: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and others. Her book is based on twenty-five years of research, painstaking reading of every scrap of available writing dealing with the writing and friendship of the Inklings. In addition to published material, Glyer looks at unpublished letters, diaries, and even comments on drafts; it’s fascinating to see the way that Lewis and Tolkien responded to each other, “iron sharpening iron.”
More than that, Glyer, whose doctorate is in language, literacy, and rhetoric, and who is herself an accomplished writer, convincingly brings in research on composition and community to illuminate the interactions among the Inklings.
The Company They Keep is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the Inklings, and far surpasses the previous standard book, Humphrey Carpenter’s The Inklings. The general assumption about the Inklings is that they wrote independently, with limited influence on each other, particularly with respect to Tolkien. Glyer shows convincingly that the Inklings did indeed collaborate and influence each other in a rich and dynamic way, over the course of many years, in ways that enhanced their individual writing styles.
Glyer’s book does what the best scholarship should do: it makes for a richer, more nuanced, more insightful reading of the work of Lewis and Tolkien. As a further benefit, Glyer draws on the example of this tremendously successful and long-lived writing community to show how writers can learn and grow in community.
Diana Pavlac Glyer is professor of English at Azusa Pacific University.
Arda Reconstructed: The Making of the Published Silmarillion – my review for Mythprint here.