The Fulsome Imagination of Lewis: a book review

According to Jerry Root and Mark Neal, Lewis wrote in at least seventeen  literary genres: apologetics, autobiography, educational philosophy, essays, fairy stories, journal, letters, literary criticism, literary history, lyric poetry, narrative poetry, the novel, religious devotion, satire, science fiction, short story, and translation (03). Is there a thread that runs through these each of these genres? Root & Neal say Imagination. In The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis, they provide a taxonomy of the various ways Lewis employs imagination (or warns of its misuse).
9781426795107Lewis’s various genres showcase different aspects of hisimagination. “He wrote in a literary form that helped him best set forth a certain body of idea”(4). Root & Neal divide their exploration of Lewis’ imagination along generic lines, exploring first his non-fiction (autobiography, religious writing and literary criticism) under the heading of “Imagination and the Literature of the Mind.” Part 2, “Imagination and the Literature of the Heart, looks at Lewis’s fiction and poetry. Of course the aspect of imagination described in each of Root and Neal’s chapters may exist in multiple works of Lewis (and genres) but they chose a principle work which highlights what they wanted to say about Lewis’s imagination, and citing other Lewis lit along the way.

Part 1 showcases hoe Lewis employed imagination to orient himself toward reality. His autobiography, Surprised by Joy, reveals a baptized imagination–regenerate and oriented toward the discovery of God (16). Mere Christianity exemplifies Lewis’s use of shared imagination: creativity that connects and communicates with his audience (17, 28). The satisfied imagination ‘”delights in the familiar the simple, the mundane, and the repetitive in a manner that brings our minds back to the eternal source of order and repetition”(31). Letters to Malcom Chiefly on Prayer provide the lens for mundane imagining. Lewis’ literary criticism in An Experiment in Criticism and The Discarded Image explore the awakened imagination and the realizing imaginationThe awakened imagination is an ‘invitation to break out of the dungeon of self’ and awaken to new ideas (57). In The Discarded Image Lewis described the medieval cosmology and how their worldview determined their vision, and their interpretation of  the past. Lewis exploration helps us evaluate the past and present, and gives us space to question our own assumptions.

In part 2, we see that not all of Lewis’s descriptions of the  imagination are positive. He begins cheerily enough by describing the penetrating imagination of A Horse and His Boy (which employs metaphor to give us a deeper knowledge of a reality), the material imagination of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and examines the primary imagination in  Out of the Silent Planet (our use of the five senses to understand and interpret the world). But imagination can take a dark turn. That Hideous Strength describes Lewis’s idea of the generous imagination [the] deificaiton of an idea or thing to the point that borders on adoration or vilification. Simply put it seeks to embellish a thing beyond what it deserves. Its effect is to weaken the self and narrow the soul” (121). The Great Divorce explores the transforming imagination through its characters—a projected, overidealized and inflated expectation of the objects of our affection which leads inevitably to disappointment and disenchantment. The Screwtape Letters take us deeper into the realm of projection (and hell) by showcasing a controlled imagination which projects one’s self-seeking desires on others (155). Root and Neal end on a happier note, showing how Lewis’s poetry provide a lens for the absorbing imagination—a synthesis between old ideas and new consciousness which transcends our own particularity (171). An appendix explores additional use of imagination by C.S. Lewis.

Anyone who has gone through the wardrobe with Lewis, or read his religious writings knows he was a deeply imaginative man with a broad intelligence. Root and Neal do an excellent job of exploring and naming the various ways that Lewis employed imagination. But I don’t like the title. Lewis’ imagination was comprehensive, far-reaching  and full-orbed. But surprising? If you have read Lewis at all, you aren’t all that surprised by Lewis’s imagination and penetrating insights.

But my misgivings about the title (which may not even be Root’s and Neal’s fault), shouldn’t put you off. An exploration of Lewis’s fulsome imagination is worthwhile and Root and Neal summarize ideas and analyze how Lewis employed them. This book will enhance your understanding of Lewis and deepen your appreciation of his writing. Root and Neal make good use of Lewis’ scholarship and shows what one mans imaginings reveal. I give this four-and-a-half stars.

Note: I received this book from the publisher through Handlebar Media in exchange for my honest review.

Deeply Loved: The End of Lent and Holy Week

Holy Week is over and my Lenten journey has come to an end. Tomorrow I will eat, drink and be merry. Christ is risen indeed! For the most part. Not eating meat and drinking coffee hasn’t been too hard. My Holy Week bustled with visiting relatives and I bent my resolve a little and ate  a roast with my family the last night they were here.  With the busyness of my week I found that I didn’t have the energy to do many of the things I love during Holy Week. My wife and I love to host a Seder and talked about doing it this year, but we were busy tuesday and wednesday night and couldn’t do it then. We didn’t make it to a Maundy Thursday service because I needed to take an assessment for a job I’m applying for (and my wife couldn’t face it with three kids in tow. Good Friday I cam home from a day of work (and fasting), had dinner and fell asleep.  But I am leading worship on Easter and have been working on music all week. So despite missing my yearly rituals, this week has still been sacred space for me.

Deeply Loved has been my devotional for the season of Lent. The 40 day format makes it an ideal for Lent, but the themes of this devotional are broader than ‘preparing your heart for Easter.’ Keri Wyatt Kent describes what it is like to be in relationship with the God who loves you deeply and she suggests “Presence Practices” to help you deepen your spiritual life. I found it fruitful reading this during Lent, but I think that this is a book that could be used as a devotional any time or season.

What I appreciate about this book is Keri Wyatt Kent’s graciousness. Kent challenges readers to partake in various spiritual disciplines: scripture meditation, reading, prayer, journaling, Sabbath rest, intercession, service, celebration, etc. Many of her suggestions will be challenging to a lot of people. But you never feel beat up by Kent. Her challenges are warm invitations to partake deeper in the with-God-life.

I also appreciate that Kent shares from her own experience of the spiritual life. Her reflections and “Presence Practices” are not commending a lifestyle left untried. Kent shares her own faith journey and the insights she has gained. There is a rootedness to her reflections.

Lastly I liked that this is a devotional with content. So much that passes for devotional literature is overly positivistic fluff. Kent draws on scripture and a number of writers on the Christian life to produce a devotional with depth. A number of authors I respect are noted in her daily reflections. I respect that!

I received a copy of this book from Abingdon Press and agreed to post a review. I also purchased a Kindle copy of this book and read from both copies, depending on where I was when I read it. I liked the physical copy better for this kind of book. There is space to check off your presence practice for the day and I find it easier to track with a physical copy for devotional literature.