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.

The Hobbit Forming Life: a book review

As the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.”  Wars were fought and won, infrastructure was built and fortified, and the culture of the ancient West flourished as a result. Similarly, the Middle-Earth of Tolkien’s imagination did not spring up ex nihilo from his imagination but is the culmination of   John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s life work. Various elements of  Middle Earth had their genesis in  his life experience and academic pursuits of Tolkien.  In Tolkien: The Making of a Legendnoted expert on Tolkien and the Inklings, Colin Duriez, tells the story of Tolkien’s life and the events which shaped him as an author.

J.R.R. Tolkein: The Making of a Legend by Colin Duriez

Tolkien’s life story found its way into his fiction.  A tarantula bite in  childhood may have  provided the background fpr Ungoliant or Shelob (13) .  Places that were special to Tolkien provided the basis for important locations (i.e.  the Shire, the two towers, the Ivy Bush all have their origin in actual locations). The love Tolkien had for his wife Edith provided the  inspiration for the story of  Luthien and Beren (one of the central legends of Middle Earth).  His experience of warfare in World War I made him critical of the way technology was destroying modern life(a major theme in the LotR trilogy). But Tolkien’s literary vision was also enriched by his friendships and academic pursuits.

In his schooldays he and a group of literary friends  formed a ‘Tea Club, later known as  the TCBS (Tea Club Barrovian Society).  They dreamed of later literary achievements (though several members did not  survive the First World War). As an academic at Oxford, Tolkien formed the ‘Coal Biters’ a group which gathered weekly to translate and read Norse Mythology. Later, the Inkling(with C.S. Lewis and others) would meet Tuesday mornings at the Eagle and Child. The members of that group listened to, discussed  and critiqued early drafts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  The friendship with Lewis was mutually beneficial and while it cooled somewhat  in later years, Tolkein and Lewis continued to support one another throughout their life.  Tokien’s relationship with Lewis and other writers provided him the relational support he needed and helped him hone his craft as an author.

And of course Tolkien’s own genius  grew up with keen interest in and talent for language.  His skill at languages enabled him to create several Elvin languages.  His work on the OED (after his military service) would prove to give him the proper training to create the world of Middle Earth and in later years, his academic writings mostly served to enrich his fiction.

This is an interesting biography and paints a compelling vision of its subject.  Druiez shares the effect Tolkien’s reading of Beowulf  had for his students. This, coupled with Tolkien’s belief in the power of story, makes me appreciate Tolkien’s fiction all the more.  As one who has enjoyed Tolkien’s books (and Peter Jackson’s adaptations) I do not hesitate to recommend this book. It is a readable account of a much beloved author.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.