21 June 2013

Concluding Lewisian Thoughts

I've finished reading Alister McGrath's C.S. Lewis: A Life. Go here to read some prior thoughts about Lewis and pedagogy and here for Lewis's views on the ethical treatment of animals. After working through Lewis's life and death, McGrath addresses Lewis' postmortem literary success. Before reaching the heights of fame that his works continue to enjoy, McGrath reports that Lewis's reputation fell into a general eclipse, especially among American Evangelicals who succeeded the more favorably inclined Protestant mainline hegemony as the locus of non-Catholic Christian presence in America in the 1960s:
Lewis had indeed few champions in North America during the 1960s. Lewis was then read and advocated chiefly by Episcopalians ... even though there were signs of an emerging interest on the part of some influential Catholics, Evangelicals--a growing religious constituency in the United States during the 1960s--clearly regarded him with suspicion, in that he violated both their social norms [e.g., drinking and smoking] and their religious concerns [such as inerrancy and the penal satisfaction understanding of the Atonement]. (McGrath at 365)
For what it's worth, that was not my personal experience. I cannot remember exactly when but I know I read the "space trilogy" (that McGrath prefers to call the "Ransom trilogy," a better turn of phrase, I agree), Pilgrim's Regress, Mere Christianity, Till We Have Faces (which I confess then not understanding at all), as well as a number of others in my teens. I may be one of the few who didn't hear of the Narnia series until I was an adult. I don't believe I read them all until I was in my 30s. I doubt my experience disproves McGrath's general conclusion about the timing of Lewis's second reception in America although it may speak to some oddities of my childhood. Oh well.

McGrath's penetrating observations about Philip Pullman--the "anti-Lewis"--are on the mark: "Far from dismissing Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy implicitly recognizes them as representing the definitive statement of the position he wishes to reject." (376) Indeed, "in the end, Pullman's appeal is parasitic, depending precisely upon the cultural impact of Narnia that he wishes to subvert." Ouch.

In conclusion, I highly recommend McGrath's book. It's a serious account of the life and thought of C.S. Lewis, warts and all, and does a fine job of placing Lewis's work in the context of the entirety of his life.

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