(2019) James Como, Oxford University Press, £10.99, hrdbk, xxii + 134pp, ISBN 978-0-198-82824-2
The writings of C. S. Lewis have a universal appeal. His 'Chronicles of Narnia' are by far the best known, but he was also a prolific literary scholar, essayist, broadcaster, novelist, poet, and Christian apologist. Following the chronology of Lewis’s life, James Como draws out the core themes of his writings, showing how his ideas evolved.
What do you know about C. S. Lewis? What did I know about C. S. Lewis? Not much admittedly, apart from knowing that he wrote the Narnia books, was a Christian and was a member of a group that also included J. R. R. Tolkien called The Inklings which occasionally met in a pub, and that Anthony Hopkins played him in the film Shadowlandswhich chronicled his doomed love affair with Joy Davidman. So not much at all, which makes James Como’s C. S. Lewis A Very Short Introduction a handy book to have. It’s not a big book, in more ways than one. The first being that it is only 160 pages long. The second is that it is smaller being 17 by 11 cm, and it’s apt in a way that the book was published by Oxford University Press as Lewis was an academic there and this book forms part of the 'A Very Short' series which already contains 550 other titles – including black holes, artificial intelligence, science and religion, thegothic, miracles and even science fiction – with other titles about film noir, reptiles and Homer coming soon.
James Como seems to be the very obvious choice to write this book, given that he was one of the founding members of the New York C. S. Lewis Society back in the 1960s and he has written several other books about Lewis, as well as countless articles, so knows a lot more about the man than features here. The book takes a very structured look at Lewis’ life and it is clear that while extremely talented and successful as a novelist, satirist, poet and broadcaster and writer about Christian belief, he was also a complicated and troubled soul only really finding peace with himself towards the end of his life and during his marriage to American poet, Joy Davidman, which started as a marriage of convenience to allow her to stay in England but turned into something more deeper and meaningful.
The book is divided into 8 chapters and has ten illustrations dotted throughout, ranging from a very charismatic Lewis in his heyday, to other family photos, book covers and finally his plaque at Westminster Abbey. Following the last chapter there is a section of references for each chapter and a further reading section detailing Lewis’ fictional books that are suggested reading, including Christian novels, science fiction novels, the Narnia series and other novels and poetry. There is also an extensive listing of his essays, sermons and reviews, criticism and Christian writings followed by a list of books that were important to him divided into different categories including intellectual, imaginative, spiritual and fictional, not surprisingly the imaginative section includes The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, written by his old friend Jack Tolkien, or Tollers as he called him.
It is hard to criticise a non-fiction book, especially one written by such a Lewis expert as Como, but C. S. Lewis A Very Short Introduction does what it says on the tin, and is a good starting point if you want to know more about the man behind the Narnia series and The Screwtape Letters.
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