(2015) Roger White, Judith Wolfe & Brendan N. Wolfe, Oxford University Press,
£20 / US$29.95, hrdbk, xvi +266pp, ISBN 978-0-190-21434-0
A beautiful hardback presentation of essays and memoirs from the Oxford C. S. Lewis Society, C. S. Lewis and his Circle offers a glimpse into Lewis’ thoughts as well as collecting some criticisms of his works. Many of these collected documents have been transcribed from speeches and other recordings.
We begin with the theology and philosophy. It is something of a mixed experience in that much of the reasoned debate requires an acceptance of the principles of faith before many of the ideas can be accepted. American culture has always prized Lewis’ intellectual Christianity as being both accessible and thoughtful. It certainly is, but loses ground on other thinks by assuming a religious prerequisite.
In part, this acceptance in the writing also leads towards some shallow conclusions. The hypothesis of ratiocination as being in some way harmful to the phenomena of inspiration is a very interesting discussion, but not developed in nearly enough depth. Readers of David Huime might see this quite clearly, as might Nietzsche scholars when looking at the article entitled Charles Williams and the Problem of Evil.
The later segments, literary criticism, memoirs and memories of the inklings might have been better to have been shuffled forwards in the pack. This is the accessible image of C. S. Lewis to a secular audience and the reminiscences are a fond recollection of England’s past. Whilst the more thoughtful articles certainly do bear examination, particularly owing to their exclusivity and challenge to much modern thought, drawing us towards them with the fonder remembrances might make the book more attractive after a reader passes the contents pages. Memoirs from Lewis’ family and friends are a particular delight and would make for a good introduction, progressing to the Inklings then the criticisms and finally the theology/philosophy; the exact opposite of the book’s composed order.
A highlight in the critical accounts comes from the form Archbishop Rowan Williams who re-assesses Lewis’ That Hideous Strength with both respect and considered insight. This is an excellent study and shines a little light on one of Lewis’ works that deserves such re-examination. There are also critical observations on W. H. Auden and the aforementioned Charles Williams.
On occasion some of the other writers are a little too respectful and appreciative, steering away from analysis that might bring something new to the stories and writings they choose to discuss. Greater scrutiny might come from those further away from his circle, but this depends on what a reader is looking to get from the book and the audience the writers are looking to engage.
C. S. Lewis and His Circle is strongest as a collective memoir and will appeal to those looking for a picture of the man from those who knew him well. Certainly, Narnia enthusiasts will find something here albeit hidden behind texts they might not find as appealing to start with.
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