Tuesday, April 1, 2008

An introduction to C.S. Lewis

I've read C.S. Lewis since high school and have on my bookshelves almost everything he wrote, and - until it became almost impossible to keep up - most that was written about him. His ideas have influenced how I think about just about everything. My friends know this and so I wasn't surprised to get an email from a good friend asking my opinion about C.S. Lewis & Narnia For Dummies by Richard Wagner. She had seen it in a display at Border's and wondered if it might be a good introduction for her sons. My only experience with the "Dummies" books dated back to when I was belatedly trying to learn something about computers and the internet and I had then found the books quite useful. I had not realized how extensive their subject matter has now become.

It is not a book for the very young, but for anyone else who knows little or nothing about Lewis, C.S. Lewis & Narnia For Dummies is a pretty good introduction [even with a few discrepancies and minor errors]. It includes biographical information and material about the Narnia books - as its title describes - but also leads the curious much further, into Lewis's other fiction and his apologetics.

In one of the appendices, Wagner provides what he calls "road maps" for the interested new Lewis reader. They struck me as a pretty good way to begin to enjoy CSL. First, what Wagner calls "The Tour de Lewis":
Perhaps you started reading a Lewis book in the past and gave up. If so, I recommend that you take the Tour de Lewis approach: Start out with the easier reads and save the more challenging books for later, when you're more familiar with Lewis's subject matter and writing style. The lists below include of some of the author's most well-known books. I've divided them into three groups, divvied up according to level of difficulty and overall must-read status. (Within each group, I order the books from the least to the most difficult.)

Start off by reading the "essential" Lewis books:
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The Screwtape Letters
  • The Great Divorce
  • Mere Christianity
Move on to other works of Lewis that are more complex but still highly understandable:
  • Perelandra (or the entire space trilogy, if you're into fantasy)
  • The Problem of Pain
  • The Four Loves
  • Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
  • Surprised by Joy
  • A Grief Observed
If you've made it this far, keep going! With a solid Lewis foundation, you can tackle his most challenging works:
  • The Abolition of Man
  • The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
  • The World's Last Night and Other Essays
  • Till We Have Faces
  • Miracles
By following the Tour de Lewis approach, you familiarize yourself with Lewis's writing style and vocabulary slowly, so that by the time you get to Miracles, you may even be philosophizing with your friends and family!
And another "road map" about Lewis's Christianity:
Perhaps you're new to Lewis and are curious about his personal path from atheism to Christianity and the reasons that lead to his conversion. If so, I offer a suggested road map through several of Lewis's meatiest works to explore his arguments for the truth of Christianity. The list starts with the following:
  • Mere Christianity
  • The Abolition of Man
  • The Problem of Pain
  • Miracles
  • Surprised by Joy
After you've tackled the five core books above, I recommend rounding out your exploration of Lewis by reading, along with other classics, his fictional books that help underscore the truth of Christianity:
  • Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The Screwtape Letters
  • The Great Divorce
  • The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
  • The World's Last Night and Other Essays
  • The Pilgrim's Regress
  • Till We Have Faces

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