Thursday, August 17, 2023

I wanted reasons

I received James Como's Mystical Perelandra two days ago. In his first chapter, he describes his discovery of C.S. Lewis, a discovery that feels very much like my own and also, I'm sure, the experience of many others:
.... I have always been an argumentative person, even as a child. I wanted reasons, and if they came my way I would question them. And, my goodness, could Lewis argue! He broke down an adversary's ideas to their underlying assumptions, often unexamined and false, confronted counter-arguments, then eventually, after what his friend Owen Barfield would later call "dialectical obstetrics," nailed down his point. So the very first, and enduring attraction, was intellectual.

Then came imaginative propulsion. That began with The Great Divorce, combining fantasy, the psychology of sin, and argument. Soon I made the voyage to Malacandra, that is, Mars, in Out of the Silent Planet: greater fantasy, astonishing literary psychology (Lewis knew his readers' expectations and played upon those keys like a virtuoso), and — argument. But in this case, there was also a design that invited participation, a puzzle to be solved, a correspondence. And so entered Myth, a story that "could have been historical fact" but, even if not, so conveyed a truth, or a collection of truths, that it was not only compelling but convincing: yes, one could say, I see how those truths hang together.

Next came holiness. Perelandra proved irresistible, as narrative, argument, spiritual psychology, and as sanctifying myth. For decades I have been re-reading it and dwelling within it, and I do not know how Lewis could have produced it except as a mystical irruption strained through his mightily equipped intellect and story-telling genius.

For me what followed Perelandra was no footnote, for The Chronicles of Narnia, "The Weight of Glory" (Lewis's central statement of Joy), "Transposition," "The World's Last Night," "Meditation in a Toolshed"(!), and so many other essays, along with Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters (for two months I studied Lewis's manuscript in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library), and eventually the landmark novel Till We Have Faces (his best literary fiction, both he and I agree) — all these and more...
My own first significant encounter with Lewis was Mere Christianity, and it changed the direction of my life. I also started looking for more: books by and about Lewis, books he cited, and so on. With the help of friends, I've visited the Wade Collection at Wheaton College, Lewis's home in Headington, his colleges (Magdalen College in Oxford, and Magdalene College in Cambridge), and supped at the "Bird and Baby" where the Inklings once gathered every week.

Mystical Perelandra: My Lifelong Reading of C.S. Lewis & His Favorite Book is for sale at Amazon on paper and as a Kindle download.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.