The Joyful Christian
Reviewed by Nancy-Lou Patterson
[This review originally appeared in Mythlore 20.]
“Leafing Through Lewis.”
In 1968, Clyde S. Kilby edited an anthology of C. S. Lewis, A Mind Awake. Perhaps the passage of a decade justifies the appearance of this second anthology. In any event, a comparison of the two gives a useful insight into the anthologist’s art. Kilby organized the quotations from Lewis into a series of entitled topics, ranging from “the nature of man” to “the post-Christian world.” The selections themselves were relatively brief––some no more than a sentence––and ranged from pith aphorisms to long, richly-argued paragraphs. Each entry was followed by the title of its source, and “all of his … forty books “were included, making the collection a true sampler of Lewis’s style and range.
The Joyful Christian, in contrast, contains 127 readings, from only eighteen books. The selections, according to the foreword, are “Thematically arranged, informally systematized, and devotionally styled” (xiv). The passages are long, sometimes five or more pages apiece, and the sources, though given at the back of the book, do not appear with the quotations themselves. The sources are either Lewis’s works of apologetics, or his letters, with one exception: A Grief Observed, which is, of course, in diary form. The effect is something like going on a retreat, and, having been given a tall stack of books, leafing through them at random and reading longish passages.
As a matter of fact, in 1953, after my own conversion, which was accomplished not by reading Lewis but by reading Matthew 7.7, I was in a student union building library in Kansas and began paging through a book I took, quite unsuspectingly, from the shelf––it was The Screwtape Letters. I had never heard of Lewis. There was a row of his books on that shelf, and for the rest of the hot Kansas summer I read avidly. It was probably a year later before I discovered that Lewis also wrote fantasies, and began to read Out of the Silent Planet! So I can attest that one can be enchanted by Lewis before ever setting foot in Malacandra or Narnia.
The effect of the two anthologies is in fact so different that there is plenty of room on the shelf for both of them. If The Joyful Christian leads anybody on to a whole book by Lewis, its task will be done. It can be used for devotion and meditation (I took it on my last retreat) and gives one the advantage of Lewis’s bracing company. And its juxtaposition throws new light on the consistency and astounding range of his mind. He makes an excellent retreat master.