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Mythopoeic Society

a non-profit organization devoted to the study of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, the Inklings, and the genres of myth and fantasy


Reviews

Two By Lewis

Mere Christianity: An Anniversary Edition of the three books, The Case for Christianity, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. C.S. Lewis. Ed. and Intro. Walter Hooper. New York: Macmillan, 1981. 211 pp. ISBN 978-0025705906.

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The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism. C.S. Lewis. Illus. Michael Hague. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981. 211 pp. ISBN 978-0802860187.

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Reviewed by Nancy-Lou Patterson


[This review originally appeared in Mythlore 34.]

Gilding the Cat’s Whiskers

Special editions of classical works can be redundant or even exploitative, mere gilt rather than gold: the two reviewed here are fully justified as truly enhanced editions to be desired beyond the ubiquitous paperback versions of their subjects. In each case, books as objects of profound significance, which are treasures in themselves, have been enriched by the labors of ancillary craftsmen, like the relics of medieval saints in their splendid reliquaries. Not that these works are medieval, of course: Pilgrim’s Regress is significant as C.S. Lewis’s first attempt to explain, to himself as much as anybody, the journey which led him to seek the vision of his childhood and find it fulfilled beyond hope. One reads it like Thomas Merton’s Seven-Storey Mountain as a gallant hymn to the new-found embrace of Holy Wisdom. And Mere Christianity, which one reads again and again, presents Lewis in his maturity, setting forth with all simplicity, the solid faith, bread, and wine for a world hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

In each case, the talents of those whose enhancements grace these special editions are perfectly applied. Walter Hooper’s best contributions to his long task as Lewis’s literary executor are two-fold. First, he has ransacked the record for every word from the pen of his subject, burrowing through libraries and collections with awesome persistence. These efforts have resulted not only in extensive bibliographies but in the numerous collections of Lewis’s works which put everybody in his editor’s debt.

Father Hooper’s second talent, not nearly so frequently acknowledged, derives from the same gifts of industry and consistency. He is the author of a number of detailed studies of aspects of Lewis’s career which, while humble in intention and almost demure in their interpretation, throw strong and important light on their subject. I think of his studies of the Martlets, of the Socratic Society, and of the genesis of the Narnian Chronicles. Beside these can be placed the fine essay which introduces the anniversary edition of Mere Christianity. Here Hooper has drawn from the archives of the British Broadcasting Corporation a wealth of materials which expand our understanding of Lewis’s intentions and of the milieu from which this greatest of his apologetic works emerged. Letters by Lewis and by those who engaged him to broadcast for the BBC are reproduced, along with photographs of the hand-written version by Lewis of one of his most famous talks, “Sexual Morality,” and a transcript of a broadcast conversation between Lewis and the host of a religious program, “The Anvil,” in which a number of questions are touched upon, not least, “Why does God allow suffering?” (210).

Hooper has woven from his researches a delightful and revealing narrative: Lewis struggling with the problems of broadcast timing, of expression in the vernacular, with his own intentions and the intransigency of his medium. The essay concludes with a note on the response of listeners: in 1944 Eric Fenn of the BBC wrote, “The single most important fact is the sharp division you produced in your audience. They obviously either regard you as ‘the cat’s whiskers’ or as beneath contempt …” (xxxv). Lewis thanked Fenn for this “suitable Lenten reading” and added, “The two views you report … aren’t very illuminating about me perhaps: about my subject matter, it is an old story, isn’t it?” Father Hooper’s careful work and delicate touch in this essay makes the anniversary edition of Mere Christianity worthy of careful attention by all of Lewis’s readers.

An equally happy event is the splendid hardback edition from Eerdman’s of The Pilgrim’s Regress, which is delightfully accompanied by Michael Hague’s illustrations. Exactly the right period note is struck, that of the Edwardian era, the time of Lewis’s youth. Hague’s illustrations for books, which include those of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Beauty and the Beast, The Wind in the Willows, and The Wizard of Oz, are making him a new master in the fantasy field. His two Narnian calendars, for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1982) and Prince Caspian (1983) set one hungering for a new Hague-illustrated edition of the Narnian Chronicles despite one’s loyalty to the magisterial drawings and paintings of Pauline Baynes (to whom all illustrators of Narnia turn as the primary source, after the manner of illustrators of Alice turning to Tenniel: Baynes’s Aslan is Aslan; her White Witch is the White Witch; ad infinitum). In the meantime, here is an edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress, never previously illustrated, let alone enhanced, by anybody, which is truly enriched by its new setting.

The designer, Charlotte Ellison, and the illustrator, Michael Hague, each have contributed to the handsome effect of this extremely attractive and beautifully crafted volume. When Lewis was a boy he made much of the joys of owning fine books. Later, we learn that he rather outgrew this passion. Not all of us have been able to achieve this level of self-abandonment, and those who still delight in a great book greatly presented, will find this lovely edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress irresistible.

Now a dream: someday, let there be a complete and uniform edition of Lewis’s works, letters, juvenilia, and whatever else exists, presented in a fine format, well designed, well annotated, accompanied by new and enhancing essays and magnificent illustrations. Let Lewis’s many editors and commentators collaborate, to make this dream edition of the complete Lewis come true. If not in this world, then in the next, where the chorus of their voices will be joined by a booming base from a red-faced gentleman somewhere in the front row, and where the artists will find their pen-and-brushwork visions made harder and brighter than diamond, as gems in a supernal crown for the One who invented images. Lewis might add a touch or two of his own to that grand design also, for he was, as his letters show us, an artist manqué, and in Heaven, all that we wish to be we shall be, and more besides. It’s all in Lewis, all in Lewis!


Mere Christianity: An Anniversary Edition of the three books, The Case for Christianity, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. C.S. Lewis. Ed. and Intro. Walter Hooper. New York: Macmillan, 1981. 211 pp. ISBN 978-0025705906.

Buy Online

The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism. C.S. Lewis. Illus. Michael Hague. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981. 211 pp. ISBN 978-0802860187.

Buy Online