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Author Study: C.S. Lewis Curated by Natasha Sung '23: Critical Reception

 

Lewis' Critical Reception 

          C.S. Lewis received plentiful literary criticisms during his day but still continues to challenge and provoke readers to this day. Being a staunch Christian apologist and scholar, Lewis naturally attracted both Christians and non-Christians alike. His radio talks on the BBC in the 1940’s (which eventually were compiled into Mere Christianity) drew the greatest influx of critiques. One common critique of Lewis’ works is his fear of homosexuality and rigid beliefs pertaining to femininity and sex. American literary critic John Leonard wrote of Lewis in the New York Times as being “afraid of homosexuality”. British-American writer Alistair Cooke referenced “Mr. Lewis’ secret fear” and “deep distaste of the whole subject”. There are also critiques against Lewis for straining conventional Platonism to accommodate Christianity as well as inappropriate and excessive use of Godlike representatives in his works to provide a glimpse of Christianity to his readers: “imitation may pass into initiation”, said Lewis in his essay Christianity and Culture. Most of Lewis’ critics still remain academic theologians, however. This is does not come as a surprise as Lewis was not a biblical scholar, having only converted to Christianity in his later days in life. As stated by Michael Nelson on the Virginia Quarterly Review: “Lewis, after all, is an intruder on their turf, a layman writing about matters that the scholar’s advanced degrees certify to be off limits to the laity, and an extraordinarily popular and influential writer to boot.”.

Critical reception of some of Lewis' works 

The Magician’s Nephew:

The Magician's Nephew provides a theological and metaphysical background for the other tales. The theme of the apple trees is less convincingly depicted than that of creation. It is almost as though Lewis were here guided more by theological necessities than literary imperatives. This episode lacks the freshness, the sense of "So this is what the legend is all about," that a reader of Perelandra experiences when he suddenly realizes what the fixed land symbolizes.”

Walsh, Chad. "The Parallel World of Narnia." Children's Literature Review, edited by Tom Burns, vol. 109, Gale, 2005. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1420067350/GLS?u=cnciss&sid=bookmark-GLS&xid=3342b4ef. Accessed 7 Nov. 2021. Originally published in The Literary Legacy of C. S. Lewis, Harcourt Brace Jonavich, 1979, pp. 123-157.

Surprised by Joy:

“Therefore, even when he is revealing innermost thoughts and private incidents, Lewis still maintains a distance from both the reader and his subject matter – as if he were creating a persona, a fictional ‘Lewis’ (as he indeed did in the first volume of his space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet [1938)]), whose life and personality he must discern through the same careful historical research and fundamental objectivity that accompanied such scholarly works as The Allegory of Love (1936) or A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942).”

Edwards, Dr. Bruce L. “Into the Wardrobe.” Into the Wardrobe, https://cslewis.drzeus.net/papers/surprised-by-joy-critical-summary/.

The Shoddy Lands:

“Another definite hang-up of Lewis's seems to have been female vanity, as witnessed especially by his short story The Shoddy Lands. If this story had not been published during Lewis's lifetime I would have a very hard time believing he could have written it, because it is one of the biggest pieces of vulgar, badly written tripe I have seen in my entire life.”

wrote, R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson), et al. “The Problem of Susan.” LiveJournal, 30 Aug. 2005, https://rj-anderson.livejournal.com/176635.html?thread=1644283.

Mere Christianity

“If one is looking for a strict proof of God’s existence, Lewis’ argument is bound to disappoint.”

David Baggett, “Pro: The Moral Argument is Convincing,” 121, in C. S. Lewis’s Christian Apologetics: Pro and Con, ed. Gregory Bassham (Boston, Mass.: Brill|Rodopi, 2015), 121-40.

“On the downside, Lewis’s argument leaves one with a mere “Something” that communicates via a moral law. Omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibeneficence never feature. This god could be the God of the great monotheistic religions, but it might be only a thinking Life-Force. A more detailed description of a particular religion or doctrine lies beyond the scope of the argument.”

Shrock, Christopher A. “<em>Mere Christianity</Em> and the Moral Argument for the Existence of God.” Sehnsucht: The C.S. Lewis Journal, vol. 11, Wipf and Stock, 2017, pp. 99–120, https://www.jstor.org/stable/48579655.

Christianity and Culture

“Naturally, but unfortunately, people looking to Lewis for guidance in these matters often begin (and often end) at an essay with the obvious title of “Christianity and Culture” (originally published in 1940), without realizing that significant development took place in Lewis’s thought as expressed in later essays.”

Williams , Donald T. “A Larger World: C. S. Lewis on Christianity and Literature.” A Larger World: C.S. Lewis on Christianity and Literature , 15 Oct. 2004, https://dc.swosu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1263&context=mythlore.

 

The Magician's Nephew. 

Surprised by Joy. 

The Dark Tower and Other Short Stories (which includes The Shoddy Lands). 

Mere Christianity. 

Christianity and Culture.