on 7 March 2000
This is a fine collection, which I recommend, but what were the criteria for selection?
Everything previously published (at least in the United Kingdom) in the religious collections of C.S. Lewis is reproduced here EXCEPT two pieces. One of these is the 'Reply to Professor Haldane' (originally in 'Of This and Other Worlds'). Admittedly, this is an incomplete piece, but then so is 'The Language of Religion' and that IS printed here. The other thing left out is 'Rejoinder to Dr Pittenger' (originally in 'Timeless at Heart'). This is a complete piece and an excellent example of Lewis defending his apologetic style. It beats many of the scrappy little bits which did find their way into this selection. And what makes its omission here all the more baffling is that this Collection actually includes a letter in which this 'Rejoinder' is referred to! Why include letters at all in an essay collection? (Especially, given the fact that a new letter collection edited by Walter Hooper is in the pipeline.) But if such a letter IS to be included, why omit the essay to which it refers?
The other question I have is about the inclusion of 'High and Low Brows'. This originally appeared in 'Selected Literary Essays'. If we are to be treated to just one of those literary essays, why this one? It would have been better to leave it out, or else to have included the whole of 'Selected Literary Essays'. Indeed, what would have been best would have been to include ALL Lewis's literary essays ever published, including the two from 'Rehabilitations' which never got into 'Selected Literary Essays', the ones which originally appeared in 'The Personal Heresy', and the ones which later appeared in 'Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature'. It would make this Collection a lot longer, I grant, but not that much longer than 'C.S. Lewis, A Companion and Guide', which this volume is designed to partner. If, from a commercial point of view, such a sizeable book were considered impossible, then why not bring out a separate volume dedicated to literary subjects, including the two sections in this volume designated as 'English and Literature' and 'The Art of Writing and the Gift of Writers'? We could then see some logic at work.
The editor, Lesley Walmsley, makes no attempt to explain her criteria of selection and I am unable to deduce any. She should not say, as she does in the introduction, that 'this present volume is the first time that they [Lewis's essays on faith and life] have all been brought together'. That is simply not true, and it is contradicted by the dust-jacket which describes the collection as a 'best of' selection.
In truth, this is neither a complete collection nor a best of selection, but rather a hastily cobbled-together jumble. It's definitely a jumble worth buying and reading. But it's a great pity that such a good idea on the part of HarperCollins should have been impaired by weak editorial work. Moreover, the book-buying public STILL cannot get a one-volume edition of Lewis's religious essays.
on 4 September 2001
It is a sad commentary on the various collections of the shorter works of C. S. Lewis that this, the best of them, can't warrant a fifth star.
Rather than list the works that this collection does contain, it is shorter to list those that it does not. First, it contains none of Lewis's poetry. Second, it is missing the following prose works which have been published in other Lewis collections (alternative titles separated with slashes):
MISSING WORKS FOUND IN OTHER COLLECTIONS
"A Note on Comus" (1)
"A Note on Jane Austen" (2)
"A Reply to Professor Haldane" (3), (4)
"Bluspels and Flananspheres: A Semantic Nightmare" (2)
"Dante's Similes" (1)
"Dante's Statius" (1)
"De Audiend is Poetis (1)
"De Descrptione Temporum" (2), (5)
"Donne and Love Poetry in the Seventeenth Century" (2)
"Edmund Spenser, 1552-99" (1)
"Four-Letter Words" (2)
"Genius and Genius" (1)
"Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem" (2), (5)
"Hero and Leander" (2)
"Imagery in the Last Eleven Cantos of Dante's Comedy" (1)
"Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages" (1)
"Is Progress Possible?" (6)
"Kipling's World" (2), (5)
"Neoplatonism in the Poetry of Spenser" (1)
"On Reading the Faerie Queene" (1)
"Psycho Analysis and Literary Criticism" (2), (5)
"Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger" (6), (7)
"Shelley, Dryden, and Mr. Eliot" (2)
"Sir Walter Scott" (2), (5)
"Spenser's Cruel Cupid" (1)
"The Alliterative Metre" (2)
"The Anthropological Approach" (2)
"The Fifteenth Century Heroic Line" (2)
"The Genesis of a Medieval Book" (1)
"The Literary Impact of the Authorized Version" (2), (5)
"The Morte D'Arthur" (1)
"The Vision of John Bunyan" (2)
"Variation in Shakespeare and Others" (2)
"What Chaucer Really Did to Il Filostrato" (2)
"William Morris" (2)
(1) "Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature"
(2) "Selected Literary Essays"
(3) "Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories"
(4) "On Stories, and Other Essays"
(5) "They Asked for a Paper"
(6) "God in the Dock - Essays on Theology and Ethics" / "Undeceptions - Essays on Theology and Ethics"
(7) "Timeless at Heart: Essays on Theology"
As can readily be seen, the editorial axe fell heavily on Lewis's literary writings. None of the works from "Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature" were included, and almost none of the works from "Selected Literary Essays" (it is especially regrettable that the latter were not included, as that collection has been out of print many years, almost all of the works in it are found nowhere else, and it is very difficult to find).
Oddly, a handful of other works that one might have expected to see included were left out: "Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger", "Is Progress Possible?", and "A Reply to Professor Haldane". It is odd that they were left out, as every other work in collections in which they had previously published were included here.
A final thing missing that must be cited is that of an index, the lack of which is truly unfortunate.
Still, even given these painful shortcomings, this work must be recommended because it remains better than the alternatives. The following Lewis collections can be replaced by this one (omissions already noted; alternative titles separated with slashes):
"The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses" / "Transposition and Other Addresses"
"The World's Last Night and Other Essays"
"They Asked for a Paper"
"Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces"
"Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories"
"God in the Dock - Essays on Theology and Ethics" / "Undeceptions - Essays on Theology and Ethics"
"Fern-Seed and Elephants and Other Essays"
"The Dark Tower and Other Stories"
"On Stories, and Other Essays"
"The Grand Miracle, and Other Selected Essays on Theology and Ethics"
"First and Second Things: Essays on Theology and Ethics"
"Timeless at Heart: Essays on Theology"
"Christian Reunion and Other Essays"
"The Seeing Eye and Other Selected Essays from Christian Reflections"
on 14 September 2003
Whilst CS Lewis may be best known for his childrens' fiction, such as the Chronicles of Narnia, some of his other works are well worth a read.
This volume of essays is a good place to start. Each essay is short and to the point, resulting in 'bite-sized Lewis', as it were.
The book is organised into several different thematic chapters, but perhaps the most interesting essays are to be found in Chapter 2: The Art of Writing and the Gifts of Writers. Here Lewis sets forth his views on why fantasy and fairytale is helpful to a developing child, and his views on his sometime friend J.R.R. Tolkien's writings.
Lewis was no stranger to literary criticism, and many of the essays are written in response to articles or reviews. Even today, Lewis is remains a controversial figure. Archbishop Rowan Williams has written, "...the problem is less, I think, with Lewis's method than with his unmistakeable clumsiness in handling a good many contemporary aspects of the world in plausible fictional terms." (Williams, 2000). This book goes beyond the fiction and fairytales, and finds Lewis attempting to debunk intellectual moral self deception wherever he finds it.