Monday, March 7, 2016

"CS Lewis, Spinner of Tales" by Evan Gibson: A Review

The process of "undragoning" Eustace expresses a truth which most adult readers probably recognize immediately. man's unassisted efforts to change himself always result in failure. Eustace tries to take off his ugly covering but underneath each layer is another one just as bad. He needs a divine miracle in order to get rid of his dragon-nature. The process is excruciating - in fact, Aslan's first blow seems to go right into the heart. But that is the spot where the change must begin. And, when the water of regeneration has done its work, and Eustace is a boy again, Aslan dresses him in new clothes. Just as the Christian is not dressed in the filthy rags of his own unrighteousness but in the righteousness of Christ, so Eustace loses his dark and knobby dragon-skin and gains garments appropriate for his new nature. Or to paraphrase Paul's statement in First Corinthians: he is sown a natural dragon; he is raised a spiritual boy.  (170)

Even a cursory survey of this website is enough evidence to prove my deep affection for all things C. S. Lewis. I do not agree with everything Lewis wrote and believed, but when he was right, he said it better than anyone before or since him. Lewis's ability as a writer and apologists sets him apart from most in history.

Lewis's writings are mostly divided into two categories: apologetics and literature. Though that might be an oversimplification, it is general truth. One can easily find books on Lewis's theology/philosophy and on his Narnia Chronicles, but it is difficult to find a book that interacts with Lewis the fiction writer. Beyond the Narnia tales, Lewis wrote several fictional (-like) books including the Ransom Trilogy, Screwtape Letters, the Great Divorce, and Til We Have Faces.

I finally discovered and read such a book. It is entitled C.S. Lewis, Spinner of Tales: A Guide to His Fiction and its author Evan Gibson offers the reader an introduction to the fictional writings of Lewis. To begin, the author notes that this is not a literary criticism book. Gibson's audience is to those new to Lewis and his fiction. It assumes the reader is familiar with the material (all of which are listed in the previous paragraph) and wants to explore it deeper. 

Nevertheless, this book is a pleasant exploration in Lewis's writings. He first surveys and interacts with the space trilogy which was helpful to me. Though I enjoyed the trilogy immensely, no doubt I did not catch or understand all of it. Gibson got rid of a lot of the fog for me. 

The riches part of the book, unsurprisingly, regards his survey of the Chronicles of Narnia. Prior to reading this book, I assumed I had a real handle on this series and am in agreement with Michael Ward's recent theory.  Yet Gibson showed important parallels (not allegories!) that I had never noticed before. 

Consider the following which shows how Narnia and our world are different, yet parallel:
One of the difference is that Aslan died for one small boy. To quote again the hymn of praise at the end of Perelandra "When He died in the Wounded World he did not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less." And so Aslan died for Edmund. The truth of the gospel is there even though the story is different. But there are many echoes of the passion of Christ. 
All of this feeds my love for Lewis. Only the best of author's can be explored over and over again and each time something new is discovered. Lewis is among such gifted men. 

Overall, this is a helpful book. I would not recommend this book to anyone not familiar with the works or to someone who has little to no interests in Lewis. But for real Lewis fans, I believe you will find much to enjoy.
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