The Faithful Imagination: Papers from the 2018 Frances White Ewbank Colloquium on C.S. Lewis & Friends
This review covers the Introduction, Section I, and Section II of The Faithful Imagination. For a complete review, see DLS, American Journal of Sayers Studies, Volume II, 2019, an online journal.
There are a number of fascinating papers and topics in this volume that insist, by their quality, upon being recognized and recommended to both Inklings and Linklings enthusiasts. First of all, in ‘Preface: “A Balcony Perspective,”’ by Ashley Chu, we are given an insider’s view of what it’s like to organize and carry out plans for a multi-faceted conference which grows by leaps and bounds every two years. Many people contribute to the success of the event. Some of those wonderwomen and supermen are Joe Ricke, Director; Ashley Chu, Archivist; Dan Bowell, Anne Cooper, Kaylen Dwyer, and Michael Hammond of the Colloquium Planning Committee, Julie Moore and Eden Woodruff Tait, Judges; and most importantly the many, many, students and volunteers who make sure things go smoothly (these unnamed heroes and heroines really run the show).
The Foreword, “Across the Threshold,” thoughtfully written by Crystal Hurd, is a personal reflection about the reasons this conference (“a blur of bliss and blessing”) is so very important, as it “brings together scholars, writers, poets, literary fans, and provides a place to unite under a common banner to appreciate the works of our beloved authors.”
The book proper is organized into six sections, each dealing with the topic of Lewis’s work, his family, or the links to Lewis by other writers and their work, as well as creative works inspired by Lewis & Friends, and, finally, a collection of participant reflections on the Colloquium.
Section I, Essays on C.S. Lewis, holds seven essays focusing entirely on Lewis, his family, and his own writings. “Bookish, Clever People,” by Crystal Hurd gives us a clear view of the environment in which Lewis grew and of the close relationships of his youth, a topic which is certainly of importance as we consider the influences in youth upon Lewis which shaped his own later influential writing. Following is Devin Brown’s essay, “When Lewis Suggests More Than He States,” providing a fascinating insight to the clues which at times exist beneath Lewis’s written words, clues which take us further to the center of his profound truths. Next, we are taken to Narnia, in Vickie Holtz Wodzak’s, “Lewis Underground: Echoes of the Battle of Arras in The Narniad,” where we learn that Lewis’s personal experiences in World War I may have influenced certain of his written descriptions of scenes in Narnia. Daniel Ippolito’s, “C.S. Lewis’s Moral Law Apologetic and Modern Evolutionary Biology,” interestingly connects Lewis with Domning’s insight that “our faith (through grace) requires us to transcend our biological selfishness.” In “The Five Deaths of C.S. Lewis,” Jennifer Woodruff Tait makes the cogent point that Lewis’s life was profoundly shaped by death, particularly that of his mother and of Joy Davidman, thus shaping his writings as he grappled with that complexity.
Kyoko Yasa provides a treat with “Surprised by Walking: C.S. Lewis’s Channel of Adoration,” as she integrates Lewis’s walking habit with his love of God and notes the importance of the ways through which God speaks to us by our habits and experiences. Similarly, in “Faith Awakened in the Woods of Narnia,” Jim Stockton guides us toward a picture of Narnia as a “magical world wherein natural entities (particularly trees) are often portrayed as harbingers of faith,” yet “offer much more than a foreshadowing of faithful events.” In this section, we are offered a variety of insights regarding Lewis’s thought processes, inspirations, and influences upon his life and work. Each paper is a gem.
Section II, “Lewis and…,” contains nine papers, each of which examines Lewis’s connection with familiar or unexpected authors, partners, or churchmen. In the first two papers, “C.S. Lewis’s Assessment of George MacDonald’s Writings” by Marsha Daigle-Williamson and “Good Death”: What C.S. Lewis Learned from Phantastes,” by Edwin Woodruff Tait, we are firmly placed into the connected worlds of Lewis and a primary influence, George MacDonald. It is very good to have the connection reinforced within the context of this collection, and I appreciated the reminder of the primary link between Lewis and MacDonald, both papers bringing into focus MacDonald’s writings of fantasy which so inspired young Lewis’s own imagination. In the charming, “CS. Lewis and Joy Davidman Disagree about a Phoenix,” by Joe R. Christopher, the feisty relationship between Joy and Jack is brought into focus by an examination of several sonnets to Jack from Joy, and by their lively talks which added such interest to their complex relationship.
At this point, I was delighted to find “A Difference of Degree: Sayers and Lewis on the Creative Imagination.” Oh joy, a Sayers paper! Gary Tandy observes that Lewis and Sayers viewed creative imagination in slightly different perspective, or degree, which certainly reflected their spirited friendship, Lewis considering Sayers a friend but not an ally, and Sayers doubting Lewis’s understanding of women in general. Despite their differences of degree regarding the creative imagination (or, perhaps, because of them), Sayers and Lewis kept up a lively correspondence, sometimes touching on this topic, over many years. Tandy makes the point that both authors believed “literary works could be entertaining as well as edifying, could both delight and teach,” yet were able to disagree within that context regarding a Christian aesthetic, and one argument in particular surfaced over Sayers’ Mind of the Maker. Read the article for Tandy’s scholarly insights and for the exciting conclusion.
In “Lessons from Venus: Lewis’s Perelandra and Barlow’s History of a World of Immortals Without a God,” astronomer Kristine Larsen takes us on the journey to other worlds, Perelandra and a World of Immortals, where Lewis and Barlow, versed in the same theological and philosophical viewpoints, used their science fiction as a vehicle to explore those viewpoints. Brenton Dickieson presents an intriguing study of Lewis and Montgomery as unmet conversation partners in “C.S. Lewis’s Sehnsucht and L.K. Montgomery’s Flash: Vocation and the Numinous.” Following this vein of cosmic fantasy, John Stanifer provides an entertaining link between “Cosmic Horror vs. Cosmic Redemption: C.S. Lewis and H.P. Lovecraft.” It’s about time these two authors were linked in an alternate reality. Grace Seeman takes us to the literary realm of “A Passive Darkness: the Veil in Henry Vaughan’s “Cock-Crowing” and C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces,” where we learn of Lewis’s literary links to yet another author, Henry Vaughan, as both authors use the imagery of darkness and light to embue the image of “the veil” with theological nuance. Rounding out this section focusing on the links between Lewis and others, Richard James looks at the relationship of spirit between Anglican churchman Bleakley and Lewis in ‘“All this and Heaven Too”: the Friendship of David Bleakley and C.S. Lewis,” by presenting a brief overview of Bleakely’s life in which Lewis figured as mentor and friend. These papers, each and every one, give important insights to Lewis’s great sphere of literary, religious, and philosophical influence among those whose writings and work he affected and who, in turn, had an effect upon Lewis’s own work and life.