You cannot help but wonder if C. S. Lewis might not have been more at home in an earlier age. In his opposition to the relativistic and materialistic philosophy of our modern times, a philosophy that he believed was sapping the magic and the mystery out of literature and life, Lewis knew that he was out of step with modernity. In fact, he once referred to himself as a cultural dinosaur. But 35 years after his death, the influence of this unassuming British scholar shows no sign of abating. His numerous books continue to sell briskly, and he has been the subject of a Broadway play and two feature films, as well as the focus of countless biographies, literary studies, and religious reflections. One could make the argument that he is also the most oft-quoted religious writer of the 20th century, his work appealing across denominational and confessional lines. Lewis is best known as a writer of stylish and memorable books exploring Christian faith and practice (Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters) and the creator of the Chronicles of Narnia (which has achieved classic status in children's literature). Less well-known are his fiction for adults (the Space Trilogy and the remarkable Till We Have Faces) and his highly readable volumes of literary history and criticism. This year marks the hundredth anniversary of Lewis's birth and has brought forth the expected explosion of secondary works analyzing and celebrating the mind and imagination of this highly creative thinker. None of these compares in usefulness to the newly published The C. S. Lewis Reader's Encyclopedia. The editors of this hefty volume have sought to summarize the scope of Lewis's achievement by gathering essays from a wide range of Lewis experts. These short essays, set up in an encyclopedic format, provide an overview of the life, work, and ideas of Lewis, focusing on his literary output: all the books, poems, essays, book reviews, prefaces to the works of others, and even never-before-discussed letters to the editor. In addition, the volume offers a concise, yet penetrating biography of Lewis's life and entries on his family and friends, as well as his literary and theological forebears. The writing is crisp and interesting, offering insights of value to the serious student of Lewis's writing, while at the same time being easily accessible to the reader just discovering his work. Although a few essays veer perilously close to hagiography, most show an admirable critical balance, and the comprehensive nature of the whole project is very satisfying. Reading these valuable summaries of Lewis's work, one is reminded again of his strengths: a vivid imagination, a sparkling wit, clear common-sense thinking, a gift for memorable analogies, and an unshakable faith in the reasonableness of the Christian view of existence. That he could synthesize these in ways that appealed to children as well as academics is probably what has kept this dinosaur from becoming extinct. The manner in which he combines intelligence with a soaring imagination still serves as a challenge to contemporary writers to break free from the usual modes of religious writing and forge creative new ways of communicating timeless ideas.
Terry Glaspey is the author of five books, including Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C. S. Lewis. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.