Friday, August 26, 2005

CSL and Home Schooling

I was privileged today to meet with some home schooled children and parents here in a private home in Bowling Green to discuss Lewis's life and the upcoming Narnia movie.

I remarked on Lewis's upbringing, and relation to the experience of home schooling at the hands of William Kirkpatrick, known in Lewis's autobio work, Surprised by Joyas "The Great Knock," which was formative in his eventual coming to be a Christian--despite the fact that by then Kirkpatrick was an atheist. God does not waste anything!

The group will be studying the Space Trilogy this fall, and the students come from all of NW Ohio in a co-op arrangement. Very impressive and great fun!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


The venerable NY TIMES has a front page story today featuring scientists who believe; one featured scientist, Dr. Francis Collins, who appeared in PBS' The Question of God, is quoted as crediting Mere Christianity for helping him overcome his atheism. See the article here

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Giant "Surmise"

The first non-Lewisian Narnian tale (or as the subtitle refers to it, "A Narnia Tale") was published this year by HarperCollins, entitled, The Giant Surprise. It's intended for "young readers" as a "picture book," and, ostensibly provides a convenient way to tell a story drafting Puddleglum the Marshwiggle as the central character. I finally recently read this work while browsing in a prominent chain bookstore; it took me about 3 minutes. I don't want to be unkind, but my judgment is that it is tediously unimaginative in its storytelling and uninteresting its illustrations. All of us have imagined a new Narnian tale. . . but how could this have been commissioned as the first one?

The back cover says:

"Based on characters originally featured in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giant Surprise is a brand new Narnia adventure story about Marshwiggles, giants, and mice for young children. Lally, a small wigglet, and her Uncle Puddleglum undertake a hair-raising rescue of their mice friends, before they become a giant's supper. This new picture book-and the others in the series-shares the values of C. S. Lewis's original work and explores a world of courage, kindness, and companionship."
That's a telling giveaway. (Read on.) Now, Puddleglum is one of my favorite Narnians, and one of Lewis's most amusing creations, and, certainly his most distinctive non-protagonist: prominent for his sardonic Eeyore-like negativism, as well as his stalwart faith in Aslan. But he is a curious choice to build a story around for readers between 6-8 years old in a "picture book." Curious not only because it is seemingly not possible to convey Puddleglum's essential character in a very short work intended for very young readers (how much irony or cynicism or drollness can a normal, nonprecocious 6-8 year old reader pick up anyway?), but also because, well, he is not given much to do, and, what he is given to do (distract some giants from making some local mice their dinner while protecting his niece, Lally) is not very interesting or convincing. How so?

Well, let us just say that Lewis was the least likely author to imagine a universe in which giants are persuaded to give up their carnivorous inclinations because a Marshwiggle has asked them to play a game to distract them. Is this the clever and epigrammic Marshwiggle we come to love in The Silver Chair?? This is not plausible because Lewis had had no care for "games" or "sports" since childhood given his personal clumsiness and disdain for mere gamesmanship as observed in the bullies he boarded with in a succession of schools (except maybe for Scrabble, perhaps--his game of choice with Warnie and Joy. Now that would have been an intriguing plot twist--giants challenged to a game of Scrabble using Really Big Letters.)

But let's get past this, and say that it is possible that a Marshwiggle of note might suggest such a gambit. And let us say that this is a reasonable premise for launching a new Narnian tale even though Lewis himself might not have recognized his creation or its provenance. Where is the wit, and the sly, winking narrative pose so characteristic of Lewis's work? Surely that could be mastered, even as J. K. Rowling, in her early Harry, was able to do. Doesn't the author have some obligation to emulate (or ghost write) such a tale in the Lewisian manner, even a little?

The fact that the book blurb has to point out that it "shares the values of C. S. Lewis's original work" (oh, as if THAT would be the key draw in the young reader, or her parents) and "explores a world of courage, kindness, and companionship" means that it is in trouble. (I am sure Lewis would applaud the self-conscious and self-congratulatory inclusion of his "values" in the work. Not! Values-schmalues-how about some humor!) In fact, the book exhibits exactly the kind of "telling rather than showing" that Lewis decries in his essays about writing for children. For children do not read to discover "shared values," but rather for the story itself--the values are a bonus which, if depicted well, do not announce themselves in the text, and thereby derail the reading experience. If characters are courageous, kind, and companionable, there is no need to point this out. And may I say that there is more to depicting giants than just rendering them tall and hungry? No, if we did not already know Puddleglum, we'd not care to meet him here; he looms as a generic hero, not a Narnian one.

The Giant Surprise is the most un-Peter Rabbit, anti-Water Babies, non-Amulet work (all childhood favorites of CSL) conceivable as a would-be "Narnia Tale." It is desultory, unimaginative, uninspired, even amateurish. (How could this be?) There's no Narnia cachet, no deep "magic," let alone deeper magic--really no magic at all. It is as if someone was cooking up a formula for a children's book and said, hmm, let's add one part giant, one part mice, and one part Marshwiggle, and voila, there's Narnia. Naw. That's not what makes something Narnian. But let's face it, the author is in a no win situation because of the inevitability of such comparisons; but the stakes are high. If you and I see the flaws, why not an editor at said publishing house? Lewis's readership, even 6-8 year olds, deserve better.

I am sounding much too rakish here I suppose. But it is a shame that, if we have to have more Narnian tales (and I don't agree that we do), that this has to its opening exemplar.

Sadly, the profound absence of whimsy, and tell-tale presence of heavy moralizing, make this an unfortunate entry in an unneeded successor to the seven canonical tales we have to treasure. Sigh.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Lewis's Reputation

Just in the past two days I have received emails from earnest souls worried about C. S. Lewis's reputation, by which I mean someone--a friend or a website wag--had said something to them untoward about Lewis's "real beliefs" or, "If you knew what he and the Inklings really thought, you would not be so enthusiastic."

One of my correspondents said someone in Australia told her the Inklings were "Masons" or that Narnia was never meant to be a depiction of the Christian gospel but "just an intellectual rendering." (On this score: no Inkling was a "Mason" [has National Treasure and the Da Vinci Code really had that much an impact on people's paranoia?]; Narnia is what it is: a "supposal" as Lewis called it--what if Jesus were incarnate in a land like Narnia, what would happen?)

Apparently, there is a web site somewhere that lists Lewis's shortcomings about which evangelical Christians would be aghast "if they only knew." (Imagine that--Let us hope the day doesn't come when there is a website that lists each and every one of yours and my "shortcomings." Thank Goodness, no, Thank Jesus, let me tell you there is such a list, but it's not kept by God, and He's already nailed it, to the cross, I might add) Here is a paraphrase of what I wrote to one of my correspondents, who was concerned that perhaps Lewis was not as orthodox as we would like (in doctrine and lifestyle):

"Lewis was, like all of us, a flawed Christian, with a deep faith and an 'evolving' respect for Scripture as God's word. No one I have known took Scriptural authority more seriously, obeyed God more faithfully, prayed more, gave more of his money away, captured the gospel more imaginatively, etc., etc., than CSL

"Was he infallible and perfect? Of course not. Will we disagree with him, wish he had said this or that, or in a different way? Yes. But that is true of everyone I know who is trying to live a holy life. Which is worse: someone who does not state his belief in "inerrancy" the way we would prefer or someone who ignores Scriptures that plainly teach we should give to the poor, pray daily, and respect our wives as Christ loves the church. I know Christians who fail miserably in the latter three duties. Does that mean they are not Christians or everyone is hypocritical? Of course not. It means except by the grace of God, we are all lost. Everyone, no matter what he or she says, lives by the light that he has--and grows daily, or dies. Anyone who claims to have reached complete understanding and perfect obedience--well, see Matthew 19.

"There is no reason not to rejoice in what Lewis has accomplished. He was a member of the Church of England. He was what he was-and not what we would call an evangelical nor a fundamentalist. The question I would have is: what is this list of Lewis's supposed errors and shortcomings for? And what does it prove? What if it is true? Does that make Lewis anything other but someone whose work we must carefully and prayerfully evaluate--taking the good and leaving the erroneous behind? That has to be our stance no matter what writer or preacher we are dealing with--including the person next to us in the pew, and the one who shares our marriage bed. "There is none righteous, no not one. . ."

When all is said and done, we must live up to the light that we have, and should be grateful that the guidance God gives every day is sufficient to lead us home to him. One of the reasons I wrote my little dialogue (fictional, of course) with Lewis was to explore just these sorts of expectations. You may find it here on my website--and also in my new book on Narnia from Tyndale.

Friday, August 14, 2005

The Day the Book Comes

It is hard not to be enthralled. You've labored over it for many months after its been seasoned for many years in your teaching, your daydreams, and your sermons. It's concrete now. It's on paper. An editor reads it. It's in galleys. You get to see cover art. Amazon has an ISBN #. And then, voila!

It's here!

A big box arrives and there are your author's copies. Thank you Tyndale! It's like the walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 9th; the game-winning 3 with no time on the clock; the sudden death field goal in overtime. What is? Getting your book in the mail. Feeling the shape, squeezing the depth of the binding, reading the acknowledgements over and over, and knowing there are still more people to thank, but, like at the Academy Awards, the band is playing and you need to get off-stage, . .

Wow, my book, Not a Tame Lion, is here. It's a thrill. I hope my readers get to see within it some of the joy, sweat, and tears of living with Narnia on my mind for two years. It won't be in stores until September, as I hear, but I hope you will give it a look when it is.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

C. S. Lewis and Baseball

There are no known references to baseball in the works of C. S. Lewis, including uncollected letters to his most intimate friends and confidants. I have a joke that I have used in public lectures: ėLewis was not infallible. Proof? As far as I know, he did not care for baseball.î That would be a flaw only, of course, if he had had the chance to embrace baseball, but never did. (Tongue firmly in cheek.) The thing is, between my passion for Lewis and for baseball, there is not much difference. I am known for seminars on Lewis, and, increasingly, on baseball, so finding a connection between the two passions is a reverie of mine.

Between March and October, I am either reading box scores and reviewing wild card standings (a must if you are predestined to root for the Astros and Indians), or resuming my reading of Jack (the verb is chosen advisedly; no one ever ėstopsî reading Jack, do they?).No, Jack did not like sports per se, or games either. Too much jock culture in his boarding school days. And thus few, if any, sports metaphors in his writing. I am toying with the idea of finding baseball metaphors to substitute within some of my favorite Lewis passagesósome natural ones come to mind for the Trinity (there are lots of threes in baseball), heaven (ėdiamonds,î ėgoing homeî)óor, finding some ingenious faux baseball passages within his worksólike they have done for the Bible (ėIn the big inning. . .î) You get the idea. Watch this space.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

That Great Divorce Morning in Iringa, Tanzania

Four Sundays ago my family and I were in Iringa, Tanzania, looking for an Anglican service to attend. Iringa is a beautiful township in SW Tanzania, far off the "beaten path" of major urban areas, and hope to to a first class university known as Tumaini University ("Hope" University) operated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church. We were staying in a hostel with our other grant participants, and needed something walkable.

We found the church building, which is being borrowed on Sundays precisely for a 9AM service, and then must be vacated for Sunday School for the church that owns both it and its sanctuary. That Sunday we had a delightful casual guitar-driven service in which we got to suggest the songs (Shine, Jesus, Shine; Morning has broken;) and had a delightful scripture reading byh a young girl named Christina. The service was brought by a pastor-team, husband and wife, with the husband doing the greetings and exhortations, and the wife presenting the sermon on a topic dear to Lewisian hearts, and she quoted from The Great Divorce as the climax: "there are two sorts of people in the world; those who say to God, 'thy will be done"; and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done!". This far away from Oxford, and Bowling Green, it was kind of reassuring to know that Lewis's legacy is alive and well, even in Tanzania, even in Iringa, and reached the ears of 12 Americans.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

The Secondary Sources Every Lewis Student Ought to Own
  1. The C. S. Lewis Readers Encyclopedia, Schultz and West (Zondervan, 1998)
  2. The Most Reluctant Convert, David Downing (IVP, 2003)
  3. The C. S. Lewis Index,, Janice Goffar (Crossway, 1998)
  4. Companion to Narnia,,Paul Ford (HarperCollins, 2005)
  5. The Quotable C. S. Lewis,,Root and Martindale (Tyndale, 2005)
  6. Planets in Peril,, David Downing (U Mass P, 1992)
  7. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis,, Ed: Walter Hooper, 3 Vol. (HarperCollins, 2003-05).
  8. (ahem) Not a Tame Lion, Bruce Edwards (Tyndale, 2005) [take the recommendation with a grain of NaCl]

Monday, August 1, 2005

Landing the Big Fish
I watched Big Fish again two nights ago. The Tim Burton film. I wanted to compare it to my experience of watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Big Fish is about big issues. Issues bigger than movies and scripts and screenings, career moves, and Oscars. It's about big ideas, big decisions, big consequences. It's about not only what we do with our lives, but what our lives consist of after they're lived, whether there is anything left over, and, if so, what those who read them or listen to them do with them, think about them, act upon them.

Big Fish, like Moby Dick, is about God, or at least as much about God as Tim Burton's imagination allows it to be. It's about God the way Time Bandits and The 12 Monkeys and What Dreams May Come and Contact and Mosquito Coast are about God. About whose imagination is bigger--ours or God's. And the answer is easy. His. But he remains the elusive, evasive, mysterious, Big Fish we all seek, whose stories we want to get straight, that we can hardly believe are true, that we wish were true, deep down hope are true, but aren't sure, and keep asking Him to tell us the truth, because when we hear it, we think we are being put on, because We Know no one could live a life that exciting, filled with not only Giants and Twins and Danger and Finding One's True Love and Holding on to Her No Matter What, and so we blink, and we sigh, and we say, "No, Dad, tell us the truth this time, this time." And so we carry him out into a big lake and we say, swim, swim, swim away.

And then we finally realize He has been telling the truth all along and we have been living miserable lives because we didn't believe Him, didn't believe Him about Himself, and if we can't believe that, then we can't believe things about ourselves that we want to believe are true. Things like we can live Noble, Caring, Nonjudgmental, Dangerous lives that bring Freedom, Hope, and Courage to others who are trying to believe but can't, and can't because they won't, and need to see a movie or a person or a story that reminds that deep down they do believe it but don't know how to act like they believe it because they have never seen anyone act like that.

Except in the movies. They need to know that there is a worse danger beyond "living a lie," and it is not "living a life" at all. So we need movies like Big Fish but more importantly, we need people who believe what they believe about God and themselves to act on it, to be astonished when people, especially their kids, don't believe the Tall Tales about Him and Them. That we have made friends with Giants, run away to the circus to find out true love.

Big Fish is God's Story. Edward Bloom believes. He comes to the circus (earth) and finds his True Love (the church) and nothing, not anyone, neither demons, nor this life, nor death, can separate him from this love--not even his children, who don't believe Him. His Stories Stand. They are (as the two movie marquees say at two points in the film): "From Here to Eternity" and about "Identity." Ours and His.

That's the Big Fish to me. And I believe.

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My Lewis Blog:

This blog is focused on C. S. Lewis--a mentor, an inspiration, and a sublime challenge to my/our slothfulness. This blog is authored in the hope that what is said here will somehow illuminate the meaningfulness and luxuriousness of Lewis's legacy in seeking Christ, and will motivate and inform its readers.

Oh, and it's basically a place for me to say in less guarded ways what I am thinking about Lewisian topics and newsworthy controversies. Please feel free to disagree!
-- Bruce Edwards

My Lewis Website is aqui:
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