Mind the Gap: Where Scholarship on C.S. Lewis and other Wade Authors needs some Filling-In

mind-the-gapHello friends. As promised, and long overdue, I am checking in again to write the third and final post on reflections of the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium that took place at Taylor University in June 2016. Posts one and two focused on why I felt the Colloquium embodied a healthy example of academia, and the enjoyment I had of attending as an archivist. This post will focus on a gap in scholarship on C.S. Lewis (and other Wade authors) that I’ve noticed and that I was reminded of at the Colloquium.

Let me start by making 2 observations I’ve had as archivist at the Wade Center over the past 12 years:

    1. First of all, for many years people would come up to me and say: “I’m leading a Bible study group / church group / book discussion group and we’re reading C.S. Lewis’s book: (fill in title blank here). What resources have been published that will help me teach this book / lead discussion in a group setting?” Earlier on, I had to shamefully hang my head and say: “Amazingly enough, I have nothing to recommend to you unless you are teaching The Chronicles of Narnia.” That is, thankfully, no longer the case for several of Lewis’s books, including some of the most popular titles, but remains the reality for many other important Lewis titles, and those of other Wade authors.questions
    2. Next, it has been surprisingly apparent that although Lewis is known for the clarity of his writing and amazing ability to communicate complex ideas to the common reader, his texts are thought to be too “heady” for many people today to read and understand. There may be a number of reasons for this. As we move further away from the era when Lewis was writing, it is possible that his examples or vocabulary are harder for the average person to grasp. In a similar vein, I’ve heard at least one Lewis scholar argue that people’s ability to grasp complex ideas while reading has decreased greatly in recent years due to the media-infused culture in which we currently live. A philosophy professor friend confirmed this to me as well, saying that students are less capable of spending time with a text, or of reading it multiple times, in order to grasp its content if the first read-through doesn’t make sense to them.

     

  1. Now before we all start to despair over current culture, I have seen many examples in contrast to point #2. I know a lot of people who are readers, and many who are quite capable of patiently pursuing complex thoughts and ideas in texts that require such attention. I also realize, however, that I move in academic circles which are not exactly mainstream society…but a conversation about culture trends or proving statistics is not what this blog is about.The fact that people want to engage with Lewis’s works, but have roadblocks to doing so, is disheartening to me. I, for one, have gained so much from reading him; I definitely want others to have the same experience and remove any roadblocks keeping them from doing so. This is where my call to Lewis (and other authors!) scholars comes in, with a question and some ideas.The question: how can we help modern readers, both those academically inclined and the more casual reader, dig deep in Lewis’s works and find the gold in them?

    I have a few ideas, which I’ll list here:

    1. pilgrimsregress_cropped-cover.jpgCritical & Annotated Guides: Scholars have a very unique set of information that readers can really benefit from, and critical / annotated versions of books are a great way for a reader to have an experienced / informed guide walk them through a text. Such books contain notes in the margins or footnotes that provide context to historical references which most readers won’t know, explain complex concepts that might be outside of a reader’s range of experiences, and also interesting facts about the text like how an example is understood in British culture, or where an idea may have come from the author’s personal life. These notes are like a wise companion along the reading road, and that guidance helps readers finish the reading journey and get the most out of all the roadside attractions and truths along the way.
      Examples of some books in this category includeThe Annotated Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, annotated by Douglas A. Anderson; The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis, annotated by David C. Downing; and Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, annotated by Craig M. Kibler.
    2. heavenStudy Guides for groups and individuals: When you’re leading some kind of class or book discussion, a quality resource that comes in an easy-to-access pre-packaged format is always a great help. Having guides written by people who KNOW the text well is essential, and can be very effective if that knowledge informs how to break the text down for group consumption over a number of class or meeting sessions, complete with recommended group activities, homework, appendices, charts, guides to the main themes in the text, glossaries, and study questions.

      Examples of some books in this category includeA Reader’s Guide Through the Wardrobe: Exploring C.S. Lewis’s Classic Story (a literary guide on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) by Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead; Speaking of Jack: a C.S. Lewis Discussion Guide by Will Vaus; and C.S. Lewis goes to Heaven: A Reader’s Guide to The Great Divorce by David G. Clark.

    3. Bandersnatch-coverAdapted texts for non-academic readers: A recent trend I’ve noticed is scholarly / academic books being reformatted and adapted to simpler texts intended for non-academic readers. This can transform the difficult-to-digest academic concept texts into texts edible by the common reader, while still conveying the same observations and ideas. This way: everyone can partake in the feast.

      Examples of some books in this category includeBandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings (a reworking of the earlier title The Company They Keep) both by Diana Pavlac Glyer; and The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens (a reworking of the earlier title Planet Narnia) both by Michael Ward.

    4. SG_DVD_BOOK_imageMedia supplemental material: And the answer some folks have arrived at is by providing a media-infused culture with media supplements to go along with reading the texts. Notice I said supplements. No video montage or podcast can ever replace reading the original work by the author, but it can aid it, particularly for those who thrive on visual elements or learning through a lecturer or coach. The key here also remains to provide plenty of substance in whatever is created, rather than just filling the space with fluff or surface-level observations. This requires both a deep understanding of the text and, especially with video, a creative flair to make it engaging to modern audiences.

      Examples of some books in this category includeDiscussing Mere Christianity: Exploring the History, Meaning & Relevance of C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Book by Devin Brown (book and DVD set); and the C.S. Lewis Study Program Lectures by the C.S. Lewis Institute (sets of free online video lectures by Lewis experts on Mere ChristianityLetters to Malcolm, and The Screwtape Letters).

    I would love to see any and all of the books by the seven Wade authors given this kind of attention by scholars who can do the job well (emphasis on well, folks), but particularly the works of C.S. Lewis which haven’t yet had this treatment. They have a ready-made audience for such resources. And if traditional publishers won’t bite, then self-publishing or free online resources might be other avenues to pursue.

    Want to see a few more examples of what’s already been written in the “study guide” genre for the Wade author’s works? Well, check out this listing in our catalog of around 250 titles (but most of those are for K-12 classrooms, y’all).

    Here are some of the top Wade author titles that come to mind which have not yet been fully mined in this way:

    C.S. LEWIS:

    1. The Space (Cosmic / Ransom) TrilogyOut of the Silent PlanetPerelandra, and That Hideous Strength
    2. Till We Have Faces
    3. The Four Loves
    4. Letters to Malcolm
    5. Lewis’s essays (various titles)
    6. A Grief Observed
    7. The Problem of Pain
    8. Miracles
    9. Surprised by Joy

     

    G.K. CHESTERTON:everlasting

    1. Orthodoxy
    2. The Everlasting Man
    3. The Man Who Was Thursday
    4. Manalive
    5. The Father Brown mystery stories (various titles – particularly their embodiment of elements of theology and philosophy)
    6. I also really want a succinct text on Chesterton’s conversion story, but one can’t have everything…


    DOROTHY L. SAYERS
    :

    1. Religious dramas (various titles)
    2. Selected essays (various titles, but particularly those in Creed or Chaos)


    CHARLES WILLIAMS
    :

    1. His 7 novels in particular, but
    2. Pretty much anything else the man wrote


    GEORGE MACDONALD
    :

    1. Phantastes & Lilith (particularly focused on his use of imagery in these stories, and the journey of the individual through redemptive experiences)
    2. His fairy tales (if study guides wouldn’t ruin their magic…)
    3. Any of his novels


    OWEN BARFIELD
    :PoeticDiction

    1. Poetic Diction
    2. Saving the Appearances
    3. Anything else the man wrote
    4. But let’s be honest, what Barfield really needs is a biography written at the same caliber as Grevel Lindop and Abigail Santamaria’s masterpieces. And it’s true, that’s far from easy to accomplish.

    And to the best of my knowledge, J.R.R. Tolkien is already covered — but feel free to prove me wrong!

    So there you have it. Spread the word! Go! Write! Find ways to get the concepts embedded in these authors’ works into the hands of the masses (not just academic papers that are read and / or accessible to only 12 people – although those are important too)! We’ll keep doin’ our thing at the Wade with this mission and always love to collaborate with those who share that vision.

    Feel free to post any guides you’ve found particularly helpful on the Wade authors’ works in the comments section of this blog post.

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11 thoughts on “Mind the Gap: Where Scholarship on C.S. Lewis and other Wade Authors needs some Filling-In

  1. Something enjoyable and useful are unabridged audiobooks of the works, though even where those have been produced, access to them probably varies considerably. Listening to some of Dorothy Sayers’ novels superbly read by the late Ian Carmichael has left me thinking they might benefit from annotation, too – or does your not mentioning them mean that’s already been done and I’ve just missed it?

    A big and elementary problem is copyright: of course, MacDonald and Chesterton have been out of copyright for a good while and around a decade respectively, but of the Inklings and contemporaries, only Williams, who died comparatively young, has (largely) come out of copyright – last year.

    Even if one were to produce a separate book of annotations, which one could set next to the text (perhaps handy where different editions exist), how problematical might that be for authors still in copyright, even in terms of the simplest indications of what is being annotated? How far would ‘fair-usage’ allow one to go, here?

    • Thanks for your comments, David. Regarding the Wimsey stories, I would be in favor of any of those being annotated, but the need might be a little less pressing than some of the other books mentioned above.

      You are absolutely correct that copyright has to be considered when working with original text content. Copyright laws also vary by country. In the US, George MacDonald is the only Wade author to be completely in the public domain. Chesterton is partly in, partly out. This varies however, as you pointed out, in the UK and Canada.

      Here’s a helpful chart to explain more about copyright in the US:
      http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm

      Obviously with an annotated text, the annotator and publisher would need to work very closely with the literary estate to produce that kind of work. And as has been proven, it can be done. A separate book of annotations would be challenging to create given the difference in pagination between editions of a book.

      With the other types of works, the divide between fair use and copyright gets a bit blurrier. Many publishers will have in-house practices on how they determine fair use (allowing a number of words, say, quoted by an author that are within their fair use practices). Whenever in doubt, however, I always recommend contacting the literary estate first when using direct quotes. It gives you a chance to build a relationship with the estate as a scholar, and allows the estate to know about your work.

      And let’s not forget that you can write all the commentary, study questions, and the like without needing direct quotes!

  2. Pingback: Gaps in Scholarship on C.S. Lewis and other Wade Authors | Khanya

  3. Thanks! Indeed, working with the Estate in question, or, if one has a publisher, the publisher working with the Estate, or some combination of both, is ‘the way to go’.

    An excellent annotation resource for all the Lewis books you list, with the exception of Till We Have Faces and A Grief Observed, and for eighty of the essays, among other books by Lewis, is Arend Smilde’s website: Lewisiana.nl

    As translator of various of Lewis’s books, of course he always worked – and works – with a Dutch publisher, and he decided to take the opportunity to annotate, identifying quotations, and all sorts of references, asking various people (myself included) if we recognized anything he hadn’t already tracked down, and so on.

    Then, he decided that it would be useful for English-speaking readers if he translated those notes and put them online – which he has done – and which also allows him to go on updating and supplementing (not so very long ago, for example, I tracked down some lines of verse by John Masefield which Lewis quotes in a couple different places, and Arend added that to his online notes).

    One can also see his solution as to how to try to make the notes useful to – or despite – different editions.

    And, there are English summaries of The Allegory of Love and The Abolition of Man, and a very useful “survey of his shorter prose writings as published in collected editions (1939-2013);
    ollowed by alphabetical & chronological listings” as well as separate history of them.

  4. On Charles Williams, I would note and recommend Stephen Barber, ed., The Celian Moment and Other Essays by Charles Williams (Carterton, Oxon.: The Greystones Press Ltd, 2017) [xxviii + 132 pages], where his helpful annotation of ten of Williams’s essays (five of which are introductions to books) combines with both a broader putting in context and more detailed discussion complementing the specific notes – especially where he elucidates an allusion to Shelley and a criticism by Lewis of the work alluded to, which he says “is also implicitly a criticism of Williams” – neither of which I had ever ‘caught’ myself, or seen anyone else discuss.

    As far as Williams’s novels go, I am very grateful to have become acquainted with Sarah Thomson’s annotations of Descent into Hell (written as a thesis), which are, as it were, just waiting to be published, either separately or as part of an annotated reissue of the novel. (They also include a very interesting discussion of draft material in the Wade very different from the final version of the novel!)

      • I hope I will not have dismayed Sarah Thomson by going about this is such a topsy-turvy way: I have in fact blurted out here in public that I think she ought to publish her annotations, before writing her to encourage her to consider doing so!

        I’ve been glad and grateful to have access to them, and think it would be very good if other people could easily do so, too.

        In this new situation of most of Williams’s works published during his lifetime now being out of copyright in most of the world, I assume it would be easy to publish these annotations, even as part of a new edition,somewhere, but do not know if she is already exploring such possibilities.

        So, my hopeful apologies to her!

  5. My old study guide on MacDonald’s Lilith is here:

    http://www.george-macdonald.com/articles/lilith_study_guide.html

    I have study guides, developed years ago, for Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories,” MacDonald’s “Golden Key” and Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday. Email me: extollager AT gmail.com

    None of these is very scholarly and all might benefit from some corrections, but there’s probably good stuff in them.

    Dale Nelson
    Mayville (ND) State University

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