The World’s Last Night And Other Essays, by C.S. Lewis
One of many posthumous collections of Lewis writings, and part of Lewis’ large body of work as an essayist and thinker , this book offers seven essays that fit within the general confines of Lewis’ thinking as a Christian apologist with an interest in the relationship of Christianity to the larger culture. The essay collection is well-written and certainly thoughtful, if not necessarily very surprising. The collection is sufficiently obscure that few people who are not familiar with Lewis’ larger body of work would likely read this book, which is composed of essays written during the latter part of the author’s life. A point to be spoken of highly in Lewis’ favor as a commentator of culture is that the books are just as relevant now as they were when the essays were written, even if the metaphor and language of Lewis may be too elevate for many of those who would benefit the most from his insights, not least because at 115 pages they do not present a difficult read.
In terms of the contents of this book, one must take the seven essays individually, since there is no overarching theme to the whole aside from their general applicability to the role of Christianity within the larger culture. “The Efficacy Of Prayer” is a thoughtful, moderate piece that reminds the reader that prayers can be answered or not answered and that this does not necessarily bear a close connection with the faith or righteousness of the person praying, but one which admits the reality of miracles and subtly points to an experience of his own wife. In “On Obstinacy In Belief,” Lewis tackles a false dilemma between faith and science concerning the meaning of belief and the worth of stubbornness. “Lilies That Fester” is a thoughtful and pointed take on the problem of culture and refinement and the acculturation process of contemporary education. “Screwtape Proposes A Toast” is an essay that many readers are likely to be familiar with, as it is often appended after Lewis’ well-known and well-loved Screwtape Letters, and the essay is a worthwhile look at life from the point of view of the enemy. In “Good Work And Good Works” Lewis makes a very sound point on the importance of connecting the quality of one’s work with the motives for doing that work, something that is not always done. “Religion And Rocketry” and “The World’s Last Night” offer an examination of Christianity in cultural conflict and on the way that either science or politics tends to think of victory as the most important matter, not taking into account the reality of the last judgment.
Taking these essays together, it is easy to understand, if one did not understand it before, why Lewis was a leader for Christianity in engaging with the larger cultural world around him. Reading “The World’s Last Night,” one is reminded of Lewis’ exploration of the same topic from the point of view of imaginative fiction in both This Hideous Strength as well as The Last Battle, where apocalyptic struggles are faced, and where judgment is assessed based on character, and not based on either the victory or defeat of one’s cause. Lewis is surely one of the few Christian writers who are able to clear-headedly argue about the possibility of political defeat or apocalyptic destruction without losing hope and general sociability with the larger culture, even one that was and is inimical to many aspects of Christianity. Lewis’ combination of clear-sighted insight with general sociability makes this a worthwhile collection, even if not nearly as familiar as some of Lewis’ better-known works.
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