C.S. Lewis: Spinner Of Tales: A Guide To His Fiction, by Evan K. Gibson
The author shows himself to be a sensitive and thoughtful reader of the large body of fictional literature produced by C.S. Lewis during his lifetime, and encourages the reader to develop the same sort of thoughtfulness. Whether it is alluding, however gently, to Lewis’ interest in the Ptolemaic system, particularly the planets, which had a major influence over his writings, or in commenting on the avoidance of mere allegory on the part of Lewis, or whether it is in talking about the plot and characterization of the fictional writings themselves, this book is definitely a helpful guide to the fiction of Lewis. And since Lewis’ fiction continues to be very popular to this day, more than fifty years after Lewis’ death (which happened on the same day that JFK was assassinated, surprisingly enough), a book like this will continue to be worthwhile for readers. If you have read one of Lewis’ novels or series and you wanted to have an idea on how it fit into the larger body of Lewis’ writings, this book is definitely going to help out with that task, and it is a worthwhile one.
This book has a somewhat complex organization, with various parts of the book corresponding to different collections of works, then chapters, and then lots of sections within each chapter, but the result is easy enough to read even as it demonstrates a great deal of precision in the way the book is structured. The author begins with a preface and then introduces (or reminds) the reader about Jack Lewis’ inner landscape and his career as a scholar, apologist, and storyteller (1). After that the author moves on to Lewis’ underrated space trilogy and examines the approach and craft of Out of the Silent Planet (2), Perelandra (3), and that Hideous Strength (4). The author then turns to Lewis’ writings about the infernal world in looking at the Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce (5). After this the author moves to what is the most familiar fiction of Lewis for most readers, namely the Narnia books, which he covers in three chapters divided by the focus on the high king (6), the Capsian triad (7), and the first and last books of the series (8), making some interesting comments about Lewis’ approach. The author spends a surprising amount of time talking about the obscure Till We Have Faces (9) before concluding with a chapter that weaves the various tales together into a beautiful textual tapestry (10).
There are at least a few aspects of Lewis’ writings that are worthwhile. For one, Lewis showed a great deal of skill in a variety of genres, from reinterpretations of pagan myths to apologetic speculations to epistolary novels to space fantasy to children’s literature. Even given this diversity of genres, Lewis’ writings were united by his Christian perspective as well as by his interest in reaching the common reader. Fortunately, this book as well is written for the common reader, showing a deft touch at literary analysis that is nonetheless accessible to a reader who is not familiar with the jargon of textual criticism. Although Lewis’ writings are not always given the critical attention that they deserve, this work is certainly one that deserves to be appreciated by a wide audience. Lewis’ fiction was full of childlike wonder and this book shares that fascination with imagination as well as concern about the excesses of contemporary science and philosophy which have continued to harm our own existence in the decades since Lewis’ own death. There is a lot to enjoy here and plenty of encouragement that the author gives to read books of Lewis’ that one may not be familiar with.