Life, legacy of C.S. Lewis focus of new series

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Capturing the range of such a prolific author as C.S. Lewis requires a range of books, according to Dr. Bruce Edwards, a Bowling Green State University English professor and associate director for distance and international programs. Edwards, a well-known scholar of the Anglo-Irish writer and author of four previous books on him and his work, now has edited a four-volume series on Lewis for Greenwood Press.

Rarely has a writer appealed to both scholarly and popular audiences to the degree that Lewis has. The author of the beloved “Narnia” fantasy books, Lewis is also respected as a literary historian and cultural critic, as well as for his religious writings.

“C.S. Lewis: Life, Works and Legacy” is the first comprehensive look at all aspects of Lewis, filling in some gaps in previous scholarship while presenting a balanced approach to the man and his work, Edwards said.

At the same time, Edwards noted he “has the serendipity of being a published author in Japan and the United States.” His 1988 book, “A Rhetoric of Reading: C.S. Lewis's Defense of Western Literacy,” has recently been published in Japanese.

Multiple volumes

Edwards, who has immersed himself in studies of Lewis since his doctoral student days, maintains a popular Web site on the author. As a C.S. Lewis Fellow, he spent the summer of 2004 living and working in Lewis's former home in Oxford, England. So he was perhaps a natural to edit the new books.

“I was approached by Greenwood to do two scholarly resource volumes on Lewis, but I knew that wasn't enough to cover all his work, so I said, 'How about four?'” he recalled. The time was spring 2005, just before the release of the first of the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies, and interest in Lewis was high. Greenwood agreed.

Working that summer from Tanzania, where he was posted on a Fulbright-Hays grant, Edwards set about laying out the topics to be covered, then selected top-caliber writers from North America and Europe to compose the essays and deciding which he would write himself.

The resulting set comprises: Volume 1, “An Examined Life,” a specifically biographical work that sets the events of Lewis's life in historical context and discusses his friendship with such luminaries as J.R.R. Tolkien; Volume 2, “Fantasist, Mythmaker, and Poet,” focuses on Lewis's imaginative writings; Volume 3, “Apologist, Philosopher, and Theologian,” deals with Lewis as a defender of the Christian faith and examines his writings and radio broadcasts in the light of postwar Britain, and Volume 4, “Scholar, Teacher, and Public Intellectual,” which reveals some of Lewis's lesser-known vocations and publications, and evaluates his ongoing legacy of scholarship.

Edwards contributed essays on Lewis's work as a literary researcher and historian and as a teacher. He has always been fascinated, he said, by Lewis's public role as a lecturer and intellectual.

Though Lewis has remained popular since his death 44 years ago, he is much more widely read in North and South America than in his native Northern Ireland or England, Edwards said.

“He's always been loved and tolerated in America, but England doesn't tend to like its heroes elevated above 'common folk,'” he observed. “He's also always had a big following in Brazil, where he has been translated into Portuguese. In fact, the late Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was also a big fan of Lewis's,” Edwards noted.

Now, because of the Narnian movie, Lewis has gained new popularity in China, India and Japan, where he is admired for the “pageantry, ritual and tradition” in his stories, Edwards said. “Readers there aren't so much taken with the allegorical aspect of his work but with the fantasy.”

More movies in production

Lewis's popularity shows no sign of waning. The second film in the “Narnia” series, “Prince Caspian,” is due to be released next May, and movies are being made of “The Screwtape Letters” and “The Great Divorce.” The latter, a heaven/hell fantasy, was also once adapted as “What Dreams May Come.”

“I'm sure these will renew everybody's fascination with Lewis,” said Edwards, who is working on a new, more traditional biography of the writer that contains previously unexplored information on his personal life.

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Media Contact:   Bonnie Blankinship, phone 419-372-2618 or email bblanki@bgsu.edu.

(Posted August 08, 2007)