Reading over Lewis's shoulder
People who enjoy Lewis’s fiction and theology want to get close to him by collecting facts about his life. A better way is to follow him through some of his favorite books. He was a remarkably voluminous reader even for his generation, and his reading covered a wide range: the Greek and Roman classics, late Latin and medieval literature and philosophy, and English literature. He also loved Norse mythology, science fiction and fantasy, children’s books, boys’ adventure stories such as Rider Haggard’s She, and devotional reading.
The best way to navigate this jungle is to mention a few of the books that he reread many times. They fall into two types: the ones that aroused in him the longing for worlds beyond the ordinary, and the ones that mediated for him “the very quality of life as we actually live it from moment to moment.”
Books from other worlds included William Morris’s The World at the World’s End and George MacDonald’s Phantastes, which Lewis said “baptized” his imagination. Books that showed Lewis “life as we actually live it” included War and Peace, which he read “about three times,” the Histories of Herodotus, which supplied local color for Till We Have Faces, and the novels of Jane Austen, who was, he said, “a sound moralist.” Some books both aroused longing and portrayed the ordinary. The ones he reread most were Wordsworth’s Prelude, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Spenser’s Faerie Queene.
In addition to literature, Lewis read many works of theology and psychology, including G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, the works of Jung, the devotional poems of George Herbert, and Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love.
For the person who wants to know Lewis, these are just a few choices to read and reread.
By Doris T. Myers
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #88 in 2005]
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