Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Update on Class

I have been meaning to post something about the class I'm taking on C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien but haven't gotten around to it until now. I am really enjoying this class -- especially the part where I don't have to turn in assignments or take tests. I just read at my leisure, show up and take part in the discussion. It's great!

The first half of the class is devoted to Lewis, and I didn't know a great deal about him before I began. He's a fascinating guy. He is most famous for his Chronicles of Narnia series. However, first and foremost Lewis was a scholar and wrote extensively on a wide variety of subjects -- Christian apology texts, literary criticism, literary history, philosophy, and theology. Much of his academic writing is erudite to say the least. The most difficult piece to this point has been The Abolition of Man, which is "an exploration into the nature of humankind and morality." He thinks about things in a way that I think most people never dream of. I'm not sure I would have understood a great deal of this without the class discussion.

Lewis was raised in a house full of books. He describes a childhood in which he was given access to the seemingly endless supply of books in his house with no restrictions. He was free to read anything he could get his hands on. He spent hours reading and honing his imagination. Following the death of his mother when he was young, Lewis lost all faith in God. His eventual conversion to Christianity happened over a lifetime, which gave him a unique experience in many ways.

Outside of academic and Christian circles, he is most well-known for The Chronicles of Narnia series. There are seven books in the series, which begins with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and ends with The Last Battle. It's interesting to read about how he wrote these books. Many people think that Lewis set out to write a children's series to introduce children to some of his ideas about Christianity. Lewis says that he never intended to write a series with an overtly Christian message. In fact, Lewis explains his philosophy about writing in one of his essays. He believes that you must start with a good story and then if there is any message there, it'll come out of its own accord. He insists that the series began with a single mental image that came to him when he was about sixteen years old. This image was of a faun in a snowy wood carrying packages. Later, other images came to him, including the lion (who would become Aslan in the stories). He didn't do anything with these images until much later when he actually began writing the first book in the Chronicles series. The book was actually written for his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield. After reading some of his academic pieces, there is much of his philosophy that becomes evident in these stories for children. We are currently discussing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and then we'll begin the Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle.

We won't start talking about Tolkien, who was a close friend of Lewis, until the second part of the semester. I'm not sure I'll enjoy it quite as much, but I'm willing to give it a chance. As I've said before, I haven't read any of the LOTR, which is required reading for the class. So, I need to get started on that pretty soon so I'll be ready for the discussion. But for now, I'm happy in the land of Narnia.


Nymeth said...

"He believes that you must start with a good story and then if there is any message there, it'll come out of its own accord"

I completely agree. I don't think a writer can make a story work otherwise.

This really does sound like a fascinating class!

Lisa said...

nymeth, it really is a good class. I can't remember the name of the book right now, but I passed along a title that I found from your blog to my professor. It was something to do with fairy tales. I'll try to be better able posting about the class. thanks.

Karen said...

This sounds fascinating, Lisa, and I look forward to hearing more about it!

Anonymous said...

It's been many years since I read any CS Lewis, but I have quite a few of his books on my bookshelves. My son was a huge fan of the Narnia series - we read them all aloud, I remember.

There was a movie about his life a few years ago, and I believe Anthony Hopkins played the part of Lewis. Very well done, but I can't remember the name of it!!

Your class sounds fascinating - do share more, please!

Anonymous said...

Have you read 'The Screwtape Letters" advice from a senior devil to one just starting out? If not, do get hold of a copy, they are very funny while also having a real bite to them.

Andi said...

I really enjoy Tolkien and Lewis, and I came to Lewis first. However, once I got hold of Tolkien I because absolutely entranced by both his writing and the story of his academic and personal life. Good luck with it! Sounds like a great class.

Lisa said...

Karen, it really is quite fascinating. I'm enjoying it a great deal.

ravenous reader, I think I've seen parts of the movie you're describing, but I don't remember what it's called either. I saw a very interesting piece on PBS once about Lewis and Freud. It seems that Lewis and Freud kept an ongoing debate regarding their world views. You may want to try to find that some time.

table talk, I haven't read the whole book, but there are a couple of the letters from the book in our anthology. I think my husband may have the book at home. The ones I've read are quite funny. Lewis has a knack of being entertaining while getting a point across, doesn't he?

andi, so far that is what I'm really enjoying about this class is the fact that I'm learning as much about Lewis as a person as I am about his writing. I hope I'll like the Tolkien as much. We'll see.

Maggie said...

This is fascinating! Are you auditing and this is why you needn't write anything? I look forward to your nonfiction answers, too. :)

Lisa said...

maggie, yes I'm auditing the class. It really is fascinating. I just finished The Magician's Nephew and the Last Battle. I'm amazed at just how much of his personal philosophy is in these stories, but unless you were looking for it, you may never notice it. He achieved his goal, which is to write good stories and allow people to pick up what meaning they find in the stories.

Eva said...

Thanks for this post-I've always enjoyed Lewis (even though we have our theological differences), and it's neat to read what you've been learning about him. :) I'd love to name a future daughter Lucy, in part because of the Narnia books.

Lisa said...

eva, the class is pretty interesting. Every time I think I understand exactly what he believed theologically, I come across something that makes me rethink it. I mean I know he was a Christian, but he had some pretty radical ideas about some things.