Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Multitudes of readers and movie-goers are familiar with the names and writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Many are also aware that the two literary giants were part of a ‘club’ called The Inklings, though they may not know anything about the group. Fewer realize that there were well over a dozen more Inklings, although some have heard of Christopher Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Hardly anyone can name all nineteen, and perhaps nobody has read every single thing ever published by every single one of them – except Dr. Diana Glyer.

From the treasure houses of knowledge accumulated over twenty-plus years of meticulous research, Dr. Glyer presents in Bandersnatch a well-balanced blend of trustworthy factual information and thoughtful insight regarding the individuals who were the Inklings, their personal interactions with one another, and both the public and private workings of the group as a corporate body.

The dual nature of this book makes it particularly helpful: it is not only a genuinely good, accessible biography of the Inklings; it is also an excellent, encouraging guidebook for those who wish to follow their example. Each chapter concludes with a succinct “Doing What They Did” summary, and the final section of the book is an epilogue outlining specific steps for starting a writing group.

Bandersnatch is both a significant contribution to Inklings scholarship and a valuable resource on collaborative creativity. I highly recommend it to Inklings lovers as well as writers and other artists seeking to live and create in community.

 

From Homer to Harry Potter by Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara

Opening with a quotation of Tom Shippey’s assertion, “The dominant literary mode of the twentieth century has been the fantastic,” Dickerson and O’Hara set out to answer the questions, “How should one read and understand a modern work of fantasy?” and “Can works of fantasy really have anything important to say to us?”

They begin by exploring definitions of “myth” and “fairy story” and explaining how the understanding of these terms has changed drastically over the centuries of written literature. Distinctions of myth, faerie, science fiction, beast fables, folk tales, and fantasy are clarified, with some history of each genre and its applications, past and present. The ongoing cultural impact of a number of well-known stories is traced and examined, and finally several modern fantasy works and their attendant worldviews are analyzed.

Early on, the authors articulate their belief that the Bible is the Grand Myth, in the sense of J.R.R. Tolkien’s statement (in “On Fairy Stories”) that “The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories…But this story has entered History and the primary world…this story is supreme; and it is true; Art has been verified…Legend and History have met and fused.” This understanding runs throughout the book as the foundation of a compelling argument that myth is indeed a vehicle for truth.

 

 

The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle

Sixteen-year-old Adam Eddington, a gifted marine biology student, is en route to Portugal for a summer job assisting renowned scientist Dr. Calvin O’Keefe when he encounters gorgeous Kali Cutter in an airport. This “chance” meeting thrusts him into a fast-moving power struggle between those who would rightly limit the use of an amazing scientific discovery and those who would manipulate it with concern only for their own gain. Through a whirlwind of necessarily instantaneous decisions and their consequences, Adam learns a great deal about human nature, wisdom, trust and forgiveness.

This is a very fast-paced story, one of those that would ideally be read in one sitting. Espionage and violence are balanced by compassion and altruism. The book’s theme is reiterated in a portion of a poem by Robert Frost, “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” quoted by the key characters: “Only where love and need are one, and the work is play for mortal stakes, is the deed ever really done for Heaven and the future’s sakes.”

The Arm of the Starfish should easily hold the reader’s attention, due to the virtually continuous action, although the violence (a kidnapping, a shark attack, and a shooting) could be disturbing to some, and the complexity of the story line a bit difficult to follow.

 

Women and C.S. Lewis, edited by Carolyn Curtis and Mary Pomroy Key

More than fifty years after his death, the writings of C.S. Lewis continue to instruct and inspire readers ranging from children to accomplished scholars. The accusation that Lewis was sexist, or even misogynistic, also remains in circulation after all this time. The issue has been addressed before, but primarily by academics in books for academics, which tend to be somewhat abstruse and cost-prohibitive for the average reader.

Editors Carolyn Curtis and Mary Pomroy Key seek to present a more accessible evaluation of Lewis’s attitude toward women in both his personal life and his literary works, and to examine his continuing relevance in light of current “women’s issues.” To that end, they have collected essays from educators, poets, authors of fiction, popular speakers, a journalist, and a childhood correspondent of C.S. Lewis, as well as some of the most highly respected living Lewis scholars.

The book is divided into five sections, in which contributors offer insight into the women in Lewis’s life, the portrayal of girls and women in his novels, the treatment of the feminine in his poetry, the effect of Lewis’s life and literature on twenty-first century understanding of women’s roles and rights, and the impact his views of women have had on current-generation thinkers.

On the whole, Women and C.S. Lewis offers something of value in each of these areas of interest. In some particulars, however, I believe that the book could have been a good deal better. The sections seem to begin and end abruptly rather than transitioning smoothly, and I see some disparity in the quality of the essays and especially in their relevance to the topic at hand. While all the pieces are informative and reasonably well-written, some decisively outshine others. A few are truly engaging and winsomely persuasive; another few feel rather detached; most fall comfortably in the middle of the spectrum. Most problematic in my opinion are two articles which, while not bad essays, have only the most tenuous connection to women and Lewis.

All in all, however, I believe that Curtis and Key have met their objective in Women and C.S. Lewis, bringing together the perceptions of a wide range of contributors in a volume profitable to both the casual reader and the serious devotee. The strengths of the book outweigh its weaknesses sufficiently for me to recommend it as a worthwhile addition to a well-rounded C.S. Lewis collection.

Godsight by Lael Arrington

Taking her cue from C.S. Lewis, Mrs. Arrington posits that “our failure of desire for God and his kingdom naturally flows from a failure of imagination of the splendor and beauty of our rewards, our promised kingdom, and the God who gives them and himself to us as gifts.” Part memoir, part meditation, part exhortation, Godsight examines the possible reasons for our lack of imagination and desire, explores avenues for renewing the eyes of our hearts, and encourages us to seek a new, true vision of the kingdom life, beginning in the here and now and culminating at that time when we shall know fully even as we are fully known.

This is one of those rare books that is both visually appealing in its physical form and substantive in its content. It acknowledges and affirms our most secret longings, and challenges us to allow God to develop and channel those longings into the perfect plan He has for us, beyond all that we can yet ask or imagine.

“The Man Born Blind” – a short story by C.S. Lewis

Robin is a man, blind from birth, who has recently had an operation facilitating sight, growing increasingly frustrated with his inability to see Light.  On a day when he finds himself free of the company and solicitude of his wife, he spends the morning in the old comfortable habits of blindness, then sets out to find, once and for all, the mysterious thing called Light.  His failure to understand that light is what one sees by, rather than a tangible object that one sees, leads to disastrous consequences.

Just five pages in length, this story is dense with metaphor and meaning.  In his essay “On Stories,” Lewis says, “We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading.  Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties.”  I would modify that a bit and say that “The Man Born Blind” cannot be fully grasped, its depths not fully sounded, at the first reading.

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers

First, the author makes it clear that this book is neither a work of apologetics nor an expression of her personal religious beliefs, but a commentary on particular statements contained in Christian creeds.  The specific statements she addresses are those regarding the nature of God, especially in His capacity as Creator.  Her intention is to show how these characteristics attributed to God are applicable to the human mind engaged in imaginative creation as well.

Sayers acknowledges that many people find the doctrine of the Trinity difficult to grasp, but explains that Trinitarian structures are, in fact, not foreign to our experience.  She cites as examples the trinity of sight:  the form seen, the act of vision, and the mental correlation of the two; and the trinity of thought:  memory, understanding, and will.  The Trinity then becomes the basis for insight into the mind of the maker:

“For every work [or act] of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.
First…there is the Creative Idea…and this is the image of the Father.  Second, there is
the Creative Energy…and this is the image of the Word.  Third, there is the Creative
Power…and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.

And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist
without the other:  and this is the image of the Trinity.”

Several chapters are then devoted to further examination of these elements, culminating in an acknowledgement that although the perfect co-equality of the Divine Trinity is represented by an equilateral triangle, the trinity of the human maker is typically scalene, sometimes fantastically irregular.  In conclusion, Sayers addresses the question of how man may deal with life creatively, whatever his occupation.