C.S. Lewis: Images of His World--A Book in Review
This autumn, I read C.S. Lewis: Images of His World by Douglas Gilbert and Clyde S. Kilby. I enjoy reading C.S. Lewis and books concerning his life as I appreciate how his mind worked. Lewis was great at the straight line of logic. Lewis reminds me of Sherlock Holmes and though both occasionally came to the wrong conclusion, they are a joy to study as the logic used both by C.S. Lewis and exhibited in the character of Sherlock Holmes is, for my mind, the equivalent of what a good cuppa is for my body. For example, when Lewis was writing to his friend, Arthur Greeves, from the trenches in WWI, at the age of 19, he tried to get to the root of beauty:
Precisely where . . . does the beauty of a tree . . . reside? Like every other physical object, a tree is made up of atoms, and atoms are identical; and without color. So when you call a tree beautiful you are actually speaking of something other than the atoms of which it is made. A light from the vibrations in the distant sun produces a wave toward your eye. When it [the light] reaches the tissues of your eye another vibration is set up and moves along the nerve like a telegraph wire, carrying the sensation to your brain. One such sensation we call greenness, another brownness, a third shapeliness. But there is no actual color either in the atoms of which the tree is composed or in all those vibrations. How then does the beauty of the tree arise? Shape, size, color, touch, and the like are simply the names we call our sensations, and no amount of [the] study of them can ever bring us to the notion of beauty in the tree. Beauty must therefore arise from some nonmaterial relation between the tree and myself. “I fancy,” he told Arthur, “that there is Something right outside time and place . . . and that Beauty is the call of the spirit in that Something to the spirit in us. (Gilbert and Kilby 12-13) .
When Lewis returned from WWI and began to finish his education and to teach at Oxford, he continued to correspond with Greeves, and through his correspondence came to an understanding about success, “It is not your business to succeed, but to do right: when you have done so, the rest lies with God.” Douglas and Kilby (20) .
Lewis would have several life-long friends, such as Arthur Greeves, including Owen Barfield, whom he described as:
[The] Second Friend . . . the man who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the antiself. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one. It is as if he spoke your language but mispronounced it. How can he be so nearly right and yet, invariably, just not right? . . . When you set out to correct his heresies, you find that he forsooth has decided to correct yours. . . . Actually (though it never seems so at the time) you modify one another’s thought; out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and deep affection emerge. But I think he changed me a great deal more than I him. (Gilbert and Kilby 54) .
I liked how C.S. Lewis: Images of His World, shows the places that Lewis lived, from Little Lea in Belfast to The Kilns near Oxford and how these places (and the hedgerows and copses in between) as well as the people that he associated with, defined the man Lewis was and the writing Lewis became known for. For example, here is an excerpt from Lewis describing settling into life at the Kilns:
There is one odd thing I have been noticing since we came to our new house, which is more in the country, and it is this. Hitherto there has always been something, not so much in the landscape as in every single visual expression (say a cloud, a robin, or a ditch) in Ireland, which I lacked in England: something for which homeliness is an inadequate word. This something I find I am now getting in England—the feeling of connectedness, of being a part of it. I suppose I have been growing into the soil here much more since the move. Good life must have been lived here before us. (Douglas and Kilby
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed C.S.Lewis, Images of His World, which though a short read proved an informative one with high-quality photographs of the people and of the places that influenced Lewis. This book is a perfect read for a quiet Saturday morning with a steaming cuppa.