My Lewis Weekend

I had the distinct pleasure last Friday evening of speaking to the New York C. S. Lewis Society in Manhattan. This society was the first organization in America established to study the works of Lewis and help promote them, beginning back in 1969.

When I was researching my Lewis book, I had contacted the society for information to help in my research. Not only did I receive that help, I also received an invitation to talk about the book after it was published.

cover-on-ws-pageNow that America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact is a reality, I was delighted to tell them about it at their monthly meeting. My biggest concern (although “concern” might be too strong a description) was whether I could offer them something worthwhile since they are already well-versed in all things Lewis. When I finished speaking, I said I hoped I had given them more than “fluff.” I was gratified by the response in the Q&A that indeed I had not wasted their time with fluff, and that the niche I explore in the book is pretty unique in the Lewis literature.

In particular, I was happy to meet Dr. James Como for the first time, a Lewis scholar who appears prominently in my book. He was the first there to purchase a copy, even before I spoke. I told him I trust I got his life story correct but if, after reading the book, he decided he didn’t like it, to please not tell me. We had a nice laugh over that.

I had another venue for speaking while in the area, a Christian school whose headmaster is a former student of mine. More on that in a moment.

gateway-academy-2My first audience at the school was a tougher one than speaking to the Lewis Society: fourth- through eighth-graders in a chapel.

How does one connect with that range of children? Let’s just say that I made a few adjustments along the way, opened it up for a lot of questions (and they had them), and enjoyed the interaction. The feedback I received was that they really liked talking with me.

One question was rather personal and kind of funny: how much money do you make writing a book like this? My answer was in the form of guidance for their future. I said that if any of them decided to be university professors and write books like mine, don’t expect to become rich. You do it instead simply because you believe God has put it in your heart to do so.

On Saturday, I then spoke to many of the parents of those children, giving them an overview of Lewis’s life and influence. So it was a two-day Lewis extravaganza.

desanctisBack to my host. I want to thank Chris Desanctis, headmaster of Gateway Academy in Staten Island, for giving me the venue to speak there and for being my guide and chauffeur the entire time. In all my 65 years, I had never set foot in Manhattan, so he is the one who made my talk at the Lewis Society possible.

Chris was one of my students back in the 1990s when I taught at Regent University. Although we have stayed in touch, we hadn’t seen each other in 18 years. It was nice to reconnect, and I want to thank him and his wife for putting me up in their home (and for putting up with a guest who rearranged their Saturday).

Those two days “in the city” were great, and I’m thankful for the opportunities I had to share.

Lewis, Politics, & a Dire Warning

In my study of C. S. Lewis while preparing my new book about his influence on Americans, I was constantly confronted with the opposite of what I had been told about him with regard to his views on politics and government. Lewis didn’t like the subject, I was told. Yet he mentioned it rather frequently in his letters to Americans.

Then, as I re-read a lot of his essays, I again was surprised by how often he commented on the principles of good government and how often he critiqued what he witnessed taking place in his own government.

on-politics-and-natural-lawSo I included many of his comments on government in my book. Now I’m delighted to find there is another new Lewis book that emphasizes that insight. I’m in the process of reading it, but I already like its thesis. C. S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law is one that some of you might like to purchase (after first getting America Discovers C. S. Lewis, of course).

In light of our current presidential election and what I consider the awful choices placed before us, I think it is instructive to turn to some of Lewis’s commentary on good government.

For instance, in his excellent essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism,” he ends with these thoughts about voting, which I believe have a direct application to our present situation:

Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. If we do, we may live, and such a return might have one minor advantage. If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion.

While we believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial–virtue, knowledge, diligence, and skill.

“Vision” is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.

What are we looking for in our candidates today? Far too few seek virtue and honesty in those we put forward to lead.

Another of his essays—one of my favorites—“Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” takes aim directly at our desire to have the state take care of us. He ends that essay with this dire warning:

What assurance have we that our masters will or can keep the promise which induced us to sell ourselves? Let us not be deceived by phrases about “Man taking charge of his own destiny.” All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of the others.

They will be simply men; none perfect; some greedy, cruel, and dishonest. The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be. Have we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not corrupt as it has done before?

And what of those who are already corrupt and are now seeking to be our masters? Sober thoughts as we go through this election season.

Lewis & Socialist Britain: His Critique

c-s-lewis-2C. S. Lewis always claimed not to be interested in politics. To be sure, it was not a primary interest. Yet he often engaged in commentary and/or questions with his American correspondents over the state of American politics and government.

As the 1952 presidential election approached, Lewis turned to Vera Gebbert for her opinion on what was transpiring, asking her if even Americans really understood what was happening on their political scene. He told her about another American correspondent who had sent him eight pages of political analysis “so hot that they nearly burnt my fingers.” That correspondent had concluded that the Democrats should really be known as the “Dumbocrats” and were “a sort of mixture of Hitler, the Russian secret police, and the inmates of the village lunatic asylum.”

One cannot truly evaluate a person’s views of another nation in a vacuum.
Comparisons are necessary. What better way to evaluate Lewis’s views on
America than to look also at his views on the Britain of his day? If he entertained
a low opinion of British government and culture, would we say he was anti-British? Or would he merely be pointing out the problems that needed to be corrected?

When Nathan Comfort Starr sought to bring Lewis to America and Lewis had to decline, he did invite Starr to Britain, but not with a sterling recommendation, referring to Britain as “this luckless country.” In offering the same invitation to Warfield Firor, the image of Britain he used in the letter was “this bleak island,” and he wondered why Firor would even want to visit it. Why the bleak state of affairs?

For Lewis, the blame fell on the Labour government and its socialist policies, which not only ruined the nation economically but was siphoning off its liberties and making Britain a less-than-stellar partner for the United States. As he explained to Firor, the government always seemed to be thinking of ways to take more liberties from the people. “Try not to judge us by our rulers,” he pleaded.

vera-gebbertBy 1954, rationing in Britain finally came to an end, thanks to the new Conservative government. He informed Vera Gebbert he wouldn’t be needing her gifts anymore, but there was a possibility, if she really missed sending him all those items, that she might be able to begin anew, noting that if the Socialists ever regained the majority, she could once again show her kindness “by supplying us, not with little luxuries, but with the necessities of life!”

He continued to sound the warning, such as when Gebbert was thinking of moving permanently to Britain. While they would be glad to welcome her, she needed to know the truth: there would always be the threat of a revival of a government ruled by the Socialists, “which would finish us off completely.”

cover-on-ws-pageLewis also contrasted the blessings Gebbert had in America with the current state of England, saying, “Try living in ‘free’ England for a bit, and you would realize what government interference can mean! And not only interference, but interference in a ‘school marm’ form which is maddening.”

Then he added this quip: “There are times when one feels that a minister or two dangling from a lamp post in Whitehall would be an attraction that would draw a hard worked man up to London!”

So for those who think C. S. Lewis had nothing to say about politics and government, I offer these excerpts from my book as a counterbalance.

Lewis on Visiting America

cover-on-ws-pageWhy write a book on C. S. Lewis’s connections with America when he never set foot on American soil? Well, connections are made in many ways, and this book stresses the impact Lewis made on individual Americans. During his lifetime, he received countless invitations to visit but he always had reasons for why he couldn’t do it.

Although Lewis declined all invitations to visit America due to his personal circumstances, that did not mean he wasn’t attracted to some of what the New World had to offer. Sprinkled throughout his letters to Americans, one finds comments that reveal the longing of his heart to make the journey.

He was developing a new appreciation for the literary tastes of the American public, confessing to longtime correspondent Warfield Firor that he would love to visit the country where his own favorite book at the time—Perelandra—had been more enthusiastically received than in his native land.

Lewis stated more than once that he was not drawn to the cities of America, but instead he hoped for the opportunity to experience what nature had to offer in the New World. In having to reject Firor’s offer of a stay in a cabin in the woods, Lewis lamented his lost opportunity, as he would have loved to have witnessed American wildlife and the mountainous landscape.

Lewis never shied away from acknowledging his preferences for places to see in America. He wrote to a Beverly Hills resident that he didn’t think he would like that kind of climate on a permanent basis. He needed to have snow, he confided to her.

To another who had sent pictures of California, he admitted it looked attractive, but that he would prefer New England. Why? He confessed to another correspondent that in temperament and habit, he was actually more like a Polar Bear.

c-s-lewis-13One letter, in particular, pretty much summarized what he would do if he ever did take the opportunity to travel through the United States, and how he would handle the entire trip: his focus would be on meeting the friends he had made through his American correspondence, seeing the natural wonders—the Rockies and Yellowstone Park—and just taking his time to enjoy the entire getaway. The only way he would ever consider arriving in America, he confessed, was by a slow boat so he could enjoy the maritime voyage.

It’s a shame that Lewis never made it to these shores, but that doesn’t diminish the influence he has wielded on the minds of so many Americans in the last seven decades. And that influence shows no signs of diminishing.

If you would like to read more about Lewis’s relationship with Americans, check out my book. The publisher’s page provides an overview of it and a link for purchasing it.

Lewis’s Nuggets of Gold

lewis-letters-volume-3Reading through C. S. Lewis’s letters to Americans during my sabbatical was a genuine pleasure. There are so many nuggets of gold in those letters that I couldn’t include them all in my new book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis.

On the topic of suffering, for instance, here are a couple of gems. Writing to regular correspondent Mary Van Deusen on this topic, Lewis opines,

That suffering is not always sent as a punishment is clearly established for believers by the book of Job and by John IX. 1-4. That it sometimes is, is suggested by parts of the Old Testament and Revelation. It wd. certainly be most dangerous to assume that any given pain was penal.

I believe that all pain is contrary to God’s will, absolutely but not relatively. When I am taking a thorn out of my finger (or a child’s finger) the pain is ‘absolutely’ contrary to my will: i.e. if I could have chosen a situation without pain I would have done so. But I do will what caused pain, relatively to the given situation: i.e. granted the thorn I prefer the pain to leaving the thorn where it is.

I agree that pain is not what God would want to inflict on anyone. After all, aren’t we told that in heaven there will be no more sickness or pain and that all our tears will be dried? He only inflicts some pain on us when necessary to remove greater problems in our life.

Lewis also made what some might consider a startling statement when he told Belle Allen that the suffering of the innocent didn’t bother him nearly as much as the suffering of evil men. What did he mean by that?

Do you know, the suffering of the innocent is less of a problem to me v often than that of the wicked.

It sounds absurd: but I’ve met so many innocent sufferers who seem to be gladly offering their pain to God in Christ as part of the Atonement, so patient, so meek, even so at peace, and so unselfish that we can hardly doubt they are being, as St. Paul says, “made perfect by suffering.”

On the other hand I meet selfish egoists in whom suffering seems to produce only resentment, hate, blasphemy, and more egoism. They are the real problem.

lewis-front-cover-100These are just two examples why I delighted in studying how Lewis responded to Americans who wrote to him. His wit and wisdom is found not only in his published works, but in these personal communications also.

Since my goal was to see what Lewis said to Americans, I didn’t read all of his letters to his own countrymen. That is something I hope to do at my leisure over the next few years.

I would be remiss if I didn’t close with a reminder that America Discovers C. S. Lewis can be found on Amazon and at this page on my publisher’s website. If you buy a copy, I hope you will be as taken by Lewis’s letters to Americans as I have been.

When Clyde Kilby Met C. S. Lewis

clyde-kilbyClyde Kilby was the man responsible for bringing the C. S. Lewis Papers to the Wade Center at Wheaton College, where not only Lewis’s papers now reside, but also those of Tolkien and five other British luminaries with ties to Lewis.

Kilby and Lewis met face-to-face only once, back in 1953, but the impression from that visit stayed with Kilby the rest of his life. When Kilby returned from England, he wrote about his experience.

Upon knocking [at Lewis’s Oxford office door], Kilby was greeted warmly by the man who had meant so much to him in writing. First impressions? “He has a pleasant, almost jolly face, full though not fat, with a double chin. He has a high forehead and thinning hair. Actually, he is a much better looking man than the published picture of him.”

Kilby also liked Lewis’s sense of humor, of a type understood best by a fellow academic: “He spoke of the making of a bibliography as just plain labor and laughed about the idea of the scholar’s life as a sedentary one, saying that the physical labor of pulling big folios from the shelves of the Bodleian was all the exercise he needed.”

It was the sharing of minds, though, that stood out to Kilby as he looked back on this meeting. They spoke of the nature of the Renaissance, with Lewis’s comments foreshadowing what he would say the next year in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge. They also talked about Palestine/the new nation of Israel and of Kilby’s recent trip there. Lewis longed for the pleasure of visiting the Holy Land someday, and they speculated about the possible rebuilding of the Jewish temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices on that ancient spot in Jerusalem.

c-s-lewis-3Further, they discussed the relationship between Christian faith and art, as well as all things people consider secular. “He said the same relation existed between Christianity and art as between Christianity and carpentry.” Of course, given Lewis’s penchant for writing novels, they debated the exact nature of that specific species of literature.

When Kilby quoted someone who had said a novel is no better than a well-told lie, Lewis objected: “As I expected, he disagreed completely with this claim, saying that one is far more likely to find the truth in a novel than in a newspaper. In fact, he said he had quit reading newspapers because they were so untruthful.”

Kilby also sought to know if Lewis would be lecturing while he was in Oxford. “He said he had no lectures scheduled and bantered me as a college professor wanting to hear a lecture while on vacation. In fact, in all his talk there is an incipient good humor and genuineness that makes a conversation with him a real pleasure.”

Front CoverThe only awkward moment was when Kilby asked him to autograph one of Lewis’s books he had brought with him. Although Lewis agreed to the request, he commented that he saw no sense in doing so. That led Kilby to conclude something about his character: “Both from reading his books and talking with him, I get the impression that he is far more fearful than most of us of the subtle sin of pride and tries in every way to escape it: thus his reticence to give an autograph.”

This account of Kilby’s encounter with Lewis is found in my new book on Lewis’s contacts with and influence upon Americans. America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact is currently available at the publisher’s site. It’s coming to Amazon soon. It is replete with such stories, so if you liked this one, I’m sure you’ll like the others also.

America Discovers C. S. Lewis

Front CoverI’m pleased to announce that my new book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact, is now published. It’s so new that it won’t be on Amazon for a few weeks yet, but it can be purchased directly from the publisher, Wipf & Stock, at this link: http://wipfandstock.com/america-discovers-c-s-lewis.html

I’m delighted to have a number of excellent endorsements for the book. Walter Hooper, Lewis’s friend and secretary near the end of his life, is the subject of one of the chapters and corresponded with me in the preparation of the manuscript. He wrote the following:

Lewis was not an authority on theology, nor a clergyman, and the British were prejudiced against his writings on theology. But Americans knew nothing of this, and liked his books because they explained profound theological truths in language almost everyone could understand. I can honestly say I understand Lewis so much better having read this book.

I’m particularly gratified by Hooper’s last sentence. This is a man who, as adviser to the Lewis estate and editor of Lewis’s collected letters, says this book helped him understand his mentor even better. Actually, that’s a little startling, but I’m humbled that he would say it.

The three other “official” endorsements come from established Lewis scholars representing three different academic fields: English literature, history, and philosophy.

Diana Glyer, author of books on the Inklings—The Company They Keep and Bandersnatch—graciously offered this:

This is an illuminating, thoughtful account of the many strands that connected Lewis to America during his lifetime and continue to do so today. Snyder’s writing is crisp, his research extensive, and his focus strong and clear.

Renowned evangelical historian Mark Noll, to whom I gave the manuscript even though we had had only one brief face-to-face meeting twenty years ago, has given this recommendation:

Snyder has made this a very good season for deeper understanding of the impact of C. S. Lewis. America Discovers C. S. Lewis joins George Marsden’s recently published “biography” of the Mere Christianity writer to explore and explain why Lewis has meant so much to so many American readers. Snyder’s use of Lewis’ correspondence with Americans is a special highlight in this helpful study.

Finally, professor of philosophy Scott Key, one of the inner circle at the C. S. Lewis Foundation and moderator of the Academic Roundtable at the Foundation’s conferences, states this with respect to the book:

Snyder provides his readers with a carefully crafted and historically engaging roadmap to the various ways in which the life and writings of C. S. Lewis influenced American Christianity. Snyder’s account of this dynamic, yet unlikely story of influence, is, itself, reflective of Lewis’s remarkable impact on American Christianity and serves as a significant contribution to the continuing assessment of and appreciation for the contribution of Lewis.

I researched and wrote this book during my academic sabbatical year in 2014-2015. Although I had read Lewis all my life and often thought of writing on him, I never had the time. The sabbatical remedied that and allowed this labor of love to come to fruition.

May this book be more than an academic exercise. May it inspire those who read it not only to appreciate Lewis more, but to give praise to the One who inspired his life and writings. That’s what Lewis would have wanted more than anything.