Readers of this blog know that I have been working (along with my co-author Jamin Metcalf) on a proposed book dealing with C. S. Lewis’s views on history. One begins researching and writing an academic book usually without any promise that it will see publication. We academics don’t normally receive any up front funding based on future royalties principally because royalties for such books are not equivalent to royalties earned by “popular” authors. We write from a deep desire to share with one type of interested audience, in most cases.
Yet I am pleased to announce that Winged Lion Press has agreed to publish our proposed work. An agreement has now been signed and we can move forward with the promise that what began as a dream in our minds will now become a reality.
What does one try to cover in order to incorporate all of Lewis’s ideas, beliefs, and concerns about history? Here’s how we are attempting this task.
The first question that must be answered is why Lewis should be the subject of a book on history. So the focus of the first chapter will be to document his credentials. When did he begin thinking historically? How did his education prepare him for being any kind of authority on the subject?
Once that is established, we will concentrate on his appreciation for different eras: ancient, medieval, etc. Then we will explain his concern over the artificial periods that historians create. Finally, his emphasis on the three major eras will be highlighted: pre-Christian, Christian, and post-Christian.
One chapter will deal specifically with his controversial view of the Renaissance. Was it all that historians claim for it? Have we perhaps given this particular period more credit than is due? As he commented in Surprised by Joy, “I do not much believe in the Renaissance as generally described by historians. The more I look into the evidence the less trace I find of that vernal rapture which is supposed to have swept Europe in the fifteenth century.” Why did he come to that conclusion?
Another chapter will dissect his concerns about the error of historicism. He mentions this problem throughout his works, but his essay on historicism will highlight exactly why he has those concerns. Whereas historicism sees the past in its entirety as a prelude to what has now appeared and seeks to predict the future based upon what has already transpired, Lewis promotes a more cautionary attitude. “I know nothing of the future,” he lectures, “not even whether there will be any future.” It would be brash, he feels, even to attempt such a prognosis. As for the past and its relationship to the present, he states, “I don’t know whether past history has been necessary or contingent. I don’t know whether the human tragicomedy is now in Act I or Act V; whether our present disorders are those of infancy or of old age.”
If, by one miracle, the total content of time were spread out before me, and if, by another, I were able to hold all that infinity of events in my mind and if, by a third, God were pleased to comment on it so that I could understand it, then, to be sure, I could do what the Historicist says he is doing. I could read the meaning, discern the pattern. Yes; and if the sky fell we should all catch larks. …
I do not dispute that History is a story written by the finger of God. But have we the text?
Another chapter will try to capture Lewis’s concept of the historical imagination. The focus will be on his desire to enter into history in an imaginative way, encountering the past through the eyes of the men and women who lived in it. This also will emphasize how people see things differently due to the times in which they live.
Finally, we will tackle Lewis’s fiction and and discern the ways in which those works are grounded in history. This chapter will examine The Pilgrim’s Regress, the Ransom Trilogy, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Till We Have Faces.
For those of us who are historians or who have a historical bent, I believe this will be a valuable book. I also believe it is a niche in Lewis research that hasn’t yet been fully explored. In a few months, I hope you will consider reading it and judging for yourself.