Today happens to be one month after Walter Hooper’s eightieth birthday, so it is appropriate that I chose this day to publish a review of the book which was produced in honor of him. Long before Douglas Gresham got involved in spreading his step-father’s legacy through plays, audio, and video, Walter Hooper was busy editing C. S. Lewis’s literary works. Hooper has been credited for making available many works that would have never seen the light of day without his influence.
Hooper is valuable to us today not only for his tireless work as the manager of Lewis’s literary estate, but as someone who knew the man personally. Not only was he Lewis’s personal secretary for a brief time in 1963, but, as Andrew Cuneo demonstrates in the Introduction, a close bond had grown between the two.
When Hooper had to return to America in late August 1963, a strong friendship had clearly taken hold. The letters from Lewis to Hooper after his return show a tone that strikes me, out of the entire body of Lewis’ letters, as some of the warmest he wrote. This tone comes through particularly when one observes in thousands of other letters how undemonstrative Lewis was on paper about his personal affections. (p.15)
Such a friendship has given Hooper rare insight into Lewis the man, providing a “living tradition that balances a written account.” (p.8) For example, JRR Tolkien’s attitude toward The Chronicles of Narnia—so often written about as a negative in their relationship—is mitigated when Hooper informs us Tolkien gave the books to his own grandchildren.
It would be a huge mistake to read the standard biographies about Lewis and his Inkling companions and think they have said everything. I would encourage anyone interested in Lewis to get a hold of as much “personal eyewitness testimony” as you can. (C. S. Lewis Remembered from Zondervan would be a good place to start.)
As one would expect, the bulk of the book is essays by various scholars examining Lewis’s relationship with, and view of, the Church. Although it is a scholarly work, with plenty for the academic to chew on, it is also very accessible to the layperson who has moderate competency in theological issues. (Unfortunately, it is priced like a textbook. I was very fortunate to receive a review copy.)
While Lewis was a practicing Anglican, his books on Christianity were purposefully non-denominational. In the Introduction of his most famous non-fiction work, he spoke of “Mere Christianity” as a “hall out of which doors open on several rooms”—the rooms being the various denominations of Christendom. Because of this, Lewis enjoyed a wide popularity. Even though his beliefs often approach Roman Catholicism, for example, he is still highly respected by evangelicals.
As an American evangelical myself, I especially appreciated the closing chapter by Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton College in Illinois. In “Lewis as the Patron Saint of American Evangelicalism,” Ryken warns of the tendency either to accept everything Lewis has to say (putting him in the place of God) or to project one’s own beliefs upon him. Many Lewis buffs do the latter, “refashioning the saint into one’s own image.”
It is the danger that particularly afflicts enthusiasts of C.S. Lewis, whether they view him (more or less) as an evangelical, or a middle-of-the-road Anglican, or a traditional Roman Catholic, or a theologically ambivalent Protestant, or even as their particular brand of ‘mere Christian’. To the extent that Christians see their own reflection when they gaze at C.S. Lewis, they are no longer worshipping God, or even Lewis, but themselves. (p.184)