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Hood professor co-edits book of essays on C.S. Lewis and his contemporaries

Hood professor co-edits book of essays on C.S. Lewis and his contemporaries

By Lauren LaRocca
News-Post Staff
August 20, 2011

C.S. Lewis used imaginative stories to reach people. Arguably the most well-known contemporary Christian writer, his method apparently worked.

Many of his fiction works -- among them "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" and "The Screwtape Letters" -- conveyed Christianity to adults and children by giving them something concrete with which to relate, rather than relying solely on abstract theological thought, though still arriving at the same universal truths.

His contemporaries used similar processes, embracing the world -- and body -- rather than repudiating it as being separate from spiritual experience. Referred to as the Inklings, this group of writers included such notables as J.R.R. Tolkien.

"C.S. Lewis and Friends: Faith and the Power of Imagination" features essays on C.S. Lewis and some of his contemporaries by exploring reason and imagination and where they intersect within one's faith.

"Imagination is not divorced from reason," said David Hein, Ph.D, a humanities professor who has taught at Hood College for 28 years.

Hein co-edited the book with Edward Henderson, Ph.D, professor of philosophy at Louisiana State University. Each of them also contributed an essay to the book.

"C.S. Lewis felt it was crucial to bring imagination and truth together," Hein said, noting a clear distinction between imagination and fantasy (imagination includes suffering and sorrow). "People can relate to fiction."

Imagination bridges abstract thought to tangible reality, he said.

The book includes essays by six contributors, one of whom writes about Lewis' own ideas about faith and imagination, the other five writing on his contemporaries, which include novelists as well as Austin Farrer, who wrote nonfiction.

What makes this book different, Hein said, is its look at a theme explored by these writers, rather than dwell on their relationships to Lewis.

"We did not want to do one more book on C.S. Lewis' friends," Hein said.

Peter Schakel, a leading Lewis scholar, writes on Lewis. Ann Loades, a professor at the University of Durham and a Dorothy L. Sayers expert, writes about the effect of World War II on the imagination of Sayers. Ralph Wood, professor of theology and literature at Baylor University, writes about the dark side of Tolkien's fiction. Ed Henderson writes about Austin Farrer's essay "Can Myth Be Fact?" And Charles Hefling writes on Charles William.

The book "shows how that whole circle talked about how faith and reason and imagination worked together.

"It's meant to try to stir people up. It's designed for the general, curious reader, and not just Christians but seekers," Hein said.

Hein's essay focuses on Rose Macaulay, a popular British novelist best known for her novel "The Towers of Trebizond."

Hein isn't a Lewis scholar, per se, but was struck by his read of Macaulay's novel and understood it to mesh perfectly with the themes of "C.S. Lewis and Friends."

It tells the story of Laurie, who is somewhat alienated from the church. She's a "very appealing character whose situation is both individual and common," Hein said. "Her questions are common."

He writes in his essay, "While philosophers are restricted to abstract generalizations and historians are tied to concrete facts, poets ... are free to exercise their imaginations and to produce work that brings together the particular and the universal. Literary artists thereby avoid the limitations and retain the virtues of both philosophers and historians."

Macaulay is a perfect example of someone who used the story, like Lewis, to convey universal spiritual truths to readers.

"Some religions, like Gnosticism, think that religion is all about escaping this evil world and getting to heaven," Hein said. "True Christianity just hates that idea. Orthodox Christianity rejects that. It embraces this world -- loves this world."

God is revealed through the ordinary things of this world, Hein said, and Christianity gives concrete images: bread, wine, water.

Henderson, in his essay on Farrer, uses the Last Supper as an example of Christianity using the imagination and stories to connect people to spirituality.

"The Eucharist, more than any other Christian practice, gathers up all the images and expresses the whole story of creation and redemption in a way that incorporates the participants into the story and so begins to move them into a life shaped by the image," he writes. "Farrer goes so far as to say that the Supper 'is not a special part of our religion, it is just our religion, sacramentally enacted.'"

"The imagination fertilizes our mind and heart with these images," Hein said. "Christianity is not a philosophy. It's not an idea or a spiritual meditation. It's much more exciting than that. It's much sexier than that."

---"C.S. Lewis and Friends: Faith and the Power of Imagination" is available online through various booksellers, including Amazon.com.

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