(The Inklings Series is a monthly series featuring the works of my two favorites, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or books about them. But I don’t want it to be just me chatting about these books, so that’s where y’all come in! I’ll announce the book at least four weeks in advance of when the discussion post will go live, so you have plenty of time to get the book and read it. Then, the following month, I’ll post a discussion post and let the fun begin!!)
Remember that one time I thought I was a pretty intelligent human being? Well, then I read C.S. Lewis’ “autobiography” and have decided I was sorely mistaken and need to hourly start inserting literary analogies and references in my daily discussion. “Well, this reminded of the time Herodotus explained this…” As I’ve said before, Lewis was a genius.
I’ll start with 5 key takeaways:
1. This was not at all what I expected.
2. He’s hilarious and witty.
3. As I mentioned, you need a PhD in English to get half of what he’s saying. All his casual and totally obscure writer references? Didn’t get most of them (I like you Google). I felt like the person who never got the joke.
4. Can we take a moment to appreciate this from the intro? “The story is, I fear, suffocatingly subjective; the kind of tiling I have never written before and shall probably never write again. I have tried so to write the first chapter that those who can’t bear such a story will see at once what they are in for and close the book with the least waste of time.”
5. Wyvern had quite a few issues.
I took this more to be a story of his influences and the path that eventually led him to follow Jesus. Yes, he does say that in the intro, but even so, it took a much different route than I envisioned.
I was fascinated by his description of his father and their relationship. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a product of personality, the era or a mix of both (which I’m leaning towards). I also enjoyed hearing him share about his brother – “Two frightened urchins huddled for warmth in a bleak world.” – (even with their disagreements about Wyvern). Also, reason #89890 Jack and I would have been friends: “To this day I would rather meet a ghost than a tarantula.”
Yet another fascinating part was, of course, how he came to theism and Christianity, but also how he “lost” his faith when he was young. From Oldie to significant losses, there was quite a bit that happened to young Jack. He’s thoughts after his mom passing away made me sad.
“With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”
Lewis is honest in all the things and, for me, that adds even more strength to his story (if that makes sense). Through the friendships he finally made, to the professors he was blessed with, to his war experiences and then Oxford, this is a packed book. Yet it never seemed overwhelming to me. After all the time he spent on Wyvern, I didn’t think he’d get to his Tolkien days, but it flowed and we got there right on time.
I’ll post a few quotes I liked (either because his tone made me laugh or they were rather wise).
“For eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably. Of course not all books are suitable for mealtime reading. It would be a kind of blasphemy to read poetry at table.”
“The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”
“Dickens I looked upon with a feeling of horror, engendered by long poring over the illustrations before I had learned to read. I still think them depraved.”
“Perhaps a good influence; for poor Tim, though I loved him, was the most undisciplined, unaccomplished, and dissipated-looking creature that ever went on four legs. He never exactly obeyed you; he sometimes agreed with you.”
“It was late in the winter term of 1916 that I went to Oxford to sit for my scholarship examination. Boys who have faced this ordeal in peacetime will not easily imagine the indifference with which I went. This does not mean that I underestimated the importance (in one sense) of succeeding. I knew very well by now that there was hardly any position in the world save that of a don in which I was fitted to earn a living, and that I was staking everything on a game in which few won and hundreds lost.”
“Straight tribulation is easier to bear than tribulation which advertises itself as pleasure.”
“George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it. Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too. Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed. On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete—Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire— all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called “tinny.” It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books.”
TOLLERS!!!! “When I began teaching for the English Faculty, I made two other friends, both Christians (these queer people seemed now to pop up on every side) who were later to give me much help in getting over the last stile. They were H. V. V. Dyson (then of Reading) and J. R. R. Tolkien. Friendship with the latter marked the breakdown of two old prejudices. At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist, and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both.”
“Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to “know of the doctrine.” All my acts, desires, and thoughts were to be brought into harmony with universal Spirit. For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.”
“That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
Wow, sorry y’all, I went from “a few” to “a dissertation” of quotes. But do you blame me?
Discussion Questions (feel free to answer any, all or your own thoughts!)
1. Was anything surprising to you?
I’ll just drop Wyvern and leave it at that. What many of the Bloods felt entitled to do was disgusting and I found it telling that Lewis spent more than a chapter on his experiences there.
2. What was one of the most interesting pieces you took away from this story?
Hmmmm….I found his time as Wyvern and his war time both interesting. The whole book really, but I had to pick something for this question right? 🙂
3. Do you have any favorite quotes?
4. Was there anything new you really enjoyed learning about Lewis?
As I mentioned, learning about his Dad was new (I knew a bit about their relationship), but hearing it from Lewis shed a lot of light on him.
Thanks for joining in!