C.S. Lewis Interview: Brenton Dickieson

C.S. Lewis The Wardrobe Door

To celebrate 10 years of blogging here at The Wardrobe Door, I wanted to speak with some others who read, appreciate and study C.S. Lewis. Over the next few weeks, each day will feature an interview with one of these individuals (and maybe a few more).

Brenton DickiesonBrenton Dickieson is a university lecturer and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada.

His excellent blog “A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis and the worlds he touched, like children’s literature, apologetics, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, and writing.

I’ve learned several things about Lewis and his work from reading Brenton’s well-researched writing at “A Pilgrim in Narnia.”

Wardrobe Door: What do you remember about reading C.S. Lewis for the first time?

I read Narnia as a child, particularly struck by The Magician’s Nephew. But I think my most interesting encounter was much later in a much odder context.

I adopted an English class from an American missionary when I was working in Japan. He had started The Great Divorce  with a group of Japanese women with a pretty good facility for the language.

I struggled with the Grey Town, but when the magical bus landed in the High Countries, I was taken in forever. Still my favorite of Lewis’ books.

WD: While it may be next to impossible to answer, what is your favorite Lewis work, one you consider most overlooked, and one that you tend to enjoy less than others?

The Great Divorce is my prejudicial favorite, but let’s talk about The Silver Chair. I did not like that book as a child, and may have stopped reading Narnia at that point. Even as a young adult I found it dull and dark, though I did love Puddleglum the Marshwiggle.

After reading Dante and Milton and Harry Potter, I came to see the great depth of The Silver Chair. It has become my favorite of the Narniad, a deep book that gets better with each reading.

I’m not a significant fan of The Pilgrim’s Regress, but most readers are not. I have not been struck by Lewis’ sermons like “The Weight of Glory” and “Transposition,” [both contained in the collection entitled The Weight of Glory] at least not as much as other readers have been. And—I hope no one is upset!—I am not a big fan of Mere Christianity, though I see why people are.

Despite these negatives, reading these books introduced me to The Discarded Image. I think this book is among the best of Lewis’ nonfiction—a real Cinderella story.

WD: Here are 50 of my favorite, what is your favorite Lewis quote?

Lewis is very quotable, but I have to admit that I’m not a keeper of quotes. I actually tend to twist them when I try to repeat them!

I do like some of the quotes that Lewis did not really say, like “You have never met a mere mortal,” or “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me”—I had to look that up even though I have it on a mug!

WD: Why do you think he continues to maintain such influence in modern evangelicalism?

Evangelicalism is, at roots, both Orthodox and Creative, both Restorationist and Progressive, both Diverse and Attracted to Centre, and fueled by both Imagination and Reason.

While Lewis did not self-identify as evangelical in the ways that people would today, his own approach to faith captures the essence of evangelicalism at its best.

I only wish that evangelism were more invested in allowing Lewis to correct it, and in trying to do what Lewis did, which was capture the idea of Christian faith for a post-Christian world. Lewis, like Jesus, was a thinker that turned ideas upside down.

WD: Like all of us, Lewis wasn’t perfect. Where do you find yourself disagreeing with him or his approach?

I disagree all over the place! I think his biggest areas are a lack of connectedness to the Church and a dim understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

A good sense of friendship and mystical tendencies mean that Lewis was better than his teachings in these areas. He and I disagree politically, and we have a different sense of the need to engage in politics.

WD: If you had to choose, what is the most invaluable lesson you learned from him?

I like the way he thinks parabolically—like Jesus’ parables. Jesus turned ideas upside down, twisting them and looking at them from another angle.

You read “Let him who is without sin…” in Jesus, and you go Bam! That’s it. The answer to the impossible question.

Lewis does this, especially in The Problem of Pain and Mere Christianity, taking what seems to be one kind of problem and making it another kind of problem.

The Screwtape Letters is all about this kind of upside-down thinking. For example, during a war, a chapter on “gluttony” is going to feel like a fist to an empty stomach.

And yet we are still slaves to our stomachs, and Lewis captures that so beautifully in one of the Letters. That’s the key lesson for me: inversive thinking.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.