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 two weeks, each day will feature an interview with one of these individuals (and maybe a few more).
- Joe Rigney
- Louis Markos
- Laura Schmidt
- Jennifer Neyhart
- Devin Brown
- Sarah Waters
- Brandon Smith
- Michael Ward
- Crystal Hurd
- William O’Flaherty
- Brenton Dickieson
- Dan DeWitt
- Diana Glyer
- Alister McGrath
Today, I’m pleased to be talking with Devin Brown, English professor at Asbury University, a Christian liberal arts school outside of Lexington, KY, where he teaches a course on Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Recently, he published an excellent spiritual biography of Lewis, A Life Observed, with a foreword from Douglas Gresham, Lewis’ step-son. He has also spent time in Lewis’ house and even his room, which he’ll talk about some in this conversation.
Brown is also the author of numerous other books related to Lewis and Tolkien including: Inside Narnia: A Guide to Exploring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century, Hobbit Lessons: A Map for Life’s Unexpected Journeys (there’s also a free Kindle sample of this book) and The Christian World of The Hobbit.
Wardrobe Door: What do you remember about reading C.S. Lewis for the first time?
Devin Brown: Unlike most young people today, I did not grow up knowing who C. S. Lewis was. My family lived in the blue collar, south side of Chicago, where books by British authors (or any author) were in somewhat short supply.
My older brother had gone off to college, and when he came home for Thanksgiving break, he tossed a book on my bed and said I should read it. I did, and found it to be unlike anything else.
It was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—the Collier 1970 edition with the cool Peter Max / Yellow Submarine style cover of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy going through the wardrobe.
I was 16 at the time and never imagined I would one day go on to teach at the Kilns (where, yes, I got to sleep in Lewis’s bed for a week) or to write a biography of Lewis with a foreword written by Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson.
All I knew was that this was the greatest fantasy story I had ever read. I went to the library to see if this Lewis guy had any other books—where I learned that, indeed, he had written lots of other books. I was hooked. Lewis has been my favorite author ever since.
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?
Perhaps because I am getting close to the age when Lewis wrote it, Letters to Malcolm has become my favorite work. Though if I get to name one fiction and one non-fiction, I would add The Horse and His Boy.
Though most of my serious Lewis friends are aghast when I confess it, and they offer to pray for me that I may see the light, I have never been keen on Till We Have Faces.
WD: Here are 50 of my favorite, what is your favorite Lewis quote?
I would have to go with this quote from “Is Theology Poetry?” [included in The Weight of Glory] an essay Lewis read at the Oxford Socratic Cub in 1944:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
This is the quote chosen to go on the memorial stone for Lewis installed in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey in November 2013, the 50th anniversary of his death.
For a long time I didn’t understand what Lewis was saying; now I do. What is learning important? What is important to me in my marriage? What makes a good day?
All of these questions are informed by the fact that I am a Christian. My Christian faith is the light by which I see everything else.
WD: Why do you think he continues to maintain such influence in modern evangelicalism?
Evangelicals do really well on loving God with all their hearts. Anyone who reads The Chronicles of Narnia, will see that Lewis was also really big on this.
Lewis was also big on loving God with all our mind and all our imagination—two areas where Evangelicals may sometimes need a little encouragement.
WD: Like all of us, Lewis wasn’t perfect. Where do you find yourself disagreeing with him or his approach?
At the end of the preface to Mere Christianity, Lewis offers a now-famous image where he compares mere Christianity to a large hall in a house and the various denominations of Christianity to the rooms of the house that branch off this hall.
Lewis’s hope, as he tells us, was to help bring people into the hall, to help people come to believe to the central beliefs shared by all Christians. But the journey is not supposed to end in the hallway as Lewis emphasizes the importance of becoming a part of a specific church.
The hall, Lewis explains, is a place to wait in where a person can “try the various doors”—not a place where anyone should permanently live (xv).
I think Lewis’s image has it backwards. The beliefs that all Christians share is no mere hallway, but a huge banqueting hall were we are all welcome and can all have fellowship and be nourished.
The denominational differences Christians have (and even our own idiosyncratic differences) are not separate rooms where we live, but more like our own Sleep Number beds around the edge of the hall.
WD: If you had to choose, what is the most invaluable lesson you learned from him?
Lewis reminds me again and again, that I need to laugh more.