C.S. Lewis Interview: Sarah Waters

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).

Sarah WatersSarah Waters is currently a postgraduate at the University of Buckingham, England, researching the influence of Shakespeare on Lewis, particularly looking at the relationship between the two as seen in Narnia, and uncovering the often brushed aside parts of Lewis’s character, such as his day job as an academic.

She presented research at the international British Graduate Shakespeare Conference this summer, where she gave a paper entitled “Sailing through Shakespeare to Aslan’s Country: The Tempest and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

She is an author at The Shakespeare Standard and blogs about plays and Shakespeare in popular culture.

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

Sarah Waters: My first encounter with Lewis, perhaps like many, involved someone else reading. When I was very young, after five or six, my parents read me The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but my own reading experience followed soon after.

I remember that vividly – standing in utter bewilderment in a bookshop upon realizing that there was a book that came before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – off to the library I went to borrow The Magician’s Nephew before my father lent me his copies of the other Narnia books.

I think the image that stays in my mind the most from my first encounter with Lewis is the discovery of how and why there came to be a lamp post in Narnia after all.

Lewis captured my imagination and it was a love affair to last many years (well it’s still going strong), including my top of the Christmas list request when I was twelve for a copy of the complete illustrated Narnia, silver edged and everything. While my sister unwrapped a bike, I spent the afternoon pouring over Narnia, and letting Narnia pour over me.

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?

That is tricky. I think my favorite, and it’s a close call, might be The Voyage of the Dawn Treader although The Silver Chair is certainly vying for its position. I love the magical journeys in both and Eustace and Puddleglum are firm favourites.

That said, I was hooked by the story of Till We Have Faces which I read this summer, although less well known it is as gripping as Lewis gets. I think it deserves to be more of a Lewis staple, whereas at present it remains for many on the dusty “to read” pile.

But I think I ought to mention his literary criticism too which is certainly overlooked and offers intricate and ingenious insights as Lewis unveils The Faerie Queene, Paradise Lost or Hamlet.

Perhaps controversially, I’m less of a fan of his apologetics, particularly Mere Christianity. While it certainly expands key axioms of the Christian faith, I find it a little dry at times, whereas the wit and dexterity of The Screwtape Letters (I know, I know, Lewis didn’t like them) is, for me, much more engaging.

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

“…just surrender yourself to the magic”

Ok, it’s perhaps not one of his most well-known. In fact, it comes from a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves. He’s talking about Hamlet but he could just as well have been talking about his fantasy.

Although I think the quote I can most relate to is “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,” especially the tea part.

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

This sounds on the face of it a bit of a paradox, but I think it’s a combination of his directness and his cloaking the truth in more imaginative ways.

Let me explain — he is clear-cut about right and wrong, but he also allows us to explore the Christian faith with characters like Reepicheep and Hyoi.

Less a direct “these are good Christian characters” pointers, the talking beasts show rather than tell their faith. And I suppose Lewis is similar, he shows by example far more frequently than he urges with hard-line theology.

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

The classic answer is perhaps his approach with women, but I think here I tend to disagree less with Lewis and more with those who misread him.

Yes, it is unfair that Susan is left on earth her life devastated by the train crash which killed her family, but, as Aslan says to Rabadash in The Silver Chair “justice shall be mixed with mercy” – it’s not too late for Susan, she still has chance to change.

I disagree with little of Lewis’s writing provided it is taken with consideration of the context it was written in. That’s part of Lewis’s longevity isn’t it?

He encourages us to question him, not take things at face value but to think about why we agree or disagree and thus strengthen our understanding of life, the universe and everything.

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

That it’s OK to question — whether that’s questioning existing academic ideas and exploring new territory as he does in his academic work; interrogating and reconsidering elements of religion and the Christian faith; or exploring new imaginative worlds in order to emerge changed people, baptized by his fantastical Mars, Venus, or Narnia.

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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.