C.S. Lewis Interview: Carolyn Curtis

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. I’m thankful to add one more interview to the list today.

Carolyn Curtis C.S. LewisCarolyn Curtis is an award-winning journalist and writer, having covered presidential campaigns and religious organizations. She is the author or editor of seven books, her most recent being Women and C.S. Lewis: What His Life and Literature Reveal for Today’s Culture. Many of the subjects in my interview series here contributed to her book.

She did an in-residence study program in Oxford, England, concentrating on C.S. Lewis, staying in his home, The Kilns. There, she heard critics challenge Lewis’ view of women and decided to research the topic and write Women and C.S. Lewis. For more information on her or her work, visit CarolynCurtis.net.

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

Lewis baptized my intellect. Although I’d professed faith in Christ as my Savior long before I discovered Lewis, mine had been a “heart” process, not a “head” process. Nothing wrong with acting from the heart, but—when I discovered Lewis—I felt free to really learn and think about the Lord.

I began outgrowing my childish understanding of how He works in the world and in my life. As a result, Bible study became deep and fulfilling, worship changed from ritual to personal … a world opened up to me.

Before I read Lewis, I did not seem to know many intellectual Christians. After reading him, I discovered they were everywhere! (Of course, they were around me all along. I was the one who needed enlightenment.) And the deeper they thought, the deeper their faith.

What I now call “intellectual Christianity” is where the authentic energy lies in the body of Christ, freeing me to answer the hardest questions of life by thoroughly searching the Bible, by deeply seeking God’s answers through prayer, by openly declaring faith in Him without worry of losing credibility in my professional life. Lewis kicked that door open for me.

Having said this, I admit that my first Lewis readings, Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters, were not easy reads. Because of the time period in which he wrote, I had to stretch to understand. However, it was worth the effort. By then, I’d traveled a good deal to countries other than America, so I was able to reach across the international divide to understand what I call his “Britishisms.”

Another point: Lewis made me laugh. His wit was so original and fun to discover that I found myself laughing out loud while I was alone reading him. So now I had two new points-of-view: Christianity could be intellectual, and Christianity could be fun.

Hence, worshipping God became joyous for me, and I sought others who checked their tendency toward solemn, frowny faces at the door. What a relief!

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?

Favorites: Screwtape Letters provides instruction on fighting spiritual warfare, a concept I needed to understand, and I go back to it time after time. Surprised by Joy, though a bit unevenly written, has wonderful nuggets of insight.

Mere Christianity opened my eyes to the validity of truths I had felt but not fully allowed myself to embrace until I realized that “here’s a brilliant author, and he gets these too!”

A Grief Observed is Lewis’s most raw and penetrating book, and for that reason hits home for me. It’s also beautifully written, almost poetic, which made me realize the value of writing from the heart, a skill I hadn’t yet developed, probably because of my degrees in journalism and my professional writing life which required objectivity. (I’ve since learned to value writing that incorporates objectivity with the occasional insights by authors who have earned the right to share them.)

All My Road Before Me is his personal diary before he finally abandoned his atheism at the foot of the cross. It fascinates me to read how different his perspective on life was before his conversion. It really sheds light on how much God can change us … if we allow Him.

Overlooked: His essays are insightful. A favorite of mine is “We Have No ‘Right to Happiness’” – a strangely named but compelling piece on sexual liberation in his time and still relevant today. [Ed. I just wrote about the relevancy of this fantastic essay reprinted in God in the Dock last week: “C.S. Lewis on Sexual Morality & a ‘Right to Happiness.'”]

I almost fainted when I read a notation by Walter Hooper that this essay was the last thing Lewis wrote before he died, and it was published in The Saturday Evening Post, a magazine in which an article of mine also was published (decades later, of course). I concede that any piece by C.S. Lewis must have been much more widely read than my article!

Hard for me: Till We Have Faces is a difficult read, but I depend on scholar friends, such as Andrew Lazo and Diana Glyer to help me appreciate its profound meaning and significance in Lewis’s body of literature.

What is your favorite Lewis quote?

From The Weight of Glory:

“…it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I relate to the “fooling about …with ambition” part. I’ve been fortunate to experience a rather heady career. My degrees are in journalism, and I’ve worked in centers of culture: newsrooms ranging from The Associated Press to daily newspapers; corporate communication management; church denominational management; academia; the political stage on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and the presidential campaign trail.

The downside: My career sometimes provided huge distractions from my Christian walk and growth. God eventually grabbed me and pointed my eyes upward rather than simply ahead to the next professional position. I needed that!

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

What makes Lewis so fascinating is that his life’s journey is a story that belongs to everyone … believer and unbeliever alike. He had enormous loss, disillusionment, and pain but also personal growth, strong friendships, and professional success.

Evangelicals, in particular, examine how God works in the world and in our lives. Evangelicals can relate to what happened to Lewis that caused his state of disbelief, then his process of moving to belief in Christ, and then his ownership of that belief to the extent that he shared the understanding of faith with others in so many ways and in so many literary genres—it’s a life path that’s available to all people, even those who aren’t writers.

That’s why I say his life’s journey applies to both believer and unbeliever: Either a similar journey did happen to us or it can happen to us, if we allow God’s truth and grace to penetrate our life—and to change us—which is what happened to Lewis.

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

Great question. I wrestle a bit with the biblical leadership position for women in ministry. Lewis’s thinking can be taken several ways, and I direct your website’s readers to contributors in Women and C.S. Lewis, specifically Jeanette Sears, one of the first women ordained by England’s Anglican Church, and Kathy Keller, also known as Mrs. Tim Keller, whose point of view differs from Jeanette’s in several ways.

I invited both to write on this subject, because I felt Lewis’s remarks could support a wider variety of thinking than many people realize. They are in the book’s section “Lewis, the influencer—how his life and literature impact the 21st Century discussion about women.”

Women in ministry leadership is a topic on which both “sides”—and the many shades in-between—have valid points. I love when gifted writers like Sears and Keller provide cogent thinking in a lively and accessible way. Our contributors range from scholars to people who write from their own experiences—comfortable for all levels of readers.

Besides Keller and Sears, our contributors are Randy Alcorn, Alister McGrath, Monika Hilder, Malcolm Guite, Devin Brown, David C. Downing, Andrew Lazo, Joy Jordan-Lake, Colin Duriez, Kelly Belmonte, Brad Davis, Michael Ward, Steven Elmore, Christin Ditchfield, Crystal Hurd, Don W. King, Holly Ordway, John Stonestreet, Mary Poplin, Crystal Downing, Paul McCusker, Lyle W. Dorsett, Kasey Macsenti, and Brett McCracken.

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

God can change us. God wants to change us. He pursues us, and—if we allow Him—He will combine the gifts He gave us with opportunities to use them for His glory.

I’m as fascinated by his life’s journey as by his way with words. Yes, Narnia is fun, deep, and clever. Yes, his space trilogy and his final novel, Till We Have Faces, are ground-breaking, especially as related to two interests of mine—1) how Lewis treated women in his literature (I conclude he took a high view, even ahead of his time) and 2) how Lewis dealt with women in his relationships.

Your readers will find detailed – and fascinating, I think! – conclusions to both in Women and C.S. LewisI am co-editor with Mary Pomroy Key, Ph.D., Director of the C.S. Lewis Study Center in Northfield, Massachusetts, a property owned by the C.S. Lewis Foundation in addition to Lewis’s home, The Kilns, in Oxford. She was a delightful partner on the project!

Bottom line: Lewis’s life journey shows what ours can be—and should be, if we want an extraordinary life rather than a ho-hum existence just taking up space. As mentioned earlier, a favorite “book” of mine by Lewis is the published diary he kept during his years as an atheist, All My Road Before Me. (We have Walter Hooper to thank for this and other insightful writings by Lewis, such as his voluminous letters.)

The diary reveals the pre-Christian Lewis, a bit of a prig and other descriptions I’ll leave out. Owen Barfield, who wrote the foreword, points to one observation Lewis makes on June 20, 1923: “I think the day to day continuity helps one to see the larger movement and pay less attention to each damned day in itself.”

This gives me a chuckle, because it applies to our examination of the arc of Lewis’s life in Women and C.S. Lewis. While he was running away from God’s loving arms, Lewis was experiencing life in ways that would instruct him (and us) from the other side of that chase, when he came into God’s embrace and then took personal and professional risks to share his insights with others.

I’m fascinated with this “trajectory” of Lewis’s life—how God shaped his attitudes and actions once Lewis allowed, even welcomed, the changes.

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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.