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April 8: Hood professor publishes book on C.S. Lewis

Friday, April 8, 2011

FREDERICK, Md.—A Hood College faculty member has co-authored and edited a book that gives new insight into the thinking and the life of one of the world’s most prolific and influential writers.

David Hein, Ph.D., professor of religion and philosophy at Hood, and Edward Henderson, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at Louisiana State University, have published C.S. Lewis and Friends: Faith and the Power of Imagination, a book of essays exploring Lewis' life through his friends, including J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers and Austin Farrer. The Irish-born Lewis was a novelist and academic best known for his books The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy. He was famous as literary critic and fiction writer and is regarded as the most famous Christian writer of the 20th century.

Hein and Henderson edited the book because they believed that while many books have been written about Lewis' life, his writing and his faith, none has looked at him and his friends together in light of the central issue they all explored, the relation of faith, reason and imagination.

Hein believes the book is timely. "Especially today, when so many people both within and outside the Church believe that faith and reason are enemies, the truth needs to be told: that reason and faith and imagination complement one another," he said. "All three are necessary in order to arrive at the full truth. As St. Anselm said, 'Faith seeks understanding.'"

The book is written by six authors.

Peter Schakel, a leading Lewis scholar, writes on Lewis. Ann Loades, a professor at the University of Durham and a Sayers expert, writes on Sayers. Hein's essay is on Dame Rose Macaulay, a well-known British novelist, author of, most famously, The Towers of Trebizond. Ralph Wood, professor of theology and literature at Baylor University, writes about the dark side of Tolkien’s fiction. Ed Henderson writes about Farrer's essay "Can Myth Be Fact?" Ann Loades writes about the effect of the Second World War on the imagination of Sayers and about Sayers' view that "the dogma is the drama."

Following an introduction exploring the meaning and interaction of faith, reason and imagination, there are six chapters and then an extensive bibliography. The book places equal weight on each author, not just Lewis, but it refers to Lewis frequently throughout. Farrer is sometimes called "the one genius" the Church of England produced in the 20th century. He was a philosopher and theologian at Oxford, ending his days there as president of Keble College. Tolkien, author of "Lord of the Rings" and other works, was a member of the Church of Rome and a major influence on the development of Lewis' faith. Charles Williams, an editor with Oxford University Press and the author of supernatural thrillers and many other sorts of books, was an important influence on Lewis and a close friend. Sayers, famous as the author of the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels, a translator of Dante, and author of well-known theological works like Creed or Chaos? and The Mind of the Maker, devoted the last years of her life to translating Dante. InThe Mind of the Maker she likens the doctrine of the Trinity to the creative process of the artist.

Hein on some of the key aspects of the book:

The subjects of the book: "These are people whose thought and work originated in tough times as they faced great personal and social challenges. They find Christianity meaningful precisely because it is not a flight from reality and real-world experience. They take the Incarnation seriously. God gets involved in the tawdry, often sordid conditions of this world. He expresses himself in key images; the Supper, for example, eating and drinking. Reason, someone once said, is great for analyzing and logically deducing, for breaking down, but 'reason has short legs.'"

The authors of the book: "Imagination is crucial for discerning meaning, for making connections. These authors help us to see that. And they also reveal in their work how imagination, divorced from facts and reason, can lead us away from truth. So imagination doesn't mean fantasy. It refers to that faculty, which enables our perception of what is true and what is most worthy of love and our lasting commitment. We all live and see by the images that populate our imaginations. The question is: Which images capacitate true seeing and which lead us astray, toward falsehood and evil? These authors deal with all that."

Watch the interview below: