Books C.S. Lewis Loved

csl booksThose of us who admire C.S. Lewis respect his words on many subjects, not least of which would include literary matters. He was, after all, both a gifted writer and a professor teaching related subjects at two of the world’s most prestigious universities.

In 1962 The Christian Century asked him to list the ten titles most influential in his professional and philosophical life. (Most of these are available as free downloads on the internet.)

1. Phantastes by George MacDonald

2. The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

3. The Aeneid by Virgil

4. The Temple by George Herbert

5. The Prelude by William Wordsworth

6. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto

7. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

8. Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell

9. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams

10. Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour

The following year Lewis was interviewed by Sherwood Wirt, longtime editor of Decision magazine. (Decision is published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and you can learn more about the publication here.)

During his interview, Wirt focused on spiritual rather than professional benefits from books Lewis had found beneficial.

Sherwood Wirt: What Christian writers have helped you?

C.S. Lewis: The contemporary book that has helped me the most is Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. Others are Edwyn Bevan’s book, Symbolism and Belief, and Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, and the plays of Dorothy Sayers.

Fortunately all of these titles are readily available for those who would like to explore works that influenced Lewis’ conversion and Christian growth. Let’s briefly consider them in the order Lewis cited them.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was a prolific English writer. Just how prolific, one might ask. Well, he wrote approximately eighty books, hundreds of poems, hundreds of short stories and about 4,000 essays. His works continue to inspire many today, and merit contemporary reading.

Chesterton shared many of the same values as Lewis, and preferred calling himself an “orthodox” Christian rather than adhering to denominational labels. (In this he foreshadows Lewis’ invaluable emphasis on “mere” Christianity.)

The Everlasting Man was published in 1925 and ponders the universal significance of Jesus Christ. It was composed in reaction to The Outline of History, in which H.G. Wells paints Jesus as just one more political agitator in a political backwater of the Roman empire. Honestly, he does describe him as being remarkable, but mostly in terms of having a charismatic persona.

Lewis said that Chesterton’s Everlasting Man “baptised” his intellect, which is no small expression of praise.

You can purchase The Everlasting Man through normal channels or download a free text format version at this site. If you enjoy listening to audiobooks, you can obtain a free audio copy of the volume here.

Edwyn Robert Bevan (1870-1943) was an English philosopher and historian who specialized in the Hellenistic world.

In Symbolism and Belief, based on a series of lectures presented in 1933-34, Bevan discusses major religious symbols and metaphors. He illustrates how figurative language is best capable of describing spiritual truth. He argues that the greater precision offered by philosophical terminology is actually counterproductive in this quest.

The volume offers insight into the rationality of religious faith, although it concludes with his conviction that it ultimately boils down to a genuine encounter with God—“what actually causes anyone to believe in God is direct perception of the Divine.”

Symbolism and Belief is available for free download in a variety of formats at this site.

Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) was a German Lutheran theologian. He spent most of his ministry teaching at one of the most prominent seminaries in the world, the University of Marburg Divinity School.

In The Idea of the Holy Otto espoused the concept that the things of God were “numinous.” He defined this as a “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self.” The word itself was derived from the Latin numen which refers to divine power.

Otto explains how the numinous is a mystery (mysterium) that is simultaneously terrifying (tremendum) and fascinating (fascinans). C.S. Lewis found the notion of the numinous particularly useful in his book, The Problem of Pain.

The Idea of the Holy: an Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational is available in multiple formats here.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) was a personal friend of C.S. Lewis. In a 1963 letter he wrote: “She was the first person of importance whoever wrote me a fan letter. I liked her, originally, because she liked me; later, for the extraordinary zest and edge of her conversation—as I like a high wind. She was a friend, not an ally.”

Sayers was an extremely successful English writer. Her versatility allowed her renown to grow as a poet, playwright, essayist and as a writer of popular detective mysteries. She was also a classicist, and regarded her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy as her finest work.

Fortunately, four of her plays are available in a collection available here. They include “The Zeal of Thy House,” “The Devil to Pay,” “He That Should Come,” and “The Just Vengeance.” And, although you can’t download the file, if you would like to stream the recording, an audio version of her famous “The Man Born to be King” is available here.

21 thoughts on “Books C.S. Lewis Loved

  1. Oh, dear, I guess my tastes in literature aren’t very highbrow! :( I think I like C.S. Lewis’ books better than I like the books he liked! Although I do enjoy Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. My only experience of Sayers’ writing is her detective novels. I must confess that most of my current reading involves Hobby Farms magazine and articles on first-time heifers calving! And blogs . . . :)

    1. The nice thing about books we love is that the list is based on our personal preferences. I, for example, don’t know a single person whose list would be identical to my own. Still, it’s wonderful knowing there are so many of us Lewis fans out there!

  2. Thank you very much for this list and the overview of the contents – I’ve only read 3 books on this list fully,The Everlasting Man, Descent Into Hell and Phantastes; and have only started on The Aeneid and The Life of Samuel Johnson.The rest will be a welcome addition to our library. We are going on a Lewis Tour this summer and this will be great study material. I have wondered who most influenced the mind of Lewis many many times (out of the plethora of books he read), and have wondered the same about Chesterton and others who are beginning to grow more interesting like Charles Williams and Dorothy Sayers. I very much agree with Lewis on the Everlasting Man; that book along with Orthodoxy and Heretics have been huge in informing my understanding of religion in general, society and their reaction to religion in general, and ultimately an amazing insight into Christianity. Definite must reads. (Too bad I just now saw your link to the free copy of The Everlasting man, I just ordered the CD’s, but no worries, I’m sure we’ll put them to good use. This is one book I intend to study and get to know well. :D)

    I think the thing that makes Lewis “pop” for me (along with Pascal, MacDonald and Chesterton, who came before him) is his combination of Christianity with logic; his thinking and delivery is clear and understandable, and because of this he is able to blow away the smoke of other illogical and fallacious arguments against Christianity and even religion in general. Also love the way he talks to everybody, not just the academia.

    And I liked Chesterton’s use of the label “Orthodox Christian;” I hadn’t heard that before (I thought he was Catholic, but maybe he clarified his beliefs later in life?). I think both those words are hugely misunderstood today (probably much due to the fact that we don’t read books anymore and have forgotten what those words used to mean; wait – we may never have learned what those words used to mean!), but if you think about it they make sense. (I am looking for a similar phrase that makes sense in today’s world and language.)

    (@mimiswardrobe, Chesterton is like one of those “magic eye” puzzles. It took me a minute (okay, I think I had to get through several chapters) to understand what he was saying, because the way he says it is a little removed from our modern style. But when you get him, not only do you “get him;” he will blow your mind. Again and again. Put him away and pull him out on a rainy day; but whatever you do, do keep Chesterton!)

  3. Glad to hear you’ve found so many of these works beneficial in the past. In reference to Chesterton’s use of “orthodox,” he was referring to it in the sense of belonging to historic Christianity. Chesterton was, indeed, a devout Roman Catholic. In fact, before he died he was “knighted” by Pope Pius XI in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great.

    I envy you your upcoming trip. Take lots of pictures!

    1. Ah, so the “denominational labels” (or “Mere Christianity”) bit was referring to non-orthodox/catholic creeds? Interesting. We (my husband and friends) are very excited about our trip – hopefully I’ll have some photographs and new insights, along with a little bit of England to bring home with me. ;)

  4. FormCritic

    Chesterton is familiar to me from his epic poem, Ballad of the White Horse. It is the story of the Saxon King Alfred of Wessex and the struggle against Viking invaders. Like Tolkien, Chesterton lamented the loss of England’s Anglo-Saxon heritage following the Norman Conquest.

    1. Their feelings on the matter are certainly understandable. I’m a descendent of Magyar and Slovak on my ma’s side, Britons on my dad’s. I got grievances. ;-)

      Kidding aside, I cannot express adequately my appreciation of this post. I’ve read the Aeneid, and Chesterton is on my to-dig-into list, once I get through this Russian phase of mine (nearly finished Anna Karenina, and about to start Dead Souls)

    1. Starting the DMin program (military chaplain emphasis) at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis this summer . . . and they have already mapped out the bulk of my reading for the next several years!

  5. Looks like some good titles. I’ve been considering re-reading The Everlasting Man, though I’ve wanted to read some Dorothy Sayers too. Decisions, decisions. So little time for all of it.

  6. Pingback: C.S. Lewis and Digital Books « Mere Inkling

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