Book Review: A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis

The Opinion, v9 n5, pp. 7-9

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Founder & Teacher,

In January 1959, C. S. Lewis responded in a letter to Dr. Clyde Kilby,

I think an anthology of extracts from a living writer would make both him and the collector look rather ridiculous, and I'm sure publishers would not agree to the plan. I'm sorry to reply so ungraciously to a proposal which does me so much honor. But I am convinced it would not do. (Letters, ed. W. H. Lewis)

But on November 22, 1963, C. S. Lewis ceased to be a living author and Dr. Kilby proceeded with and accomplished his original intention to publish a Lewis anthology (Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1969, 252 pp.).

Dr. Kilby, Professor of English at Wheaton College (Illinois), has gathered extracts from all of Lewis' more than forty books, as well as material from uncollected essays. None of the extracts is more than a page and some are as short as four words. The justification for such a collection springs from Dr. Kilby's conviction that, "Of such a man's mind the least gleanings are venerable."

Good writing always pleases both by the excellence of its parts and the perfection of the whole. Therefore, Professor Kilby hopes (as I do) that the parts he has gathered will make the reader turn again to the whole body of Lewis' works.

I receive A Mind Awake with great eagerness, not only because Dr. Kilby was one of my own teachers, but also because I have a deep appreciation for the work of C. S. Lewis. I am not the only person here at Fuller who can happily say that in the fullness of time Lewis sent forth Mere Christianity and captured our minds and hearts. Nor am I alone, perhaps, when I say that next to the Bible the thought of C. S. Lewis has been the primary influence in my intellectual and emotional pilgrimage.

Therefore, I approached my Lewis anthology with a tremendously powerful predisposition to like it. And I was not disappointed. I found what one might call "Lewis-concentrate." Every line demands to be pondered. This book is so good you won't be able to finish it without putting it down. To read two chapters at one sitting would be like having Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July on the same day, or like touring all of Europe on a weekend.

When Dr. Kilby entitled his anthology A Mind Awake, he was describing not only the genius of Lewis, but also what happens to the reader. The great excitement in reading Lewis is that he keeps flashing before our drowsy sensibilities some bright new insight into the world or into the Christian faith. His peculiar helpfulness is in his ability to help us see what we have been looking at for years.

This anthology is of special value to the seminary student because the material is organized around certain theological themes. The ten chapters are entitled "The Nature of Man," The Moral World," "The Bible," "The Trinity," "Sin," "The Christian Commitment," "Hell and Heaven," "Love and Sex," "Nature" and "The Post-Christian World."

The student of theology can find here not only an excellent topical reference to Lewis' larger works on Christian themes (every extract is documented), but he can also find fertile seed thoughts. If these seeds are watered by one's own reflections they will grow into plants of the most fruitful kind.

I conclude by letting Lewis speak for himself. Here are some of the seeds I have found fruitful:

I conclude, then, that logic is a real insight into the way in which real things have to exist. In other words, the laws of thought are also the laws of things. (p. 41)

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. (p. 32)

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half of our great theological and metaphysical problems—are like that… (p. 61)

We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offenses, but for one offense. (p. 145)

The glory of God, and, as our only means to glorify him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life. (p. 129)

All that is not eternal is eternally out of date. (p. 252)