I was raised on C. S. Lewis. From some of my earliest memories of my parents reading The Chronicles of Narnia to me before bed, to my college semester in Cambridge where I took a seminar on his life and work that culminated in meetings with Walter Hooper, tours of The Kilns, and drinks at The Eagle and Child pub, and from drawing on his apologetic work in my graduate studies in philosophy to now teaching a regular seminar on his work at Furman University, Lewis has accompanied me throughout all the stages of my life.
However, what can often happen when you are raised reading a particular figure is that you begin to view them through the lens of their fame, rather than viewing their fame as a complicated result of all sorts of factors that often get ignored in their reception. Accordingly, when I first engaged The Fame of C. S. Lewis by Stephanie Derrick, I was quickly interested in the way that she considers his legacy, reception history in the United States and the UK, and lasting significance in a variety of ways. Importantly, though, Derrick does not so much read Lewis as she reads the readings of him. As a historian, Derrick’s scholarship is extremely impressive and adds a whole new layer to the often saint-like homage to Lewis that occurs within American Christianity. Focusing, in particular, on the views of Lewis held by his colleagues, his contemporaries in Britain, and the material history of his influence, Derrick invites us all, whether we have read his entire authorship, teach his work in academic settings, or simply know him through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, to take stock of his life, his work, and his fame with the critical eye of a scholar, rather than the invested eye of a fan. In doing so, Derrick helpfully reminds us that C. S. Lewis was much more, and much less, than the figure portrayed in The Shadowlands films and plays. As Friedrich Nietzsche might say, Lewis, like us all, was human, all too human. But, that should not worry those of us who continue to find inspiration and encouragement in his writings. Instead, it should just motivate a reflective awareness that resists turning him into the hero of a story that he might have intentionally avoided writing.
This symposium on Derrick’s book features three Lewis scholars who all represent different academic disciplines, approaches, and interests. George Marsden is a historian, J. Matthew Melton is a professor of communication arts, and Alicia Broggi specializes in English language and literature. They all three are distinguished in their fields and their readings of both Lewis and Derrick impressively display hermeneutic sensitivity, discursive charity, and critical awareness. The discussion that this symposium invites is one that is well worth having and it is much needed in a time when Lewis’s work is being used for all sorts of purposes—social, political, cultural, theological, etc. Hopefully readers of this symposium will be encouraged to read Derrick and reread Lewis as they all take stock of what it means to seek truth, stand for virtue, and prize excellence in the face of the temptations that fame presents both to those who are famous and also to those of us who so often engage in uncritical celebration of them.