| || ||
An Hour and a Lifetime with C.S. Lewis: An IgnatiusInsight.com Interview
with Dr. Thomas Howard | November 16, 2005
Dr. Thomas Howard was raised
in a prominent Evangelical home (his sister is well-known author and former
missionary Elisabeth Elliot), became Episcopalian in his mid-twenties, then
entered the Catholic Church in 1985, at the age of fifty.
Dave Armstrong writes of Howard: "He cites the influence of great Catholic
writers such as Newman, Knox, Chesterton,
Guardini, Ratzinger, Karl
Adam, Louis Bouyer, and St. Augustine
on his final decision. Howard's always stylistically-excellent prose is
especially noteworthy for its emphasis on the sacramental, incarnational
and transcendent aspects of Christianity."
Howard is a highly acclaimed writer and scholar, noted for his studies of
Inklings C.S. Lewis (C.S. Lewis: Man of Letters ) and Charles
Williams (The Novels of Charles Williams ), as well as books
including Christ the Tiger (1967), Chance
or the Dance? (1969), Hallowed be This House (1976), Evangelical
is Not Enough (1984), If
Your Mind Wanders at Mass (1995), On
Being Catholic (1997), and The
Secret of New York Revealed. Howards story of his how and
why he became Catholic, Lead,
Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome, was published last year by Ignatius
Press. His book on T.S. Eliots "The Four Quartets" will
be published by Ignatius Press in 2006.
Carl E. Olson, editor of IgnatiusInsight.com, recently interviewed Dr. Howard
about apologist and author C. S. Lewis and the approaching release of the
cinematic adaptation of Lewiss famed Chronicles of Narnia.
IgnatiusInsight.com: When did you first discover the work of C. S. Lewis
and what attracted you to it?
Dr. Thomas Howard: I first heard of, and then began to read, Lewis in
the mid-l940s when an older sister of mine came home from college
with Mere Christianity. I was only ten or twelve, but I seem to recall
knowing that here was a writer whose work I would like to pursue. Later,
when I was an undergraduate, the Narnia Chronicles were coming out, and
since they became a sort of fad immediately, I, rather perversely, put off
reading them. I read them while I was in the Army in the late l950s,
and was utterly overwhelmed, shedding copious tears.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You had a correspondence with C. S. Lewis many years
ago. How did that come about? Did you ever meet Lewis in person?
Howard: While I was in the Army, a friend sent me the Tolkien trilogy.
I was so swept away that on an impulse I fired off a letter to Lewis, whom
I knew to be a fellow of Magdalen (I didnt know how to find Tolkien).
I just addressed it to "C. S. Lewis, Magdalen College, Oxford, England.
He wrote back a most gracious letter all about Tolkien, and then thanking
me for liking "my own little efforts." An intermittent correspondence
ensued, and some years ago I gave all the letters to the Wade Collection
at Wheaton College, Illinois, where there is the best collection of Tolkien,
Lewis, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers, Owen Barfield, and other writers,
outside of Oxford.
While I was living in England in the early l960s, I arranged to pop
out to The Kilns [Lewiss residence] one time when I was in Oxford
visiting a friend at Queens College. Lewis received me most jovially,
and we sat and chatted for just under an hour, as I recall it. I asked him
about hell: "There might be such a place," he said. We talked
of Purgatory, too. I cant remember the whole conversation since I
could not bring myself to sit jotting notes, and I dont think we had
tape recorders in those days (which I wouldnt have used anyway). Lewis
looked just as you would hope hed look: stout; rubicund face; twinkly
eyes; baggy tweeds; and a magnificent bell-like voice.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Lewis was one of the most popular Christian writers
of the 20th century, perhaps the most read Christian author of the past
fifty years. Why has he been so popular among a diverse readership that
includes non-Christians, Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox? What
sets him apart as an author and communicator?
Howard: Lewiss popularity derived, I am sure, from the remorseless
clarity of everything he wrote, plus his glorious imagination, plus his
splendid mastery of the English language. Of course his gigantic intellect
and his rigorous training in argument from his mentor the "Great Knock"
[W.T. Kirkpatrick] set his work altogether apart from most other writers,
especially popular writers, whose "intellects are not so hard at work
as they suppose" (Lewiss remark about some schoolboys). His vast
readership, drawn from non-religious types, and from every ventricle of
Christendom (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Calvinist, fundamentalist,
and everything else) testifies to the qualities I have mentioned above.
He refused to be partisan in any cheap sense, although of course his robust
Christian orthodoxy no one could escape.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You recently wrote, in your regular "Ashes to Ashes"
column in Crisis
magazine (Nov. 2005), that you "have read every syllable Lewis ever
wrote, including all the books no one else has read. What are some of the
lesser-known books of Lewis? Which of Lewis's books do you think deserves
a wider readership? Why?
Howard: Of Lewiss lesser-known books, I would mention: The
Discarded Image, a glorious book about the Mediaeval outlook on the
universe; A Preface to Paradise Lost, which I would say is infinitely
worth reading even if you never get around to Milton; his Poems,
which incline me to say that they are his best work; The Allegory of
Love, about the whole nettlesome topic of "courtly love" in
the late Middle Agesand beautifully readable even for non-scholars;
and then his huge English Literature in the Sixteen Century Excluding
Drama, which I open at random just for the sheer delight of it. I often
find myself laughing at Lewiss obvious hilarious delight in the works
he is treating. I would say any of these books would reward readers who
have read only his most famous works.
IgnatiusInsight.com: The Chronicles of Narnia, of course, are very well
known and have sold over 85 million copies since first appearing in the
1950s. Why do you think that series has been so popular? What distinguishes
it from other works of children's literature?
Howard: The Narnia Chronicles owe their worldwide popularity, surely,
both to Lewiss love for the genre fairy tale, and to his unpatronizing
delight in children, knowing, as he did, what would draw them in to his
world. They differ from most other childrens literature in that they
draw us all into the precincts of sheer Goodness (without sentimentalism),
and Joy, and, finally, Holiness. That is an achievement when you are writing
for children. I would put his work in a class with Pooh and Alice and Beatrix
Potters books, and The Wind in the Willows.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you plan on seeing on seeing
the movie adaptation of the Chronicles of Narnia? If so, what do expect, or hope to see?
Howard: Yes, I most certainly plan to see the movie. I have already
seen excerpts (I think they are called "trailers" now). The film
is good beyond ones wildest hopes. It will take its place with The
Lord of the Rings, I predict. After the somewhat abortive, not to say
pathetic, efforts to get up a film of Narnia over the past twenty or more
years, this one is a prize.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You mentioned some of the strengths of Lewis and his
writing. Did he have any notable weaknesses as a thinker or writer? Are
there any topics that he avoided or didn't address that you wish he had?
Howard: Any weaknesses in Lewis? Who would wish to find himself saying
Yes to that! The only case in point I can think of is, perhaps, the "defeat"(if
it was a defeatI think Lewis thought it was) at the hands of Elizabeth
Anscombe in a debate about, I think, Miracles, in which
she seems to have found some wobbly spots in his argument.
But are there topics he avoided? Most emphatically Yes! He avoided, like
the black pestilence, the whole topic of The Church. He hated ecclesiology.
It divided Christians, he said (certainly accurately). He wanted to be known
as a "mere Christian," so he simply fled all talk of The Church
as such. He would not participate in anything that remotely resembled a
discussion of matters ecclesiological. He was firm in his non- (or anti-
?) Catholicism. People ask me if he would by now have been received into
the Ancient Church, and I usually say yes. I dont see how, as an orthodox
Christian apologist, he could have stayed in the Anglican Church during
these last decades of its hasty self-destruction.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you have a favorite book or series of books by Lewis?
For those who haven't yet read Lewis, where do you suggest they begin? What
Lewis books should be read?
Howard: My favorite Lewis books? I would say his Space Trilogy (Out
of the Silent Planet; Perelandra; and That Hideous Strength) and the
Narnia books. In these books we find, clothed in drama, all of the ideas
that he treated in his more strictly discursive works. The remorseless clarity
with which he saw Good and Evil is prophetic. What he wrote in the l940s
could have been written tomorrow. I would invite any newcomer to his work
to start here.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com links:
Author page for Dr. Thomas
Case for Christianity | An Interview with Richard Purtill | By Gord
the Conversion of C.S. Lewis | Clotilde Morhan
Love, Beauty and Reason | An Interview with Joseph Pearce
The Measure of
Literary Giants | An Interview with Joseph Pearce
C. S. Lewis | Ignatius Press resources:
By C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce, A Grief Observed, Mere Christianity,
Miracles, The Problem of Pain, and The Screwtape Letters)
Lewis and the Catholic Church | by Joseph Pearce
C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him
Lewis for the Third Millenium | by Peter Kreeft
Lewis' Case for the Christian Faith | by Richard Purtill
Complete Chronicles of Narnia | by C.S. Lewis (single, hardcover
Chronicles of Narnia
Set | by C.S. Lewis (7-volume set, softcover in case)
Set (3 tapes)
Life of C.S. Lewis: Through Joy and Beyond (DVD)
(BBC edition; DVD)
Magic Never Ends (DVD)
Giants, Literary Catholics | by Joseph Pearce
Converts | by Joseph Pearce
If you'd like
to receive the FREE IgnatiusInsight.com e-letter (about every 1 to
2 weeks), which includes regular updates about IgnatiusInsight.com articles,
reviews, excerpts, and author appearances, please click here to sign-up today!
| || || |