Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis (Book Review)

  • Author: Jason M. Baxter
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press Academic
  • Available Now
  • Synopsis: Dr. Jason M. Baxter comments on C.S. Lewis’s Medieval inspiration in an informative and moving work of cultural and literary analysis.
  • Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. Opinions expressed are my own.

What to Expect

The book comprises an introduction, a conclusion, and eight body chapters. Chapters offer insight into the Medieval landscape and modernity, demonstrating the shift in thinking on either side of the “Great Divide” that separates one philosophy from the other. Among these marked shifts, we witness a new approach to the cosmos, as the universe became a mechanized object, rather than a living thing.

Chapters also demonstrate Lewis’s interaction with, and recycling of, these old ideas in his modern literature. For example, chapter five reveals Lewis’s indebtedness to Dante, while chapter six discusses his writings on, and response to, mysticism. I particularly enjoyed chapters four onward. Evil enchantment is such a relevant theme, which I so appreciate in Lewis’ The Silver Chair, so I expected this chapter (four) to be my favorite. However, the book seemed to keep getting better!

At just 165 pages, the book is, in my opinion, the perfect length: richly packed with timely and interesting information, without being overwhelming. The index at the book of the book offers an excellent reference point for specific writings by Lewis, as well as mention of notable topics. Because of this, as well as the clearly delineated chapter themes, I could certainly see this text used in conjunction with course materials on C.S. Lewis. I am so glad I read it!

Personal Interest

As I’ve mentioned in a number of reviews, nonfiction is not my go-to genre. However, I am interested in C.S. Lewis, partially because of my strong affinity with Narnia and partially because I’ve developed an interest in his work, more generally. During a college seminar on the Inklings, I had the opportunity to read Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, which speculates that each of the Narnia books corresponds to one of the planets in the solar system.

For these reasons, I was quite interested in reading Baxter’s commentary on C.S. Lewis as a student of the Medieval period.

What I Liked

I would describe this book as Christian nonfiction, not only because the commentary is about a Christian, but also because of the way the content was handled. As a commentary, this book blew me away. Nonfiction isn’t my go-to genre, so I was prepared for a “drier” read. What I was not anticipating, which came as such a pleasant surprise for me, was the amount of devotional content within its pages. To be clear, this work is by no means a devotional, but so much of the content invited me into an experience of the wonder and beauty of God.

Favorite Quotes

Although most of us think of ‘eternity’ as that which goes ‘on and on,’ Boethius explains, we should call that perpetuity. Perpetuity is nothing more than an endless chain of brief moments, connected together. And given that eternity, on the other hand, is the ‘actual and timeless fruition of illimitable life,’ Boethius can call time an imitation of eternity.

p. 28, ch. 1, “The Lost Cathedral”

This quotation, and the larger section it comes from, was meaningful for me, as it addresses the meaning of eternity. I appreciated the distinction made between eternity and perpetuity, based on the reality that God is outside of time.

In fact, he felt that by creating a ‘world’ in which Christianity could be breathed, as opposed to being only thought about, he could help remove some of the associations of religion with hushed tones and medical sterilization that he, as a child, had found so off-putting…

p. 45, ch. 2, “Breathing Narnia Air”

This was from a fun chapter that deals with the element of atmosphere in fiction. Lewis, of course, does an incredible job of developing the atmosphere of Narnia, and beautifully strips away the “associations of religion,” while bringing truth to life. I am so grateful for how the Lord used Narnia to do that for me, too!

Commentary

One of the hallmarks of Medieval literature, Baxter notes, is that authors of the period would recycle existing stories, while enriching them with fresh details and perspectives. For this reason, Lewis describes authors of the period, noting, “We might equally call our medieval authors the most unoriginal or the most original of men.”

Baxter, like the Medieval authors he comments on, demonstrates particular dexterity in amplifying existing content, for the reader. Delving into rich philosophical literature, he synthesizes the content in a way that is both understandable and relatable to the reader, without dumbing down the original author’s points. I found this to be very helpful, as I can easily get lost in such dense source material. While I wouldn’t choose to read, say Dante, for pleasure (though I read his famous work in college), Baxter successfully ignited my interest in the subject. Given my own biases towards such reading, I’m impressed!

In addition to synthesizing material, Baxter contributes his own voice and perspective in drawing the reader to the beauty of God. The writing is so fluid and powerful!

Recommendation Status

For both its scholastic merit and its beautiful presentation of ideas, The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis is a title I highly recommend.

Highly engaging and informative, the book also brims with wonder, inviting readers into a place of delight and awe with their Creator. That’s not something I can usually say about this sort of commentary.

For recreational readers, I would recommend the title to those who appreciate the works of C.S. Lewis. This is an academic title, and, although I am not a professor, I feel that it would make for excellent supplemental curriculum at the high school or college level; I could see the book being used in conjunction with Lewis’ writings.

Published by Stephaniesninthsuitcase

Hi, there! My name is Stephanie and I’m a Fresno, CA native. After studying at Biola University, I received my MLIS (Masters in Library Science) from San Jose State University. I live with my mom, poet Kimberly Vargas Agnese, and serve as her unofficial agent. We reside at MeadowArc, a food forest in its infancy. I am called to, and passionate about, purity. In fact, the name Agnes means “pure.” Before I was born, my mom felt led to include the name Agnes in her name, and in the names of her children. My full, hyphenated name includes 26 letters (but not the whole alphabet).

2 thoughts on “Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis (Book Review)

  1. You captured my attention immediately with the title of the book.
    I will probably be adding it to my to-read list.
    I love reading anything by C.S. Lewis!
    I’m currently reading Letters to Malcolm and the Narnia books once again as we begin 2023.
    I watched a DVD a while back on Planet Narnia and found it fascinating.
    How wonderful to have attended a college seminar on the Inklings!

    Liked by 1 person

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