Celebrating C.S. Lewis

Miller, Rod

CONWAY, Ark (November 7, 2013) – What do Aldous Huxley, President John F. Kennedy, and C.S. Lewis have in common?

Ask Hendrix art history professor Dr. Rod Miller.

The answer is all three died on November 22, 1963. This year is the 50th anniversary of their deaths.

Miller is most interested in the latter. He recently completed a book titled C.S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands.

The book, which will be published November 29 by Square Halo Books, is a collection of essays by a who’s who of Lewis scholars. Contributors include David C. Downing, Bruce Herman, Scott B. Key, Don W. King, Jerry Root, David Rozema, Peter J. Schakel, Charlie W. Starr, Will Vaus, and Theodore Prescott (foreword). Miller, who served as editor, also contributed an essay.

The seeds of the project were sewn when Miller was a child.

“I was read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kid,” said Miller, referring to The Chronicles of Narnia. “When I was a little older, I saved my money for a set of the Narnia books.”

He later discovered Lewis' science fiction trilogy as well as Lewis’ final novel,  ‘Til We Have Faces.

Not only does Miller keep company with contemporary Lewis scholars, he is a trove of Lewis trivia. For example, Lewis was a member of a group of writers called The Inklings which included author J. R. R. Tolkien.

It’s possible that, without Lewis’ encouragement Tolkien, Lord of the Rings would never have been written, said Miller, adding his pleasure at Lewis’ installation this year in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.

Lewis’ first passion was to be a poet and did publish a book of poems and other individual poems. But he realized poetry wasn’t his strong suit, Miller said.

“It was a good thing … because he applied his poetic tendencies to his prose, which gives his writing an amazingly imaginative quality,” he said.

Miller then began to explore the author’s nonfiction writing when a friend lent him a collection of Lewis essays on theological topics. While Lewis’ academic work concentrated on Medieval and Renaissance literature, it is his theological essays and books that garnered him such a large following in America.

Lewis’ Mere Christianity was based on a series of religious talks Lewis gave during World War II. The talks were broadcast on the BBC and made Lewis the second most recognized voice in England, after Winston Churchill. Lewis wanted to make his language accessible to everyone, but he was criticized by some of his academic peers because he wasn’t a trained theologian, Miller said.

Seven years ago, Miller got a collection of Lewis essays, available only in England, which included several on Christianity and culture.

As an art historian and an active lay leader in his church, Miller was drawn to Lewis’ discussion of what value the arts hold to Christians and what it means to be a creative Christian.

“Little has been written about Lewis understanding of arts and culture,” said Miller on the focus of his book, which will join a number of new analyses of Lewis published during the 50th anniversary of the author’s death. Miller’s publisher has indicated early interest in a second edition of the book.

Miller prepared the original version of his book essay for a presentation at the 2005 Art and Soul Conference at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“It got a good reception, so I wanted to make it bigger,” said Miller, who expanded the original version by 20 pages. The expanded version was later published in the journal of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society.

Miller found Lewis’ support for the arts, in some of his essays, rather tepid, given that much of his career was dedicated either to the study or creation of literary works. 

“I was surprised to find, given his profound claims for objective ethics, that he often made a mess of confusing beauty and aesthetics.” 

But not everywhere. 

“Occasionally, Lewis makes clear a claim for a beauty that goes beyond mere pleasure,” said Miller, who leaves the last word for Lewis.

“An author should never conceive himself as bringing into existence beauty or wisdom which did not exist before, but simply and solely as trying to embody in terms of his own art some reflection of eternal Beauty and Wisdom ...”

For more information on the book, visit http://www.squarehalobooks.com/cslewis.html.

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education. For the fifth consecutive year, Hendrix was named one of the country’s “Up and Coming” liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report. Hendrix is featured in the 2012 edition of the Princeton Review as one of the country’s best 377 colleges, the latest edition of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges, Forbes magazine's annual list of America's Top 650 Colleges, and the 2013 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, visit www.hendrix.edu.