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Briefly Reviewed: May 2021

C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction

By James Como

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 160

Price: $11.95

Review Author: Christopher Beiting

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, “Of the making of many books about C.S. Lewis, there is no end,” and this situation is no longer confined to the United States. Your reviewer remembers his own Oxford days, not so very long ago, when his expressions of admiration for Lewis were met with blank looks and the comment, “Ah. He is popular in America, isn’t he?” But now, even in Britain they are publishing books about Lewis. What is so noteworthy about one more? Plenty.

The works in Oxford University Press’s extensive Very Short Introduction series vary widely in quality and utility, but C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction proves to be one of the best. The author, James Como, is professor emeritus of rhetoric and public communication at York College (CUNY). He writes with an academic’s depth and thoroughness but also a rhetorician’s clarity and approachability. Moreover, Como’s approach to his subject is that of a Lewis enthusiast (he is a founding member of the New York C.S. Lewis Society and has written many articles and books on Lewis) but not of a Lewis apologist (his presentation of Lewis is respectful but not hagiographical; he does not make Lewis out to be a plaster saint and does not whitewash some of the less-savory details of Lewis’s past).

The best part of Como’s work, however, is its overall approach. He examines each of Lewis’s major works, not just with regard to what is in them but when each was written. This makes C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction a combination of biography and bibliography, and it is a method that works brilliantly. The reader comes away with a comprehensive understanding of the major details of Lewis’s life and his works after only 134 pages of prose. The book’s bibliography is also exceptional in an unusual way, presenting first Lewis’s own works (organized not chronologically but by type — a great help for the amateur reader), then a number of works that were influential on Lewis (another novelty, and another great help for the amateur reader), and finally a list of secondary sources that is selective but still comprehensive. In the interests of scholarship and charity, Como is also professional enough to present details regarding a number of Lewis’s most prominent hostile critics.

The reader comes away from C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction regarding it as a magnificent oxymoron: a comprehensive work of brevity. Any Lewis enthusiast will doubtless miss some things (there is very little consideration of the cinematic adaptations of Lewis’s life and works, for example, but for many Lewis fans that is probably not a bad thing). But the marvel is not so much what got left out of the finished product as how much got put in. Readers new to Lewis can scarcely find a better introduction, and even longtime Lewis enthusiasts will find something of interest. We may hope Oxford University Press will give Como or a colleague the chance to produce companion works on J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, or other members of the Inklings. The world would be richer for it.

 

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