C.S. Lewis at R.A.F. Chaplaincy School, 1944. Image in the public domain. Original print at R.A.F. Chaplaincy Branch Archive, R.A.F. Museum, Hendon, London.
The world is currently experiencing a unique and unsettling time with the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). As you are aware, most businesses have closures or limited services, cultural and social centers such as libraries and museums (including the Wade Center) are closed to the public, large public events have been cancelled, and individuals are being encouraged to keep their distance for safety in order to prevent the spread of the virus. This isolation is hard, and it has made many fearful. However, our current circumstances are very reminiscent of what five of the seven Wade authors experienced while living in 20th century Britain through some of the most difficult periods in modern history. During this time, they witnessed both world wars, and four of them (Owen Barfield, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and J.R.R. Tolkien) lived to see the unsettling days of nuclear weapons. Rationing was also a problem during these war years, as supplies were limited, certainties rare, and little luxuries or meaningful moments with loved ones all the more precious.
Dorothy L. Sayers during World War II in her Air Raid Warden attire. Image property of the Wade Center. From the Muriel St. Clare Byrne Collection archive.
During weeks of nightly bombings in Britain during World War II, Sayers and Tolkien served as Air Raid Wardens, helping to enforce public safety measures and watch for bomb threats. C.S. Lewis served in the Home Guard in and around Oxford. He was also writing weekly newspaper installments that later became The Screwtape Letters and traveling regularly to speak to Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) servicemen and chaplains. In addition, Lewis gave radio talks on the BBC that encouraged listeners and shared basic truths of Christianity to homes all across Britain, pointing people to God and to eternal things beyond the chaos of war. These radio talks were later published as Mere Christianity. Tolkien was writing letters to his son serving in the R.A.F., and steadily penning The Lord of the Rings. Sayers’s war work was prodigious. In addition to her radio dramas on the life of Christ, The Man Born to be King, she gave a number of broadcast talks designed to encourage the British people during the hardships of war. She also worked on several writing projects including a collaboration with other writers on works that, they hoped, would help rebuild society once the war was over.
Apart from their war work, all seven of the Wade authors, and the works they produced for the audiences of the past, still have much to offer us today, particularly in this unprecedented moment of history. There is good reason why these particular books are still available as their words hold power to instruct and encourage us now as they have done for thousands of other people over the decades. In this regard, both fiction and non-fiction works are valuable in the different ways that they interact with the human mind, heart, and soul. Let your preferences direct what you read. In other words, select books that you enjoy and also what you feel would be most helpful.
The Wade Center staff has selected a number of titles for recommended reading, with a brief description of each. Please share this information with others in need of good reading resources. While library and business closures may make some of these works harder to obtain, there are also digital methods of purchase and access that will be highlighted. We also encourage readers to continue to enjoy these titles once the Coronavirus emergency has ended as they are applicable for all seasons, and life will continue to have future challenges. There is no expiration date on the nourishment that good words give.
For those of us living to see such times as these, we leave the last words to Gandalf the wizard from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings:
“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
– Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter 2
C.S. LEWIS – Recommended Readings
THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity: One of Lewis’s most famous works of apologetics providing an overview of the tenets of faith held in common by all Christians. This is a compilation of the talks Lewis gave over B.B.C. Radio during World War II. Available in a variety of print formats, on Kindle, and audiobook.
“Learning in War-Time”: This pivotal essay was first given by Lewis as a sermon in St. Mary the Virgin Church in Oxford on December 22, 1939, and was originally published as “None Other Gods: Culture in War Time.” It is Lewis’s defense for the value of the practice of learning, and the necessity of maintaining life-giving pursuits, even in the midst of war. Available in the book The Weight of Glory in a variety of print formats, on Kindle, and audiobook.
“On Living in an Atomic Age”: First published as an article in 1948, this essay by Lewis discusses how to think and live in the era of uncertainty with the coming of the atomic bomb. The piece appeared three years after atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Available in the book Present Concerns in print or Kindle formats.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Lewis’s beloved seven-book series of tales and adventures that take place in the magical world of Narnia. A favorite choice for both children and adults, the Narnia series is available in a wide variety of editions including print, Kindle, and audiobook. There is also a dramatized version produced by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre and adapted by Paul McCusker; this is available for purchase and digital download.
For more resources on C.S. Lewis, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien’s epic fantasy tale which takes readers to Middle-earth, the home of elves, dwarves, hobbits, and many other inhabitants. In this story, Frodo the hobbit and his companions embark on a perilous quest to destroy the One Ring and defeat the Dark Lord Sauron. Available in a variety of print editions, on Kindle, and audiobook. A B.B.C. Radio full-cast dramatization, adapted by Brian Sibley, is also available for digital download.
The Hobbit: The prelude to The Lord of the Rings in which Bilbo the hobbit, a band of dwarves, and Gandalf the wizard set off to recapture stolen treasure from Smaug the dragon. Available in a variety of print editions, on Kindle, and audiobook. A B.B.C. Radio full-cast dramatization is also available for digital download.
“On Fairy-Stories”: Tolkien’s famous essay defending and explaining the genre of fairy tales and fantasy literature. This work is included in the following titles, all available in a variety of print formats: Tree and Leaf, The Tolkien Reader, Tales from the Perilous Realm. Audiobook and Kindle versions are available for Tales from the Perilous Realm, which also includes several short stories by Tolkien, and is read by Derek Jacobi.
For more resources on J.R.R. Tolkien, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.
THE MAN BORN TO BE KING by Dorothy L. Sayers
“Why Work?”: In this essay by Sayers, she defines vocation as purposeful, creative, and a sacred act in that it glorifies God. The famous quote: “The only Christian work is good work well done” comes from this essay. You can find it in Letters to a Diminished Church, discussed below.
Letters to a Diminished Church: In this title, Sayers brings doctrines of the church to life, showing how they are applicable today, and ways in which they are incorporated with science, literature, and history. In addition to the “Why Work” essay discussed above, other recommended essay titles include: “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” “The Triumph of Easter,” and “Creed or Chaos?” Available in print and Kindle formats. Many of the same essays are also available in an earlier anthology, The Whimsical Christian.
Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories: Sayers is a masterful detective fiction writer. Her detective, the aristocrat Lord Peter Wimsey, is featured in a number of novels and short stories. A listing of the novels is available on the Wade Center’s website. Titles are available in a print, Kindle, and audiobook formats.
The Man Born to be King: A twelve-play cycle based on the life of Christ. These religious dramas were originally broadcast as radio plays on B.B.C. Radio and are now available in book form. C.S. Lewis read this play cycle annually as part of his Lenten devotions. The current in-print version is available in paperback or Kindle edition.
For more resources on Dorothy L. Sayers, see her author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.
Since the works of George MacDonald are now entirely in the public domain, you can find most of them free and available online.
Project Gutenberg: This free e-book site offers a wide variety of the works of George MacDonald and many other authors.
LibriVox: For those who enjoy audiobooks, LibriVox offers a vast assortment of audiobook material from books in the public domain, including works by George MacDonald. These audio recordings are made by volunteer readers from around the world, and vary in quality of reading, but are a great way to explore various works of literature. You may also find that different chapters in a book have different readers.
Amazon Kindle: Kindle users will also be able to find many of MacDonald’s works available at very low prices, such as the Complete Works currently selling for $0.99.
Individual Recommended Titles by George MacDonald
THE WISE WOMAN by George MacDonald
The Wise Woman: A fairy tale of two spoiled children, a princess and a shepherd’s daughter, their choices, and their dealings with a kind but firm guardian, the Wise Woman, who is determined to save them from themselves. Alternate titles for this work are: The Lost Princess and A Double Story.
Unspoken Sermons: Three volumes of essays by George MacDonald on theological topics. Recommended titles: “The Consuming Fire,” “Light,” and “The Truth in Jesus.”
Fairy Tales: The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie are novel-length fairy tales, and are enjoyable for readers of all ages. Try reading them aloud with your family. Other recommended shorter fairy tales are: “The Golden Key,” “The Light Princess,” and “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” (alternate title: “The Romance of Photogen and Nycteris”).
Sir Gibbie: One of MacDonald’s most beloved realistic fiction novels. The story is set in the highlands of Scotland and centers on an orphan boy who cannot speak, but whose life is full of love and generosity.
For more resources on George MacDonald, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.
Many of the works of G.K. Chesterton are in the public domain and available free online.
Project Gutenberg: This free e-book site offers a wide variety of the works of Gilbert Keith Chesterton and many other authors.
LibriVox: For those who enjoy audiobooks, LibriVox offers a vast assortment of audiobook material from books in the public domain, including works by G.K. Chesterton. These audio recordings are made by volunteer readers from around the world, and vary in quality of reading, but are a great way to explore various works of literature. You may also find that different chapters in a book have different readers.
Amazon Kindle: Kindle users will also be able to find many of Chesterton’s works available at very low prices, such as The G.K. Chesterton Collection (50 books) currently selling for $1.99.
Individual Recommended Titles by G.K. Chesterton
ORTHODOXY by G.K. Chesterton
Orthodoxy: G.K. Chesterton’s highly regarded work of apologetics and his spiritual autobiography. This work forms the core of all that is Chesterton. If you only read one book by G.K. Chesterton, let it be this one.
Father Brown detective stories: Father Brown is Chesterton’s brilliant detective who also happens to be a Catholic priest. There are five collections of short detective stories, the first one titled The Innocence of Father Brown.
The Man Who Was Thursday: What is often described as a “metaphysical mystery thriller” and one of Chesterton’s finest novels. The setting of Edwardian era London forms the backdrop to the investigation of Gabriel Syme, poet and amateur police detective, who is on assignment to uncover the truth behind a ring of anarchists – arriving upon conclusions no one could have foreseen.
The Everlasting Man: A history of humanity, Christ, and Christianity which serves to some extent as a rebuttal of H.G. Wells’s The Outline of History. This book greatly influenced the faith of C.S. Lewis and was listed in his top ten list of influential books.
Manalive: A novel about not taking life for granted, and seeing the world through eyes of wonder. Follow the exploits of Innocent Smith, and judge for yourself just how “innocent” he really is.
For more resources on G.K. Chesterton, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.
THIS EVER DIVERSE PAIR by Owen Barfield
This Ever Diverse Pair: An autobiographical novel which explores the divergence between a man and his professional persona, personified as two co-workers in a law office who know just the right pressure points to annoy each other in a number of humorous and poignant scenarios. Barfield wrote this book at a time when his practice of the law felt to be stifling his creativity as a writer and thinker. Available as a paperback edition.
Poetic Diction: A study of the metaphors, style, and vocabulary used in poetic language with additional commentary on myth and the origins of language. This work was influential for both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Available as a paperback edition.
For more resources on Owen Barfield, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.
THE DESCENT OF THE DOVE by Charles Williams
Descent of the Dove: A non-fiction work outlining the history of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Available in paperback and Kindle editions.
The Place of the Lion: One of Williams’s seven novels described as “supernatural thrillers.” In this story, archetypes are embodied as gigantic animals roaming the earth, such as the Lion of Strength and the Butterfly of Beauty. Their interactions in the world cause havoc, but also produce engaging insights into the hearts of the humans they encounter. This book was highly admired by C.S. Lewis when he first read it in February 1936, and helped start the friendship between Lewis and Williams. Available in print and Kindle editions.
Image of the City and other Essays: A selection of essays by Williams which serves as an introduction to the diversity of his work as well as providing great insight into his thought and the various recurring themes in his works. Available in print and Kindle editions.
For more resources on Charles Williams, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.