The Seven Literary Sages Christian History Issue: A closer look with Jennifer Woodruff Tait

ChristianHistory_2015The “Seven Literary Sages” Christian History issue 113 was released early in 2015 in honor of the Wade Center’s 50th anniversary, features the seven authors of the Wade Center, and highlights their continuing relevance to significant issues facing our world today. We have heard from many readers how much they enjoyed the issue, including  Dr. Leland Ryken, Professor of English Emeritus at Wheaton College, who comments: “This issue of Christian History is the best brief introduction to the Wade authors that exists. Its photographs are a feast to the eyes.  The accumulated information and insights are a treasure trove.”

Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History and Wade author enthusiast, graciously offers “Off the Shelf” readers some of her reflections on the “Seven Literary Sages” issue and its significance in her own life. Our thanks also go to Jennifer for the editorial expertise and creative work she contributed to make this issue such a success.


On November 22, 2013, C.S. Lewis was formally “installed” into Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, gaining a memorial stone there along with such luminaries of British literature as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Byron, Dickens, Austen, the Brontë sisters, T.S. Eliot, and W.H. Auden. The service was dignified; the organ thundered; the choir sang. I was there. My husband, kids, and I spent the days before the service joining fellow Lewis enthusiasts at a meeting of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, a tour of the Kilns (Lewis’s home, now a museum), and a symposium on Lewis’s works and worth.

On the way home, we visited Dublin, Ireland and attended the Sunday morning worship service at Trinity College. There I met a woman who became interested in our trip to the Lewis memorial. She obviously knew of Lewis’s status as a British author and had seen the movie Shadowlands. But she was puzzled by my being there on behalf of a Christian magazine. “Was Lewis particularly religious?” she asked.

And I wondered: Though Christians have valued his work for decades, how much did Lewis and his friends and mentors change the society around them? What legacy did they leave to the modern secular world?

That question was part of the reason I was in Oxford and London. I was covering the memorial celebration for issue 113 of Christian History magazine, which was dedicated to the seven authors whom the Wade Center collects. Released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Wade Center, we called the magazine “Seven Literary Sages: Why We Still Need Their Wisdom Today.” It told the story of how those “Seven Sages” took on secularists, materialists, and modernizers with their weapon of choice: the pen.

With the assistance of the Wade we assembled a lineup of knowledgeable scholars: Suzanne Bray, Matthew Dickerson, Crystal and David Downing, Colin Duriez, Brian Horne, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Alister McGrath, Michael Ward, Ralph Wood, and Edwin Woodruff Tait. They explained to our readers in fresh and entertaining ways how the Seven Sages expressed a vision for society in areas ranging from economics to education to the environment; a vision for Christian literature in their powerfully moving treatments of goodness and self-sacrifice; and a vision for discipleship in their pictures of love in community. They also emphasized how millions read their books and by those books were inspired, by the help of God’s grace, to create art, practice goodness, and seek the truth. (I am one of them: from Prince Caspian to Lord of the Rings to Gaudy Night to The Greater Trumps to Orthodoxy, the logical arguments and poetic visions of the Seven Sages have enriched my Christian discipleship for decades.) And we were able to illustrate the entire issue with a range of gorgeous photographs, many from the Wade’s own collection.

The magazine has turned out to be one of our runaway best-sellers since Christian History returned to publication by Christian History Institute in 2010. It’s by far our most popular issue judging by the number of online readers as well as requests for print copies. I’m personally thrilled to have been part of introducing so many new readers to authors who, in many cases, I have known and loved since childhood. But, not wanting to neglect others who have known and loved these authors for years as well, I commend the issue to you. Read, marvel, and enjoy!


TaitJennifer Woodruff Tait (Ph.D., Duke University) is managing editor of Christian History magazine, managing editor of the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, and author of The Poisoned Chalice and Histories of Us.  From 2004-2013 she was the recording secretary for the New York C.S. Lewis Society. She lives in Richmond, KY on an 8-acre farm with her husband (who proposed to her on the bridge in London where G.K. Chesterton proposed to Frances), her two daughters (both of whom love Narnia and Middle-earth), and her in-laws.

New books for your Summer Reading List

IMG_5687_edited

Summer is here! As we did last year with our summer reading ideas, we put together a few suggestions of some exciting new books for your summer reading list. This year there are an exceptional amount of new and innovative titles covering the works and lives of the Wade authors and those who knew them. For each title below, we list a summary of the book, its expected publication date, and several published titles on related subjects. We hope you find these suggestions engaging, and learn something new. Happy summer (and fall and winter) reading!


Inklings-ZaleskiTitle: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams
Authors: Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski
Release date and Publisher: June 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Summary: A look into the lives and writings of members of the literary discussion and writing group, The Inklings. An impressive research effort with the final product just over 650 pages, this book is a great read for the invested reader who wants to look deeper into the realm of Inklings scholarship.
Other related works:
The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter
The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer


Inklings-DuriezTitle: The Oxford Inklings: Their Lives, Writings, Ideas, and Influence
Author: Colin Duriez
Release date and Publisher: March 2015 by Lion Hudson
Summary: Another contribution this year to Inklings studies, this title by British scholar Colin Duriez. This volume is shorter than the Zaleski work (less than 300 pages), and has less biographical information, focusing on the group itself and accessible for the more casual reader.
Other related works:
The Inklings Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to the Lives, Thought, and Writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and their Friends by Colin Duriez and David Porter
The Inklings of Oxford : C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their Friends by Harry Lee Poe, photography by James Veneman


BedeviledTitle: Bedeviled: Lewis, Tolkien and the Shadow of Evil
Author: Colin Duriez
Release date and Publisher: April 2015 by InterVarsity Press
Summary: Duriez explores how C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other Inklings identified modern warfare as a powerful image of the deeper battle between good and evil. He also considers the ways in which their own experiences in war shaped their writings.
Other related works:
Author talk of Duriez at the Wade Center from April 30, 2015
Tolkien and The Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth
A Morning after War: C.S. Lewis and WWI by K.J. Gilchrist


CSL-poemsTitle: The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis: A Critical Edition
Author: C.S. Lewis, ed. Don W. King
Release date and Publisher: January 2015 by Kent State University Press
Summary: A new collection of Lewis’s poetry, including many previously unpublished poems, together in a single volume. Includes indices of titles and first lines.
Other related works:
C. S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse by Don W. King
– “‘Making the Poor Best of Dull Things’: C.S. Lewis as Poet”
by Don W. King in VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review Volume 12 (see also: volumes 22, 23, 29 for other articles by Don W. King)


a-naked-treeTitle: A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C.S. Lewis and Other Poems
Author: Joy Davidman, ed. Don W. King
Release date and Publisher: May 2015 by Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Summary: A collection of poetry by C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, published for the first time. These poems come from the Joy Davidman Papers archival collection at the Wade Center. The Wade also owns all of the books authored by Davidman.
Other related works:
Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman ed. by Don W. King
– “Fire and Ice: C.S. Lewis and the Love Poetry of Joy Davidman and Ruth Pitter”
by Don W. King in VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review Volume 22 (see also: volumes 12, 23, 29 for other articles by Don W. King)


JoyTitle: Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis
Author: Abigail Santamaria
Release date and Publisher: August 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Summary: An in-depth, critical biography of the life of Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis. Santamaria has spent over a decade conducting comprehensive research on Joy, and this book will be a sizable contribution to the realms of both Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis scholarship.
Other related works:
A Love Observed: Joy Davidman’s Life & Marriage to C.S. Lewis by Lyle W. Dorsett


Lindop-editedTitle: Charles Williams: The Third Inkling
Author: Grevel Lindop
Release date and Publisher: December 2015 by Oxford University Press
Summary: Another in-depth biography, this one on the life of Charles Williams. Lindop has spent many years tracing biographical sources and this will be an indispensable volume for those wanting to understand the life of Charles Williams.
Other related works:
Charles Williams: An Exploration of His Life and Work by Alice Mary Hadfield
An Introduction to Charles Williams by Alice Mary Hadfield
To Michal from Serge: Letters from Charles Williams to His Wife, Florence, 1939-1945


PilgrimsRegressFinally, for another good summer read, if you haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and enjoy the Wade Annotated Edition of C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress edited by David C. Downing, now is the perfect time!

Upcoming Event: Book Launch of C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress: Wade Annotated Edition

The cover for C.S. Lewis’s THE PILGRIM'S REGRESS: WADE ANNOTATED EDITION (Eerdmans, 2014)

The cover for C.S. Lewis’s THE PILGRIM’S REGRESS: WADE ANNOTATED EDITION (Eerdmans, 2014)

On Friday, September 19th, at 7:00 in the evening, the Wade Center will welcome Dr. David Downing to its classroom for the book launch of C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress: Wade Annotated Edition (Eerdmans, 2014). All are welcome to this talk and book signing surrounding this new edition of a C.S. Lewis classic. First published in 1933, the book— modeled after John Bunyan’s classic morality tale, The Pilgrim’s Progress—marked several firsts for Lewis. It was the first book he wrote after his conversion to Christianity, the first book published under his real name, and his first published work of fiction.

The Pilgrim’s Regress can be difficult in places, which has perhaps kept it from becoming as well-known and well-loved as other spiritual classics by Lewis, such as Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters. Lewis was aware of some of the points of confusion and obscurity in this work, which is why he personally annotated a copy of the book for a student—Richard Thornton Hewitt—in 1937. That annotated copy was purchased by the Wade in 1987, and it was the starting point for the research Dr. Downing did for this new edition. Among the hundreds of notes in the annotated edition are all of the comments made by Lewis on Hewitt’s copy (unpublished until now) as well as Dr. Downing’s additional clarifications, explanations, and cross-references.

David C. Downing

Dr. David C. Downing

What follows is an interview with Dr. Downing, a Lewis scholar and the R. W. Schlosser Professor of English at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He gave us a peek at what more is in the new edition, how he went about annotating C.S. Lewis, and what he’ll talk about during his evening at the Wade. A reception will follow the lecture, and copies of the Wade annotated edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress will be available for sale and signing by Dr. Downing.

The Wade Center: Please explain a little bit of the story and timeline behind the idea for and manifestation of this annotated edition. When did you begin the project? Did you start your work at the Wade?

David Downing: When my wife and I visited the Wade in the summer of 2012, I told [Associate Director] Marj Mead that I wanted to write an interpretive guide to Regress—translating foreign phrases, identifying allusions, and cross-referencing key characters and themes with Lewis’s other books. When Marj heard my idea, she got a twinkle in her eye and said, almost in a whisper, “There is something you ought to see.” I thought she was going to take me to the wardrobe and show me a trap door that actually leads to Narnia. But instead she handed me an early edition of Regress with several dozen notes in Lewis’s own handwriting—citing Bible verses, identifying the models for various characters, and giving hints about difficult passages. Lewis had apparently taken the time to add these notes for a student of his who must have felt he was missing a lot when he tried to read the story on his own. Marj said that she and Jon Pott at Eerdmans had talked about producing a new annotated edition of Pilgrim’s Regress, placing Lewis’s own notes beside the text and adding other interpretive aids. So I combined Lewis’s handwritten notes with some excellent print and online sources identifying all the book’s quotations and allusions, adding my own explanatory and interpretive remarks. The result is a new version of The Pilgrim’s Regress that I think most readers will find much more understandable—both more insightful and more delightful than earlier editions. (I haven’t had time yet to look for that trap door in the back of the wardrobe!)

WC: Can you explain what constitutes an “annotated edition” in this case? What can readers expect to find in this edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress?

DD: In this edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress, there are sidenotes in the margins explaining details that readers might not otherwise understand. There are about 75 notes penned by Lewis himself, plus more than 500 additional notes translating foreign phrases, identifying characters, defining unusual terms, and comparing elements of this story to Lewis’s other books. Readers who want to read the main text straight through can do so without distracting footnotes. But those who have questions can glance over to the margin for some extra help understanding the text.

WC: What resources did you use at and through the Wade Center to complete this project?

DD: The key resource I used in this project was a 1937 edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress owned by one of Lewis’s students, R.T. Hewitt. Lewis’s handwritten notes in Hewitt’s copy of the book helped illuminate several passages whose full meaning has eluded most readers, including Lewis scholars. I also found new insights by consulting a 62-page unpublished autobiography that Lewis wrote in late 1930 or early 1931, after he had become a Theist but before his conversion to Christianity. (This fragment has since been published as “Early Prose Joy” in the 2013 volume of the Wade Center’s journal, VII: An Anglo-American Review, where it was introduced and edited by Andrew Lazo.)

WC: What element of this project did you find particularly surprising or engaging?

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, ca. 1940. Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

DD: First and foremost, I couldn’t help but be astonished yet again by the brilliant and capacious mind of C.S. Lewis. He wrote The Pilgrim’s Regress in two weeks while on holiday in Ireland, apparently without access to his own library or to all the other resources available in Oxford. And yet he quotes from dozens of philosophers and literary figures, ancient and modern, sometimes in the original Greek, Latin, French or Italian, sometimes offering his own translations of passages he knew by heart. I filled an entire bookcase in my study with the resources that Lewis apparently carried around with him all the time in his head.

Secondly, I’ve always wondered why Lewis used such a narrow definition of “Romanticism” in the story, associating it almost exclusively with his experiences of Sweet Desire. I have also been puzzled why Lewis’s satire becomes so caustic in his portrayal of the Modernists and the Counter-Romantics. (Lewis himself apologized for the book’s “uncharitable temper.”) But in reading the books Lewis identified in his handwritten notes, I discovered a similarly narrow definition of Romanticism and a very disdainful tone, which I think evoked a similar note of disdain in Lewis’s allegorical rebuttal.

As for “Early Prose Joy,” I found that it shed new light on the characters called the “brown girls,” Lewis’s symbol for lust. Some readers have worried about racial overtones in passages in The Pilgrim’s Regress concerning the “brown girls.” But I think Lewis’s unfinished memoir offers a much clearer explanation of those chapters and their symbolism.

WC: What are your hopes for the publication of this annotated edition?

DD: Whenever I teach a class on Lewis or speak at an Inklings conference, I find that The Pilgrim’s Regress is the book most often mentioned as the one that Lewis fans have never read—or never finished. Too often readers feel enmired in the narrative or they get discouraged by the foreign phrases and technical philosophical terms. I am hoping that this edition will reveal all the insight and humor hidden in a somewhat difficult text. I would like to see a lot of Lewis fans move this book from the Unread shelf in their Lewis collection to the Favorites shelf.

WC: Can you give us a hint of what the theme of your talk will be here at the Wade?

DD: I plan to give a presentation called “Journey to Joy.” This will review the main storyline of The Pilgrim’s Regress, identifying the real-world models for several key characters, explaining some of the difficult passages, and showing all the parallels with Lewis’s later and better-known books, especially Surprised by Joy and the Chronicles of Narnia.

We are grateful to Dr. Downing for this interview and look forward to seeing many of you at the Wade Center at 7:00pm on Friday, September 19th for the book launch of The Pilgrim’s Regress! This event is free and open to the public. Questions? Contact the Wade at 630-517-8440 or wade@wheaton.edu.

Update: Hear Dr. Downing’s talk from the event.

Flyer for the book launch. Please post and share with others.

Flyer for the book launch. Please post and share with others.