Disregarding some advice I was given long ago, I’m beginning with an apology. I apologize for including personal information in a review—something that should be about the book, not the reviewer. But in order to explain how much I enjoyed reading Women and C. S. Lewis, I feel it’s important to explain the expectations with which I approached that task.
I was given a copy of this book along with a request for a review by Carolyn Curtis, one of the editors. Having read a couple of Lewis’ books and watched Shadowlands and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I was an admirer of the man but not what you would call an ardent fan of his work. Surprised by Joy was a pleasurable read for me, but Mere Christianity required careful and time-intensive processing. I assumed this book would be much the same and, frankly, wasn’t too excited at the prospect of such heavy reading. But Curtis was such a delightful person, I couldn’t refuse. And I’m so glad I didn’t. The book, while written by erudite and scholarly contributors, is far from heavy-handed or complicated. Once I began reading, I found it absorbing. Divided into brief, manageable sections, the book lends itself to being read in short increments. But individual essays/interviews were so engaging I couldn’t wait to dive into the next one. I finished it in four days. (And I’m a slow reader.)
Two questions drive the content of this book: Was Lewis a sexist, even a misogynist, as many critics have labeled him? Is his work relevant and does it speak to our current culture? In regard to the first question, the book offers so much evidence refuting the charges—the women in Lewis’ own life, excerpts from his writings both public and private—as to make the accusations appear ludicrous. Indeed, such charges put Lewis in good company. The same ones have been hurled against Jesus and the Apostle Paul, two figures who have done more to change attitudes toward women than any other in history. Concerning the second question, the book was an eye-opening experience for me. I was born in the US, came of age in the sixties, and entered the workforce in the seventies. I also grew up surrounded by Christian friends and family. Benefitting from the support of those around me and from the hard work of so many who came before me, I never felt held back or less valuable because I am female. Reading this book, however, made me realize how ego- and ethnocentric I have become. It reminded me of the severity and extent to which injustice toward women (and men) exists in the world. It convinced me that, in today’s climate, communicating the “high view” Lewis held of women is more critical than ever.
For me, one of the hallmarks of a good book is that the reader can glean “extras” from it, whether or not intended by the writer(s). Among the extras I gained from this book:
1) Confirmation that Christians aren’t stupid - In an increasingly secular culture, the media love to portray Christians as knuckle-dragging troglodytes—persons who exchange all intellect and reason for emotion and superstition. While Christianity does indeed involve edification of the heart and spirit, this impressive group of writers, scholars, and thinkers proves that the brain doesn’t have to be sacrificed in the process.
2) A re-vamped and compelling TBR list – The extensive references throughout this book to Lewis’ works, both fiction and nonfiction, have kindled a fire in me to read them. As a child, I never read The Chronicles of Narnia, but at the conclusion of this book, I immediately ordered a boxed set for my grandsons. And I plan to read it along with them!
3) Confirmation that the difference between the sexes matters far less than the difference between the “fallen” and the redeemed - The overarching purpose of Women and C. S. Lewis is to examine the charges of sexism leveled against him. But excerpt after excerpt from his post-conversion writings reveals Lewis’ guiding purpose in his own writing was to share his joy at discovering “... the dignity of a free moral agent made in God’s image to live a life worthy of my creator.” Certainly a message needed by all, regardless of their sex.