C.S. Lewis for the Digital Age: An Interview with Dr. Michael Ward

C.S. Lewis

Today I have the pleasure of talking with one of my favorite people, Dr. Michael Ward, about a mutual third friend, C.S. Lewis.

Michael has been described by N.T. Wright as “the foremost living C.S. Lewis scholar”. He is the author of the groundbreaking study of Lewis’ writings, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford University Press, 2008) and also co-edited The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

MichaelWardMore recently, Michael has contributed essays to two new books, C. S. Lewis and His Circle: Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society (Oxford University Press, 2015) and Women and C.S. Lewis (Lion Hudson, 2015).

From 1996 to 1999, Michael was resident warden and curator of The Kilns, Lewis’ Oxford home. More recently, he was responsible for securing a memorial to C.S. Lewis in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey.

He works as a senior research fellow at Blackfriars Hall (University of Oxford) and holds a doctorate in divinity from the University of St. Andrews. He lectures internationally on Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Christian apologetics.

After serving as an Anglican priest for many years, including a chaplaincy to St. Peter’s College at Oxford, he converted to Catholicism in 2012.

Today we’re discussing one of the most exciting developments ever to hit the C.S. Lewis world: the launch of the new Verbum C.S. Lewis Collection.

For the first time ever, you can get Lewis’ greatest works all in one place. The collection includes thirty volumes and over 3,000 pages of Lewis’ writing, along with various devotional resources. The best part is that this isn’t just a collection of eBooks—it’s a powerful study tool. The entire C.S. Lewis Collection is integrated into the Verbum software. Whether you are a Lewis scholar or simply an admirer, the Verbum software helps you better understand his writings with powerful features and search capabilities.

For instance, Verbum has tagged his collected letters by author, recipient, and date. Thus, if you wanted to read every letter from Lewis to his friend J.R.R. Tolkien during the 1950s, simply search with this criteria and Verbum compiles all the relevant letters.

Or, suppose you wanted to see what C.S. Lewis had to say about a specific Bible verse of topic such as “glory” or “joy” or the “Eucharist.” Since important terms in Lewis’ works link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library, you can quickly find just what you need.

Here’s a list of all the books included in the new Verbum C.S. Lewis Collection:

(NOTE: To use the C.S. Lewis Collection you need to have one of the Verbum libraries. Use coupon code BVOGT at checkout to receive 15% off any Verbum library. The code will not work for the C.S. Lewis Collection—only the core Verbum libraries, which you can find here.)

Michael and I sat down to discuss C.S. Lewis’s entire corpus and the benefits of accessing it through the new Verbum collection.

BRANDON VOGT: Many people know C.S. Lewis for his Narnia books or perhaps Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters. But Lewis wrote many more titles. Can you give us a quick tour of his massive corpus? What genres did he cover?

DR. MICHAEL WARD: Yes, he wrote about forty books in his lifetime, nearly 250 essays or articles, not to mention thousands of pages of letters, diary-entries, and poems.

The Verbum C.S. Lewis Collection contains a very great deal of Lewis’s total output and the two most popular areas represented are his fiction and his apologetics.

With regard to his fiction, there are several great books, including The Screwtape Letters (a hilarious classic of moral and spiritual advice, couched in the form of a correspondence between two devils); The Great Divorce (a dream vision of people in hell taking a day-trip to heaven and making various choices when they get there); The Pilgrim’s Regress (an allegorical account of Lewis’s conversion to Christianity); and his three novels of interplanetary adventure which some people call “The Space Trilogy”, though I prefer to call them “The Ransom Trilogy” or “The Cosmic Trilogy”. In all these works, we see Lewis’s talent for theological imagination going full throttle!

With regard to his Christian apologetics: in this group we find works such as Mere Christianity, a perennial favorite, based on the BBC broadcasts Lewis delivered during World War 2; A Grief Observed, the emotionally challenging journal of bereavement that he wrote in the wake of his wife’s death; more hefty philosophical works like Miracles and The Abolition of Man; and a number of collections of his shorter pieces, – sermons, essays, articles, where Lewis’s range and depth are on beautiful display – including The Weight of Glory and God in the Dock.

BRANDON VOGT: One underrated part of Lewis’ writing is his letters. He wrote thousands of letters and many are included in the new C.S. Lewis Collection for Verbum. What will readers find when dipping into Lewis’ correspondence?

DR. MICHAEL WARD: Yes, all three volumes of his collected letters are included in the Verbum collection. Lovingly edited by Walter Hooper, these volumes provide a kind of unwitting autobiography in that they cover almost the whole of Lewis’s life. The first letter in the collection was written when Lewis was just seven years old; the last he penned the day before he died.

Here you’ll find the whole of Lewis on show: the precocious teenager; the army officer in the Great War; the budding academic; the struggling atheist; the enthusiastic convert; and so on through the decades. It’s a fantastic way of getting to know Lewis and seeing ‘behind the scenes’, as it were, because of course he wasn’t writing for a public audience, so what you get is much more direct and personal.

I’ve written two reviews covering all three volumes for “Books and Culture”, which you can read here: “Lewis the Letter-Writer” and “They Didn’t Have Email”.

BRANDON VOGT: Some of his other writings in this package cover his work on medieval literature. What’s interesting about those?

DR. MICHAEL WARD: This is the “professional” Lewis, and I’m very pleased that Verbum has included an impressive selection of works from this side of his output, because it too often gets overlooked.

He was a tutor and lecturer at Oxford for nearly 30 years and finished his career as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge. As a literary critic and historian he wrote a lot of highly specialized works, – like The Allegory of Love, for instance, which made his name as a medievalist, and it has to be said that this will probably only be of use to fellow specialists in the field.

However, some of the others works in this category have a much more general appeal, such as An Experiment in Criticism, which should interest anyone who wants to understand the art of reading; Studies in Words, a fascinating look at how language changes its meaning over time; and Image and Imagination, which includes his superb review of his friend Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings.

One of my favorite books in this category is Selected Literary Essays, which has brilliant pieces on the Authorized Version of the Bible, on John Bunyan, on Jane Austen, and even on four-letter words.

Though he’s writing for a scholarly audience in these works, Lewis never forgets to be clear and readable. Here we see how expertly and faithfully Lewis fulfilled his vocation as an academic. It’s an inspiring and encouraging example.

BRANDON VOGT: Verbum is of course a powerful tool for scholars and theologians, but the creators have done an excellent job making it accessible for the average layperson. How could someone use Verbum and the C.S. Lewis Collection for personal, devotional study?

DR. MICHAEL WARD: First, the package includes a number of selections of “best bits”. There’s A Year With C.S. Lewis, for instance, – a selection of daily readings from his whole output, which you could use to augment your daily scripture reading. Similarly, there’s a Narnia version of the same thing, entitled A Year With Aslan. The package also includes Paul Ford’s volume, Yours Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis.

Second, the package is flexible and searchable in all sorts of helpful ways. So, for example, you could set up a customized reading plan and go through Mere Christianity over a three-month span. Or you could use the search-function to enable you to get instant access to Lewis’s thoughts on ‘pain’ or ‘the Bible’ or ‘metaphor’ or whichever particular topic you want to explore. All told, it’s a superbly useful package that any Lewis reader will find hugely valuable. I wish it had been available years ago!

C.S. Lewis Collection