Monday, February 22, 2016

Reflecting the Eternal: Dante's Divine Comedy in the Novels of C.S. Lewis (Hendrickson Publishers)

When I received a copy of Reflecting the Eternal, I was intrigued by the subject matter (Dante's influence on C.S. Lewis) but equally intrigued by the author, Dr. Marsha Daigle-Williamson. The name stood out to me and it bugged me until I figured out who she is. She is the translator for the Preacher to the Papal Household. As soon as I had that ah-ha moment, this book moved up from a must read to an instant read. The book begins with an introduction that talks about the themes and characters in Lewis' novels and how they were influenced by classics in Western literature. She then points out that no one has analyzed Dante's impact on Lewis' works, which she finds surprising because she believes that Dante's Divine Comedy is essential for understanding all of Lewis' works. She then provides us an opening chapter which details Lewis' admiration for Dante and a brief summary of the Dante Comedy.  Dr. Daigle-Williamson then takes us through a chronological examination of the works of C.S. Lewis and explains the influence of Dante in each. The chapters are as follows:

2. The Pilgrim's Regress
3. Out of the Silent Planet
4. The Screwtape Letters
5. Perelandra
6. That Hideous Strength
7. The Great Divorce
8. The Chronicles of Narnia
9. Till We Have Faces

Reading through this book, I realized just how little of C.S. Lewis' works that I have actually read. For that reason, the chapters I connected with more are logically the ones which I have read. For example. In the chapter on The Pilgrim's Regress, we see the use of a pilgrim and a guide like Beatrice. In the chapter on The Screwtape Letters, we see similarities between Lewis and Dante in the description of Hell and the three stages of spiritual development. My favorite chapter, without a doubt, was the one that addressed The Chronicles of Narnia. Dr. Daigle-Williamson shows how The Silver Chair is similar to the Inferno, and she also compares The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to Dante's Purgatory and Paradise. As many times as I have read those books, the clear influence of Dante never struck me, but it made me want to immediately go re-read them all. That will have to wait until I read Lewis' Ransom Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). It is a series I have always wanted to read, but I have extra motivation to do so now.

The level of research, notes, and academic depth in this book is astounding. You would normally pay $50 for a book of this nature from an academic publisher, but the $15 price point makes this book a bargain! I have long considered myself a student/fan of C.S. Lewis, but after reading this, I realize I still have so much to read and learn. If you are a fan of Lewis, Dante, and/or great literature then you will want to read this book. Like me, you'll probably need to read or re-read some of these works either before or after reading this book, but you will read them at a deeper level and appreciate them all the more.

This book was provided to me for free by Hendrickson Publishers in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click this link and hit Yes!