C.S. Lewis holidays: Meet the guys behind the creativity

Wow! What a Christmas for C.S. Lewis lovers this year! Throw in tickets to the “Dawn Treader” movie and you’ve sending the Narnia fan on your gift list into 7th Heaven. Or … ooops! … that’s not a realm in Lewis’ spiritual imagination. Well, let’s say you’re giving them many months of rich spiritual adventure.

In Part 1, we reviewed the new “A Year with Aslan.” In Part 2, we featured “The C.S. Lewis Bible.” Today, you’ll meet the two men behind these creative efforts: Harper One Senior Vice President and Publisher Mark Tauber and Harper One Editorial Director Mickey Maudlin.

But, first, take a good look at our photo, above, of The Chronicles of Narnia 7-Book and Audio Box Set. If you want the original—“The Chronicles of Narnia”—this set is a great deal. The box includes a 1-volume paperback edition of all the novels (shown at left in the photo above). Plus, you’ll get 7 folders containing the complete text of the novels read by a remarkable range of performers. The readers include Lynne Redgrave, Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, Michael York and Kenneth Branagh. When these amazing audio versions were released a couple of years ago, I listened to this entire set—many, many hours. This particular audio version is such a treat that I plan to listen to the entire set again this winter.

NOTE FOR BUDGET-CONSCIOUS HOLIDAY SHOPPERS: This multimedia boxed set retails for $100, but Amazon has it discounted for $63, which is more than a third off the suggested retail price.


Harper One editorial director Mickey MaudlinDAVID: C.S. Lewis’ popularity is astonishing. I checked the Harper Collins homepage today and C.S. Lewis ranks No. 4 on the current list of top Harper authors. No. 1 on that list is Diane Mott Davidson and her best-selling murder mysteries. Jerry Seinfeld’s wife Jessica is second with her celebrity cookbook. Red-hot, true-crime historian James L. Swanson is third. None of those are surprising. We all know what sells these days: new mysteries, suspense novels and celebrity stuff. But, on that list of top authors at No. 4 is this Oxford professor who’s been dead for nearly 50 years! Astonishing. Why does Lewis defy publishing trends? Why is he so popular after so many years?

MICKEY: I’m always fascinated by exactly that question. We organized a panel a few years ago with N.T. Wright and some others talking about that. Lewis wrote more than half a century ago and he’s still selling hundreds of thousands of books today! I think part of the answer is that he’s someone who can write both for the person who has never been inside a church—and for the life-long Christian who has read a lot about faith already. He captivates both kinds of readers. He’s different from other Christian writers. He doesn’t use all the jargon and tribal thinking that you find in so many other writers’ work. You don’t have to be part of any club to enter Lewis’ world. He didn’t dumb down ideas. He made them accessible to everyone. He could speak both to the academic and to the popular. He had a wonderful talent for surprising people.

DAVID: This holiday season, you have two brand-new books containing Lewis’ wisdom: “A Year with Aslan” and “The C.S. Lewis Bible.” The new Bible is full of Lewis’ serious reflections on scripture from his letters and from his many inspirational books about faith. But Narnia, at first glance, seems like it’s just for kids.

MICKEY: Narnia crosses over, too. A few years ago, we published “The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis,” by Alan Jacobs. Alan argues that in many ways Narnia captures the most mature expression of Lewis’ thought. Almost everything he thought throughout his life was on display in the seven volumes of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Here’s someone who is a deep scholar in the classics and, toward the end of his life, the best expression of his life’s work comes to us through these children’s novels. The new “Year with Aslan” is a new way into the Narnia stories. We tried to capture that teaching-wisdom of Lewis within Narnia and give it to readers day by day, not in a single long narrative. Reading this way, you step outside the overall narration and experience just a single passage, each day. It’s a new way of seeing these novels that so many people know so well.

Harper One Senior Vice President & Publisher Mark TauberDAVID: In the new Bible, Lewis’ step-son Douglas Gresham writes that Lewis never considered himself a theologian and always regarded himself as a “rank amateur” at this. He never was a Bible scholar as that role now is defined by the academy of scholars. How did he come to attain such a stature?

MARK: We are now five years into our Bible-publishing program. There are different categories of Bibles. There are study Bibles and straight-text reading Bibles and then there is this whole category of devotional bibles and specialty Bibles. Our “Green Bible” is one of those specialty devotional Bibles. This category of Bible isn’t designed to dive deeply into what this Hebrew word or that Greek phrase meant in context thousands of years ago. The additions in these devotional Bibles enhance what the scriptures are saying. It’s not as if we’re treating Lewis as a Bible scholar in this new Lewis Bible. We’ve used material from Lewis’ own writings that now are paired with the appropriate passages in scripture. We also publish study Bibles. Our “HarperCollins Study Bible” was put together with teams of scholars exploring individual passages and telling us how to understand it all. In the new Lewis Bible, you’re getting Lewis as a companion as you read the Bible, not Lewis trying to explain what went on in the 1st century.

MICKEY: We also have to remember that Lewis always was humble as he stated his own areas of expertise. But he did write a book reflecting on Psalms and he had a very rich reading of the Bible. He understood the Greek of the New Testament. He might not have been a Bible scholar as the field is understood today—but he wasn’t just a rank amateur, whatever he might have said in that comment Douglas Gresham repeats.


DAVID: I need to ask you about two issues that always are raised by readers whenever we write about C.S. Lewis: Sex and violence. Let’s start with the question about violence. Readers who are pacifist often write to us, pointing out that Lewis believed in redemptive violence. Lewis was shaped by the cataclysmic events of the 20th century: World War I, where he served in the trenches, World War II, the Holocaust and the Cold War. Like J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends, they were grappling with the meaning of Christianity in a world that was capable of tearing itself apart at the seams. So, understanding the power and the limitation of violence is a central part of their work. But how do you respond to this kind of question on violence?

MICKEY: I say a couple of things. You’re exactly right about Lewis’ context in World War I, World War II and periods when it was obvious that people had to stand up to evil in the world. The only way to do that, if forced, was to violently defend yourself and, in the case of World War II, defeat the Nazis. Lewis was not a pacifist and, in fact, the climax of his space trilogy points out that, at the end of the day, the only thing left is to fight evil. It’s also true that Lewis came out of a tradition in which battles and warfare are metaphors that aren’t always literally intended as statements about violence. Look at the works of John Bunyan and George Macdonald. They wrote about battles that represent battles within our character between the forces of good and evil. We also need to remember that Lewis always was drawing on the rich tradition of medieval literature that he knew so well and metaphors of violence run through the medieval tradition, too.

DAVID: And what do you say about the sex question—or, rather, the gender question. In your new Bible, you include one amazing passage from Lewis’ writing in the Genesis portion of the Bible that seems to portray Lewis as very progressive on gender issues. But, I have to say: Some readers always question Lewis’ portrayals of women in his books. Even in the new Bible, we find lots of references to “man” as Lewis’ favorite term for “people,” for example. Lewis didn’t write with today’s sensibility about gender roles and language.

MICKEY: We have to realize that Lewis was writing in an earlier time. And, he was a medievalist so the references he looked to in literature went back even further. He died in 1963, before today’s appreciation for inclusivity had come along. So, in publishing Lewis today, we don’t try to go in and change his words. Your readers aren’t alone in raising these questions. It’s true: Lewis was not the most progressive person in terms of gender roles.


DAVID: I really like the new Lewis Bible. As a life-long Lewis fan, I’ll enjoy seeing Lewis’ thoughts popping up along with my own daily Bible readings. But I did search through your new book for a daily reading plan. Lots of Bible readers have gone cover-to-cover through the Bible many times—or, many of us enjoy reading along with the Common Lectionary. Why didn’t you include a reading plan in the new Bible?

MARK: That’s a great idea. You’re right, we didn’t provide that in the book—but we will provide it, now that you’ve mentioned it. It’s a great idea to have the lectionary readings posted in our site. That’s easy to do.

MICKEY: That’s in keeping with our plans at HarperCollins to move as fast as we can into ebooks and enhanced ebooks. Right now, we’re working on enhanced ebooks that can fit in with calendarized apps for devices like the iPad. We’re working on a year with Thomas Merton, a year with C.S. Lewis and some others. Eventually, you’ll be able to get these as something like an e-version of the page-a-day calendar.

DAVID: That’s terrific and I think it’ll be very popular—helping people read good things day by day, finding them easily right there in the palms of their hands. I know that C.S. Lewis is very popular with kids. I read Narnia to my own kids, when they were young. But his books really are perfect to move into the latest of reading technology. Narnia appeals across a huge age range.

MARK: I agree. A series like “Lord of the Rings” is very complicated and it’s more difficult for children. But Narnia works for all ages.

MICKEY: That’s where George Macdonald is a good example. Both Lewis and Tolkien were captivated by that kind of George Macdonald level of fairy tale that transcends age, so that it’s simple for children and engaging for adults, too. Children are the main characters of these stories, but the stories never feel juvenile. That’s another reason Lewis’ popularity remains so strong after so many years: He never talked down to anyone. We all can enter his world, whatever our age.

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