The following might help lovers of literature prepare for the trip, though no reading is required, no tests will be given, and we will have as much discussion as we want or do not want. Read as much as you want or don’t want to read. The list begins with “The Inklings” centered around Lewis and Tolkien, and then continues in no particular order. We will meet them a long the way and they help give some perspective and fill out our sense of specifically Christian writings in England. Of course, I have left off many (where is John Milton?). But we have a start.
For the Inklings as a group see Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings (1979) and Philip and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings (2016).
The Christian History Institute has produced editions of Christian History magazine on some of the individual writers: On the Inklings #113, On C S Lewis #88, On JRR Tolkien #78 as well as on George McDonald #86 and G. K. Chesterton #75
C.S. Lewis: reading any of these titles, or watching movies made from them will open windows in your imagination for the sites we will visit:
Any or the Narnia stories, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and any of the others.
The science fiction trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength
Two other novels: The Great Divorce, and Till We Have Faces
Some of his theology and apologetics: Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, The Screwtape Letters
Autobiographical pieces: Surprised by Joy, A Grief Observed
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Rings, and the movies too. Tolkien has deep learning and imagination behind everything he does. You can find his explanation of the purpose and importance of Fairy Stories or Fantasy in his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” published in several volumes, in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, and The Tolkien Reader to mention two. You can find much about Tolkien at the JRR Tolkien Estate website. The Tolkien Society also has many resources and interesting information—Tolkien himself was the first president.
Owen Barfield: Barfield is more difficult to grasp, but very rewarding. One of his most direct explanations of his unique outlook is the set of three essays in History, Guilt, and Habit. More complex but maybe richer is Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry.
Charles Williams: two novels offer an introduction into Williams, Many Dimensions, and Descent into Hell. I would add his very striking history of the church, The Descent of the Dove. All seven novels are worth reading, and re-reading. He also writes theology, criticism and analysis of Dante and Milton, and of modern poetry, and his own cycle of Arthurian poems.
Dorothy Sayers: Sayers was a kind of unofficial Inkling. Charles Williams influenced her to read and translate Dante’s Divine Comedy. Her Lord Peter Whimsey detective stories are widely available and have been adapted for television. Some of her theological essays are in The Mind of the Maker, and Creed or Chaos? And she is at her best in Are Women Human? C. S. Lewis used her radio dramas on the life of Christ, The Man Born to be King for his Lenten meditations.
G. K. Chesterton: Chesterton’s writings make you want more. For his non-fiction try Orthodoxy, and The Everlasting Man. For fiction, you might try The Man Who Was Thursday, and The Napoleon of Notting Hill. His Father Brown detective stories are also loved by many, as are the TV series based on them. Check these out on PBS.
Jane Austen. The novel where her faith and spirituality are most evident is Mansfield Park. Paula Hollingsworth’s The Spirituality of Jane Austen (2017) is a good guide to Austen’s understanding of Christian faith and virtue, and where we see it in her writings. C. S. Lewis has an interesting essay on Austin’s religious sense, “A Note on Jane Austen,” in Selected Literary Essays. Watch any of the many movie versions of her works.
T. S. Eliot: Eliot is the great Christian poet of the 20th century, but he takes work and rewards it. For his religious verse, I would begin with “Little Gidding” the last of The Four Quartets, and Ash Wednesday, and then move on to “Choruses on The Rock.” He is also the great critic of the early 20th century, and his essays reward careful reading. The essays on Christianity and literature in his Selected Essays (section VI), especially “Religion and Literature,” and “Lancelot Andrewes” help to see how he approaches the relationship between Christian thought and faith, and literature. You can find some of his poems, though not the ones mentioned here, at The Poetry Foundation–T. S. Eliot.
John Donne: In his younger years wrote some of the greatest love poetry in the English language. Later he entered the priesthood and became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. His wrote both religious prose—sermons and meditations—and poetry. You can find his Holy Sonnets at The Poetry Foundation–John Donne. His famous Meditation (number XVII) where the phrase “No man is an island, entire of itself” is found, is at The Literature Network along with his other meditations and poetry.
George Herbert: is one of the great Christian poets of the seventeenth century. Not as passionate as Donne, whom he followed, but is deeply learned, introspective, and very practical theologically. He can bring theological themes into dramatic poetry in ways that few can approach. You can find his poetry at The Poetry Foundation– (scroll down for the poems). Some of his most loved are “The Collar,” “The Pulley,” “Love (III).” He was a Cambridge University orator, and a pastor in a small rural church. His A Priest to the Temple, or A Countrey Parson, His Character and Rule of Holy Life, is a complement to Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor noted below.
Richard Baxter: Baxter wrote so much is difficult to know where to start, The Saints Everlasting Rest is a good place. Baxter is the source of Lewis’s notion of “mere Christianity.” His The Reformed Pastor is a classic on the role of the pastor and on the nurture of families. Most of his works can be found online.
John Bunyan: The Pilgrims Progress, and his autobiography Grace Abounding are rewarding and easy to read. Bunyan was a relatively uneducated layman, turned pastor and writer. He has a seemingly natural gift enjoyed by those who agreed with his “Puritan” form of Christianity and those who did not.
Samuel Johnson: Johnson lived at Gough Square, just off Fleet Street in London, when he wrote his famous dictionary. His most widely ready work is probably his The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, a brief and fast-paced story. His religious and moral writings were a favorite of Austen, and of Lewis. See his brief poem “On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet,” (available at The Poetry Foundation–S Johnson) for a sample of his writing, and his praise of virtue. Read an essay or two from his collections The Rambler or Idler. These are available online at Johnsonessays.com, and several other places.
John Henry Newman: Newman is the most famous figure in the Oxford Movement, the high church reform of England in the nineteenth century. His autobiography is well worth reading, even if the title doesn’t seem too inviting, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (it’s in English).
Isaac Walton: Walton was the other side of the church divide from Bunyan and Baxter in the late seventeenth century, yet is it possible to enjoy all of them. His The Compleat Angler and his Lives of John Donne, George Herbert and Richard Hooker are classics of biography and spirituality.
Steve Varvis, January 2018