C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:53 AM

Most of you know of my great admiration for C. S. Lewis. His writing style has always been, for me, a goal — however hopeless — that I should like to someday reach in my own prose. He also was an academic, a noted literary critic and a master at explaining theology (and, to a lesser extent, philosophy). As a theologian, he also embodied many of the principles of neo-orthodoxy, though I have found little on his direct knowledge and interest in Barth, Brunner and so on.

In short, Lewis is sort of the archetype that I would like to aspire to in most things. Don't get me wrong, he wasn't perfect and I don't “idolize” him, I simply recognize him as a man who did essentially the things I would like to do and did them very well. The combination literary critic-theology writer isn't exactly a common occupation, you know?

T. S. Eliot, as I've come to appreciate him over the last few years, is interesting to me for similar reasons. After a bout in Eastern religion, he ended up an Anglican, like Lewis. He was a literary giant (I'd suggest quite possibly the literary giant of the twentieth century) in both poetry and criticism and he was also well versed in philosophy and theology.

Given that they both worked in the field of literature at Oxford or Cambridge during the same time span, I wondered how they got along, for surely they knew each other. I never actually knew anything in relation to that, however, until I ran into this excellent transcript of a lecture on the subjection. If you read it, make sure to read it all the way through for the interesting twist toward the end.


(It is also interesting I keep bringing up Eliot here. He has been popping up in a lot of things I've been working on lately, not all of them even related.)

Re: C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot
This is incredibly fascinating. As a Christian, CS Lewis is bandied about, so a familiarity is gained, even if only by osmosis. However, as an engineer, Eliot is unfamiliar, about the farthest us engineers get is Melville, Twain and Hemingway. Macro-enginered literature. Literature for engineers who span continents with steel, regions with copper, and states with water. But poetry - the micro-engineered literature - in an age of moon landigs, and a computer (or five) on every desk (and in every pocket)- is culturally absent. Although the focus is on Lewis and Eliot, I have always seen a dynamic between Lewis and Schaeffer. Lewis with his well-defined Mere Christianity (but a possibility of cheap grace) versus Schaeffer's complex, fuzzy (but rewarding and beautiful) community. Functional, but limited marriages versus a growing, inter-communitized marriage. I could do a lot of late night talk sessions (along with possibly a few beers) with you and Ed over these literary giants.
Posted by Mike O - Nov 16, 2006 | 2:36 PM

Re: C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot
I can agree Eliot's work is significant. While I also share Lewis's dislike for it, my reasons are my own. By the same token, I found Lewis at times stuffy. However, his style of clarity and precision, the depth of thought behind it, are by far more edifying to the average Christian. Eliot's work served as much to steer people away from the full commitment of faith because he offered precious little hope.
Posted by Ed Hurst - Nov 17, 2006 | 2:36 PM

Re: C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot
Mike: Yes, I'm sure we'd have great discussions. One of these days! Eliot isn't known nearly well enough, a victim of the twentieth century inclination to leave behind poetry. It is a shame that Melville, Twain and Hemmingway are the best known, although that does generally seem to be the case. From a literary engineering standpoint, Shakespeare, Keats or a dozen others accomplished greater feats. I like Twain, but I've never been a fan of Melville. Eliot is notable for his push to revive the classic traditions, despite his unorthodox style; I appreciate how Eliot can maintain poetic force, imagery, musicality and meter while wandering into free verse. Few poets have enough discipline to leave behind the rigid poetic structures and still write something so poetic. Ed: I am told that Eliot's _Four Quartets_, which I've not read, but hope to read sometime soon, is much more hopeful. This is probably where Schaeffer gets his sense that the "early Eliot" is problematic. Keep in mind that Eliot's "Prufrock" and _the Waste Land_ were written before his conversion. Nevertheless, I think in a sense, I don't think _the Waste Land_ is without hope either, and "Prufrock" even has its redeeming sense, though far less of it. I'll have to get back to you, but my speculation might be that the first two major poems of Eliot would serve as a "conviction" stage and the latter as a "redemption" stage.
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Nov 18, 2006 | 5:15 PM

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