C. S. Lewis’s writings loom large in the church today, whether because of the massive influence of The Chronicles of Narnia or his spiritual works like Mere Christianity. Jerry Root brings attention to one of his lesser-known works Dymer, a narrative poem that was written before Lewis converted to Christianity. In Splendour in the Dark, Root argues that Dymer shows Lewis’s development of spiritual growth, intellectual prowess, and writing skill in ways that reverberate through his later works.
The book begins with an annotated edition of the narrative poem, Dymer, itself (annotations from David C. Downing). This narrative poem encompasses over 100 pages of the book and is a valuable resource. The annotations from Downing consistently provide insights and points of interest for readers. The text itself is an interesting narrative though, as Downing and Root each note, it has its faults. What it does show, however, is a remarkable elasticity of thought and willingness to explore deep issues at work in Lewis’s earlier life.
Root’s chapters are composed of 3 lectures with responses about Dymer. Root highlights the importance of the narrative poem in Lewis’s life, as he had it come upon him all at once, but waited for some time before publishing it 11 years later (133). Lewis’s fascination with writing and classics included the belief that one should use “literary form to match what it was he [Lewis] wanted to say” (138). One can see this throughout his works. Lewis saw the importance of form to function and message.
The concept of mutability and change is present in Dymer as well, and Root argues that this theme is in Lewis’s notion that “reality is iconoclastic” (143ff, see also 230). The necessity of change means that indoctrination will ultimately fail (145), and that those structures humans attempt to make to endure will fall. Lewis’s fascination with myth looms large throughout the poem, and certainly in his later works (173ff). Root continues to draw from Dymer to show Lewis’s influences on his later works, though he doesn’t explicitly make those connections at times. Readers will need some familiarity and appreciation for Lewis’s works to get the most out of this book.
Each chapter has a response from another scholar in a related field. These responses are largely affirmations of what was in the lecture they append.
Fans of C. S. Lewis should consider Splendour in the Dark a must-read. It brings attention to one of his lesser-known works while also providing thoughtful analysis and application to everyday life for Christians. Recommended.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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