My article this week for the Imaginative Conservative wonders why the English neglect C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien and Chesterton.
It is as if they are embarrassed by them. Is this simply English snobbery at work–in which they could not possibly pay any attention to a writer who was so common as to write books that people actually want to read?
I think it is because Lewis and Tolkien were not only popular but Christian.
Off I went to study at Oxford filled with the love of England and English literature only to find that the English had little love of their own most popular exports. I expected Oxford to be full of the cult of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as Hannibal, Missouri brags about being the home of Mark Twain. It was not to be. There were no Narnia souvenir shops or Middle Earth-themed experiences.
Instead I found a remarkable diffidence and ignorance about English literature not only among hoi polloi but also among the highbrow. In Oxford it was as if Jack Lewis and Professor Tolkien had never existed. For me they should have been the city’s favorite sons. It turned out they were the prodigals. It seemed the snobbery they experienced during their lives, for being so common as to write books that people wanted to read, continued into the present day. Nobody talked about Tolkien or enthused about Lewis. There was a strange silence.
Happily my friend Joseph Pearce is working hard to keep these most excellent English writers in the public eye.
Joseph Pearce has worked non-stop to revive and renew interest in modern English Catholic writers. Two of his books in particular weave together the strands that connect seemingly disparate writers.
Literary Converts begins with Oscar Wilde and wanders onward to discuss Belloc, Maurice Baring, and Chesterton, the Bensons, Ronnie Knox, Eliot, Waugh, Lewis, Tolkien, the poets Roy Campbell, Alfred Noyes, Edith Sitwell, and Siegfried Sassoon, ending with Schumacher, Muggeridge, and Graham Greene. Along the way Mr. Pearce includes the novelist Muriel Spark, the actor Alec Guinness, and other minor figures. Mr. Pearce’s chronicle of the English literary scene of the twentieth century is a masterful work which weaves together not only the Christian writers, but the brilliant non believers who engaged them in debate. The whole book is a sharply-observed and thoroughly-researched overview of English letters revealing the importance of Christianity and conversion not only to those who came to believe, but also to those who remained outside the fold.
Mr. Pearce’s more recent book, Catholic Literary Giants is a collection of essays published in various periodicals over the years. Subtitled A Field Guide to the Catholic Literary Landscape, it serves as a good companion to Literary Converts.
Joseph and I are leading a literary pilgrimage to England in June. We’ll be visiting the sites of the English writers and martyrs. Mass will be celebrated in the great churches and there is the chance to share with us as we enjoy literally and historic England.
If you would like more information on this unique opportunity drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you an e-brochure.