Note: This review was originally published in
SEVEN: An Anglo-American Review 29 (2013): 112-13.
Will Vaus, Speaking of Jack: A C. S. Lewis Discussion Guide. (Hamden, CT: Winged Lion Press, 2011), $14.95 (278 pp., paperback).
Speaking of Jack is that rare phenomenon, a book about C. S. Lewis that is actually useful. Avid readers of Lewis are familiar with what they find all too often: dull rehashing, in the inferior paraphrase of the author, of things Lewis said better and which would more profitably have been read in Lewis himself; endless recycling of the facts one already knows. But this book is different. Its intended audience, people leading discussion groups or teaching classes on Lewis, will find it quite handy, and general students of Lewis will find that it packages some of the information available elsewhere in useful ways.
Speaking of Jack goes through every Lewis book, from Boxen to posthumous collections of essays like God in the Dock, in chronological order. For each book Vaus gives an introduction to its place in Lewis’s life and in the Lewis canon, followed by from ten to twenty suggested discussion questions. This material is prefaced by a detailed biographical timeline into which the books can be fit, and followed by the same treatment given to a couple of key books about Lewis (Sayers’ Jack and Gresham’s Lenten Lands), a suggested outline for a course on Lewis, complete with suggested readings and discussion questions, suggestions for planning a Lewis tour of Ireland and England, and a selected bibliography.
The introductions are informative and succinct and laced with footnotes for those who want additional information. It is rather impressive how much Vaus manages to say in few words. The discussion questions will naturally vary in their suggestiveness and utility for different readers. In each section I found some at least that I was eager to try out on my own students. For example, we get this on The Last Battle: “In the penultimate chapter Digory says, ‘It’s all in Plato.’ What is in Plato? Compare and contrast the biblical and Platonic worldviews. Which do you think Jack is closer to representing in this book?” (166). Students will have to do some research as well as some critical thinking to answer this question; indeed, the leader or teacher might be forced to do some brushing up in preparation for the discussion. Most importantly, it drives us deeper into the heart of Lewis’s thinking.
Will Vaus is not a professional academic, but a minister, speaker, and leader of discussion groups on Lewis. His standards of scholarship are as sound as any academic’s, though (he is also the author of other books on Lewis, such as Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis, IVP), and his practical experience in working with discussion groups combines with his scholarship to give us a unique contribution that will serve its readers well. Let the speaking of Jack this book will facilitate begin.
DONALD T. WILLIAMS
To order Dr. Williams’ books, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.