Friday, January 6, 2017

Sales of C. S. Lewis (+BBC CSL piece)

So,  when posting about best-selling genre authors a few days ago, I shd have noted that JRRT's friend C. S. Lewis also made the top ten, coming in at #6 with estimated sales of 120,000,000 -- which, while about a third of Tolkien's estimated sales, still staggered me. I wdn't have thought the Chronicles of Narnia sold anything like that number. Perhaps those paperback editions of MERE CHRISTIANITY, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, et al, on the Xian shelves of the religious section in stores like Barnes & Noble account for a large portion of that amount. It's certainly not OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET (Lewis is not that widely read among science fiction fans) or, say, THE DISCARDED IMAGE (probably my favorite of Lewis's books, and certainly the one I learned the most from).

Also, I learned a few days ago (thanks to Andrew F. for the link) that the BBC's Radio Four has a half-hour show devoted to CSL up on their website. Part of their Great Lives series, it discusses the life and legacy of Lewis, with historian Suzannah Lipscomb and chaplain Malcolm Guite praising Lewis while host Matthew Parris presents a slightly more skeptical perspective. Libscomb appreciates that Lewis "approaches the past on its own terms" (a point of view CSL considered a necessary corrective to what his friend Barfield called 'chronological snobbery'). Somewhat to my surprise they cover his liaison with Janie Moore straightforwardly. They also get points in my book for including a snippet of Lewis's own voice along with archival bits by four people who knew him (only the fourth of whom, Humphrey Carpenter, is identified*). Carpenter makes the interesting point that CSL refused to let people talk to him about their private lives for the v. good reason that he might then feel pressure to respond in kind, and (as his more recent biographer McGrath has made abundantly clear) he had excellent reasons for not wanting folks to know about his private life. More importantly, the host, Parris, puts his finger on something that I think doesn't get enough attention in discussions of Lewis's work. Parris said that when reading Lewis he often got the feeling that Lewis wrote with ulterior motives. I've always felt that way myself, and it's seriously gotten in the way of my enjoying such works as A GRIEF OBSERVED and TILL WE HAVE FACES, spoiling a good deal of CSL's work for me.

So, a positive but not haliographical look at CSL's life, well worth checking out.
 Thanks again to Andrew F's sharing the link.

--John R.

*the third is named "Peter", but I have no idea which of the no doubt many Peters CSL knew in his lifetime this might be, nor do I recognize either of the first two voices. At any rate, it was good to hear Carpenter's voice again; his relatively early death was a great loss.

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