Among the surfeit of reviews of Beyond the Shadowlands, perhaps it would be useful to take a step back and evaluate the writer, C.S. Lewis, and his work.
He was born in 1898 in Belfast, and lost his mother at nine. She created a sense of wonder in him, and a love for books. As an academic, he was a renowned professor of medieval and renaissance literature, arguing against an English Renaissance. He was given to impressionism, in a literary sense, believing that a reader experiences a text through his or her senses.
He was close friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, and they formed a literary society, the Inklings, along with other Oxfordians. Tolkien led him back to Christianity from agnosticism/atheism in 1931, using ancient myth. Both recognized the archetypes of the dying and reborn god in Christianity as similes, more than truth, and reinterpreted these images in their master-works, the Lord Of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia.
The myth-making engendered in their works made islands of creative magnificence in the desolate twentieth century, a time of strife and war, a world under the Shadow, as it were. CS Lewis volunteered in the Great War, and was severely wounded. Tolkien’s perspectives of Boer Africa’s cruelties, and their shared horror at the Second World War all strongly affected their vision of this world as a shadow of the real, promised land—Narnia for Lewis and the lands of the West for Tolkien. Their own implicit racism, sexism, and Catholic-Anglican conflicts added much more creative fuel to their fires.
Apart from Narnia, and his scholarly works, CS Lewis’s best work was probably the Screwtape Letters, in my opinion, an exchange of letters between an elderly demon and his nephew, Wormwood, on the damnation of a specific human, an allegory of the Second World War.
Tolkien critiqued the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe so much so that Lewis almost never finished the book. The derivative nature of these books, and their childlike allegories were surpassed by Lewis’ Space Trilogy, set on Venus and Mars. His final book, Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, was from the perspective of Psyche’s sister, drawn from Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. More the memoirs of an old and bitter woman, the book was perhaps based on his winter romance with Joy Gresham, and her lingering death from bone cancer.
This experience was caringly annotated by him in the third of his autobiographies, A Grief Observed. His death was largely overshadowed by the demise, on the same day, of John F. Kennedy.
His life and works have engendered much admiration and criticism. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is intended as an antithesis to the Narnia books. A series of posthumous books were of questionable authenticity.
As the Ruin Falls
All this flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love–a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.
For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.