During the early 1960s, the Christian Century published a series of answers by prominent authors to the question, “What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?” The 6 June 1962, issue featured C. S. Lewis. Here are the ten books in his list:
1. Phantastes by George MacDonald
2. The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton
3. The Aeneid by Virgil
4. The Temple by George Herbert
5. The Prelude by William Wordsworth
6. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto
7. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
8. Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
9. Descent into Hell by Charles WIlliams
10. Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour
What strikes me is the mixture. Some have a particular engagement with secular philosophy, and here I particularly highlight Boethius’s sixth century Consolation, and his profound critical reception of Platonism. Others are especially Christian, like Chesterton’s Everlasting Man, which offers a Christian vision of all human history, and which affected Lewis profoundly in his atheist years; similarly with MacDonald’s Phatastes, a book that “baptized” Lewis’s teenage imagination. He read both before he became a Christian—one provided a rational vision, a supposition of how to make sense of history from Christian faith. But others are not in any way Christian, like The Aeneid, written a few decades before Christ and which Lewis loved so much he began a translation of this classic. This too moved and shaped him.
Since Lewis as a literary man foremost, they also indicate the three sides, and the three sets of crises, I will analyze in C. S. Lewis in Crisis: first those related to moving away from atheism, second, those that had a theological focus, and finally, those that expressed common human themes.