This week I am going to focus a bit on Lewis’ writing trajectory from epic prose to theology. The Second World War was a critical point in time in his life, and in many ways kick started his career as the author we now know him as.
Three years after Spirits in Bondage, Lewis tried his hand at publishing again, but this time sticking strictly within the confines of academic work. The Allegory of Love confirmed Lewis’ insight as an intellectual figure, as well as earned him plenty of critical acclaim. One critic, G.L Brooks, stated that The Allegory was “undoubtedly one of the best books on mediaeval literature ever published in this country, and every page revealed in the author an unusual degree of scholarship and critical insight.”It seemed assured that Lewis’ destiny lay strictly in academic publishing. However, it was also around this time that Lewis began to distinguish himself from his peers with his unique literary voice. Unlike most of his colleagues, Lewis demonstrated a willingness to oppose the popular trends taking root in the academy during the interwar years. In his 1936 observations of the Oxford Don’s work, William Empson noted an adherence to traditionalism in Lewis’ critical evaluation and observed his general resistance to the trends of progressivism. While The Allegory of Love proved that Lewis possessed a prodigious literary skill set, it also suggested that he might be capable of producing a work that would set him aside from the other scholars and critics of the mid-twentieth century. Though Lewis had failed in the category of prose fiction, he was astoundingly successful with his academic publications. The Allegory of Love had at least proven one thing: given the right circumstances, Lewis was capable of producing a masterpiece.
The 1940 publication of The Problem of Pain marked a turning point in Lewis’ career as it signalled a change in his approach to bridging the gap between his academic work and the common market. England’s 1939 declaration of war against Germany had plunged the continent back into another conflict, and people were struggling to find meaning in the face of even more senseless slaughter. Lewis was commissioned to write a theological response to the war. He was given the mandate that his work address the spiritual and moral needs of the average layman. Accepting the challenge, Lewis abandoned the stuffy liturgical approach to theological writing and instead opted for a blend of casual vernacular mixed with highly imaginative illustrations to convey his points. Lewis chose to engage his audience by embracing a more progressive and informal style of writing while also adapting it to preserve his conservative viewpoints. What Lewis could not have anticipated, however, was the impact that The Problem of Pain would have on his life.