Interview by Zach Kincaid
Robert Velarde is author of Conversations with C.S. Lewis (IVP, 2008), a creative book that uses an imaginary conversation with C.S. Lewis as its main premise. In so doing, Velarde enlivens episodes of Lewis's life by using much of what Lewis wrote about to fuel the conversation between Lewis and the main character Tom, an atheist. I recently spoke with Velarde about his book and why it provides a different glimpse at Lewis and his work.
Zach Kincaid: What has been the reaction of your book from other writers that write on C.S. Lewis?
Robert Velarde: Conversations with C.S. Lewis has received positive responses from Lewis scholars. Peter Kreeft compared it to The Great Divorce, It's A Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Carol. Will Vaus, author of Mere Theology and The Professor of Narnia, called it a "fascinating journey" and a helpful book to pass on to skeptics. David Clark, author of C.S. Lewis: A Guide to His Theology, said the book would benefit those new to Lewis as well as seasoned Lewis readers. Probably the kindest compliment the book has received is that I've managed to capture the voice of Lewis well.
ZK: In some ways, is this modeled after The Screwtape Letters?
RV:While working on the manuscript there was some overlap with work on my forthcoming book Inside The Screwtape Letters (Baker Books), so, yes, I think there is some Screwtapian influence. This is most obvious in chapter 10, "Devil in the Gray Town." The greater influence came from The Great Divorce, which is also written in the first person and also features a series of conversations. One reviewer likened Conversations with C.S. Lewis to The Divine Comedy. While I did not aspire to the literary majesty of Dante, I did want the book to portray a fantastic and engaging journey. It is a literal journey in that the main characters - C.S. Lewis and an atheist named Tom - travel from place to place, but it's also a figurative journey of faith and seeking truth. The literal journey allows the characters to visit places in Lewis's life such as his childhood home, the pub where Lewis and his friends the Inklings met, his rooms at Oxford, and so on, while the figurative journey is ideological.
ZK: What made you approach the topic of Lewis in this fashion? It seems that Lewis is fairly accessible in his work and a bit timeless already. Yes?
RV:That's a great question. Part of the answer has to do with my desire to write a fun and engaging book about someone I admire a great deal. As a result, I thought it would be enjoyable to write a book featuring C.S. Lewis as a main character and try to capture to some extent what he was like and how his ideas in key areas might play out in conversations with a contemporary skeptic. My book is a mixture of biography, fantasy, and pedagogy in the sense that I tried to illustrate positive examples relevant to evangelism and apologetics.
Another aspect regarding why I decided to write a fictional book featuring Lewis has to do with your comment about Lewis being "fairly accessible" and timeless in his writings. While I believe this is indeed true, an unfortunate reality of our times is that many people are not interested in reading non-fiction works and would prefer a story or novel format. I also believe that a general decline, at least in the West, of intellectualism has resulted in some of the works of Lewis no longer being as accessible to a broad audience as they once were. Consequently, Conversations with C.S. Lewis is in one sense intended to introduce readers to the broad spectrum of Lewis's ideas in a format that is engaging.
I also think that while there are a number of excellent resources defending Christianity, the vast majority of them are written in a typical non-fiction format. Frankly, even though some of them contain very good content, they can be boring and a chore to read. I thought a more creative approach would help draw in readers who might not otherwise be willing to learn about Lewis.
ZK: Were you pointed to Christianity through Lewis, much like your character is?
RV:Yes. I grew up nominally theistic, but ended up as something of a deist, later a skeptic, then a functional atheist. When I started to read Mere Christianity, I began to realize that there were individuals like Lewis who were Christian but also quite reasonable. This presented a dilemma for me: How could seemingly intelligent individuals also embrace Christianity? When I read a passage wherein Lewis writes about rejecting God because of the reality of an unjust universe, but then questioning how he had even got the idea of just and unjust, his reasoning influenced my thinking. As Lewis wrote, "A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line."
I should note that my journey of faith, like Tom's in my book, took time and followed a progression. While our spiritual journeys may be similar to those of others, we need to keep in mind that different people end up at the same place, as Christians, by means that are at times quite different. Lewis discovered this himself when he wrote The Pilgrim's Regress and only later realized that his journey to Christ did not necessarily correspond to everyone's experiences.
ZK: You have an appendix that sites where Lewis said the things you referenced. Are there things that you include that Lewis did not say? How did you choose?
RV: I tried my best to remain true to Lewis, while at the same time weaving his ideas into a series of conversations. To this end, I tried to draw conceptually from actual writings of Lewis. So, for instance, when Lewis and Tom are in the trenches of World War I discussing the problem of evil, my primary sources for the ideas discussed were writings of Lewis such as The Problem of Pain.
Are there places where my words stray from what Lewis actually held? I'd like to think not, but the interpretation of his ideas is another matter, as even dedicated Lewis scholars sometimes disagree on points. Overall, however, my goal was to represent Lewis and his ideas as accurately as possible. The last thing I wanted to do was use Lewis as a puppet and place words and ideas into his mouth that would not be true to his writings.
You ask, "How did you choose?" In reference to the topics I cover in the book - about twenty or so overall - I chose key ideas and based the conversations on specific books by Lewis such as The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. As a result, the book covers ideas such as the argument from longing, the existence of God, friendship, love, marriage, grief, evil, reason, education, and more.
Robert Velarde is an author, editor, and philosopher. His books include Conversations with C.S. Lewis (InterVarsity Press, 2008), The Heart of Narnia (NavPress, 2008), and Inside The Screwtape Letters (Baker Books, forthcoming). Robert is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Society of Christian Philosophers, and the International Society of Christian Apologetics. A classically trained pianist and composer, Robert has written music for flute and piano inspired by scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia. He studied philosophy of religion at Denver Seminary and is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Southern Evangelical Seminary. His blog, "A Reasonable Imagination," is at robertvelarde.blogspot.com.