Although they may admire his intelligence, enmusiasm, and his skills as a scholar and critic of Medieval and Renaissance literature, many readers of twentieth century fiction have concluded—understandably—that C. S. Lewis was a mediocre novelist, a maker of wooden characters and eye-glazing plots. C. N. Manlove is not among them, as his C. S. Lewis: His Literary Achievement makes clear. Manlove clearly admires the whole of Lewis' written work and sets out to reveal that "there is much more complexity" in Lewis' fiction than Lewis himself allowed; that—as increasing numbers of critics have begun to suggest—such novels as Perelandra and Till We Have Faces are in fact "full of complex patterns, symbols and stylistic effects."
Manlove offers close, chronological readings of Lewis' book-length fictions, including the "Narnia" sequence intended for children. He traces, among other things, "the theme of lost and found identity" in the Narnia books and "the motif of 'otherness'" in Perelandra and elsewhere. He reveals—running through all of Lewis' fiction—the "strange current" of what Lewis called "'Joy,' a feeling of intense desire, or Sehnsucht, which has no identifiable object save Heaven." He calls attention to "the dialect of opposites" that is "part of the fabric of Lewis' work" to the careful images and rhythms that show up in Lewis' prose.
Manlove is clearly sympathetic to Lewis' Christian understanding of the meaning of humanity and the nature of God. He is also a perceptive reader aware that much criticism of Lewis' work amounts to little more than "uncritical adulation"—the sort ofthing Lewis himself would deplore. Thus, despite his generous appraisal of Lewis' achievement as a novelist, Manlove does point to several places [End Page 701] where Lewis misses the mark, as in The Pilgrim's Regress (1933). Here, in a scene showing young political activists, we find grousing about girls with "short hair and flat buttocks so that they looked like boys" and boys with "slender waists and big hips so that they looked like girls—except for a few of them who had long hair and beards." "What," Manlove wonders, "are Lewis' many 'unfortunately' flat-chested short-haired female readers going to make of this indictment of them? . . . And what of the men of long hair and beards?" "Lewis," he admits, is airing "a pet hate," and resorting to stereotype, "simply trotting out a blimp's hatreds."