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Reviewed by:
Michael H. Macdonald and Andrew A. Tadie, eds. G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy. Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1989. 319 pp. pb. $18.95.

This volume, a collection of essays originally presented in 1987 at a conference on G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis cosponsored by Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University (and supported financially by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute), suffers from the ills endemic to all such collections and from other problems inherent in the subjects themselves. First, inevitably such gatherings of essays lack cohesiveness and vary in intention and in quality. Ranging from personal reminiscences ("Chesterton, the Wards, the Sheeds, and the Catholic Revival" by Richard L. Purtill) to the informative ("G. K. Chesterton and Max Beerbohm" by William Blissett) to the scholarly and argumentative ("The Chesterbelloc and [End Page 280] Modern Sociopolitical Criticism" by Jay P. Corrin), the contributions represent the wide range of reaction and commentary Chesterton and Lewis continue to stimulate. Thus, although the editors have managed to provide a semblance of order (arranging the essays under four different headings), the real effect of the volume is to provide something for nearly everyone, both aficionado and scholar, who has read a line of either Chesterton or Lewis.

The tone of the collection is set by the opening contribution, Christopher Derrick's "Some Personal Angles on Chesterton and Lewis." The fact is that, in spite of the considerable amounts of time and energy which have been expended on these two men, their popularity is problematic. In their homeland, England, their reputation pales in comparison to the adulation showered on them by American fans. (Idolatry is a temptation even for the rigid American fundamentalist.) Moreover, as Thomas Howard points out in the most gracefully written essay in the book, "Looking Backward: C. S. Lewis's Literary Achievement at Forty Years' Perspective," the verdict on their literary standing is still out (and should be). Still the unspoken (unwritten?) text of this collection suggests a deep uneasiness among those writing that Lewis and Chesterton may yet sink in the pantheon of Christian demi-gods. It is curious that among seventeen essayists only two or at most three attempt to provide anything like a literary assessment or evaluation or understanding of the texts. Of religion and apologetics and even evangelism, much is said, but very little attention is directed to either "old-fashioned" literary questions or to poststructuralist issues. Consideration of Chesterton and Lewis as fiction writers does not occupy much of the attention of the contributors to this volume.

Perhaps the most provocative essays probe connections between one of the men and a nonliterary discipline. In "The Chesterbelloc and Modern Sociopolitical Criticism," Jay P. Corrin argues that "Chesterbelloc" (a term coined by G. B. Shaw to describe the "unique literary and political partnership" of Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc) has strong intellectual and practical ties with such contemporary thinkers as Jacques Ellul and Ivan Illich. The similarities both in the descriptions of modern ills and in suggestions for solutions lend a prophetic note to the Distributist movement which most commentators assume died with Chesterton and Belloc. "The Sweet Grace of Reason: The Apologetics of G. K. Chesterton" by Kent R. Hill and "C. S. Lewis' Argument for Desire" by Peter J. Kreeft subject the faith expressions of these thinkers to the close scrutiny of the more philosophical eye and in the process convince the less-convinced reader that Chesterton and Lewis still deserve to be read closely. [End Page 281]

James E. Barcus
Baylor University


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