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Paul McCusker. C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity: The Crisis That Created a Classic. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2014. Pp. ix + 228. $14.99. ISBN 9781 -62405-322-1. Paul McCusker’s book, C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity, functions as a companion to the excellent Focus on the Family Radio Theatre production, C. S. Lewis at War. The book provides the wider context for Lewis’s classic, Mere Christianity. The context that McCusker explores is that of Lewis’s life and the original setting for Mere Christianity as BBC radio talks during the Second World War. The book contains 12 chapters delving into such topics as: Lewis’s service in the First World War, his home life at The Kilns, the effect of the Blitz on Londoners and beyond, as well as summarizing Lewis’s life and career before, during, and after his famous BBC talks. While the book is well researched and documented, McCusker takes a popular approach to his subject accessible to the general reader, high school age and older. McCusker builds upon earlier works such as Walter Hooper’s C. S. Lewis: A Companion & Guide (1996) and Justin Phillips’s C. S. Lewis at the BBC: Messages of Hope in the Darkness of War (2002). The strengths of this book are that it provides a thumbnail sketch of Lewis’s life, a summary of Mere Christianity, a helpful backdrop of conditions in the United Kingdom during World War II, as well as insight into the inner workings of the BBC during that same war, all in one relatively slim paperback volume. McCusker has clearly done his homework. The bibliography lists at least 14 primary sources, 16 secondary sources on Lewis and the Inklings, and 22 works about the BBC and the world of C. S. Lewis. Furthermore, McCusker’s reading of these primary and secondary sources on Lewis, the BBC, and World War II Britain are clearly reflected in the body of this work. I have been reading Lewis, as well as secondary sources about his life and work, for the better part of 40 years, yet I learned some new things from this book. I especially liked the boxed and shaded inserts on many of its pages. These text boxes illuminate the lives of some of the characters in this story, ranging from Neville Chamberlain to Dorothy Sayers, as well as providing helpful background information on everything from air-raid shelters to German bombers. There’s even a recipe for Siege Cake for those who want to know what dessert tasted like in World War II England. Despite the book’s many strengths, there are a number of glaring weaknesses as well. First, there are quite a number of factual errors. McCusker refers to Lewis’s role as an Oxford tutor as that of a ‘‘teaching assistant’’ (9). I find this designation rather misleading. The role of a tutor at Oxford is hardly comparable to that of a teaching assistant in an American university. It would be much better to define the unique nature of the Oxford tutor rather than make an inaccurate comparison. I also find the author’s reference to Warren Lewis’s conversion to Christianity to be rather off the mark (10). C. S. Lewis and his brother both were raised in the Church of Ireland. Lewis makes plain in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955), that he was a practicing Christian as a boy. What happened to both Clive and Warren in mid-life is much better characterized by saying that they returned to the Christian 502 Christianity & Literature 64(4) faith of their childhood years. Another minor inaccuracy has to do with The Kilns, Lewis’s home for over 30 years. McCusker mentions that ‘‘Two rooms were later added—a workroom for Jack and another for Warnie’’ (19). In fact, the rooms that were added to the Kilns were both for Warren: a study and a bedroom. While this is a minor point, when I see little errors like this on a subject where I know the correct answer, it makes me wonder where the author has gone astray on subjects I know nothing about. A second...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 502-504
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
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