C.S. Lewis scholar to speak at Carnegie

by Clay Neely

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Colin Duriez, who has written about C.S. Lewis, Harry Potter and Jesus Christ, will speak in Newnan on Tuesday. 'Newnan sounds like a very interesting town,' he says.

The Newnan Carnegie Library Foundation will be hosting the second installment of the Edgar B. Hollis Distinguished Speaker Series honoring C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, which will feature well-known C.S. Lewis scholar Colin Duriez. Duriez, a scholar from England, will be presenting 'C.S. Lewis for the Ages,' a retrospective on the life and works of the beloved author and Christian apologist Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Newnan Carnegie Library. 

After his graduation from secondary school in England, Duriez studied for two years at the University of Istanbul, Turkey.

'To live in a different culture made me see my home in a different way. I certainly grew up a lot in terms of looking at things freshly,' said Duriez.

'While I was there, I also made friends from America. This was the late 1960s and people were starting to get into Tolkien again. That's where I was introduced to the book 'The Christian World of C.S. Lewis' by Clyde S. Kilby, which was a pioneering study of C.S. Lewis.'

One of the literary world's most renowned pairings is the friendship between C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien. Both were members of a circle of literary friends known at the 'Inklings' at Oxford University.

While there wasn't an instant connection with the two authors, Lewis and Tolkien slowly grew together through what Lewis described as the 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one' factor after discovering how many common things they shared while growing up and in terms of literature.

Understanding that Lewis had grown disenchanted by Christianity during his teenage years, Tolkien knew that Lewis still enjoyed similar stories, legends, Norse mythology and fairy tales.

According to Duriez, 'The crucial conversation for C.S. Lewis was the way that there were elements of the gospel accounts that shared similarities with the same myths he enjoyed.'

Tolkien 'argued of the 'good catastrophe,' the sudden happy ending, that existed in the gospel accounts. While Lewis relished the same elements which occurred in the old stories, he was frozen when responding to the same imaginative elements in the gospel,' Duriez said.

'Not only did the gospels have the elements of good stories but the events had a basis in actual history,' he said.

C.S. Lewis described it as a perfect marriage between myth and fact that dwelled within the gospel narrative and it was only a few days later, following some very intense discussions with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, that he became a Christian again.

The story is famously known as the 'Sidecar Conversion' - where Lewis converted to Christianity while riding to the zoo in the sidecar of a motorcycle driven by his brother.

'When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did,' C.S. Lewis wrote.

Duriez has also authored 'The Field Guide to Harry Potter,' where he explores not only the spirituality of Harry Potter but also the question of how author J.K. Rowling's faith is reflected in the stories, what she believes about witchcraft and how the stories fit with Christian tradition.

Does J.K. Rowling exhibit any similarities to C.S. Lewis in her writing and storytelling?

'I would agree that there are elements in the Harry Potter books that show an affinity for Lewis. Self-sacrifice is very central to her plots in the seven stories,' he said. 'The consistency of being beautifully planned and worked out.'

What prompted the idea for the book? 'I saw children reading the Harry Potter series insatiably' he said. 'I knew there must be something compelling that would prompt so much discussion and encourage reading. As soon as I read the first book, I was hooked,' he said.

'Great storytellers cast their spell; the word spell even dating back to Middle English term for 'tale.' As readers we are enraptured by them,' Duriez said.

Duriez has also published his own historical novel, 'AD 33,' which combines elements of both the gospel and ancient history.

The idea for the novel dated back to his high school days where Duriez was in a religious studies class and he attempted to put the four gospels into one. This work never came to fruition but years later he began work on the project again.

'Years later, I realized the accounts in the four gospels sitting very well with historical accounts of the same period,' he said.

' Un iquely, i n gospel accounts, you have accounts of what was going on during particular day. For example so you can look at the year of Christ's death and you know quite a bit about what happened then. It also dealt with ordinary people's lives as opposed to the 'history' at the time, which is mainly dealing with great and the bad and sometimes the good,' Duriez said.

'So I thought it would be nice to locate the gospels within the first century world. I started off wanting to do it in connection with the Roman empire.'

Duriez contacted a history book publisher and the project was green lighted. However, they requested that he include as much of the world as possible in his research.

'By looking at all parts of the world during this period of time, it was one of the most interesting pieces of research that I've ever done. I was going into new territory and it was like visiting another country, seeing everything in a fresh way,' he said.

Asked if there is anything 'lowbrow' that he enjoys, Duriez responded with a laugh.

'Oh, absolutely,' Duriez said. 'One of the things I really enjoy about C.S. Lewis was that fact that he wasn't a snob when it came to reading things. He loved John Buchan's books, like 'Greenmantle' and '39 Steps.'' Duriez has just recently started to read the James Bond stories on the advice from his stepson, and also enjoys science fiction, citing Brian Aldiss as a particular favorite.

'Some people may regard science fiction as almost leaning toward pulp fiction, but I actually regard it with great esteem. I'm always glad to read any author as long as they tell a good story,' he said.

'C.S. wrote a book called 'An Experiment in Criticism' that is based on the conviction that literature exists for the joy of the reader and that books should be judged by the kind of reading they invite,' Duriez said.

'He puts emphasis on the reader and suggests if there is something in what a person is writing, you'll want to reread it. There must something in there that is worth looking at.'

In the end, it would almost appear the secret to good literature is the ability to create a story that is worth reading over and over.

In regards to his upcoming appearance, he was 'absolutely thrilled' to be invited to Newnan to give the lecture.

'I'm glad it's not in some vast metropolis, because Newnan sounds like a very interesting town. I'm looking forward to seeing the library and meeting new people.'



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