In June 1962, The Christian Century sent C. S. Lewis a questionnaire asking him what books most influenced his “vocational attitude” and philosophy of life. Lewis politely answered with a list that included: Phantastes by George MacDonald, The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton, The Aeneid by Virgil, The Temple by George Herbert, The Prelude by William Wordsworth, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell, Descent into Hell by Charles Williams, Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour, and Das Heilige by Rudolf Otto.
Readers of Lewis, especially those familiar with his 1955 autobiography, Surprised by Joy, will recognize most of these titles and understand their importance to Lewis. Indeed, it is likely that many readers came to their own knowledge of writers like MacDonald, Chesterton, and Williams through reading what Lewis had to say about them.
One exception might be the German theologian Rudolf Otto. Lewis wrote to Sister Madeleva in 1934: “I shd. warn you that I am very bad at German and this doubtless influenced my choice of reading.” Thus, even for a man known to be, as George Musacchio commented in C. S. Lewis, Man & Writer, always “reading, reading, reading,” Otto’s Das Heilige, or The Idea of the Holy, might be a surprising item on the Christian Century list.
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