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Baptism of the Imagination

This past November, the Taylor University Center for C. S. Lewis Studies invited me to deliver a presentation on Lewis's life and works. During my visit to Taylor I was interviewed by Kelli Conners, on the staff of Parnassus, Taylor's journal of literature and the arts. Throughout the interview we discussed the various elements and techniques Lewis used as a Christian writer impacting a secular world and how Lewis's philosophy, in turn, has influenced my own literary career.

That interview is now re-produced here. (For more information about Parnassus click here: http://www.taylor.edu/academics/acaddepts/english/parnassus.shtml.)


Kelli Conners: First, I have a few questions about the writing process in general. When you sit down to write, how much of a plan do you have? Is it something where you know where a piece is going, or is it a sentence-by-sentence process?


Will Vaus: A sentence at a time sounds good. Each book is so different. When I wrote Mere Theology, it started from one chapter; I didn't even think I was writing a book. It was a paper that got presented to two different groups, and I started out with the whole theme of God's sovereignty and human responsibility in Lewis's thought. So, I wrote that and got it published in the Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society. So then I did something on Scripture and the Bulletin also published that. Then I thought, "Aha, I can do this with all sorts of theological themes in Lewis!" So then I just started exploring, one-by-one, mainly for fun. I'm not sure I really thought of publishing at first, but as I expanded from those two articles to thinking of a book, I outlined the themes and wrote down all the major loci of systematic theology. And I looked at those and tried to decide, "Okay, which ones of these has Lewis addressed?" So then, I took that as a subset and thought of some other areas that don't usually get covered under the major loci of theology but are spiritual themes in Lewis. And I added that to the mix. By then I had an outline of basically what the whole book was going to be , and then I started from square one and wrote chapter-by-chapter.


C. S. Lewis said it's hard for an author to tell you how he works because he's not even sure, sometimes, how he does it. With the biographies, my father's biography came first, and there were previous biographies written about him. With the first Lewis book I wrote I had already been reading him all my life so it was just a matter of figuring out what topics I was going to cover and going back and finding all of the material that applied and plugging it in. My Father Was a Gangster started with the research. And then, when I had all the research together, I started from the beginning and wrote chapter-by-chapter. I started out with the first chapter--the introduction--as a kind of overture, like an overture in music telling people where the whole thing was going. It started from my perspective of my father as a child, which gave the early and late picture of him together. Then, I went back to the beginning and started from his birth and moved right through. And, as I was doing that, the book broke down into a pattern of four books, really four major sections with many little chapters in each.


With the Lewis biography, I had already done a more scholarly version of Lewis's life story--from his going to Oxford to the end of his life--for the four-volume series edited by Bruce Edwards called C. S. Lewis: Life, Works and Legacy. So I had done all of that research for that period. I only needed to fill in the earlier period of his life. I started out that book with a specific audience in mind. With my other two books I didn't really have a specific audience but in the third book I had younger readers in mind. I read it aloud to my children as I was writing it and that helped me to edit and eliminate things that were boring to younger readers.


(To be continued. . . .)

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