C.S. Lewis, Good, Interviews, Lancia, True

Interview Series with Andrew Lazo – Part 1

Andrew Lazo holds an M.A. in English from Rice University where he was Jacob K. Javits Fellow in Humanities and a post –baccalaureate in Classics for the University of California, Davis. He currently teaches English and C.S. Lewis at Houston Christian High School. A frequent speaker on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, Andrew is a co-editor of Mere Christians and author of the article – “Correcting the Chronology: Some Implications of “Early Prose Joy”” in VII – An Anglo-American Review.

Andrew’s dazzling grasp on the broad range of issues and historical details related to C.S. Lewis is balanced by his exuberant sense of humour, his passion for cooking, and his laugh is as contagious as his warmth. Everything about how Andrew engages with others seems defiant of the stereotypical image of a literary scholar. Behind the highly energetic and cheerful persona is a man who is fiercely tenacious in the long quest for what is good and true and beautiful. Like all real quests that involves fighting off shadows, losses, and fears.

As scholars, we seldom want to talk about those human elements that drive us to study and that incessant need to seek answers. To seek meaning in between the lines that read in black and white. Then take that meaning found – or guessed at it – and cast a line of hope to others from it.  As riveting as Andrew is as a speaker, his best and most beautiful gifts are seen in the one-to-one, where a brilliant scholar merges with a pastoral heart. I respect his commitment to receiving correction, his willingness to be humble, his extraordinarily keen perception and memory, his capacity to eloquently quote poetry, his faithful need to cling to the High King of Glory. I feel wistful and slightly envious at times of Andrew’s brilliance in regard to Lewis studies. But what I love about Andrew Lazo is his bravery. Everyday getting up to face all the things that haunt us as human beings, he uses courage to fight back his own fears and shadows to give beauty to those who often don’t know they need it, and don’t appreciate it anywhere near as much as they ought to.  It is his courage that defines him. Wielding beauty, truth, and goodness, in the very best and truest sense of it, Andrew is a dragon-slayer.  We are kindred.


LES: There is some recent discussion over the discrepancy of dates related to Lewis’s conversion to Theism, as put forward by Alister McGrath in his new biography on Lewis – C.S. Lewis: A Life. You transcribed an autobiographical manuscript by Lewis, which Walter Hooper  (C.S. Lewis’s private secretary and now trustee and literary advisor of the estate of C.S. Lewis)  labeled “Early Prose Joy” and have subsequently gone on to write an article titled Correcting the Chronology: Some Implications of “Early Prose Joy”. Your article concerns your discovery of the date discrepancy and is due out April 18th. What do you personally hope to be accomplished with establishing this clarification of the dates? In the overall scheme of Lewis studies, this seems a small detail that much is being made of. What is the significance to you and why has this one detail been so important to you as a scholar?

AL: It was quite a thrill to come across the “Early Prose Joy” manuscript in the meticulously-kept archives at the Marion E. Wade Center. When I discovered that the manuscript helps us pinpoint quite clearly the date of Lewis’s Theistic conversion, I experienced that thrill of scholarship that comes from seeing more clearly the object of my life’s work, from knowing something no one else knows. I soon found that Alister McGrath had reached the same conclusion by different methods, although I didn’t read McGrath’s new biography of Lewis until months after my find. This discovery conclusively proves what McGrath theorizes in his new biography, that Lewis converted to Theism in Trinity Term of 1930, not in 1929. I must admit my heart started pounding there in the Kilby Reading Room.

This discovery has offered me confirmation about my own scholarship and approach. It helps establish that I have something to contribute to Lewis studies. It will also springboard into the next steps and topics in my scholarship. The manuscript has much to say to biographers, philosophers, psychologists, and literary scholars, and I hope to have a hand in publishing the complete text. The discovery also offers a platform for me to speak about the autobiographical element in Till We Have Faces, Lewis’s last novel. I’m currently in the midst of scholarship that should lead to a new book helping to unravel that best of Lewis’s books.

While it may seem like a small or even dismissible detail, re-dating Lewis’s Theistic conversion sets in motion a number of things. First, as McGrath has mentioned to me more than once, it furthers and clarifies the scholarly conversation about Lewis. Second, it allows us to look more closely at how the death of Lewis’s father Albert Lewis might have spurred the younger Lewis to think about God. Third, the “Early Prose Joy” manuscript helps us to see much more clearly the trajectory of both Lewis’s conversions, and Lewis’s attempt, even compulsion, to tell the world about what had happened to him. Fourth, the “Early Prose Joy” manuscript chronicles more carefully Lewis’s philosophic and experiential journey to faith. Finally, it serves as a call to Lewis scholars to examine carefully Lewis’s sometimes-shaky relationship with dates. We need to look at him more carefully than ever now.

Let me also add my praise for McGrath’s yeoman-like work in reading Lewis carefully and chronologically. His fifteen-month task in reading all of Lewis has allowed him to write the best-informed biography of our generation, one that will take a central place in Lewis studies and spark fruitful conversations for years to come.

Alister McGrath and Andrew Lazo at Lanier Theological Library - Image copyright Lancia E. Smith, 2013 - www.lanciaesmith.com

LES: What is the significance of this manuscript (“Early Prose Joy”) in light of all the other material at the Wade Center?

AL: Especially when considered alongside Charlie Starr’s recent work on the “Light” manuscript and Steven A. Beebe’s publication of a long-lost chapter of a book by Lewis on language, “Early Prose Joy” reminds us that much material remains untranscribed and unpublished. It’s available to researchers and readers who can make their way to suburban Chicago or to Oxford, but this digital age certainly calls urgently for the publication and exploration of as much primary source material as we can find. Interest in Lewis has only grown; accurate knowledge of him needs to keep pace with this unflagging interest.

This manuscript stands out particularly because it may represent the last “book” Lewis wrote that most readers haven’t ever seen. He calls it a “book” several times. One can only speculate about why he never published it.  It certainly merits examination, for Lewis clearly rewrote significant chunks of it in The Pilgrim’s Regress and Surprised by Joy. “Early Prose Joy” remains an exciting, unexplored book by C. S. Lewis, which will prove a treasure to many people.

LES: When the dust has settled about the date discrepancy and the articles about it have faded, what do you hope the readers retain in regard to understanding Lewis and themselves? What do you hope they will remember about you in this episode?

AL: I hope that they will understand the process of conversion better in their own experiences, and I hope they will understand that Lewis, who Walter Hooper called a “most thoroughly converted man,” will see how the pattern of conversion progressed fairly logically in his life and their own lives. Lewis portrays people always pressing “further up and further in;” this view helps me (and hopefully many others) to see that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). We can always follow Lewis’s example of taking the next right step, however small, in the process of becoming who God will have us become.

Andrew Lazo and Diana Glyer caught up in Andrew's wickedly funny sense of humour. Image copyright Lancia E. Smith - www.lanciaesmith.com

 LES: Scholars can sometimes be seen as a rather priggish lot, disconnected from the wider realities that average folk live in daily, and focused with great intent on things that seem to have relatively little impact on how society experiences life. What would you say is the real value of scholarship on the whole in context of a society that is becoming increasingly less appreciative of intellectual pursuits? What does scholarship bring to the betterment of our current culture?

AL: It seems to me that scholarship in our day and age offers a number of crucial contexts that we lack so deeply. My students tell me that they literally have no moments free from input—from games and videos and activities and texts and music. This terrifies me.

I know little enough about scholarship.  I do know that it requires silence, an ability to concentrate for long periods of time on a single thought or question, leisure to browse and be surprised by the results, a whole library of other authors and experts in one’s head, and the will to write when a thousand other things clamor for my attention. If there is a devil, then, as Lewis pointed out some seventy years ago, Screwtape sorely wants to fill our worlds with needless noise. tweet

Scholarship offers the world at large a chance to have some measure of certainty about things. It also speaks quite counter-culturally, urging us into the past, to contemplate things from other ages that our age has rushed right by. Scholarship also confronts us with our blithe and all-too-easy assumption about what we think we know. tweet

In some ways, this correcting of the chronology of Lewis’s life points to a glaringly obvious fact: we took the 1929 dating on good authority, the best authority, and we were all wrong. Scholarship helps us know a few things a bit better, and the approximate certainty of the results of scholarly research offers us an antidote to our hashtag world, where unfounded rumor festers into fact on a daily basis.

Andrew Lazo leading impromptu poetry reading in Cambridge - Image copyright Lancia E. Smith and the C.S. Lewis Foundation - www. lanciaesmith.com

LES: Scholarship and teaching have gone hand in hand for centuries, and yet as we all can attest, many times the best scholars do not the best teachers make. Lewis was a legendary exception to that. You also are an exception to that. You are a very gifted scholar and you are a tremendously skilled teacher with a long standing passion for it.  At one point you were teaching literature at HBU and at the University of Houston and now are teaching with great joy and gusto at Houston Christian High School. Why did you make the jump to teaching high school from teaching at a college level and why are you so excited about what you do at Houston Christian?

AL: A couple things informed the decision to teach at a Christian high school. The purely practical certainly had a hand in leading me there. Having finished the Ph.D. program at Rice University ABD (all but dissertation), the elusive doctorate lies outside my grasp for the time being, and that limits me to working only as an adjunct in most universities. Benefits and a steady paycheck are not least among the attractions to teaching at the high school level.

But Houston Christian offers me small class size, the opportunity to explore my passions, an excellent set of colleagues, and a deeply-stirring vision set by my administrators. Dr. Livingston and Dr. Council lead where I want to go and completely embrace and empower my gifts, enabling me to use all I have to reach students. I’ve never had a better job. I teach a C. S. Lewis course and can set my sails in there in any way that suits me. I also teach regular English to ninth graders. These (sometimes reluctant) freshmen challenge me to help them thrive in a subject that in general they haven’t liked or been all that great at studying. I use my passion for the subject and my respect and love for my students in order to use Lewis’s reading techniques and some of Diana Glyer’s writing techniques to equip them. I also get a chance to teach them how to do something difficult they don’t particularly want to do—a skill that will stand them in good stead wherever they go.

Andrew Lazo 4 Cambridge - Image copyright Lancia E. Smith - www.lanciaesmith.com

LES: Why be a teacher, especially of high school students, when you clearly could be doing so many other things that are probably more exciting and doubtless pay better?

AL: I worked at my alma mater, the University of California, Davis for a year reading statements of purpose about why college students applying to grad school had chosen their particular disciplines. One theme recurred: they’d found a passionate teacher in high school who opened their eyes to a whole new world. I get to introduce these young souls to poetry, to thinking and writing clearly, to reading for enjoyment and finding practical profit in it. Also, as a Christian teacher in a Christian school, I can pass one whatever wisdom I have about all their roads before them. What could be better?


For an excellent article by Andrew Lazo on the subject of the the Lewis conversion to Theism date discrepancy, click here.

For another an article about Andrew’s discovery of the Lewis conversion to Theism date discrepancy, click here.

Click here for Part 2!


 The images of Andrew Lazo in the following interview series are copyright of Lancia E. Smith.

If you wish to use the images please contact me directly regarding their usage.

Thank you so much for your courtesy!

Many blessings to you, friend!


 

Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner based in Colorado. She is editor-in-chief of Cultivating the Good, the True & the Beautiful, and founder of The Cultivating Project. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about the spiritual formation and discipling creative believers. She and her husband Peter run a thriving environmental and engineering firm and try to keep up with their rambling house and gardens called House on the Way. Lancia loves every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis; drinks strong black coffee; and sincerely hopes in her lifetime to reach zero in her inbox!

Follow Me @lanciaesmith

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