Fridays with Friends: Colin Duriez on Lewis, L’Abri, and what it means to be human

Image courtesy Colin Duriez.
Image courtesy Colin Duriez.

Colin Duriez was for many years general books editor for Inter-Varsity Press in Leicester, England. A professional writer, he currently offers acquisitions, editorial and project management services through his own business, InWriting, based in Keswick, Cumbria.

He studied at the University of Istanbul, the University of Ulster (where he was a founding member of the Irish Christian Study Centre) and under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri in Huemoz, Switzerland. He has held a variety of teaching and editorial posts spanning nearly thirty years. Duriez won the Clyde S. Kilby Award in 1994 for his research on the Inklings. He has published many articles, books and other written works, and he has spoken to a variety of literary, academic and professional groups in a number of countries.

He has also appeared as a commentator on the extended-version film DVDs of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson, director), PBS’s The Question of God, which compared C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud, and the Sony DVD “Ringers,” about Tolkien fandom and the impact of Tolkien on popular culture. His best-known books include The C.S. Lewis Encyclopedia (Crossway/SPCK), The Inklings Handbook (with the late David Porter, Chalice), J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship (Paulist Press/Sutton), Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings (Paulist Press/Sutton) and A Field Guide to Narnia (InterVarsity Press).

Kevin Belmonte, author of Miraculous and Defiant Joy, conducted this interview. Kevin first met Colin in 2004, when both were interviewed in London for television appearances on the BBC – Colin about C.S. Lewis, Kevin about William Wilberforce. Since that time, they’ve frequently corresponded, most often about their books.

 

Image courtesy Colin Duriez.
Image courtesy Colin Duriez.

Kevin Belmonte: What/who/where are your consistent sources of inspiration?

Colin Duriez: My consistent sources of inspiration tend to concern the mystery of what makes us human (with attendant issues like where we come from, and what has gone wrong) and the way imagination and thinking ought to work together. I suppose it is inevitable that I became acquainted with most of these sources while a young man, but some have been discovered later.

It was towards the end of high school that we were reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity in one class—I suppose the idea was to understand Christian teaching as background to English Literature and European history. Almost immediately I was hooked, which lead over the years to reading almost everything he had written. Lewis led me to his friends Tolkien, Charles Williams and the Inklings. I was equally drawn both to the imaginative and the philosophical Lewis.

Philosophy had already become important to me before discovering Lewis, and I eventually studied it at university, along with English Literature. Just after leaving high school I met Francis Schaeffer, and his associate in L’Abri, the Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker. Through them I came across the Dutch Christian tradition in philosophy. Schaeffer helped me enormously over the vexed question of the significance of human beings, and how this related to how catastrophic the fall of Adam and Eve was. How could merely eating some fruit at the dawn of human history lead to the anguish of human life and death over many millennia?

Rookmaaker reinforced the insights I was gaining from reading C.S. Lewis and friends, and helped me to link them to other currents of Christian thought now and over the ages. Rookmaaker helped me, for example, to see how human ways of seeing reality in history have changed (something Lewis had learned from his friend Owen Barfield!). An important thinker who, for me, chimes in with the Lewis strand and the Rookmaaker one is Michael Polanyi, particularly his book, Personal Knowledge.

Through the influence of George Verwer and OM (Operation Mobilization) I was introduced to writings on Christian spirituality. It was through OM that I met Schaeffer. Schaeffer also helped me to see spirituality in terms of healing, in which human wholeness begins to be restored. The energy and power of loving God and neighbour, springing from God’s grace, is not primarily intellectual or emotional, but comes from all our fragmented parts working together at last. Later, expository preachers and teachers like John Stott helped me by showing how Scripture applied to all of life. Of course, the more you see the amazing scope of what God intends for us as human beings, the more you need a theology of failure. In my experience, the best Christian teachers are the most thoroughly realistic.

As a child I was introduced to the Bible through its stories. One of my favourites was that of Abraham looking up at the bright night sky and God telling him his descendents would be spread like those stars. As, by God’s grace, one of those twinkling lights, I have come to discover something of the depths upon depths of the Scriptures. The narratives and poetry are still my first loves, but the consistent intellectual worldview it can generate still amazes me. It is fascinating to have contact with St Paul’s mind as we try to follow his argument in a letter written nearly 200 years ago, or to enjoy the wisdom of the Book of Job. Also, I’ve come to appreciate how Scripture exerts an imaginative pull which draws us into seeing and tasting the world God has given to us in an entirely new and fresh way. We might grieve and get thrown by terrible events but we have access to a bedrock peace that confounds us.

KB: What artists (musicians, poets, painters, photographers, filmmakers, etc) are you following/do you recommend? (i.e. who are your favourites?)

CD: Artists of various kinds that I follow or can recommend? you ask. Such a list would fluctuate at various times and might be too long because of my procrastination over choosing my top hits. But here’s a go at it. Writers: C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, Roger Lancelyn Green, Pauline Fisk, John Green, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Harris, John Fowles, William Golding, Graham Greene, John Updike, Mark Twain, George Macdonald, not forgetting classics like Jane Austen, Wordsworth (and Dorothy), Coleridge (and daughter Sara and son Hartley), Keats, Shelley (Percy and Mary), Blake, Milton, Bunyan, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Shakespeare, Mary Herbert, John Donne, and ancient classics in translation like Homer and Virgil … Artists: Ted Nasmith, Rodney Matthews, Helen Bradley, Klimt, Turner, Burne-Jones, Mary Cassatt, Arthur Hughes, Ruskin, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Durer, Leonardo, Botticelli …

KB: How can readers of All Nine get involved in what you’re doing? (Basically, how can someone buy your books, download interviews, learn more about your books, etc.)

CD: Followers of “All Nine” can access my website at http://www.colinduriez.macmate.me/inwriting/Home.html. As well as giving information about my work and books, including appearances on the extended DVD set of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, it provides links to interviews, extracts and other bits and pieces. As regards buying my books, I suggest browsing on Amazon then buying from your local bookstore. If the store is any good, you should be able to order it and get it quickly, if not in stock. Some of my books are now available as ebooks.

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