Biblical Studies

Book Review: The Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis (Jason Baxter)

I’m honestly not very well-acquainted with C. S. Lewis. I had met Lewis the “mythmaker” (2). In fourth grade I had a teacher who read his Narnia series every day after we came in from our lunch break. I had met Lewis the apologist (2). I read a whole half of Mere Christianity after my first semester of Bible college. Aside from that, for some reason, I just haven’t read his stuff. I was introduced to some of his early literary theory insights through reading C. John Collins’ Reading Genesis Well. This opened the doorway to me seeing some of Lewis’ scholarly ideas. Jason Baxter, associate professor of fine arts and humanities at Wyoming Catholic College, presents in his book a third Lewis: “Lewis the scholar, the Oxford (and later Cambridge) don who spent his days lecturing to students on medieval cosmology and his nights looking up old words in dictionaries” (2). Baxter quotes Louis Markos who wrote, “This Lewis was far more a man of the medieval age than he was of our own.” Baxter shows how this was the case when he writes,

This was the man who read fourteenth-century medieval texts for his spiritual reading, carefully annotating them with pencil; who summed himself up as “chiefly a medievalist”; the philologist, who wrote essays on semantics, metaphors, etymologies, and textual reception; “the distinguished Oxford don and literary critic who packed lecture theatres with his unscripted reflections on English literature”; the schoolmaster who fussed at students for not looking up treacherous words in their lexicons; the polyglot pedant who did not translate his quotations from medieval French, German, Italian, or ancient Latin and Greek in his scholarly books; the man who wrote letters to children recommending that they study Latin until they reached the point they could read it fluently without a dictionary; the critic who, single-handedly, saved bizarre, lengthy, untranslated ancient books from obscurity. (3)

Understanding old medieval books wasn’t merely part of Lewis’ job description. It was his passion. The “rhythmic flow of ancient speech,” the tales, the arguments, and the premodern rhetoric filled Lewis to the brim that he could hardly write a letter to a friend without medieval-ness flowing out from him. Some of these authors who shaped Lewis’ philosophy of life were Virgil, William Wordsworth, Rudolf Otto, Boethius, and Dante (to name a few).

Lewis aimed to bring old books back to life again, to show their relevance, and to transpose (or translate) them into a way that could be understood by modern people. Baxter wrote this book to explore “why Lewis valued such study so much,” this study of medieval works (17).

Lewis was adept at “transposing” the thoughts and feelings of medieval books and thought (21). Lewis performed ideas; he presented them in such a way that he could create a feeling. They were no longer ideas on a table to be dissected, but they were “made to live again” (37). When reading these works, one must be like a traveler to a foreign country who, rather than visiting all the tourist spots, “eats the local foods and drinks the wines” (38). You share in the foreign life in such a way that you see the country as the locals see it, not as a tourist. You are changed in how you think and feel. Literature is more than a way to learn about good morals. Literature has “the ability to fix ‘our inner eye'” (43). We begin to see differently when we read good literature because we have viewed life through the lenses of hundreds of different people.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 8, “Modern Science and Medieval Myth.” Before becoming a Christian, Lewis was an ardent critic of religion, particularly outdated Christianity, which the modern scientific world had outgrown (142). At the same time, Lewis also resented the “world of fact” in which he lived, longing “for a world that transcended mundane needs or appetites” (143). Baxter shows how modern science is actually quite similar with the beliefs of the medievals. Both represent the world and the universe through models, for there is so much that still is not known. All of our models are just “metaphorical pictures” (150).

We know today that the earth is one of millions of planets. There are hundreds if not thousands of universes. Why should we be so special? There is no importance to us, ultimately. However, Baxters writes that “premodern cosmographers already described the earth as but a mathematical point with respect to the rest of the universe” (151). Accordingly, “humankind is at the periphery of everything that really matters” (151). Not only was the earth “infinitesimally small by cosmic standards,” but it was believed that the earth “was made out of the dregs, after the purer bodies of stars had been made” (151). For the medieval theologian or cosmographer, though they were filled with the use of metaphor and “mythical” language, they didn’t believe earth was special in its own right. Humankind was only special because we are the ones on whom God has shown his love.

From this perspective the incarnation regains its sense of astonishment and stupefaction. If we are really a marginal race on the edge of a mediocre galaxy, rotating around an average star, the fact that the Creator decided to come to our race, dwell with us, spend time talking to socially unimportant people in the heat of the afternoon, is all the more glorious. He is, after all, the one for whom, as Lewis might have put it, spiral nebulae swirl and black holes hide behind their gravitational veils. (158)


In this succinct book, Baxter offers a close reading of Lewis and his medieval heroes, providing important background to this famous Christian mythmaker and apologist. Much more could be written about the other chapters of the book and their actual focus on medieval works as a background to Lewis’ thought life. Lewis as a mythmaker, his appreciation for Dante, and how we live in a “flat-world” (79). If you have read a fair bit of Lewis and are meagerly interested in medieval works, or if you’ve read a fait bit of medieval works and are meagerly interested in C. S. Lewis, this book is for you. I haven’t read much of either, so this book was really a difficult read for me. I was intrigued by what Baxter wrote about Lewis and his disagreement with modernism. But the quotes and reflections on medieval works were above me. Thankfully, most people aren’t me, and most of the reviews I read have also been very positive about this book (and I agree with them).


  • Author: Jason M. Baxter
  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 15, 2022)
  • Read Chapter One

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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