Book Review, C. S. Lewis and the Craft of Communication

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Book Reviewed: Beebe, Steven A. C. S. Lewis and the Craft of Communication (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2020).

Reviewed By: Nicholas R. Pertler

Journal of Christian Teaching Practice, Volume 10 (January-December 2023)

Reviewer Affiliation: Point Loma Nazarene University

Total Pages: 303

ISBN-13: 978-1-4331-7234-2

How can we improve as communicators? While knowledge and practice are essential, we also need great models to emulate. Steven A. Beebe provides both in C. S. Lewis and the Craft of Communication. Not only is this book packed with insights that even the most seasoned communicator will benefit from, but Beebe writes in such a way that the reader is invited to become an apprentice learning from a master communication craftsman: Lewis himself. A love for the writings of C. S. Lewis certainly aids in the willing reception and application of the communication principles presented, but the practical advice Beebe offers via Lewis are sound apart from this.

The book is masterfully researched. Drawing upon the expansive Lewis corpus ranging from broadcast talks and lectures to articles, interviews, letters, and books, Beebe gives us a window into not only how Lewis communicated so effectively, but also what he thought about effective communication in general. While the most devoted of Lewis fans might take the time to read through his large body of writings, including letters, thankfully Beebe curates some of Lewis’s most important communication advice and distills it for the reader in readily accessible ways. For example, in reply to a letter from a seventh-grade girl who sought writing advice, Lewis offers her profound guidance, including the importance of writing for the ear and not just the eye. Beebe also incorporates insights from a wide array of Lewis scholars and communication theorists to help contextualize some of the ways in which Lewis was ahead of his time. Some of the most interesting and endearing supporting material comes from Beebe’s own private collection and personal conversations he had with Lewis’s friend, Walter Hooper.

While the book is practically centered on how to improve as a communicator by adopting the principles of C. S. Lewis, it has something for anyone interested in the Oxford don. The first chapter makes a compelling case for bringing Lewis into the communication discipline, the second chapter provides a condensed biography that navigates Lewis’s life along the themes of communication, and the third offers a theoretical glance into some of Lewis’s big ideas. Biographical and theoretical content are integrated throughout the more practical chapters (4-9) as well, which adds to the engaging style and strong credibility of the text. Beebe does not shy away from revealing some critiques Lewis received over the years, as well as some of Lewis’s failures as a communicator. Rather than presenting an idealized version of Lewis that would do less to inspire and aid, he paints a portrait of an imperfect man who was still thoughtful and intentional about improving his craft in order to convey life-changing ideas. (As stated by Hooper, before his conversion, “Lewis had nothing to say. It really does appear that when Lewis cared more about God than being a writer, God gave him things to say.”[1])

While the communication practices and principles Beebe distills from Lewis can benefit anyone, communication professors will especially appreciate the book’s value as a teaching resource to supplement lecture material. Beebe develops five core principles that form the acronym, HI TEA. Using C. S. Lewis as the model, Beebe explains how effective communicators are Holistic, Intentional, Transpositional, Evocative, and Audience Centered. After devoting a chapter to each of these principles, Beebe uses the final chapter to offer practical application for the reader. Here is a summary of those principles and applications.


The first principle highlights one of the chief reasons Lewis remains such a popular author. By holistic, Beebe means integrating reason and imagination, a practice at which Lewis excelled. In so doing, he spoke both to the head and the heart, or, in terms of classical rhetoric (which Lewis studied), he made both logical and emotional appeals to his audience. Beebe gives the reader a glimpse into how Lewis nurtured his imagination during a typical workday, indicating that it was his walks and smoke breaks that allowed Lewis to “sort things out, spark new images, and imagine new worlds” (113). Beebe details how we too can be holistic by communicating for both eye and the ear, using interesting and varied supporting material, and learning how to state rational points in imaginative ways.


Beebe shows us that Lewis gave much forethought to his speaking engagements and everything he wrote—i.e., he was a very intentional communicator. According to Hooper, for Lewis “writing and thinking were a single process,” which explains why Lewis says, “’I don’t know what I mean till I see what I’ve said.’”[2]

Beebe captures the interplay in Lewis’s mind between pre-writing (thinking before writing) and using the editing process after writing to assist in his thinking. For Lewis, the editing process typically consisted of changing a word or two to get closer to his intended meaning, which explains why the last piece of writing advice he gave to the young girl was “Be sure you know the meaning (or meanings) of every word you use.”[3]

Beebe offers valuable takeaways for the reader, including the importance of developing a clear objective and using language with precision.


The metaphor of transposition comes from a sermon Lewis preached by the same name. Transposition is the process of giving language to that which is hard to describe, such as emotionally-rich experience. Transposing is part of the communicator’s larger task, which Lewis sees as a form of translation. In a letter Lewis wrote to a clergyman, he describes how much of his writing is an attempt to translate Christian ideas to a general audience, a skill he wants to see others learn. This practice benefits the communicator as well as the audience in that “none can give to another what he does not possess.”[4] Lewis knows that one cannot translate difficult concepts into simple language unless the ideas are fully understood first. Sometimes, however, what one is trying to convey is not a concept but a complex affective experience. This calls for transposition, which goes beyond literal translation to help recipients grasp emotionally nuanced meaning. Lewis transposes for his audience through his liberal use of visual metaphor, conveying the meaning of richer emotional or spiritual experiences through language that conjures mental imagery approximating intuitive awareness. Of the five principles highlighted, transpositional appears to be the most advanced for novice communicators. Nevertheless, Beebe’s advice on how to use comparisons skillfully, for which Lewis was well known, is still useful.


While remaining grounded in rational thought, Lewis evokes emotion whenever necessary. He encourages writers to invite their readers into an emotion through artfully crafted language rather than telling them what to feel. The latter, Lewis observes, is akin to asking the audience, “Please will you do my job for me.”[5] Beebe identifies specific practices Lewis commonly uses to evoke emotion in his audience, such as his liberal use of simile, analogy, allegory, and metaphor. Beebe’s recommended strategies for evocative communication include skillfully telling stories to evoke emotion in the audience and, of particular importance for public speaking, deliberately using nonverbals to support those themes.

Audience Centered

Finally, Beebe shows us how Lewis remains audience centered throughout the vast majority of his professional life. Lewis understands that it is the audience that determines whether or not a message is effective. Beebe explains that Lewis grew into a master of audience-centered communication over time. Early in his career, Lewis saw the value of developing an extemporaneous style of speaking as he knew it would be more engaging for the audience. (In a letter to his father, Lewis says “READ lectures send people to sleep and I think I must make the plunge from the very beginning and learn to TALK.”[6]) However, perhaps due to apprehension, it appears that Lewis ended up reciting his early lectures from a manuscript. This demonstrates that effective communication did not always come naturally to Lewis; he had to work hard at developing his craft. Beebe’s practical takeaways from this chapter highlight ways of enhancing credibility, selecting appropriate communication channels, and analyzing the audience and adapting as necessary.

Simply put, Steven Beebe brings C. S. Lewis the communicator to life in this book. Beebe’s own mastery of communication principles, as evidenced by his numerous textbooks and his years of teaching, makes him uniquely situated to tell this side of Lewis’s story. Across the pages, Beebe’s credibility is enhanced as he discusses all the people he has spoken with, the places he has been, and groundbreaking discoveries he has made. From the preface’s opening account of Beebe’s “Indiana Jones” discovery (an unpublished document, Language and Human Nature, that was to be the opening chapter of a planned collaboration between Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien) to the last chapter’s takeaways on how to communicate like C. S. Lewis, this book is worth every minute.


[1] Walter Hooper, “The Inklings,” C. S. Lewis & His Circle: Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C. S. Lewis Society, ed. M. Roger White, Judith Wolfe and Brendan N. Wolfe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 204.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Collected Letters Vol. III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950-1963, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2007), xvi.

[3] Lewis, Letter to Thomasine, December 14, 1959, Collected Letters III, 1108.

[4] C. S. Lewis, “On the Transmission of Christianity,” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 116.

[5] Lewis, Letter to Joan Lancaster, June 26, 1956, Collected Letters III, 766.

[6] C. S. Lewis, Letter to his Father, Albert Lewis, August 28, 1924, Collected Letters, Vol. II: Books, Broadcasts and the War 1931-1949, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2004), 633.

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