Splendour in the Dark: C.S. Lewis’ Dymer in his Life and Work

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Splendour in the Dark: C.S. Lewis’ Dymer in his Life and Work


Jerry Root (with contributing essays by David C. Downing, Jeffry C. Davis, Mark Lewis and Miho Nonaka)


IVP Academic


Publication Date:

November 3, 2020




256 pages


In 1926, a young Oxford academic named C.S. Lewis published an epic poem called Dymer. The work didn’t get much in the way of good reviews, and Lewis gave up his hopes of a poetry career to become a novelist and nonfiction author. In 1950, Lewis’ reputation was great enough that the publisher reissued the work with a new preface where Lewis considered his feelings about the poem decades later. An interesting tale about a man struggling to find himself and embracing or reacting against various ideas (including romanticism, occultism, and self-determinism), Dymer is notable for two reasons. First, it’s written before Lewis converted to Christianity. Second, as scholar Jerry Root argues, the poem shows several themes that Lewis explored in his later books. This book includes the poem’s complete text, with annotations by scholar David C. Downing. The second section includes three lectures that Jerry Root gave on the poem, with responses by Jeffrey C. Davis, Mark Lewis, and Miho Nonaka.

This is an interesting academic book in that Jerry Root argues that Dymer is an important poem, but not necessarily that it’s a great poem on its own merits. He shows throughout his lectures that Dymer has ideas that Lewis explored more fully in his later works. Root also describes how much he personally enjoys Dymer and describes it as “the longest and most developed of [Lewis’] narrative poems.”

While the other scholars in this book agree that Dymer is important, most of them don’t have the enthusiasm that Root has for it. David C. Downing describes it as an important poem but with flaws. Jeffry C. Davis agrees that it shows themes that Lewis explored in later works, but argues that the poem itself isn’t remarkable. Mark Lewis says he was “seldom compelled by it,” but then spends most of his response considering the inherent problems with analyzing a creative work and understanding the author’s intensions. Miho Nonaka uses her own experience as a poet to argue that Dymer has good qualities and that Lewis’ “poetic gift would have no doubt flourished were he born a few centuries earlier.” So, even the one scholar who sees promise in Dymer has more qualified praise than Root gives to it.

Therefore, it seems Jerry Root proves his thesis but not in the way he hoped. He may not have convinced other scholars that Dymer is a great poem, but he clearly shows (and convinces the other authors) that the poem’s themes connect to Lewis’ later work. David C. Downing’s annotations to the poem make that point event clearer, showing other bits of dialogue and description that connect to Lewis’ later books. For example, Downing notes that Dymer has an evil magician character who senselessly shoots animals with a gun, and that gun-carrying characters are always viewed negatively in Lewis’ work (as in Uncle Andrew’s plans to shoot Aslan in The Magician’s Nephew). The consensus on Dymer as a literary work may still be up for date, but the poem is clearly an interesting piece of unexplored country in C.S. Lewis studies. Hopefully other scholars will follow Root’s lead and find more riches to excavate in this under-valued work.

A fascinating treatise on a new direction in studies of C.S. Lewis’ work.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Scholars interested in C.S. Lewis’ work and how his early work as a poet impacted the rest of his career.

Christian Impact

Jerry Root and the other contributing authors show how even before C.S. Lewis had become a Christian, he was thinking about ideas which would become central to The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy and his other writings. In particular, their analyses show Lewis’ struggles with secular philosophy and its limits, as well as the longing for something transcendent.

Splendour in the Dark: C. S. Lewis's Dymer in His Life and Work

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