The Four Loves (by C S Lewis)

I've always been quite a fan of CS Lewis. As a girl of about eight or nine, I read and loved the Narnia chronicles; I re-read them in my teens, and also enjoyed the sci-fi trilogy. I started reading his non-fiction works in my late teens, and have read them all at least once.

'The Four Loves' is one of Lewis's classics, explaining clearly the four different forms of love that can be found in the Bible, using different Greek words. These four loves are affection or family love, friendship, romantic love, and what used to be known as 'charity' - the Christian love and compassion that is often so hard to find.

Lewis also mentions in an early chapter the love of material things, and how this differs from the other kinds of love. When we say we love ice cream, or boats, we simply mean that this particular taste or sensation or activity pleases us; but the love of the inanimate is not really a love in the sense of the four loves he writes about. He also gives a clear explanation of the difference between 'need-love' and 'gift-love', and how they work within the four kinds of love he is focusing on.

It's clearly argued and well-written, although I have to admit I found it a bit dry in places, and couldn't manage more than about half a chapter (ten pages) at a time before my mind wandered. Lewis had a very organised mind, and evidently had his definitions clear and his thought-processes structured as he wrote the book. Unfortunately it's not really the way my mind works, so I had to concentrate at times to fully get the point of what he was saying.

I also found myself slightly irritated by Lewis's cultural biases that now seem so very dated - his paternalistic sexism, and condescension towards those less intelligent than himself. Not, I am sure, something deliberate; he was a product of his time, as we all are, and it would hardly be fair to expect a book written in 1960 to reflect societal standards of nearly fifty years later.

I thought I would enjoy it more, reading it as a more mature adult; I was slightly disappointed that it was not more interesting. Nevertheless, it's well worth reading for anyone who hasn't already done so, as it's now considered a classic of Christian writing, and could help anyone confused by the modern mish-mash muddle of emotions and ideas that our one word 'love' tends to conjure up.

Still in print on both sides of the Atlantic, and widely available second-hand.

Review copyright © Sue's book reviews 15th May 2008

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