When the world lost renowned author, speaker and university professor C.S. Lewis, the event was barely a blip on the newswire in the United States.
Nov. 22, 1963
(A third momentous death that day: philosopher and author Aldous Huxley’s – also overshadowed by the JFK tragedy.)
I was six days shy of my first birthday on this date, and it would be a quarter-century before I discovered the pleasures and intellectual stimulation of Clive Staples Lewis (known to close friends as “Jack”) and his unique way of expressing theological truths.
I can’t explain exactly why Lewis’ words resonate so deeply in my soul. They just do.
Maybe it’s because he was an atheist-turned-Christian; for me, that gives his words greater weight than those of someone who has never really wrestled with faith issues. Lewis once called himself “the most reluctant convert of all time.” But, despite doubts, he weighed the evidence and came out on the side of God and the resurrected Jesus.
(I, too, struggle in my quest for truth; things don’t always make sense. But I keep seeking, and when I seek, I find. Lewis is one of the ways I find.)
But it’s also because he had a unique way of making complex ideas seem simple, using analogies from the everyday, the common. (A modern-day equivalent is Tim Keller. Apologists like Lewis and Keller help me work through my questions.)
In my opinion, my first Lewis book is still his best. The first time I read it, in my mid-20s, I found Mere Christianity to be complex and deep yet simple, albeit a bit intimidating. I read it again last year and found it to be profoundly wonderful, still complex and yet straightforward and simple all at the same time. (I wish I had his way of making this sound sensible.)
My second Lewis book – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Book 1 in “The Chronicles of Narnia”) – was equally wonderful but in a completely different way. The Narnia books have entranced not only me but millions of readers throughout the decades.
His way of expressing theological ideas engaged even young fiction lovers, with whom he corresponded:
“As to Aslan’s other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone in this world who (1.) Arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2.) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3.) Gave himself up for someone else’s fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4.) Came to life again. (5.) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb (see the end of the Dawn Treader). Don’t you really know His name in this world? Think it over and let me know your answer!”
– C.S. Lewis, in response to an 11-year-old girl who had sent him her
drawings and a letter of appreciation for the first three Chronicles of Narnia
Although these two books are perhaps his best sellers, Lewis wrote many others. I haven’t read them all, I confess. A few weeks ago, a longtime friend gave me a copy of Till We Have Faces, which I had never attempted to read. (I wish I had read it before writing this post.) My friend had such an odd reaction, and she was sure that I, too, would think the book extremely strange. So it sits on my nightstand, waiting its turn; I can’t wait to dig in.
Lewis also wrote about his conversion to Christianity (Surprised by Joy, [joy was a topic that came up frequently in his writings]), marriage late in life to Joy Davidman, Joy’s death (A Grief Observed) and heaven and hell (The Great Divorce). Another favorite of mine: The Screwtape Letters, a fictional account of correspondence between veteran demon Uncle Screwtape and his demon-in-training nephew Wormwood.
A movie, Shadowlands, chronicles Lewis and Davidman’s relationship and her death; the theatrical release stars Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger; the PBS version features Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom.
Here are links to Lewis’ works:
- Books, letters, essays. (Not listed on this site is an anthology I have on my shelf: The Essential C.S. Lewis by Lyle W. Dorsett.)
- “C.S. Lewis Daily” (a Biblegateway “newsletter” subscription that you can have sent to your inbox; each day you receive a book excerpt, a letter or some other writing by Lewis).
And then there’s this exciting recent news of a discovered letter.
Two other books of note (not penned by Lewis but inspired by him) – one fiction and one nonfiction:
- Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley by Peter Kreeft. An interesting idea, but I agree with the critics who say the “dialogue” is weighted heavily in favor of Lewis’ (and the author’s own) beliefs. Still, it brings up some interesting questions, and you might enjoy reading it.
- A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. Vanauken and his wife, “Davy,” were friends and correspondents of Lewis’, and this book details the couple’s life and love, Davy’s death and some of the letters between them and Lewis. You won’t always agree with their choices, but you’ll gain something from this beautiful book.
UPDATE: After I published this post, I discovered that my friend Lois at Waxing Gibbous had also written about C.S. Lewis today. And it’s not even his birthday! (She wrote about Narnia. Check it out.)
Tomorrow: M is for music.
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