Today is the 53rd anniversary of the death of CS Lewis, my all time favorite writer. CS Lewis is best known for his seven volume series of children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, three of which were made into movies. But Lewis wrote many other books in a variety of literary categories. He wrote fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, Christian apologetics and his professional expertise (he was a teacher at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England), literary criticism.
A Man of Doubt
CS Lewis was born on November 29, 1898 and died on November 22, 1963, the same day President Kennedy was assassinated. Lewis was born into a nominal Christian family, but in his teen years became an atheist. He fought in World War I and was wounded. This experience greatly impacted his life. After the war he returned to his school work at Oxford University. And after graduating with honors, he became an Oxford don (a tutor and teacher of undergraduate students). In this capacity he met and became close friends with a number of people. There were many people and writers who had an impact on Lewis’ faith, most notably, JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) and Hugo Dyson. These two men engaged Lewis in conversation on a late- night walk, convincing him of the truth of the Christian Faith.
A Man of Faith
Lewis went on to live out his faith in a dynamic way, writing many books, speaking to various groups and conducting a series of BBC talks during WWII. But one of the best ways one can see Lewis’ faith lived out in a practical way is in his letter writing. After Lewis became a famous author, many people from all over the world wrote to him. Some even asking his advice on problems they were experiencing. Lewis took the time to respond to each person. This became an enormous burden and a large consumer of his time. But Lewis believed that it was his Christian responsibility to respond to those who were impacted by his writing.
A Man of Influence
What was it about CS Lewis and his writing that was, and is, so appealing? There are two things I can see in Lewis that has drawn me and many others to him. The first is his writing ability, style and insight. Lewis was able to combine what few others had. His towering intellect and rock solid reason was beautifully combined with an amazing imagination and an engaging story-telling skill. He could write Christian apologetics with such penetrating logic that it was hard to argue with his conclusions. He served as the first president of the Oxford Socratic Club from 1942 to 1954. This club was organized to discuss and debate issues concerning religion and the Christian Faith . Lewis was an energetic leader and debater, influencing many people. His books, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain and Miracles spoke to many then and now about the connection between reason and faith.
The other side of the appeal of the writing of CS Lewis is his captivating fictional writing. His stories immediately seize the imagination, transporting one into the world Lewis had created. Lewis wrote the kind of stories he loved to read. They were largely fantasy. His Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy are prime examples of his brilliant fantasy stories. But many of his other books had this quality, like: The Great Divorce (which is not about divorce), The Screwtape Letters (a story about demons and temptation) and The Pilgrim’s Regress (an allegory about how Lewis came to faith). These books powerfully move the heart. And even though they are fantastical, they speak a reality that connects people to their message in a profound way. Lewis also wrote devotional works like, The Four Loves, Reflections on the Psalms, The Business of Heaven, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer and his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy.
In these two sides of Lewis’ writings, the rational and the imaginative, people have felt that there were two different writers at work, but if one looks deeply enough one can detect each side in every book. In his books on Christian Apologetics, Lewis was able to use his imaginative powers to make complex issues understandable and even engaging. Likewise, in his stories, one can see the apologist making his appeal for the gospel through his brilliantly crafted stories.
The second thing that draws people to CS Lewis, besides his great writing ability, is his child-like faith. Lewis was a man wholly given over to God. And the quality in his life from which we can see his devotion is in his genuine humility. That a man with so much talent and so much adulation was so humble is nothing short of a great work of God. It seems that Lewis knew two things. He knew that he was a sinner and that he needed God’s grace. And he knew that his talent was a gift from God to be use for the glory of God. Thank God that he did.
Lewis did not think his books would be well received very long after his death. Dead writers usually don’t sell many books, and his style of writing was out of vogue. But, by the grace of God, they did live on. Many people soon after his death and until today do have an appetite for his writing. He speaks in a voice that resonates with the longings of the human heart. A true man of God.