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Saturday, July 12, 2014

C.S. Lewis: Author, Academic, and Lay Theologian

Clive Staples "Jack" Lewis is by far my favorite author. I've been reading his books since I was eight, and I continue to do so. From The Chronicles of Narnia to The Screwtape Letters, I have read many of his books, and look forward to finally reading Mere Christianity when I get to it on my list. C.S. Lewis was not only a great author, but he was also a great man, applying a mixture of intellectualism and imagination to his work and teachings. Though he had no formal training as a clergyman, he was a renowned lay theologian, whose works continue to be studied today. In addition to being wittily and wisely crafted, Lewis' books are also very popular, having sold millions of copies and being translated into dozens of languages all over the world. This seminal author was even featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1947. Lewis' work has been a profound influence on my own writing and worldview, and I daresay that any serious Christian should look into his work.

C.S. Lewis was born and raised in Belfast in Northern Ireland, with his brother Warren. His mother died when he was very young, resulting in him identifying as an atheist for much of his life. Lewis later recalled that as a youth, he was trapped in the absurd attitude of "being very angry with God for not existing." His experiences with a particularly nasty boarding school resulted in him becoming a sharp critic of modern education. Lewis served in the British army during the First World War, seeing combat and enduring trench warfare in the Somme Valley. He was 19 at this time. After the war, he finished his studies at Oxford and eventually became a Fellow and tutor at Magdalen College. At the age of 32, Lewis' faith was reignited after he met and became friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic. Lewis rejoined the Anglican Church, and though he considered himself an Orthodox Anglican, he tried to avoid promoting one specific denomination in his apologetic writings.

Lewis went on to write dozens of books, including The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, The Space Trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Mere Christianity, to name a few. Lewis took children into his country home during the air raids of the Second World War, which partly inspired The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first published book of the The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis later married Joy Gresham in 1957, despite being some 17 years older than his bride. The otherwise happy marriage was cut short by Joy's tragic death from cancer in 1960 at the age of 45. Lewis himself passed away just five years later in 1965, coincidentally on the same day as John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. He is survived by two stepsons from Joy's previous marriage, Douglas and David Gresham, the former of whom is involved in the affairs of the Lewis estate and has acted as a host in the radio dramas of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters produced by Focus on the Family. Three of the Narnia books have been made into live action motion pictures, and a fourth based on The Silver Chair is in pre-production.

Lewis' writing is just one more piece of evidence pointing to the monopoly that the English seem to have on great literature. He's up there with J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, George Orwell, and all the rest of the great 20th century English authors. What makes Lewis' work unique, however, is that he writes with a mixture of wisdom and wit, getting across deep, complex points while at the same time making the reader laugh. Insomuch as I have read of his work, this is nowhere else so greatly demonstrated as in The Screwtape Letters, where Lewis portrays Hell as a literal infernal bureaucracy. By making fun of Satan and his demons, Lewis sought to construct an alternative stereotype of the devil, namely that of a humorlessly humorless bureaucrat. Lewis' other works of fiction tend to be heavily steeped in allegory, from the fantastical Narnia books to the more adult Space Trilogy. Lewis, being a professor of medieval literature, was also partial to playing around with the standard literary conventions of various genres of fiction. For example, with Prince Caspian, the second published book in The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis wanted to know what it would be like to be on the receiving end of a magical summons. More overtly in Out of the Silent Planet, the first book in The Space Trilogy, Lewis toyed with and deconstructed the various tropes and cliches of science fiction, such as Planet of Hats and Single Biome Planet.

In sum, the works of C.S. Lewis are a veritable bank of great literature, having wrote books that will appeal to people of all ages. The Chronicles of Narnia aren't just for children; they can also be enjoyed by adults. The Space Trilogy, however, is definitely more grown-up than Narnia, but no less enjoyable for older audiences. The Screwtape Letters is an excellent treatise on human nature, and is particular useful to Christian readers. I'm told that Mere Christianity is great for seekers or people searching for answers about Christianity. To cut a long story short, Lewis' many works are accessible by many large and diverse audiences. I encourage all of you readers out there to not only check out the books of C.S. Lewis, but also to seek out and listen to the radio dramas of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters which Focus on the Family has produced over the last several years. Those specific works, however, are their own blog posts. At any rate, I hope one day to have read most, if not all, of the works of C.S. Lewis. I also hope sincerely to spend many long hours chatting with this great man someday on the other side.

"All that is not eternal is eternally out of date." - C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

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