A Google search for C. S. Lewis will produce nearly 58 million hits. If a person were to look at each site for 30 seconds, then go on to the next one, and do this without stopping to eat or sleep or take any kind of a break, it would take over 50 years. But by then there may be an additional 50 million hits, and so one would have to start over.
The celebrated Oxford don is more popular today, 53 years after his death, than ever before. Over a hundred million Lewis books have been sold. His Narnia fantasies have been made into major motion pictures, and Lewis’s story has been told on television and in theaters. Scholarly papers subject his work to academic scrutiny at colloquiums and conferences all over the world. C. S. Lewis has become an industry.
What would he think of all this? The answer, I think, is that he would try not to think of it. Once, when Walter Hooper asked Lewis if he ever gave thought to his bourgeoning reputation, Lewis answered in a “low, still voice, and with the deepest and most complete humility I’ve ever observed in anyone, ‘One cannot be too careful not to think of it.’”
I have been a student of C. S. Lewis for many years. I’ve read his fiction, his Christian non-fiction, his academic books on literary criticism, his essays and even his collected letters. Lewis has been one of the two or three most important teachers in my life. So when I recently was asked to be guest instructor for a home school co-op class on Great Christians, with the assignment of introducing students to C. S. Lewis, I jumped at the chance.
Students were impressed by the fact that the celebrated scholar suffered painful loss and ongoing trials, just like all the rest of us. The “joyful Christian,” as he has been called, endured great hardships, beginning with his childhood in Belfast, Ireland, and continuing until his premature death, one week before his 65th birthday.
Lewis’s mother died when he was nine. A short time later his attorney father sent him to a boarding school, the first of several disastrous school experiences to which he was subjected. The relationship with his father was always distant, and frequently trying.
Lewis succeeded in winning a scholarship to University College, Oxford, but within a few months of his arrival was inducted into the army and sent to fight in France in the First World War. The young Lewis, now an avowed atheist, was wounded at Somme. His friend, “Paddy” Moore, was killed. Lewis had promised Moore that he would take care of his mother, which he did until her death, but it was a complicated relationship that became very vexing.
Lewis was a man with many friends, but his “dearest and closest friend” was his brother Warren. Warren (or Warnie, as he was called) was a career military man, but when he was in England the brothers shared a house. Lewis was deeply devoted to his brother, but his brother’s ongoing battle with alcoholism was a painful trial that sometimes left him at a complete loss.
There were other losses and trials. Lewis grieved deeply the sudden and unexpected death of his “great friend, friend of friends…Charles Williams.” At Oxford Lewis was continually passed over for a professorship because of his very public Christian faith. His friend J.R.R. Tolkien complained that “Oxford has not…treated [Lewis] very well.”
Lewis faced grief, relationship problems, and professional disappointments, but his greatest hardship was the death of his wife Joy. Lewis didn’t marry until the last decade of his life, but he developed a profound love for his wife. She was diagnosed with cancer, went briefly into remission (in what may have been the happiest time in Lewis’s life), and then suddenly died.
The brilliant thinker, remarkable scholar, engaging writer, and influential Christian was also a man who suffered trial and loss. Yet he remained joyfully hopeful. It was this Lewis who impressed my students, and who has impressed me. It is this Lewis I hold in highest esteem.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 11/26/2016
I enjoyed reading your article on CS Lewis, and as a Christian myself, he has held much fascination for me. I am a retired social worker. With more time to read now, I would love to read some of his works. He has published so many, I wouldn’t know where to start, and I wondered if you might help get me by recommending a book (or two) to start with. Thank you and Merry Christmas.
Pam, I’m glad you read the article – and thanks for taking the time to reply. I love to talk to people about Lewis, who has been one of the chief influences on my thinking. As far as a good starting place – and I invite others to weigh in on this – it depends what interests you most. “Mere Christianity” is a classic introduction to the faith. “Screwtape Letters” put Lewis on the map. It is a fun and brilliant read about the nature of temptation. Lewis’s own favorite novel was “‘Til We Have Faces,” based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche. It is one of those stories that gets better and better as your read. It is beautiful and powerful. If you struggle with understanding why God allows suffering, “The Problem of Pain” is a classic. It is popular philosophy at its best. For fun, read any of the Chronicles of Narnia or, better yet, start with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and read them all. They are the best kind of children’s books – ones that adults can read with enjoyment and profit.
I find I’m running through the whole Lewis canon. Well, there is The Great Divorce, which is a great book, the so-called science fiction trilogy, which are not really science fiction and which I love, the book on literary theory, “A Preface to Paradise Lost” and more. I guess if you want non-fiction, I’d choose Mere Christianity for starters. If fiction, the ‘Til We Have Faces.
Happy reading! And let me know if you are enjoying it!
C. S. Lewis has influenced my thinking more than any other person. From when I was a little girl and escaped into Narnia, and then as a young adult in his Space Trilogy. After my conversion to Christianity I devoured his apologetic works and my deep love of literature made his literary criticisms enjoyable.
I found your blog through your article in Christianity Today, which popped up on my smartphone google page because of my interest in Quantum Physics. Three years ago I found quantum physics healing modalities which started me on a journey of healing after a lifetime of abuse. Quantum physics – the mysticism of this age.
Because of harsh experiences with humans (many of them professing bible quoting christians) as a child and into my adulthood, it has been easier for me to picture a loving Deity and ministering angels in animal form. The Loving Healing Wise Lion, my loving winged dog-angels, etc. I have C.S. Lewis to thank for these images.
My heart jumped when I saw you pastor a church in MI. I grew up in MI and after making my “escape” in the early 80s I did not consider going back until a few years ago when I drove through and was inundated with a sense of home and the beauty of the up north woods and lakes and rivers and the Great Lakes shores where I spent my childhood. I have thought about coming back. And then I read your “about” page and felt deeply what you were speaking of….going home, it isn’t a physical place on the surface of this planet we are looking for .
Thank you for your article on quantum entanglement. It has given me a way to consider my entanglement with Jesus, who walked this earth with all the power of this quantum universe in his fingertips and words and the glance of his eyes.
Thanks for reading and for your generous comments. I found Lewis in college, learned to love his extraordinary combination of vibrant imagination and hard-headed reason. As a pastor, I’ve asked God to give me the ability to illustrate truth with just the right analogy, as Lewis did. Over the years, the three persons I’ve quoted most often in print and from the pulpit have been Lewis, Dallas Willard, and A. W. Tozer – but Lewis was my first life-long teacher, and has influenced everything I’ve ever written.
I’m not sure where you escaped to when you left Michigan, but “home” as a way of calling us back: its particular beauties are woven, I think, into our souls. Michigan, I am sure, will welcome you back!
Under the Mercy,