29 November 1898 is the birthday of C.S. Lewis, or Jack to his friends–and that’s definitely us. Well, me. It’s Brian here, the alleged captain of this ill-fated fictional almanac, and I have to say that C.S. Lewis is one of my all-time favorite writers and that he really did change my life. I consider him my mentor. Now, I know there’s a lot of baggage with Christianity, but don’t worry. I’m not going to get preachy. What I’m going to say is that Lewis (I never could get a handle on calling him Jack) matters a lot to me both in what he wrote and in how he lived.
Now, if I were to rank the things that Lewis is commonly known for, they would probably look like this:
- Being friends with Tolkien and the Inklings
- Writing faith-defending things (like Mere Christianity and doing radio shows)
- And maybe …he was a teacher?
You know what Lewis did? He wrote things that helped him understand what it means to be a Christian. The Chronicles of Narnia supposes a different though analogous world to our own (NOT an allegory–Lewis was very clear on that) and plays out what Creation and redemption would look like there. Lewis also wrote a science fiction trilogy to explore this issue of sin and contamination, changing the scale of our thoughts from global to universal. He talked on BBC Radio about the core beliefs at the heart of Christianity.
But he also lived a normal life. He had a scholarly career as a professor of medieval literature. He fought in the Great War. He got married (to an American!) and raised a stepson. He became a widower. C.S. Lewis was a regular person who wanted to know exactly what it meant to believe what he did in his time and place, and he wrote so that he and others could learn from that. That’s why he’s my hero.
How to Commemorate
- Read his books (out loud is better!)
- Eat Turkish Delight
- Shout “Narnia and the North!” when leaving a room
- Have a conversation about words (like a true philologist).
Normally we have a Works Cited section here, but since we really love Lewis (and I’m the alleged captain), here is a breakdown of a bunch of his books and why you might want to read them.
Till We Have Faces. Epic. This was Lewis’ favorite of his own writings. It’s an old-type story set in a backwater Dark Age country. So bleak and detailed and wonderful. It’s more Game of Thrones than Narnia, so be ready. It’s one of my own Top Five.
The Chronicles of Narnia. Really, you haven’t read these yet? Think of a Romanesque alien world where animals talk. Enter humans and …conflict! (Lewis suggested people read them in the chronological order in which the stories take place, which is how you often find them numbered in sets, but I prefer the order they were written. Remember, he made his suggestion way before prequels and such became popular.)
The Space Trilogy. Start with Out of the Silent Planet. Classic. The main character is a linguist who gets kidnapped and taken to Mars where he has to journey across the world and communicate with various species of Martians to get back home.
Letters to Children. Think of Lewis replying to fanmail from kids. Which is precisely what this is.
The Great Divorce. In the fashion of George MacDonald (Lewis’ own literary mentor), Lewis writes from the perspective of someone who journeys with a few other residents from Hell to effectively the front yard of Heaven. “There will be surprises.”
The Screwtape Letters. An epistolary collection of correspondence from one demon (high-up admin in Hell, you know) to his nephew Wormwood (entry-level demon trying to corrupt this one regular guy). Screwtape’s tone is gloriously condescending and scathing, and it’s truly insightful to hear his comments about the world as a sort of dark mirror.
Mere Christianity. This was the most popular non-fiction book in the 20th Century after the Bible, and I wish we would see its value in the 21st. Lewis just flat out discusses topics like virtue, sin, sacrifice, pornography, and what is really at the heart of the Christian religion. I don’t agree with him on all of his points (and you don’t have to either), but I appreciate his precise thinking and clear writing.
The Indigo Dragon. Ok, Lewis didn’t write this one, but he is one of the main characters along with Tolkien. And it’s a series!
And feel free to check out the Wade Center at Wheaton College, which is a primary research hub about Lewis as well as J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Charles Williams.