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C.S. Lewis' writings have profound effect on Latter-day Saints

By James Jardine

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Nov. 22 2013 9:00 a.m. MST

Lewis’ conversion from atheism back to Christianity, described in his autobiography "Surprised by Joy," was by a different path than most. That process was influenced by his own reading, especially of George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton. His biweekly interaction with a group of friends, who called themselves “The Inklings,” which included J.R.R. Tolkien, became crucial.

Lewis said it was primarily his imagination that laid the foundation of his faith. It was through his imaginative life that he first recognized what he came to understand was “goodness” or righteousness. When he read George MacDonald’s fantasy work "Phantastes," he described it in "Surprised by Joy" as “baptizing his imagination,” though he didn’t know it at the time. He eventually gave in to what he had come to recognize as the reality of a personal God: “That which I feared had at last come upon me. In … 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England," he wrote.

Although a new convert, Lewis immediately became a defender of the faith. His first effort at apologetics, "A Pilgrim’s Regress," was a redoing of "The Pilgrim’s Progress," which had limited popular success. In 1938, Lewis published "Out of the Silent Planet," the first volume of his science-fiction trilogy, and an expression of his love of fantasy.

In 1940, he wrote "The Problem of Pain," addressing the issue in Christian theology of how a loving God could allow suffering in his created world. In 1942, "The Screwtape Letters" was published after appearing as a series of letters to a British newspaper. The letters are an imagined correspondence between Screwtape, a junior administrator in Satan’s bureaucracy, and his nephew, Wormwood, a junior devil on Earth, on how to tempt his assigned mortal. The insights into human frailty and sin are remarkable. The book was a success in Great Britain, but even more popular in America and established a permanent legion of devoted readers here. The book was dedicated to Tolkien.

Thereafter followed nearly a book a year and Lewis, the Oxford academic, developed a wide audience of eager readers and listeners to his insightful and inspiring discussions of the case for Christianity and the duties of leading a Christian life.

During World War II, the BBC invited him to deliver lectures on the Christian faith, which later were collected into one of his seminal works, "Mere Christianity." It is a discussion of the reasons for God, and of the key doctrines of the faith. Lewis went on to write and publish books (such as "Miracles") and collected essays (such as "God in the Dock") on theology. Several collections of his letters were published after his death.

In 1950, Lewis published the first volume of The Chronicles of Narnia, a seven-volume series written about an imaginary world saved (redeemed) by a lion figure named Aslan. These are often described as “children’s books,” although Lewis would see that label as confining.

A collection of his essays, "Of Other Worlds," includes Lewis’ explanation for why he wrote such books (“Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said”) and how the stories of Narnia began (“It All Began With a Picture …”). These essays clarify two issues about the Narnia stories.

First, while written for children, their audience did not exclude adults. Lewis said about himself: “When I was 10 I read fairy stories in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am 50 I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up,” he wrote in “On Three Ways of Writing for Children" in "Of Other Worlds").

Lewis further explains that authors “must meet children as equals in that area of our nature where we are their equals,” and that “(t)he child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man.” Any parent who has read these books with a child and shared a moment of knowing joy at some passage or phrase knows of this meeting.

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