C.S. Lewis' writings have profound effect on Latter-day Saints
Second, Lewis explained that the Narnia stories did not start out to be Christian stories for children. Rather, they “began with a picture of a Faun holding an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood” and “then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it,” Lewis wrote. “At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them, that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”
Two other events in Lewis’ life are worth noting.
First, in the early 1950s, Lewis was passed over at Oxford for two prestigious chairs, which appointments many expected him to receive. Some of his friends believed this happened because his colleagues at Oxford “disliked the thought of a professor of English literature winning fame as amateur theologian.” So there was a price to pay for his faith. Shortly thereafter in January 1955, Cambridge University created a new chair in Medieval and Renaissance Literature and offered it to Lewis, and he accepted. Lewis taught at Cambridge until 1961, when he was too ill to continue, but kept his home — the Kilns — in Oxford.
The second event involves Joy Davidman Gresham. Lewis was a lifelong bachelor, and occasionally celebrated the fact in his writing. Gresham was a Jewish American, married with two children, who had become an atheist and communist in the 1930s, later converting to Christianity. A few years after the war, she began a correspondence with Lewis and eventually met him on a trip to London in 1952 and, after her divorce, moved there with her two sons in late 1953. A friendship ensued between them.
At some point, the British government informed her that she could not live or work in England. To solve the problem, Lewis agreed to marry her and did so in a civil ceremony in 1956, though as an act of kindness rather than of romantic love. Subsequently, Joy contracted cancer and over the course of his caring for her in their formal marriage, Lewis fell in love and ultimately married her again in a religious ceremony while she was in the hospital.
Joy made a remarkable recovery, and they had three more happy years together until her death in 1960. Their story is told in the play and movie "Shadowlands." After her death, Lewis kept a notebook of his feelings that was initially published as "A Grief Observed" under a pseudonym that speaks powerfully to the faith issues experienced by someone going through that grief and resolution.
In one specific insight to Lewis’ faith, he described in a letter that during Joy’s illness he had prayed that God would allow him to take on her pain, and that had happened: “I was losing calcium just about as fast as Joy was gaining it, and a bargain (if it were one) for which I’m very thankful.”
As we consider his amazing influence over these past 50 years, what is it that has made Lewis so appealing to so many?
In "C.S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life and Works," Walter Hooper, Lewis’ private secretary, identified four qualities: his vivid and luminous imagination; his clarity combined with his powerful reason; his moral toughness; and his love of God.
That is an accurate description, but there is more. There is a shared joyfulness in the profession of his Christian faith that we feel. He is unequivocal in his defense of the literal doctrines of the gospel, on which strength we draw. He is open about his own struggles, so there is an authenticity from the fact that he preaches what he practices. Although his erudition and logic are formidable, he makes things easy for the reader. He is always practical about the daily discipleship. There is an infectious relish for the ideas he shares with his readers. When asked why he had written what he did, he responded: “I wrote the books I should have liked to read. No rot about self-expression.” Reading his books, we feel like Lewis is having a conversation with us, talking to us as equals on the same path.
When reading Lewis, one is struck by the extraordinary breadth and depth of his erudition and, simultaneously, with the absolute absence of any self-absorption. His dear friend, Owen Barfield, described this quality: “What I think is true is, that at a certain stage in his life he deliberately ceased to take any interest in himself except as a kind of spiritual alumnus taking his moral finals and I suggest that what began as deliberate choice became at length (as he had no doubt always intended it should) an ingrained and effortless habit of soul. Self-knowledge, for him, had come to mean recognition of his own weaknesses and shortcomings and nothing more. At best, there was so much else, in letters and in life, that he found much more interesting,” as written in "Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis."
Lewis shines the light of his extraordinary insight and vision and his submissive spirit on the issues of our daily, mortal existence and helps us appreciate the profound truths of the gospel as they apply to us.
He perhaps explained best the source of his vision: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
On this anniversary, like so many others, I am grateful to Lewis for helping me see life and eternity through the lens of Christianity with an increased brightness of clarity and hope.
James Jardine is a lawyer who has taught classes at the University of Utah honors program on C.S. Lewis.
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