"The Life, Works and Influence
Lindsey Wilson College
November 3, 1998
Hello, my name is Richard James and I will be
presenting tonight's program on "The Life, Works and Influence of C.S.
Lewis." We will begin our program with an introductory video on the life of
C.S. Lewis. Interspersed within the narrative there are audio clips by Lewis
himself, photos of him, his family and friends and audio readings from Mere
Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. Also you will see portions of
the BBC rendition of Shadowlands and the animated version of The Lion,
the Witch and the Wardrobe. Following the video I will present some of my
own comments on Lewis. Let's begin the video. [Mere C.S. Lewis, The
Episcopal Media Center, Atlanta, GA. (TRT: 17:30)]
"The Life, Works and Influence of C.S. Lewis"
I am privileged this evening to share with you an
introduction to the life, works and influence of C.S. Lewis upon the celebration
of the centenary of his birth on November 29, 1898. Born Clive Staples Lewis, he
was the second son of Albert and Flora Lewis of Belfast, Ireland. His older
brother, Warnie, born Warren Hamilton, was a career soldier in the British army.
Called "Jack" by all of his friends, C.S. Lewis is best known in the
United States for his Christian apologetics and children's fantasy novels, and
more recently as the subject of the popular Hollywood movie, Shadowlands,
starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. For 29 years he taught and tutored as
a Fellow in English literature at Oxford University and, then, for 9 more years he was professor of
Medieval and Renaissance Literature literature at Cambridge University. His
published writings include every major genre of literature except drama: poetry,
allegory, literary criticism, short story, science fiction novels, children's
fantasy novels, visionary dream novel, sermons, Christian apologetics, Bible
exposition, autobiography, classical myth, and epistolary novel. In addition
some of his more popular writings were first delivered as radio broadcasts over
the BBC during World War II.
Before I go any further I would like to ask if you
would interact with me as to your own reading of C.S. Lewis. Maybe I might ask,
"How many of you have never read any of his books? Would you raise your
hands? Of those who have, how many first read or had read to you, the books
known as the Chronicles of Narnia? How many first read either The
Screwtape Letters or Mere Christianity? How many came to read him
first through his literary criticism? What are some of the books that others of
you may have read upon your first introduction to Lewis? Thank you. That gives
me a better idea of the people with whom I am sharing.
With that settled, let me share a little of my own
experience with Lewis and what his writings have meant to me. I had never heard
of C.S. Lewis until I went to college; and, as a college student having to deal
with questions about my faith, a friend suggested reading Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. I
really was impressed by the clarity and logic of the one and the humor and
insight of the other. I soon began to read other Lewis books, especially his
books that related to Christianity. I did not know for some time that he had
died in the same year and on the same day as President Kennedy, which also was
my first year at college. Following my graduation from college in Virginia, I
married and came out to Kentucky, to Lexington, to attend seminary. It was in
1969, in a Christian coffeehouse that I first heard portions of the Chronicles
of Narnia read. The wonder, the joy, the adventure, the awe-filled experience
with Aslan, all gave new vision to me of what the Christian life could really be
like in our world. So significant was this fresh spiritual experience with the
Chronicles of Narnia that three years later, we named our first son David Edmund
after Edmund, the child in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for whom the
real lion king, Aslan, died. About 1975 further interest in Lewis led me to
correspond with a literary society in New York which met monthly and read their
own papers on C.S. Lewis to one another and then published them in a newsletter
to anyone who wanted to join them. Named The New York C.S. Lewis Society, my
association with them opened my horizon to C.S. Lewis's other more literary
works. One thing led to another, and over the last 25 years I have collected a
copy of and read almost all of the available articles and books that have been
written by or about C.S. Lewis and his friends from about the 1930's up until
What brought me here tonight, in part, is the privilege
that I had of contributing several articles to a recent book on C.S. Lewis,
entitled The C.S. Lewis Reader's Encyclopedia
(147, 181, 199, 223, 286, 286). As I refer, right now, to the articles that were
assigned to me, I will briefly note that they
deal with people who were close to C.S. Lewis and touched his life in a
significant way. Hamiliton Jenkin, whom Lewis described as his "first
lifelong friend," was a fellow student of Lewis's at Oxford in the early
twenties. In his autobiography Lewis mentions that it was Jenkin who showed him
how to "enjoy everything; even ugliness," by making "a total
surrender to whatever atmosphere was offering itself at the moment,"
rubbing one's nose in the "very quiddity of each thing." (Lewis, SBJ,
160) Two of the articles assigned to me were on men who were part of the
Inklings, a group of writers that met regularly each week in Lewis's rooms at
Oxford to read and critique each others unpublished writings. Lewis describes
one of these, Hugo Dyson, to be in his opinion, one of "the immediate human
causes" of his conversion.
(Lewis, LCSL, 363) It had been Tolkien and Dyson who had spent a long evening
with Lewis in 1931 discussing the historical reality of the incarnation, the
crucifixion and the resurrection - comparing Christianity to the classical and
Norse myths and suggesting to Lewis that Jesus's death and resurrection was
"a true myth" that had become "an historical fact." Just
nine days later Lewis made his decision to move from theism to a belief in
Christianity. Another Inkling, Dr. Humphrey Havard was Lewis's family doctor. He
also was the first speaker at the Oxford Socratic Society. To give a medical
perspective on pain Lewis asked him to write an appendix to one of his early
books, The Problem of Pain. Havard was also an official witness to Lewis's civil
marriage to Joy Davidman Gresham in 1956. (Griffin, 376) Maureen Moore, better
known in Great Britain as Lady Dunbar of Hempriggs, lived in Oxford with Lewis
and her mother, Janie Moore and Lewis's brother Warren, in a rather complicated
household arrangement, initiated by Lewis and her mother just after Lewis
returned to Oxford from his service in World War I. The movie, Shadowlands,
never really acknowledges this side of Lewis's pre-conversion double-life, and,
if it had, it would have removed forever a stereotype often given to Lewis as an
inexperienced, ivory-tower-bachelor don who feared relationships with women.
Another friend, Jock Gibb, was Lewis's book editor and publisher, who played an
important, but behind-the-scenes role in the promotion, distribution and sale of
millions of Lewis's books. Gibb also edited the book, Light on C.S. Lewis,
one of the earliest anthology of essays written about Lewis after his death.
Finally, I refer you to the nineteenth century fantasy novelist, William Morris,
whom Lewis mentioned in his personal correspondence over 75 times, second only
to George MacDonald (Lewis, TST, 583-584). Lewis gave two public lectures on
Morris, seeking to restore Morris to his proper place in English literature.
Now to a discussion of his life and works. No brief
review of Lewis's life and works can do justice to both the breadth and depth of
accomplishments. In spite of the fact that in the 1930's and 40's that Lewis was
one of the most popular lecturers among students at Oxford; in spite of the fact
that millions heard his voice broadcast weekly over the BBC during World War II;
in spite of the fact that his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine
in 1947, C.S. Lewis and his writings never reached the level of popularity
during his lifetime that they are today. Ironically, it was his growing
popularity as a lay religious writer and speaker in the 1940's that caused both
embarrassment and jealousy among his academic colleagues at Oxford and the
political intrigue that followed which hindered him from becoming a full
professor there. Oxford dons were just not supposed to be involved in such
unprofessional activities. (Green, 280-281) Later, in 1954, a competing sister
university, Cambridge, did offer him a full professorship, where he served until
just before his death in 1963.
Look with me now at the handout titled "A
C.S. Lewis Chronology." (this hyperlink opens as a new window) You will notice in 1908 that his mother died of cancer. Her early death
just before Jack Lewis's tenth birthday brought chaos into his well-ordered
Irish family. His father, Albert, never really came to grips with the loss of
his wife. In the midst of his grief and overwork, Albert chose to send his two
sons away to boarding schools for their education, and, although he financially
supported them and saw them on vacations, he never really was aware of their
emotional and personal needs. Both Warnie and Jack had been raised in what we
would call the Episcopal or Anglican church in Great Britain, but soon after
leaving home they both became unbelievers.
In 1914 Jack was sent to be tutored by W.T.
Kirkpatrick, one of his father's old teachers. It was Kirkpatrick's
responsibility to prepare Lewis for entry into Oxford University, into which
Lewis was accepted in 1917. Under Kirkpatrick, who was both a rationalist and an
atheist, Lewis studied the great literary authors and philosophical thinkers,
both classical and modern, in their original languages; in so doing, developing
his own rhetorical and literary skills. In a letter to Lewis's father,
Kirkpatrick described Jack as "the most brilliant translator of Greek plays
that I have ever met." (Green, 46)
Shortly after his arrival at Oxford, he was
commissioned into the army and was later sent into battle in France. In April,
1918 he was wounded in action, returning, after rehabilitation to his studies at
Oxford. He received a rare triple-First in his academic studies, but had
difficulty finding a permanent teaching position. Finally, in 1925, Lewis was
elected a Fellow in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford,
publishing in 1936, his first major book of literary criticism, The Allegory
It was during this formative period between his
return to Oxford and the publication of The Allegory of Love that several
major changes occurred in his life. First, during his recovery, he developed an
emotional attachment, both maternal and probably sexual to Mrs. Janie Moore, the
mother of his former roommate, Paddie Moore, who had died in the war.
Unbeknownst to his father and to the school authorities and many of his friends,
Lewis set up a household in Oxford with Mrs. Moore and her daughter Maureen.
Later, in 1932, Lewis's brother, Warnie would also come live with them. Mrs.
Moore, an unbeliever, died in a nursing home in 1951. Some felt that his
commitment to Mrs. Moore and her domestic demands on his time hindered his
literary work, but others felt that it gave him more depth as a writer, than if
he had lived only at the university.
Second, during this time Lewis had two books of poetry
published under the pseudonym, Clive Hamilton. The first, Spirits in Bondage,
was published in 1919 and the second, Dymer, was published in 1926.
Although he had hoped to make a name for himself as a poet, neither of these books received either critical or popular approval. Facing
this fact was difficult, but, in doing so, he then turned to literary criticism,
where his talents seemed to be both more fruitful and more appreciated. (Lewis,
LCSL, 159, 181, 318, 444)
Third, during both his student days and in his early
teaching career, Lewis began to develop significant friendships with the men who
would eventually be the nucleus of the Inklings. In 1919 he met both Cecil
Harwood and Owen Barfield as fellow students at Oxford. All three had an
interest in poetry. He met Nevill Coghill in 1923, with whom he had the same
tutor at Oxford. It was Coghill who later introduced him to Hugo Dyson in 1930.
He met Tolkien in 1926, sharing a common interest in Old English and Norse
mythology. Dr. Humphrey Havard met Lewis while making a house call at the Kilns
in 1934. Eventually all of these friends, including Lewis's brother and several
others, came together informally in the mid-1930's to share and discuss with
each other their unpublished writings.
A fourth major change occurred shortly before the death of
Lewis's father in 1929. In the spring of that year, after many years of doubt,
searching, and unfulfilled longing, Lewis had reluctantly come to believe that
there was a God. Following his father's death that fall, Jack had written to his
friend Arthur Greeves that he was moving closer to a belief in Christianity. In
September,1931, with the help of Dyson and Tolkien, he took the final step -
accepting the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ as the Son of God. He then
wrote again to Arthur saying, "I have just
passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ."
(TST, 10/1/31) In just a little over a year he wrote an allegorical account of
his conversion from atheism to Christianity and it was published in 1933 as The
Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and
Romanticism. A little over twenty years later he again reviewed the shape of
his early life and the events that led to his conversion in his spiritual
autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Of course, this particular change, his
conversion, also brought additional changes in his relationship with Mrs. Moore.
Having faced these four major changes as a young academic
at Oxford, Lewis was now headed into the most fruitful period of his life.
Before we sample some individual selections from Lewis, I first would like for
us to consider his overall career. [Look with me next at the three-column
handout, titled "Barfield's Three Lewises."]
I have listed all of Lewis's works published through 1990. The line drawn by
"plus signs" delineates those that were published before or were in
process of being published before his death. Most of the later volumes listed
are collections of essays or poems edited by Walter Hooper which were also previously published by Lewis in various
periodicals before his death. The asterisk by The Dark Tower refers to
some current critical questions about its authenticity which is another whole
issue that will not be mentioned further in this lecture.
In 1988, Lewis's longtime friend, Owen Barfield, looking
back over the entire Lewis canon, speaks of three major arenas in which Lewis
distinguished himself. First, he was a "distinguished and original literary
critic." This first column refers specifically to books such as The
Allegory of Love and his magnum opus, English Literature in the 16th
Century. Second, he was a "highly successful author of imaginative
fiction." The second column lists such well-known books as The Screwtape Letters, his space
trilogy, and of course, the seven Chronicles of Narnia. Third, he was a
"writer and broadcaster of Christian apologetics." (Barfield in TTOTP,
1) Best known in this third list are Mere Christianity, Miracles,
and A Grief Observed,
the book upon which the play and movie, Shadowlands was based. Indeed,
responding in a 1954 letter to the Milton Society of America, Lewis described
his own work in similar fashion, if not in the same exact words as
"imaginative, religious writer and critic. " (LCSL, 444)
As you can see, quantitatively, each of these areas
is well-balanced. Barfield does express a concern that many readers who know him
in one setting do not yet know him in the other two settings. That may be the
case here today as well. Yet, in spite of this threefold diversity, it is the
common experience of many Lewis readers that they do not meet three different
writers when we encounter Lewis in these three different settings. Somehow he
communicates an impressive unity across all three arenas. In fact, according to
Barfield, "what he [Lewis] thought about everything was secretly present in
what he said about anything." (TTOTP, 2) Why is this? I would agree with
another Lewis scholar, Bruce Edwards, when he writes, "My reflection on
Lewis' literary career, and my submersion in his literary scholarship, reveal to
me a man who refused to compartmentalize his faith or his vocation. Lewis's
devotion to Christ and his full embrace of the supernaturalism of Biblical faith
leaks out into his prose whether he is writing children's fantasy, or
etymologies of obscure Norse words, or framing the cultural milieu of allegory
in the fourteenth century." (Edwards in Inklings Forever, 2) In this
sense Lewis serves for each of us, no matter what our vocation or faith, as a
model of integrity, in his work, his life and his faith, even to the point of
being willing to be "denied a professorship at Oxford at the peak of his
literary scholarship." (Inklings Forever, 7)
Let's turn now to a sample of some of Lewis's work,
beginning with one of his poems originally published in 1954 in Punch and
entitled, "Spartan Nactus," (Latin for "Spartan Having
Obtained") where he poetically throws down the gauntlet against modern
poetry, specifically referring to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
where Eliot likens an evening to "a patient etherised upon a table."
In this poem Lewis pretends to be a dunce who does not understand the subtle
nuances of modern poetry's imagery and tongue-in-cheek apologizes for finding in
stock responses and dull things his own poetic perspective. (Don King, CSLRE.
382 and Seven. 79-80) We will only read the first six and the last eight
1 "I am so coarse, the things the poets see
2 Are obstinately invisible to me.
3 For twenty years I've stared my level best
4 To see if evening - any evening - would suggest
5 A patient etherized upon a table;
6 In vain. I simply wasn't able.
23 I'm like that odd man Wordsworth knew, to whom
24 A primrose was a yellow primrose, one whose doom
25 Keeps him forever in the list of dunces,
26 Compelled to live on stock responses,
27 Making the poor best that I can
28 Of dull things . . . peacocks, honey, the Great Wall, Aldebaran,
29 Silver weirs, newcut grass, wave on the beach, hard gem,
30 The shapes of horse and woman, Athens, Troy, Jerusalem.
Our second Lewis sample comes from an essay entitled, "Meditation in a Toolshed." Originally published in a local British newspaper, it describes an important concept that Lewis used in both his religious and literary essays. Here we see the significant difference between "looking at and looking along." Again we will just read the first few paragraphs, but I encourage you to read the whole essay on your own.
"Meditation in a Toolshed"
C. S. Lewis
Originally published in The Coventry Evening Telegraph (17 July 1945):
4. Reprinted in God in the
ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 1970): 212-215
I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was
shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a
sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating
in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost
pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.
Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly
the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam.
Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green
leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million
miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very
But this is only a very simple example of the
difference between looking at and looking along.
Let us look now at an example of Lewis's apologetics
from Mere Christianity, the book which formed the basis of his World War II BBC
radio broadcasts. Here is his famous argument for proving the deity of Christ.
It comes just after Lewis mentions that Jesus appeared among the Jews claiming
to forgive sins. He writes,
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the
really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept
Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God."
That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the
sort of things Jesus said would not be great moral teacher. he would either be a
lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is poached egg - or else he would
be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is,
the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a
fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet
and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense
about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did
not intend to."
(Mere Christianity. 40-41)
I did not list in the threefold Lewis literary canon
the many collections of his letters that have been published since Lewis's
death. It was his practice to answer every letter that he received, seeing it as
a mentoring ministry given to him in response to the many books and articles
written on Christian themes. Part of our next sample of Lewis's work comes from
his letters. Part comes from two essays describing how he came to write some of
his fiction. Here is he giving some advice on writing. We will just glance
through part of it.
Lewis's Advice on Writing
What really matters is:
1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you
mean and make sure y[ou}r. sentence couldn't mean anything else.
2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't
implement promises, but keep them.
3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean
"More people died" don't say "Mortality rose."
4. In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want
us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a
thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't
say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've
read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous,
exquisite) are only like saying to your readers "Please will you do my job
5. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say
"infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no
word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.(CSLLC. 63-64)
To a schoolgirl in America who had written to request
advice on writing:
It is very hard to give any general advice about writing.
Here's my attempt.
(1) Turn off the Radio.
(2) Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all
(3) Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You sh[ou]d.
hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it
does not sound nice, try again.
(4) Write about what really interests you, whether it is real
things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are
interested in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing
to write about. . . .)
(5) Take great pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by
knowing what you mean, the reader doesn't, and a single ill-chosen word may lead
him to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget
that you have not told the reader something that he wants to know - the whole
picture is so clear in your mind that you forget that it isn't the same in his.
(6) When you give up a bit of work don't (unless it is hopelessly
bad) throw it away. Put it in a drawer. It may come in useful later. Much of my
best work, or what I think my best, is the re-writing of things begun and
abandoned years earlier.
(7) Don't use a typewriter. The noise will destroy your sense of
rhythm, which still needs years of training.
(8) Be sure you know the meaning (or meanings) of every word you
I hope my title did not lead anyone to think that I was
conceited enough to give you advice on how to write a story for children. There
were two very good reasons for not doing that. One is that many people have
written better stories than I, and I would rather learn about the art than set
up to teach it. The other is that, in a certain sense, I have never exactly
'made' a story. With me the process is much more like bird-watching than like
either talking or building. I see pictures. Some of these pictures have a common
flavour, almost a common smell, which groups them together. Keep quiet and watch
and they will begin joining themselves up. If you were very lucky (I have never
been so lucky as all that) a whole set might join themselves so consistently
that there you had a complete story: without doing anything yourself. But more
often (in my experience always) there are gaps. Then at last you have to do some
deliberate inventing, have to contrive reasons why these characters should be in
these various places doing these various things. I have no idea whether this is
the usual way of writing stories, still less whether it is the best. It is the
only one I know: images always come first.
The Editor has asked me to tell you how I came to
write The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I will try, but you must not believe
all that authors tell you about how they wrote their books. This not because
they mean to tell lies. It is because a man writing a story is too excited about
they story itself to sit back and notice how he is doing it. In fact, that might
stop the works; just as, if you start thinking about how you tie your tie the
next thing is that you find you can't tie it. And afterwards, when the story is
finished, he has forgotten a good deal of what writing it was like.
One thing I am sure of. All my seven Narnian books,
and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At
first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of
a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. The picture had been in
my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said
to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it.'
At first I had very little idea how the story would
go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a
good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don't know where
the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there He pulled the whole
story together, and soon he pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.
So, you see that, in a sense, I know very little
about how this story was born. That is, I don't know where the pictures came
from. And I don't believe anyone knows exactly how he 'makes things up'. Making
up is a very mysterious thing. When you 'have an idea' could you tell anyone
exactly how you thought of it?
A final sample comes from An Experiment in Criticism,
where Lewis describes what good reading is and what it can do for the reader. In
my opinion this non-technical description of the importance of reading is one of
the high points of Lewis's literary
criticism. Let's glance through it as well.
Good reading, therefore, though it is not essentially an
affectional or moral or intellectual activity, has something in common with all
three. In love we escape from our self into one other. In the moral sphere,
every act of justice or charity involves putting ourselves in the other
person's place and thus transcending our own competitive particularity. In
coming to understand anything we are rejecting the facts as they are for us in
favour of the facts as they are. The primary impulse of each is to maintain
and aggrandise himself The
secondary impulse is to go out of the self; to correct its provincialism and
heal its loneliness. In love, in virtue, in the pursuit of knowledge, and in the
reception of the arts, we are doing this. Obviously this process can be
described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self.
But that is an old paradox; 'he that loseth his life shall save it'.
We therefore delight to enter into other men's
beliefs (those, say, of Lucretius or Lawrence) even though we think them untrue.
And into their passions, though we think them depraved, like those, sometimes,
of Marlowe or Carlyle. And also into their imaginations, though they lack all
realism of content.
This must not be understood as if I were making the
literature of power once more into a department within the literature of
knowledge - a department which existed to gratify our rational curiosity about
other people's psychology. It is not a question of knowing (in that sense) at
all. It is connaittre not savoir; it is erleben; we become these other selves.
Not only nor chiefly in order to see what they are like but in order to see what
they see, to occupy, for a while, their seat in the great theatre, to use their
spectacles and be made free of whatever insights, joys, terrors, wonders or
merriment those spectacles reveal. Hence it is irrelevant whether the mood
expressed in a poem was truly and historically the poet's own or one that he
also had imagined. What matters is his power to make us live it. I doubt whether
Donne the man gave more than playful and dramatic harbourage to the mood
expressed in The Apparition. I doubt still more whether the real Pope, save
while he wrote it, or even then more than dramatically, felt what he expresses
in the passage beginning 'Yes, I am proud'. (Epilogue to the Satires, II, 1.208)
What does it matter?
This, so far as I can see, is the specific value or good
of literature considered as Logos; it admits us to experiences other than our
own. They are not, any more than our personal experiences, all equally worth
having. Some, as we say, 'interest' us more than others. The causes of this
interest are naturally extremely various and differ from one man to another; it
may be the typical (and we say 'How true!') or the abnormal (and we say 'How
strange!'); it may be the beautiful, the terrible, the awe-inspiring, the
exhilarating, the pathetic, the comic, or the merely piquant. Literature gives
the entree to them all. Those of us who have been true readers all our life
seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to
authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be
full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should
be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself; and therefore less a
self; is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those
of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will
see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I
regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face
things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the
olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a
Literary experience heals the wound, without
undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal
the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are
pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature
I become a thousand men and yet remain myself Like the night sky in the Greek
poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship,
in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more
myself than when I do.
How might we sum up Lewis's influence today after
having introduced ourselves to both his life and works? I agree wholeheartedly
with a literary critic who recently stated in an e-mail that he sent to me this
I "find that Lewis creates good critical thinkers and
reflective citizens - not to mention active mediators of God's goodness and
mercy. He brings people of disparate interests, aptitudes, and vocations
together - and pays us the tender compliment of expecting us together to learn
to read with discernment and to understand ultimate issues in the light of
eternity. He offers us neither flattery nor condescension; only the promise of
honest exchange and respect for the individual journeys we are on.."
(Edwards, "Pre-Mythcon." 1)
I hope that for the many who may have just
encountered Jack Lewis that this lecture will encourage you to move deeper into
all of his works - literary, imaginative and religious. For you who have been
his longtime companions, I hope that this has renewed your enthusiasm for him
and his works. It has been a pleasure to share with you. Let me leave with you
Lewis's closing words, from his Carnegie Medal (1956) award-winning book, The Last Battle,
as the Pevensie children hear Aslan tell them that they will no longer have to
live in the Shadowlands of this earth:
Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan.
And you have sent us back into our own world so often." "No fear of
that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?" Their hearts leaped
and a wild hope rose within them. "There was a real railway accident,"
said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are - as you used
to call it in the Shadow-Lands - dead. The term is over: the holidays have
begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."
And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things
that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write
them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say
that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning
of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in
Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were
beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which
goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (LB.
Last Updated: Sunday, March 16, 2003