Friday, November 22, 2013

Happy Homecoming Day, C. S. Lewis!

In college some time during the last century, I reviewed a clever book for a student newspaper by Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft called Between Heaven and Hell.  Noting that Lewis, JFK, and Aldous Huxley all passed away on the same day, Kreeft proposed that the three men met somewhere in another world after their deaths for a conversation about ultimate truths, which he then records.  Of course Lewis got the best of the debate, as he normally did in this life. 

I was two when Lewis passed away, so I never had the chance for that long conversation with him that I have often wished for since. 

I first "met" Lewis in a serious way in the 8th grade, in the basement of friends of our parents, Bob and Elaine Colvin, a mile or two up the valley from Mendenhall Glacier north of Juneau, Alaska.  Maybe our parents had read some of the Narnia stories to us before.  And I do also remember my 4th Grade teacher at Alki Elementary School playing a television show about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- maybe we'd read it by that time, already.  But in Alaska, I borrowed Bob's books -- probably including some of Lewis' theological books -- and devoured them.  That was 38 years ago, and I have been feasting on them every since -- I just rerererererere-read the last half of Till We Have Faces, one of the most profound novels I know.  

Mere Christianity features big in my "personal testimony," especially the chapter on pride.  (Never would have guessed, would you have?) 

Lewis introduced me to logic, to apologetics, and (along with Gene Roddenbery) to fantasy.  He helped frame the structure of my mind.  Lewis himself described someone, I think it was Dr. Johnson, as a writer whom he could always implicitly trust, meaning I think, rely on his sense and good judgment.  Just so, while there are some passages that wear thin, I have argued against the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, as Alvin Plantinga calls it, and all writers age with time, I keep going back to Lewis because the structure of that world again and again proves a morally and intellectually secure habitat. 

All of my books have been deeply influenced by Lewis' writings.   He also introduced me to other writers who moved into the structure framed up by his work, and made themselves welcome houseguests: G. K. Chesterton especially, also Dr. Johnson himself.  And I've benefited from others, though they had a lesser impact, like his wife Joy Davidson, Dorothy Sayers, and Charles Williams.  (Gandalf seemed to blaze an independent path to my door.)  He also emboldens me to man up and admit I enjoy the "chic lit" of Jane Austen. 

And how many more wonderful writers have proven their value to me first of all by citing C. S. Lewis, or by adeptly appropriating his ideas? 

More deeply, I think my work on Fulfillment Theology, which I believe will prove my own chief contribution to Christian thought, was almost certainly inspired first by Lewis.  And that's the subject I often wish the two of us could talk about.  I would love to see what Lewis thinks of my True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture.  Considering the manifest respect he shows for Confucius in Abolition of Man, I think he would have been thrilled to see how the Gospel fulfills such deep and such wonderful truths within Chinese culture.  It would have been like watching Lucy go through the wardrobe, and discover a new world -- or so I wish. 

Anyway, here are a couple articles I've written that involve Lewis, that you might enjoy, to remember him by on this 50th anniversary of his death. 

First, several years ago I wrote this slightly tongue-in-cheek piece for Books and Culture, on "How the Brothers Grimm Overthrew the Evil Empire."  Notice that C. S. Lewis was one of the dominoes in that bit of historical revisionism.   

And second, a post which has almost 3,000 page views now, here's my list of Lewis' Ten Best Books.  You may notice that I forgot one or two that belonged on the list, as a visitor kindly reminded me.

Let's end with some closing lines from my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, which seem to fit such a memorial day:

“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 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.”  


bethyada said...

I haven't read Poetry and Prose but have the others on your top 10 Lewis; and more besides.

I have to concur that Last Battle is the best Narnia. Perhaps it is because it most rouses the desire for heaven.

And all Narnia fans should read one of Ward's books: Planet Narnia or Narnia Code

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Beth.