C. S. Lewis remembered on 50th anniversary of his death

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Overshadowed by the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination is the remembrance of the passing of another influential figure of the mid-20th century. C. S. Lewis passed away quietly at his Oxford home, a week shy of his 65th birthday, just an hour before the death of Kennedy. Today a stone in memory of Lewis was unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner.

The stone's inscription is a quote from his essay, "Is Theology Poetry?": "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."

The Belfast Telegraph interviewed Lewis's stepson Douglas Gresham, who spoke about his memories of his stepfather and how he learned of Lewis's death while away at boarding school:

"I was an eight-year-old American boy steeped in the medieval legends of King Arthur," he recalls. "England to me was a land where I expected everyone to ride chargers and joust whenever they met. So when I was taken to meet the man who was on speaking terms with the great lion Aslan, I subconsciously expected him to be wearing silver armour and carry a sword.

"But he was the antithesis of what I had imagined - a stooped, balding, professorial gentleman with unbelievably shabby clothes and nicotine-stained fingers. It was also clear, however, that he had an enormous personality and sense of fun. This immediately eroded any visual deficiencies. I lost an illusion and gained a great friend and, later, a father."...

"When I was home from school, we would get together at meal times and go for walks," Gresham says. "He was quite prepared to come romping around in the woods with me and expect fauns to step out from behind trees at any moment. He was full of laughter and jokes and stories. He said himself he wasn't good with children but I've rarely met a man who was better."

BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra have broadcast a number of specials this week in remembrance of C. S. Lewis, including radio adaptations of The Screwtape Letters and Shadowlands, the play about his marriage to Joy Davidman and her early death, and a documentary about his upbringing in Northern Ireland and its influence on The Chronicles of Narnia.

Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World also died on the same day as Kennedy and Lewis. In 1982, Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft published Between Heaven and Hell, which imagined a Socratic dialog in which the three recently deceased men discussed eternal matters, with Kennedy as modern humanist (nominally Christian, but indifferent to theological questions), Huxley as Eastern pantheist, and Lewis as "mere" Christian. Earlier this month, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a discussion between biographers of Lewis and Huxley about their times and their ideas.

The first book by Lewis that was read to me was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, read to our 3rd Grade class by Fr. Ralph Urmson-Taylor. The first Lewis book that I bought and read was The Abolition of Man, which you can find online at the Internet Archive. It is essential reading for understanding the direction of our culture and the importance of educating the sentiments as well as the mind. As I wrote a few years ago:

If you believe that our culture first took a wrong turn in, say, the 1960s, this series of three brief lectures from the '40s will give you a new perspective. The rotten fruit of relativism began to appear in the '60s, but the seeds were planted long before.

Lewis begins with an excerpt from an English composition textbook which subtly plants the idea that a statement of value is nothing more than a reflection of the speaker's emotions and is unimportant. The educators are debunking the idea that our sentiments ought to be ordered in accordance with an objective reality. In the process, the very qualities needed to sustain civilization are being cut out of it.

If you want to see the sad results of that radical surgery, read anything by Theodore Dalrymple. If you want to understand how such a sad state of affairs came about, read The Abolition of Man.

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Roy said:

Several thousand personal stories relating one's first encounter with Lewis likely if not certainly populate today's 'net postings. With that in mind, I'd not share my experience except that it will supplement Mike's succinct praise of Lewis and that I know dear friends read Batesline.

A little over 4 decades ago a friend recommended two books as those outside the Bible most influencing/reflecting his thinking. Gary North suggested I put on my "read sometime" list Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Lewis' That Hideous Strength. A grad physics student, just married, working two part time jobs, I had zero time for reading. I never even saw the books. But since I very much valued the friend's wisdom (google his name: you'll see why), I remembered the recommendation.

Half a decade later I got to at least see the books. With many obligations and still pressed for time, I noted that Atlas Shrugged was, well, pretty thick. (Meeting, perhaps, the "fat books" qualification I’d later learn North likes to use to describe serious works most folks won’t slog thru but which, good or bad, nonetheless contain culture shaping thinking.) As for Hideous Strength, alas, that was volume 3 of Lewis' space trilogy. But I acquired the books, including the trilogy's first two volumes, for, well, sometime.

A few more years later, my wife's grandmother asked about a Christmas gift for me. Somewhere my wife had heard about Lewis, and suggested the boxed 7 volume paperback edition of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. One Sunday in the summer of that year, tired and stressed, I looked on our bookshelves for something casual to read. Thinking of the Narnia stories as kid’s stories, that seemed just right.

What a surprise. I Read the opening volume, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in one sitting. By Wednesday I had read the remaining 6 volumes. Lewis became a treasured author.

Over the following decades I read a number of Lewis’ other books, including the Space Trilogy. (And Atlas Shrugged, as well as all the other of Rand’s books. Fwiw, I have no problem in seconding North’s suggestion of two books outside the Bible worth reading, even if I’d put them in my top 10 rather than top two.) While I think a number or critiques of Lewis accurate, one can measure my esteem for his Narnia series by reflecting on my having read them aloud to children and to grandchildren. Further, for thinking people I recommend Hideous Strength as far better evaluating history than two other books on high school readings lists, namely Brave New World and 1984.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 22, 2013 8:10 PM.

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