By John Blake, CNN
C.S. Lewis was talking to his lawyer one day when the attorney told him he had to decide where his earnings would go after his death.
Lewis, who had already written “The Chronicles of Narnia” book series, told the lawyer he didn’t need to worry.
“After I’ve been dead five years, no one will read anything I’ve written,” Lewis said.
Lewis was a gifted writer, but he would have been a lousy estate planner. More than 40 years after his death, the former medieval literature professor has become the Elvis Presley of Christian publishing: His legacy is lucrative and still growing, scholars and book editors say.
The third film adaptation of Lewis’ "Narnia" series, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” was released in theaters worldwide this month. HarperOne publishers also just released “The C.S. Lewis Bible,” a book pairing 600 selections of Lewis’ writings with matching scriptural passages.
Lewis’ books remain strong sellers. His “Mere Christianity” has been on the BookScan Religion Bestseller’s list a record 513 weeks since the list started in 2001. At least 430,000 copies of Lewis’ books have been sold this year alone, HarperOne officials said.
Lewis’ contemporary appeal may strike some as odd at first because he seemed so firmly planted in the past. A scholar at the University of Oxford in England, he wore shabby tweed jackets, smoked a pipe in the pub and was wounded in the trenches of World War I.
But Lewis’ popularity endures because of several reasons: his distinctive writing style, a tragic love affair and a shrewd choice he made early in his career, Lewis scholars say.
Lyle Dorsett, author of “Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis,” says Lewis was fearless.
“He didn’t dodge the tough questions,” says Dorsett, who told the story of Lewis’ conversation with his lawyer in “Seeking the Secret Place.” “People find that refreshing.”
Lewis’ shrewd early career move
Lewis is labeled a Christian writer, but he also wrote essays, children’s fiction, literary criticism and science fiction. He even hosted a popular BBC radio show during World War II.
Some scholars say Lewis’ BBC experience, where he had to make points quickly, honed his writing style. Lewis learned how to systematically explain Christianity in clear and catchy language, devoid of religious jargon.
Philip Yancey, an evangelical author, says Lewis developed this gift because he came to Christianity as an outsider. He was an atheist.
“Coming to faith as an atheist, he had an understanding of and sympathy for people who look at faith wistfully but can’t swallow it,” says Yancey, who writes about Lewis in his latest book, “What Good is God.”
Lewis remains popular because his books don’t seem dated, says Mickey Maudlin, HarperOne's project editor for "The C.S. Lewis Bible."
Lewis didn’t write about the doctrinal squabbles dividing Christian groups of his time, Maudlin says.
“He made a strategic decision early in his career to talk about ‘Mere Christianity,’ ’’ Maudlin says. “He never writes about different modes of baptism, different views of communion or anything that separates one church from another.”
The result: Lewis has a big following today among Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Mormons - even skeptics, Maudlin says.
“C.S. Lewis wasn’t trapped by tribal thinking,” Maudlin says. “He was able to speak to everybody. He felt called by God to be an explainer of the big issues.”
How 'good infection’ converted Lewis
Though Lewis looked like the prototype of the mid-20th century English professor, he was actually an Irishman. He was born as Clive Staples Lewis in 1898 in Belfast. Friends and family called him “Jack.”
Scholars cite two events as the source for Lewis’ early atheism. His mother, Florence, died of cancer when Lewis was 9. And his best friend, Paddy, was killed during World War I. Most of the men in Lewis’ platoon didn’t survive the trenches.
“When he saw the carnage of World War I, he concluded that if God exists, He is a cosmic sadist,” says Dorsett, Lewis’ biographer.
Lewis' conversion to Christianity was gradual. It was prompted by what he later called “good infection” - being drawn to faith unawares through the friends he made and books he read.
One of those friends was J.R.R. Tolkien, a fellow English professor at Oxford best known today as the author of “The Lord of the Rings.”
According to some accounts, Tolkien, a Christian intellectual, helped convert Lewis. He showed Lewis that many of the mythological books he loved to read were Christian allegories.
Lewis, though, would later add that there was something more subtle that led to his conversion.
He called it “joy.”
“Joy” was Lewis' term for a stab of longing that unexpectedly welled up in him during moments of contemplation, such as listening to opera or reading an ancient Norse tale.
In his book, “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis wrote that the yearning he experienced during those moments convinced him there was another existence beyond this world.
“For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a love we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
Lewis’ painful love affair
Lewis could be poetic, but he could also be brutally honest. He demonstrated this in his most searing book, “A Grief Observed.”
In the book, Lewis writes about falling in love - and losing that love. Lewis was a bachelor who lived with his older brother Warnie for much of his life. Then he met Joy Davidman Gresham, a Jewish American writer who was 15 years his junior.
Dorsett says Lewis was both physically and intellectually smitten with Gresham. He says they used to play Scrabble together, using Hebrew, Greek, Latin and German words to fill in the blanks.
“She had a sharp wit and he loved it,” Dorsett says. “She loved to debate and challenge him. They were always having an intellectual tennis match.”
Lewis’ relationship with Gresham would also challenge his faith.
Lewis married Gresham when he was 58. Soon, however, she developed bone cancer. She experienced what seemed to be a miraculous recovery only to fall ill again. Four years after marrying Lewis, she was dead.
Lewis was devastated. He began to question his belief in God:
“Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face and a sound of bolting,” he wrote in “A Grief Observed.”
“A Grief Observed” inspired the film, “Shadowlands,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. One of the most moving scenes in the film took place when Lewis’ character embraced Gresham’s grieving son, Douglas, and they both wept unabashedly together.
Douglas Gresham at the premier of the latest 'Narnia' film in London.
Douglas Gresham is now 65 with a bristly white beard and a booming baritone. He still holds tightly to his memories of Lewis.
Gresham says there’s one part of Lewis’ personality that movies and scholars often get wrong. Many people think Lewis was a dour Englishman.
“He was full of fun,” Gresham says. “He was always surrounded by people who liked to laugh and drink pints of beer. You could always tell if Jack was in the house. You would hear roars of laughter.”
He was also humble, Gresham says. Lewis spent hours each day answering letters from his admirers.
“Jack was someone who believed that if someone would write him, then the least he could do was give a reply,” Gresham says. “Sometimes people would just show up at the door, and he would never turn them away.”
What would Lewis think of his fame?
Gresham says commentators also often miss the mark on Lewis' friendship with Tolkien.
Lewis and Tolkien were both members of the Inklings, an informal literary group at Oxford that met to swap stories and ale.
In “Shadowlands,” Joy Gresham is portrayed as a party crasher who alienated a stuffy Tolkien. Some scholars have suggested that Lewis and Tolkien’s friendship suffered because of Lewis’ marriage to Gresham.
“Tolkien was a devout Catholic,” says Dorsett, Lewis’ biographer. "He found her quite abrasive.”
Gresham, though, snorts at the suggestion that his mother damaged Lewis’ friendship with Tolkien.
“It never happened,” he says.
Gresham says that when he went to visit Lewis in the hospital during his last days, he saw Tolkien. Tolkien told him he could live with him if anything happened to Lewis, Gresham says.
“Now you don’t do that for someone you’re not fond of,” Gresham says. “He was Jack’s best friend when he died.”
Lewis died at 64 of kidney failure on November 22, 1963, the same day President Kennedy was assassinated. His death was overshadowed by coverage of Kennedy’s death as well as the death of Aldous Huxley, another famous author who died that day.
Lewis, however, grabs his share of headlines today.
Gresham, a retired physiotherapist, spends much of his time talking about Lewis. He’s a producer for the latest "Narnia" film, answers letters from Lewis' fans and has written a biography called “Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis.”
He says he doesn’t get tired of talking about the man some still call “Jack.”
“It gives me great pleasure to introduce him to people who haven’t met him yet,” he says. “I’m an unashamed C.S. Lewis fan.”
And what about Lewis? What would he think of the movie franchise he’s spawned and the Christian icon he’s become?
“I think he’d be embarrassed,” Gresham says quickly. “The thought that he would be idolized by so many people would embarrass him deeply.”
...and to that end "It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.
We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is."
John Steinbeck -East of Eden
"we know that men find
themselves under a moral law, which they did not make, and cannot quite
forget even when they try, and which they know they ought to obey. Notice
the following point. Anyone studying Man from the outside as we study
electricity or cabbages, not knowing our language and consequently not able
to get any inside knowledge from us, but merely observing what we did, would
never get the slightest evidence that we had this moral law."
We have a modern day C.S. Lewis at http://www.LiberalFaith.com
Read his book, "Fear and Denial"
Jack IS modern-day! (Although I'm not sure I would disagree with everything on that web site. Pax.)
As a huge admirer of the author I was stunned to read such a long, well-thought out piece that never once mentioned Lewis' most important and enduring book, "The Screwtape Letters" or his sci-fi allegorical Perelandra books.
Yes. Cheers to the undoing everywhere of Wormwood's work! Hurrah for Ransom!
That is why it is precisely called "FAITH" and not "BELIEF"...You either have it, or you do not...I'm thankful that I have it...If you do not, no worries, you are not dead yet IF you are reading this.
this is god. i have been trying to reach you. i have come into the sum of 750.000.000 u.s. i need someone i can trust to keep it in their u.s. account for me. please send me your routing number and undying devotion. alpha omega.
I'd like to say first of all that I'm embarrassed by the atheists on this board. As an atheist myself, I find this mindset in which it's appropriate to act like some bitter convert to atheism and blatantly attack theists completely disgusting.
Perhaps I'm a different breed, but my thought process is that the data and observable evidence we have/will collect should be sufficient to speak on its own. I think that the many of us who are atheists attribute negative qualities to vehement Christians are equally guilty of the same: no one likes being called an ignorant heathen any more than they enjoy being called childish and stupid.
Co-existence is the only way forward, and the militants on both sides are serving only to distance their respective communities from their goals. I hold atheists like myself up to a higher standards than those I set for theists. This is not an insult, but merely because I consider atheism to be a construct of logic and scientific reasoning, meant to be calculated and scrutinized and recorded; this differs from my view of faith, which I see as rooted in passion, imagination, and hope. And when to try to strip away one's hope of anything, be it a belief in a supernatural authority or otherwise, they are bound to react with hostility.
Then I see fellow atheists, people with nothing to lose, getting snide and condescending toward theists. If you are so easily shaken by the claims of Christians that you lash out against them, then you aren't an atheist at all. In fact, I would put you somewhere on the evolutionary diagram right between the fur-clad fellow with the gnarled hair and the spear and the tiny curl-tailed primate.
If a theist wants to engage in such dialogue, I present my case in the same way I would present data to anyone: with my emotions left at the door. Science is something that will speak for itself, and there will inevitably be those who will contest it. I allow them their hope for something different, and move on because it is not my concern and my stifling of their belief is comparable to a dog chasing it's tail. And not only is it futile, but it's pretentious, and before anyone will listen to you, they first want to like you. Transcend that inherent need to eradicate opposition, it will work out in your favor.
As an atheist, I'm embarrassed for you by your lack of backbone.
LOL!!! You must be the other kind, the kind he was talking about... Frankly, I think he's right!
Nope, I'm the kind with a backbone. I'm the kind that will offer real arguments and intellectually smack the nonsense out of the uneducated theist. Feel free to play with your dolls if you like.
VOD1 : I don't know about other people, but I find that Science just simply enhances the beauty of God. The countless experiments and results, facts and data of any particular element, to me, is like working out the dynamics of a bicycle created by the hands of a man who poured countless hours forming its structure. It merely confirms and partially explain the laws that God placed on everything in existence – how the winds blow, how the weather forms, how this and that happens.
For me, I want to know more about those hands creating those elements. I want to know what He was thinking when He went through intricate details of his creation, how He felt when He created the sun and the stars, and laid them out in the sky. I want to know what words He used when he gave the laws that tells fire to burn brilliantly and ice to be, well, cold. I want to know what He thinks when He rested on the seventh day – God must've been beaming with happiness when he created people.
God loves atheist's, he showed his love to them by sending his Son Jesus to bring them life.
One only needs to believe.
It is interesting reading about the life of C.S. Lewis, and for Christians he's a great inspiration. But moreover, I am absolutely shocked how civil everyone is being. Even though some people might be getting getting a little cranky, if you ever read the comments on an iOS vs. Android article you would know that this is just fantastic for CNN.
Haha that made my day, I was just hoping somebody would say something like that. hahaha thanks, that was awesome.
Please excuse me if I don't follow normal posting etiquette, but MMH it is a true pleasure to read your thoroughly reasoned, and dare one say, "humane" posts. They illuminate without heat and warm the soul with the joy of cool reason. Well said/typed...and please continue....
I love this discussion. It once again proves: Atheists are absolutely OBSESSED with Jesus Christ. They spend all of their time discussing Jesus Christ, thinking about Jesus Christ, pondering the ways of Jesus Christ. Atheists literally can do nothing without first considering Jesus Christ.
If Christians were half as obsessed with Jesus Christ as these boorish atheists are – th ewhole world would be converted to Christianity already.
I wonder when atheists will end their obsession with Jesus Christ? I'm guessing never. They are literally captives of Christ.
I wonder when Christians will end their obsession with atheists? I'm guessing never. They are literally captives of non-believers.
@db and yet here you are, along with so many other atheist trolls to argue with religious people on an article about CS Lewis. Hm...
Wow, you're a real captive of your hatred of atheists, CJ. You should grow up and learn that people will disagree with you. Hating them for that is a sign of immaturity. Grow up.
C S Lewis is popular because of the action classics of Narnia. Other than that Christians consider it sophistication to shout C S Lewis.
Kinda like Giuliani shouting 9/11 for everything. LOL
Lewis thought the greatest sin was mankind's pride. Pride spawns the 6 other deadly sins. It's too bad that we have never learned to live lives directed solely by the rule of "do as you would be done by". Maybe if we could do that there would be more wagging and less barking.
C.S.Lewis was 1 of the better writers both fiction, sci-fi & religous of the last century. Narnia series were not spefically allegories to the Gospel story . I believe he once said if you see it fine if you don;t its still a good tale. His Sci-fi triology written between 1935-45 described trave to other worlds by 3 stage rockets , in 1935 the only people seriously thinking along those lines were Von Braum & co. His other writtings are well worth the read but please remembre he was an professor and writes like one so take it a page at a time. As for the movies have seen the 1st 2 may see Dawn Treader
Everyone who wonders about Christianity but cannot read or understand the Bible should read his "Mere Christianity." Authentic monument.
I read "A Grief Observed" following the death of my husband; in doing so, I realized I was not alone in my questions and feelings. Everyone has a right to their opinion; and say what you will, I think he was a truly gifted man; his writings have been an inspiration to many.
Why is C.s lews so respected . Because of the nonsense called "Faith"
You've got problems, kid. Get some sleep.
I love his writing and I love his life.
"Shadowlands" was one of the finest movies of its type ever made. Hopkins was superb. Winger's best role.
The Apostles' Creed post C.S. Lewis:
I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created state of bliss called heaven.
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary.
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
ascension story was promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
that must be some good weed you're smoking
Some harmless "weed" to peruse:
o 1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.
2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
– a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–
30-60 CE Passion Narrative
40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
50-60 1 Thessalonians
50-60 1 Corinthians
50-60 2 Corinthians
50-90 Signs Gospel
50-95 Book of Hebrews
50-140 Gospel of Thomas
50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
65-80 Gospel of Mark
70-100 Epistle of James
70-120 Egerton Gospel
70-160 Gospel of Peter
70-160 Secret Mark
70-200 Fayyum Fragment
70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
80-100 2 Thessalonians
80-100 Gospel of Matthew
80-110 1 Peter
80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
80-130 Gospel of Luke
80-130 Acts of the Apostles
80-140 1 Clement
80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
80-250 Christian Sibyllines
90-95 Apocalypse of John
90-120 Gospel of John
90-120 1 John
90-120 2 John
90-120 3 John
90-120 Epistle of Jude
93 Flavius Josephus
100-150 1 Timothy
100-150 2 Timothy
100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
100-150 Secret Book of James
100-150 Preaching of Peter
100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
100-160 2 Peter
3. Historical Jesus Studies, faithfutures.org/HJstudies.html,
– "an extensive and constantly expanding literature on historical research into the person and cultural context of Jesus of Nazareth"
4. Jesus Database, faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html–"The JESUS DATABASE is an online annotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-canonical materials, and is not limited to the traditions found within the Christian New Testament."
5. Josephus on Jesus mtio.com/articles/bissar24.htm
6. The Jesus Seminar, mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/seminar.html#Criteria
7. Writing the New Testament- mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/testament.html
8. Health and Healing in the Land of Israel By Joe Zias
9. Economics in First Century Palestine, K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1998.
10. 7. The Gnostic Jesus
(Part One in a Two-Part Series on Ancient and Modern Gnosticism)
by Douglas Groothuis: equip.org/free/DG040-1.htm
11. The interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission
Presented on March 18, 1994
12. The Jesus Database- newer site:
13. Jesus Database with the example of Supper and Eucharist:
14. Josephus on Jesus by Paul Maier:
15. The Journal of Higher Criticism with links to articles on the Historical Jesus:
16. The Greek New Testament: laparola.net/greco/
17. Diseases in the Bible:
18. Religion on Line (6000 articles on the history of religion, churches, theologies,
theologians, ethics, etc.
19. The Jesus Seminarians and their search for NT authenticity:
20. The New Testament Gateway – Internet NT ntgateway.com/
21. Writing the New Testament- existing copies, oral tradition etc.
22. The Search for the Historic Jesus by the Jesus Seminarians:
23. Jesus Decoded by Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco (Da Vinci Code review)jesusdecoded.com/introduction.php
24. JD Crossan's scriptural references for his book the Historical Jesus separated into time periods: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan1.rtf
25. JD Crossan's conclusions about the authencity of most of the NT based on the above plus the conclusions of other NT exegetes in the last 200 years:
26. Common Sayings from Thomas's Gospel and the Q Gospel: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan3.rtf
27. Early Jewish Writings- Josephus and his books by t-itle with the complete translated work in English :earlyjewishwritings.com/josephus.html
28. Luke and Josephus- was there a connection?
29. NT and beyond time line:
30. St. Paul's Time line with discussion of important events:
31. See http://www.amazon.com for a list of JD Crossan's books and those of the other Jesus Seminarians: Reviews of said books are included and selected pages can now be viewed on Amazon. Some books can be found on-line at Google Books.
32. Father Edward Schillebeeckx's words of wisdom as found in his books.
33. The books of the following : Professors Marcus Borg, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong and Bishop NT Wright.
34. Father Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, NY, 1977, 878 pages, with Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.
35. Luke Timothy Johnson's book The Real Jesus
Lewis' writings continue to be an inspiration to me. No one else so powerfully captures the rational and the poetic.
Newsflash: you are not rational. Neither was C S Lewis
Not much for constructive substance, are you Marconi. Surely you have better things to do than troll cnn forums.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.