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.”
I love C.S. Lewis' story. A man of his intellect rejecting the emptiness of atheism for the deeper meaning in Christianity. God bless. His writing is always going to be relevant.
As a Christian, I do not take the Bible literally. The bible was written by a few scribes for an illiterate world population who had to have their existence explained to them at the lowest common denominator. Science is not the enemy of religion, but explains, in today's understandable detail how we evolved. It is established fact. As a thinking, reasonable Christian, I can easily correlate science with creationism. The Big Bang, the creation of the cosmos over billions of years, and evolution here on earth is in fact creationism in real time, not the simplistic "seven days" explaination the illiterate world needed two thousand years ago. If God is, as Christians insist, omnipotent, "is, always was and always will be" all at the same time, then the 15 billion year age of the universe is but a blink of His eye. Think about it; if God is as great as we insist, then it certainly wouldn't have taken him a full six days to create our world. A blink of His eye, people.
Interesting post. Just one problem: where's your evidence for any of this?
Orangeboy. It is what I have deduced over the years. I can't, in all honesty, believe the Bible as written, and there is too much corroborated scientific evidence to show how the universe evolved. I have no more evidence in what I believe than does a Chistian who stands by a Bible whose stories can't be proved as fact. Science, however, is proven fact.
A very intelligent Christian friend once challenged me to read Lewis' book Mere Christianity, claiming that it was an air-tight case for god. I agreed, subject to the condition that he would, in turn, read George Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God. My friend is now an atheist. Lewis' arguments are weak, particularly in the light of modern insights into the evolution of morals and culture.
This C.S. Lewis looks like a child molestor. I wonder if his books are popular because people are too lazy to learn Shakespeare.
actually, he looks like one of those news anchors from the 50s and 60s.
or a football coach or maybe a movie studio executive.
Funny born again Christians would like Narnia, the irony really is quite huge, it may not have the same magic flinging as Harry Potter but it's loaded with magical mythological creatures. Even the friendly goat men by Christians are often symbolic of Pan or the Satanic piper often shown in upside down Satanic pentagrams. For Christians to attach to the Chronicles of Narnia as acceptable fantasy over Harry Potter is laughably hypocritical at best and by their own standards still puts their spiritual destinies in the same peril J K Rowling's work.
The "born again" finds it. He believes he has found the Holy Grail. It reminds me of the story about the rooming house. On the floor below a tenant would play his violin all day using just two notes. Finally the tenant above could take it no more. He went down and knocked on the violinist' door. He asked him if he could play real pieces of music instead of the two notes endlessly and the violinist replied, "I've found it. The rest are still looking". That sums of the born again.
Now kids, kids!... Let's try to raise the level of this discussion beyond schoolyard taunting. CSLewis was a great and beloved storyteller, and is obviously read because his feelings and observations about humanity incorporated, as this article clarifies, what it means to both believe and not believe in God.
Kidney failure? It was my understanding that Lewis died of a heart attack. Was the one caused by the other? It would be interesting to see the source for this information.
Just wrote what I belived to be a fairly witty message only to have my computer wipe it out as I was about to post. ahh tooo funny! anyway...if I can try and recall...
I just read through all the posts to try and catch up on the debate going on here. I am not an athiest but a student of both history and religion/mythology. Joseph Campbell was one of my main inspirations. I believe that the "3 big" religions are nothing but the means to wealth, land, and power. I have no desire to try and disuade anyone from their beliefs. Their beliefs are theirs and I am not so arogant to belive I "know" better. I appreciate when that is reciprocated.
As for Lewis, I read the Narnia stories when I was very young, and enjoyed them simply as stories and not as religous allegories. I read the Space Trilogoy more recently and found the first book better than the second, and the second better than the third. These stories I read fully aware of Lewis' religous influence, and didnt feel like it either added or took away from the stories. In fact the only part of the third book I thoroughly enjoyed involved the least religious character, and hence my name.
sorry for any/all spelling/grammer mistakes. late night and still pretty groggy.
"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.”
So many times those who claim there is no God say they require the proof of Him in order to believe...
Here is an example of the one who discovered it and explained it in those words above....
If there was no other evidence of existence of God, the one he described would be enough to convince even the last atheist... unless he/she has allowed his/ her heart to become so numb to the point of being dead!
The depth of this longing, this divine love that a human being is capable of experiencing can be of no human, but divine origin.
But here is the plot of the enemy of human souls, the Deceiver of this age: he has numbed the hearts and consciences of so many people of this generation, so that they have lost their abilities to experience this divine love and longing... And so, because they have lost this divine ability given to them by God, they scorn and ridicule those who have it, making themselves into to blind beggarly fools...
CS Lewis was only an atheist until he'd been brainwashed at an early age to believe that there is a god. Then he "got angry at god", which of course means he was still a theist, since you can't be angry at something which you don't believe exists. So his "conversion" is simply a lie.
You said: "C S Lewis was only an atheist until he'd been brainwashed at an early age to believe that there is a god. Then he "got angry at god", which of course means he was still a theist, since you can't be angry at something which you don't believe exists. So his "conversion" is simply a lie""
No, no one is BORN atheist! They become "atheists" through rejection of witness that's given to them in their consciences, by numbing theirs consciences and hardening their hearts to the point that they are dead!
So, your "logic" has no life in it to be able to stand!
But, say.... how is it that you totally IGNORED the logic of what I said in my post? A common strategy of atheists when faced with compelling revelation?
The truth is this: that since atheists are people who have allowed a part their beings to die, how can they possibly understand those who speak of life which they not know??? It's like when a blind man would argue with the one who sees, telling him that there is no such thing as sight, and all the beauty he's seeing and describing to him is just the figment of his immagination...!!! How ridiculous...
You see, friend, you are at disadvantage, and are suffering great loss.... NOT US, because we KNOW !
> No, no one is BORN atheist! They become "atheists" through rejection of witness that's given to them in their consciences, by numbing theirs consciences and hardening their hearts to the point that they are dead!
So, your "logic" has no life in it to be able to stand!
Wow, you're a bigot. Have you met a large number of atheists on which you draw your conclusions about them?
I was personally born a Roman Catholic. I was very devout, being an altar boy (I remained intact) and recieving commendations for my service. I even seriously thought about joining the priesthood.
When I was a child (9 or 10) I believed I could stop the rain from falling on my head by praying to God and asking him to stop it. I could have sworn that it worked for me more then once.
Then I grew a bit older and started to think about my faith. I read the bible and asked questions like "If God is all powerful and all knowing, and he created us, our mental capabilities and our environment, how can we have free will?" and "If God exists, why would he hold us to abstract concepts to us. Why doesn't he realize the only way we can think about him is through our own minds?"
Then I was sitting with my friend one day and we were talking about religion. He said to me "I have an offer for you. Give me $20 and sometime in the future, I'll give you $100." I told him he was nuts, because I would need more information, like a date, to know if he actually had the $100, etc. He said he wouldn't give anything that could be used to prove that he would do what he said. I told him "I'd have to be nuts to accept that deal then."
His reply was "Well, isn't that what you're doing with your faith?"
What do you really know about your faith. Sure, you have what is written in the bible, but with glaring errors in it, how can you take it as legitimate? How do you know what you have experienced is real? There are people who believe they are napoleon. Does that make it so?
The problem I think people have is that they cannot admit that their faith may be wrong because it's a part of who they are, and more then likely a part of a large number of people they care about. Things make sense, everything is taken care of and nothing bad that is unplanned can happen to you. God has a plan you know...
I'm an atheist. I don't know if there is a God, but I sure as heck don't see any compelling reason to believe in the bible. It's not an authoritative book and it's sure as heck not even accurate when describing the world. And that goes for the rest of the other holy books too.
@Hope Have you ever been an atheist? If not, how do you know a part of them has died?
> The truth is this: that since atheists are people who have allowed a part their beings to die, how can they possibly understand those who speak of life which they not know???
I think you're a troll. No one is this dumb.
Yeah, your atheism has sure done you a big favor! It shows! You've missed it bob, you missed it big! And now all you know and can do is call people derogatory names! How mature, how intelligent!!!
P.S. I wrote more, but they would not let me post it! No nasty words, no mean spirit in them! Yet they won't let me post it! And they let you! How about that! ..... But just as well! No need to waste my time! If you did not glean anything out of the things I said earlier, nothing will do for you...
Just go your way, and I will mine, and we'll see at the end who's who, and what 's what! But I will say a prayer to God for you, because while you still have time, there is hope for you!
> But just as well! No need to waste my time! If you did not glean anything out of the things I said earlier, nothing will do for you...
You're right, blind, incoherant ramblings and bigotry don't convince me or any other sane, rational people.
> Yeah, your atheism has sure done you a big favor! It shows!
It has! I expect to roughly save about 2 years across my life from missing bible study and mass. I also expect to save around $30,000 dollars from even a small donation of $10 a week to the church.
PS: It's also much easier to say "you're not going to accept what I have to say" instead of looking at the claim itself and saying "If an Islamic person offered me this argument, would I convert to Islam?"
Think about it. Use your brain. It's all right. It's not a sin.
Since you so insist, and can't let it rest.... Know this: that your ability to grasp reality just with your brain is sevearly impaired, since vital part of you is dead! If your spirit is dead, with only your brain, you are LAME! So, it's no wonder you ramble nonsense. You just don't cut it, Bobbie boy! Let it rest, and go vent it out outside, and get some fresh air!
Everyone is born an atheist, Hope. I know that you stupidly believe that atheism solely means "there is no god", but that's wrong. Atheism is simply not having a specific belief: that there is a god. This can be active (there is no god) or passive (simply not having the belief or any belief about it because you haven't been exposed to it yet). That you do not know such is your problem.
And you don't "know"; you simply believe. There's a difference.
How would you know the difference between " knowing " or "simply believing"? How can a man that's blind tell the one who sees " no, you don't see, you're just imagining? Because that part of you that could know in you is dead! SO how do you think you can tell what it is like to be truly alive? Your logic is flowed and lame! Best thing for you is not to run your mouth about things you know nothing about. Because even a fool is counted as wise if he refrains himself from ranting about something he knows nothing about ! !
"How can a man that's blind tell the one who sees " no, you don't see, you're just imagining?"
There can be concrete proof for vision. The blind man could have you sit across the room and take an object out of his pocket for you to identify... or he could stick his tongue out and ask you what face he is making... or a mult.itude of other tests for vision.
There is no proof for your "God" nor its wants, needs, demands, favors or promises. If the "Holy Spirit" has sent you, with your empty words and faulty logic, to campaign for belief in its existence, then it has made a great mistake.
Hope, knowing means that you have some sort of actual correlation with reality due to evidence, rather than just claims that you hope people won't call you on to justify. As to your false analogy about blindness: when will you silly theists learn that you can't use the ad hominem fallacy and get away with it? You're attacking the person, not the argument, when you attempt your false analogy of blindness. Please stop trying to claim that others are blind just because they don't believe your stupid myth, for that is the upshot of your false analogy of a blind person.
Further, you should also refrain from calling others foolish, lest you be liable to burn in hellfire, according to your own silly book of myths (Matt 5:22). No, you cannot counter with Ps 14:1, for Matt 5:22 is spoken by jesus. You don't want to anger jesus, DO YOU?
God has already said you're fool ! But you don't have to be... It's your own choice!
Anyway, I'm done with talking to you! Your posts show what you're made out of!!
You just violated Matt 5:22. REPENT NOW!
The mind of man can scarce conceive the enormity of his folly.
For in his quest for immortality, he has mocked his God.
He has taken on the cloak of corruption,
and thereby discarded the mantle of Grace.
Well when i read c.s. Lewis i was in 5th grade and i read basically all of them. I also read the Lord of the Rings trilogy where as the two chronicles/trilogies have many things in common. But I read them because they were good pieces of literature not because they were christian or anything. I am muslim and i am not biased about reading good english literature. I believe reading the Golden Compass (a series Christians hate because of it's Atheism) was a very good piece of literature on par with both C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. But it seems many people here have gone off topic, this is a fine piece of literature and should be respected.
When I try to imagine what Heaven is like, my mind eventually wanders to how enjoyable it will be to enjoy eternity with the likes of C.S. Lewis. There was a man who adorned the Gospel with wit, wisdom and genius. Glory be to his Creator!
Lewis' Space Trilogy, consisting of the books Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength is a very good allagory on Christianity from a more "adult" viewpoint, without the obvious appeal to the young reader, even though they read like science fiction stories. Although I read them as an 8th grader, and having read Perelandra first, I struggled through them, yet devoured the philosophical content without realizing their allagorical bent. I would suggest reading the trilogy in order. References to past books of the trilogy would be lost, as they were on me, if not read in order. Rereading them in order several years later made more sense to me. Also, the philosophical content was much easier to understand as a young adult. A Christian now, I wasn't a Christian when I read the trilogy either time, yet the philosophy made sense and gave me the belief that good vs. evil isn't merely between Christians and non-Christians, as so many Christians argue. Good vs.evil is inherent in all of us, Christian or not. Alas, I know a large number of good athiests and an equally large number of evil persons who call themselves Christian.
"I found his writings uninspired when I was young, liberal, and atheist, myself.
When you don't recognize that you are judging the world through your own faith and your own assumptions, everyone else just looks stupid. It is impossible to recognize your own blind spots."
This is as well said as it can be!
Most of these comments reveal the complete low level of discourse and imagination of the Atheist population in reference to art. Art (Lewis' fiction) is subjective and therefore personal – it is like a taste, why are you people saying someone can't like the taste of something? Are you that afraid of true individuality? Do you really want to control people's tastes that much? When did good Atheists start being such fascists?
As for the "truth" content of Lewis' defenses for Christian claims, what Method or paradigm for meaning/truth are you Atheists applying to Lewis' works? Is there only one Epistemological scheme for "truth" and if so what is it?
I suspect most Atheists want to use a method which is stacked against certain metaphysical conclusions. Sure you can claim to be "rational" and you are right, but at the same time that you are right in conclusions you are wrong, because you have not dealt with metaphysical claims with a proper method. Christians did the same for centuries and it was "rational" to do all sort of actions, which when measured by another Method just seem crazy. Point is, Humility and patience with reality is a virtue and multiple voices are great for trying to understand the "dich an sich" or more clearly put, critical realism is needed in these discussions.
Do you want to control my taste that much? Do you hate people who don't like Lewis so much that you would force me to like Lewis? Really? Come on now: grow up. When did you start being such a fascist?
As for the "truth" of Lewis' defenses of that which simply cannot be defended: it's a load of nonsense. The term "god" is a meaningless three-character string, denoting nothing ontologically real while connoting something that can only be fictionally real.
I am so tired of people who, when I comment or argue against their viewpoint, claim that my reasoning or born out of fear. The problem with so many people is that they think their opinion/beliefs are the correct ones that should be accepted by all. This is a childish approach. If you would take the time to "grow up" philosophically, you would realise like the rest of us grownups that individual opinion/belief is just that; an individual thing. As far as fear goes, I know a lot of professed Christians who believe because they are afraid not to; "just in case".
I only wish that "religious" folks of all the great religions were as tolerant of other's beliefs as their sacred texts instruct them to be. Think how much better the world would be to live in. I'll think I'll make that my New Years wish!!
long live narnia! long live aslan! for are kings and queens long live the kings and queens!
The thread throughout the article that the principle reason for Lewis' popularity is/was predicated the Christian themes it uses is, I think, missing one very important point about his books: They are well written and entertaining. I'm not a Christian and care about the mysticism/spiritualism of the plot only as far as it advances the story (much like the mythology created by JRR Tolkien or the magical alternate-world created by JK Rowling). I found Lewis' works enjoyable and a good read.
After reading the article, I came away with the notion Mr Blake believes one needs a loftier reason for liking an author than a good story and a pleasing way of presenting it in order to like it. I reject that notion completely.
VO1D is absolutely correct. I am of the same mind, as a Christian, that he/she is as an atheist. I cannot convince someone else to have faith. I can lay out facts/reasons for why I have faith, but because Jesus comes to each of us individually, they must each answer his call accordingly I cannot and will not judge any other for that same reason.
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.