Even with so much being written, year after year, I find myself often drawn back to the writing of C.S. Lewis. What does he offer, that hasn’t been done better since? Why does his writing hardly seem dated? Why is he so well known today? It’s fascinating to note that he gained fame in quite unrelated forms of writing, and that that fame has not diminished since.
He is well-known, within scholarly circles, for his academic writing. With his book,The Allegory of Love, Lewis is said to have re-established Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen as an important work of sixteenth century literature, and to have proven himself to be a major literary critic. This in itself is an important contribution, but is Lewis’ least known.
He is best known, by the general public, as a novelist. C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, including Perelandra which is being performed as an opera this year in Oxford, and his children’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, carry significant weight within their light frames. Lewis saw how story could delightfully illustrate truths in a way more palatable than more direct methods. Since he was a voracious reader, with a passion for good books, his stories work independently as stories, even without thought given to what they speak of beyond themselves. Lewis managed to teach through his stories without really being didactic, because the truths he demonstrated arose within the framework of the story, not as something imposed from outside.
Lewis also became famous for his Christian apologetics. He took on the toughest issues of faith in such books as The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and Mere Christianity. What makes these books valuable is not only his ability to reason, and debate, but his amazing skill for metaphor. In Miracles he said, “...if we are going to talk about things which are not perceived by the senses, we are forced to use language metaphorically.” He knew that we would better see what is meant, if he gave us a picture.
Ironically his first desire was to be a poet, but he was far too old-fashioned to be a successful 20th century poet, too stuck within the forms of the past. Surprisingly, I believe it is this same disregard for his times that has helped to make all of his other writing timeless. By writing of the universal, he transcends changing fashion. His success in one genre, helped to renew attention in what he had written in another, which of course led to book sales. C.S. Lewis always wrote from the depth of who he was, and what he loved. This is how great artists always work.
D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week; his new poetry book, Poiema (Wipf & Stock), and his chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed are available at www.dsmartin.ca