On this day in 1898 the world was given C. S. Lewis. (We lost him 54 years ago exactly one week previous from today.) Every year in this November week spanning Lewis’s day of departure and day of birth, I think of him even more fondly than I normally do. Perhaps no writer looms as largely over my life—and the lives of so many others I know and admire—than that of Jack’s. I typically try to run some variation of a tribute to him, and so this year I’d like to list three things reading Lewis has taught me over the years:
My first introduction to Lewis was not the Chronicles of Narnia, actually, but as a child, Out of the Silent Planet. It was completely weird and wonderful. When I got to Narnia shortly thereafter—I was about 8 or so, probably—I consumed each book one after another lustily, like the literary equivalent of Turkish delight. Lewis’s space capsules and English manses and wardrobes and attic spaces grabbed a hold of me, broadcasting where my neurons were tuned, man. I was the kid who saw a treasure map on the back of a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal and was convinced it led to buried valuables in my Brownsville, Texas, neighborhood. Reading the Space Trilogy (well, the first two books when I was little, the third well into high school) and Narnia was like warp speed for my already truckin’ along childlike wonderment.
Even Lewis’s fiction is chock-full of logic. “Don’t they teach that in schools any more?” the Professor says to the Pevensies when they don’t believe Lucy’s fantastic story. Lewis’s faith was full of wonder but was, also, entirely reasonable, and in the ’80s when the apologetics industry was dominated by Josh McDowell and burgeoning creation science (Lee Strobel hadn’t hit the scene just yet), I was ingesting The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity. And probably the most influential nonfiction work of his for me is his collection of essays named after “God in the Dock.” The article “Myth Became Fact” is one of my all-time favorite short pieces, fiction or non, and offered a complementary weight to one of my favorite lines in Perelandra, which I quote probably way too much in all the stuff I write. (Ransom understood that myth is “gleams of celestial beauty and strength falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.”) Lewis helped me make sense of this polytheistic, pluralistic world. His classic trilemma in Mere Christianity just made sense. His own logic and reason is not airtight of course, but he approached Christianity not just as a worshiper but as a thinking worshiper, and he therefore becomes an invaluable asset for relentlessly scrutinizing young men and women sorting out their faith.
My man Jack could just flat-out write. And when he wrote, he exulted. In his own words:
As I write, I am not merely teaching. I am adoring. Please do not take the enchanted as merely the didactic.
When I was in the first grade, my class filled out these little booklets that chronicled our favorite subjects, foods, games, and so on. One of the questions was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My 6-year-old hand wrote “Author” in that blank, and through a series of adolescent aspirations and a call to vocational ministry I have never not wanted to be a writer of books. Lewis threw gasoline on that childish ambitious fire, and he showed me over and over again what words can do. His writing was show and tell for me, displaying in so many beautiful, confident ways how literary pursuit is worship.