At the end of this month, we’ll be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of a man who, I’m willing to argue, had a more substantial role in the shaping of Western Christianity in the 20th century than any other writer: Clive Staples (CS) Lewis.
For many Christians, myself included, tales of a giant tawny lion and the children who accompany him through his many adventures have captured a special place in our minds and hearts. On many an occasion, I’ve found myself fighting imaginary battles alongside the heroic mouse Reepicheep or plodding through the (melting!) snow with the stalwart Beavers. And I’m not alone — Aslan and his friends have helped millions of people, both young in age and young at heart, get to know in a new and creative way the God who loves them enough to send His son to die for them.
But what many readers may not know is that “Jack,” as his friends knew him, was much more prolific in publishing and wider in reach than merely these seven Chronicles of Narnia. Case in point: if you run a simple author search on “CS Lewis” in TrinCat, you’ll come up with over 100 results. So, what are these books? Of course, I’m not going to list them all here — I would like to keep from running off the blog fans we currently have — but I’ll give you a general idea of the kinds of genres he camped out in:
- Fantasy. No surprise here. Obviously, the Narnia books are in this category; if you like them, you may also want to check out The Great Divorce, in which Lewis describes what might just happen if the inhabitants of hell were allowed to take a field trip up beyond the pearly gates.
- Science Fiction. Lewis’ Space Trilogy details the exploits of Elwin Ransom, an earthling philologist (language scholar), as he travels to various planets in our solar system. Perelandra, the second book in the series, is arguably the best — it’s a masterful retelling of the biblical Garden of Eden account.
- Allegorical/Theological. Never one to separate his faith from his creativity, Lewis also wrote fiction with a decidedly “Christian Development” flavor. Notable among these are The Pilgrim’s Regress (a new spin on John Bunyan’s classic describing his own faith journey) and The Screwtape Letters (the correspondence of a high-ranking demon to his rookie nephew, who has just taken on a new “patient”).
- Theology. Although Lewis claimed to be an “avowed atheist” at age 15, his conversion later in life led to arguably some of the most anointed writing on the person and character of God produced in the 20th century. One of his best-known works in this area is God in the Dock, a series of essays in which he argues that rather than be judged by God as we ought (the “dock” is where a British defendant stands in the courtroom), we all too often put God there and cross-examine Him ourselves.
- Apologetics. As a celebrated orator and educator (he taught literature at the University of Cambridge), Lewis definitely knew how to make an argument. His mastery in defending the faith simply and compellingly is probably the biggest key to his huge influence. And it’s in this area that you can find the book that, if you read no other work of his in your life, you have to read: Mere Christianity. Within these pages Lewis takes a series of radio talks he gave across BBC Radio during the darkest days of World War II and molds them into one of the most straightforward, down-to-earth defenses of the existence of God and the primacy of the Christian faith that you’ll ever read. And once Mere Christianity whets your appetite for Lewis’ style, you’ll want to continue by reading The Four Loves, in which he explains the different ways that we humans can love (and which way is appropriate for which circumstance).
- Everything Else but the Kitchen Sink. I could go on and describe countless others of Lewis’ books, but you’re probably going on recommendation overload at this point. So I’ll quickly wrap up by mentioning that he wrote multiple autobiographies (Surprised by Joy is especially good), poetry anthologies, treatises on literary criticism and educational theory, studies on other authors… I think you get the picture.
So, hopefully by this point you realize that there’s more to CS Lewis than four British children stumbling through a magical wardrobe. There’s a reason why he’s one of the most celebrated authors of our time — and there’s no better way to celebrate his memory than by checking out one of his many volumes. Happy reading!