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5 Things You Didn’t Know about C.S. Lewis and Why You Should Have a Soft Spot for Him Too

C.S. Lewis is a surprisingly complicated person. Paradoxically, his broad appeal springs from what he is less known for: his prodigiously gifted creative mind, and his mythological explorations. We love The Abolition of Man for its spirited denunciation of public education, and its emphasis on feeling. We love ‘Screwtape’ for its psychology and imaginative demonic denizen of lies lying behind everything the “patient” does.

1. Did you know David Foster Wallace ranked ‘Screwtape’ as his top favorite book of all time?

2. Did you know the love life of this brilliant thinker’s life was pretty messy? As is detailed in the most recent biography on him, C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, the loss of his mother was a traumatic turning point. One wonders what Freud might do with his long romantic cohabitation with the mother of one of his friends. His late in life marriage to Joy Davidson was certainly portrayed as romantic in Shadowlands, even in its emotional turmoil. To many, she was a “mere” opportunist.

3. Did you know his first book, The Pilgrim’s Regress, employs mythological explorations that supersede the “meta” narrrative of a specific monotheistic cultural religion? At least to me it does. It was the 32-year-old’s first stumbling attempts at recreating the concept of having come full circle back to a “reasonable” belief after exploring all the options and finding them wanting. He certainly does come on strong with his apologetics ever afterwards, but it seems he was always searching too. He never gave up seeking within that “moral ambiguity” that Amy Tan says is where all her stories must begin.

You could even say the somewhat universalizing theology one hears through characters such as Tish in The Last Battle, in which the suggestion is that all religions really are going to be okay in the long run, even if they don’t quite know that in the end they’re all praying to the same “Aslan.” To some this seems an intellectual workaround to the problem of statements in the gospels that Jesus is the singular “way, truth, life.” For others, it was still too “Whiggish.”

“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. . .Why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”


4. Open-minded spiritual exploration? Consider too (as a frame) his very last book. Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, is beautiful and brilliant and generally “spiritual” without coming down hard on the theological doctrine of the single path for all. Haunted by the myth of Cupid and Psyche throughout his life, C.S. Lewis wrote this extraordinary novel to retell their story through the gaze of Psyche’s sister, Orual. Disfigured and embittered, Orual loves her younger sister to a fault and suffers deeply when she is sent away to Cupid, the God of the Mountain. Psyche is forbidden to look upon the god’s face, but is persuaded by her sister to do so, and she is banished for her betrayal. Orual is left alone to grow in power but never in love, to wonder at the silence of the gods. Only at the end of her life, in visions of her lost beloved sister, will she hear an answer.

5. C.S. Lewis’s Letters to Children was published from among the thousands of letters young fans sent who were eager for more knowledge of his bestselling Narnia books and their author. He shares his feelings about writing, school, animals, and of course, Narnia. Lewis writes to the children–as he wrote for them–with understanding and respect. In one of his better known responses, he writes:

Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we’ve got to do (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them. Things you ought to do are things like doing one’s school work or being nice to people. Things one has got to do are things like dressing and undressing, or household shopping. Things one likes doing—but of course I don’t know what you like. Perhaps you’ll write and tell me one day.”

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