A Literary Friendship with C.S. Lewis
In the corner of the room stands a wardrobe. Walking over to open it, don’t you wish for a tiny moment that it might be filled with fur coats? That in opening it, you might find a door into a land of eternal winter and magical creatures?
While my literary relationship with C.S. Lewis began in Narnia, it has since taken me to ancient Greece, to the English countryside, and even to letters from the inferno. I have found his writings to be a trusted companion through the experiences of life. Below are some of his works that have been the most meaningful to me, as I've encountered joy, pain, temptation, and the wonder of peeking behind wardrobe doors. In highlighting C. S. Lewis this month as our featured author, we hope you find as much magic in his writings as we do.
Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
Clive Staples Lewis, known as Jack to his friends, saw inspiration everywhere. In his homeland of Ireland, he saw the wild and mystic lands of Celtic lore. On the battlefields of France during WWI, he saw the horrors of humanity. He read widely and was influenced by the writings of George Macdonald (Phantastes) and G.K. Chesterton (The Everlasting Man). In the quiet confines of his room at Magdalen College (Oxford) he thus described his personal conversion:
“night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady and unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet… In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.” (Surprised by Joy, p. 279)
The Chronicles of Narnia
No matter the stage of life or problem to confront, there is comfort in the words of C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe was one of the first chapter books I recall reading in school. It was the fourth grade and we would take turns reading paragraphs for a time each day. I remember on multiple occasions being called upon to read but having lost where the rest of the class was because the story had compelled me to read ahead. I soon finished the rest of the series as well. The Pevensie children were relatable, as well as being on the most incredible adventure, a challenge to discover what might be behind every wardrobe door.
At seventeen years old, with rebellion on the mind, my mother invited me to read The Screwtape Letters. I laughed at its surprisingly acute depictions of adversarial attacks, lost goodness, and justification of sin as perpetuated between Screwtape, a senior devil, and Wormwood, a junior devil. Yet through the words, it became clear that C.S. Lewis was also explaining his own conversion to Christianity.
My next interaction with C.S. Lewis followed my first real heartbreak. At the library one afternoon I discovered The Problem of Pain and my pained soul wanted answers. Reasoning through the purpose that pain has in life and God’s role in human suffering, I wondered how so much pain could coincide with a belief in a loving God? Lewis explains that pain is necessary, saying:
“If the thing we like doing is, in fact, the thing God wants us to do, yet that is not our reason for doing it, it remains a mere happy coincidence. We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful, and what we cannot know that we are choosing, we cannot choose.” (The Problem of Pain, p. 97)
Human instinct told me that I should want what I wanted, and anything less was unfair. This book, and especially this poignant passage, shaped my understanding of pain.
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
After confronting pain, a bit of lightness and levity were needed. Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold is another one of Lewis’ fictional tales. The Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, is retold from the perspective of Psyche’s sister, who blames the gods for all trouble that humans get into. This was a concept that Lewis had toyed with prior to his Christian conversion, and he ultimately writes this last novel in conjunction with his wife Joy. When Psyche is hoodwinked into marrying Cupid, the god of love, without ever having seen his face, her sister Orual is the one that causes her to doubt and ultimately break her promise to the gods.
There is much more to read when it comes to C.S. Lewis’ works, but I find that life has a way of bringing the right book at the right time. Explore the C.S. Lewis Collection to discover which book is right for you.