"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 England." So writes C. S. Lewis, who later became one of the twentieth-century's leading Christian apologists. An author of brilliance, clarity, humor, and charm, Lewis wrote successfully for scholars, theologians, the man in the street, and perhaps, most surprisingly, for children. None of his works is more beloved by them than The Chronicles of Narnia. This seven-book series begins with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a symbolic re-telling of the Christ story. The much-anticipated movie, which bears the same name as this first book, will open in theaters in the United States on
Lewis's admirers are hoping the film will accurately reflect his Christian sensibility and not fall prey to the "dumbing down" and emptying out that often accompany the secularization of spiritual classics. The fact that Douglas Gresham, Lewis's stepson, is deeply involved in the movie's production gives cause to hope that the film will be true to the spirit of its remarkable creator.
Clive Staples Lewis, who as a child re-named himself "Jacksie"–later "Jack"—was one of the best-known and most influential writers of the previous century. Translated into at least thirty languages, his works have sold more than two hundred million copies worldwide—with the Narnia stories accounting for half that number. Nearly all of Lewis's thirty-eight books are still in print, and for decades they have sold more than a million copies a year around the globe.
Born in 1898 in Belfast to a middle-class, Protestant (Church of Ireland) family, he fought briefly in World War I, graduated with a brilliant record from Oxford, and then taught English Literature there for nearly thirty years.
A man of great erudition, sterling prose, terrific humor, and heroic kindness, this intellectual giant was not only an expert in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, but also, as his great friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, put it, "a scholar, a poet, a philosopher" and "after a long pilgrimage," a "lover…of Our Lord."
Lewis's evolution into a one-man army in defense of orthodoxy—was neither quick nor easy. Although raised as a Christian, Lewis had, by his teens, become a "convinced atheist," considering Christianity on the same level as Norse mythology—and preferring the latter.
Through reading G. K. Chesterton and discussions with believers, Lewis became a Theist in his late twenties, but it took an amazing late-night conversation with J. R. R. Tolkien, to convince Lewis of the divinity of Christ. This was all the more remarkable because Lewis had been raised "never to trust a Papist" or a philologist—and Tolkien was both. On September 19, 1931, Lewis finally accepted Christ when Tolkien convinced him that Christianity was not —as he had thought—only a myth, but a story that had actually happened. From then on, Lewis believed that the "myth" had indeed become fact, and as the Gospel of John so beautifully puts it, "the Word was made Flesh."
A couple of years later, Lewis, Tolkien, and some other friends formed the Inklings, a group that met several times a week—in Lewis's rooms and at a local pub, "The Eagle and Child"--to read their unpublished work aloud and to discuss matters of the moment. Many of Lewis's books and much of Tolkien's now-famous Lord of the Rings were first read to and discussed by this highly literate group.
During this time, Lewis, a committed Anglican, began to distinguish himself as a defender or orthodox Christianity with The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Weight of Glory. He also wrote a space trilogy, "smuggling in," as he put it, quite a bit of theology.
But how did a childless bachelor immersed in scholarship come to write classics for children? Perhaps listening to Tolkien's Ring Trilogy encouraged Lewis to try his hand at a fairy tale. Indeed, both of them had agreed that since no one wrote the kind of stories they liked to read, they would have to write some themselves! Even as a child, Lewis had loved and written stories about animals performing gallant deeds. A further impetus may have been the arrival of four children who came to stay with him after being evacuated from London during World War II. Amazed at how few stories they knew, Lewis began to write a tale about children who had gone to stay with an old professor who lived alone in the country.
Later he picked up that thread, impelled by images of "a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen in a sledge, and a magnificent lion" that kept coming to his mind. On a conscious level, Lewis also said he wanted to answer the question, "What might Christ be like if there really were a world like Narnia and he chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as he actually has done in ours?"
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, published in 1950, answers that question by telling the tale of four children who accidentally enter Narnia through a magic wardrobe. With their help, the great lion Aslan (a Christ figure) redeems Narnia by breaking the power of the evil White Witch who has made it "always winter,…but…never Christmas."
Through Lewis's faith, imagination, and humor, his books have won a following worldwide. They continue to win hearts for Christ and have built a bridge of understanding among Christians, especially between Evangelicals and Catholics. In fact, the late Pope paid the author of The Chronicles of Narnia the ultimate compliment when John Paul II said, Lewis "knew what his apostolate was. And he did it!"
That is a tribute that Lewis, whose life and work flowed from recognition that "the Word was made Flesh,” would certainly have been quick to appreciate.