It seems presumptuous to join all the other Lewisians today in celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday.
But I’m going to do it anyway. Perhaps not brilliantly, but oh well – we can’t all be Lewis.
Set aside for the moment that Lewis and Tolkien had a serious falling out, in part because of Lewis’s decision to join the Church of England after his conversion.
And that his writing sometimes echoes faintly of British snobbery.
And that he occasionally leaves you guessing as to what he really thinks and believes about specific doctrinal points (purgatory, for example).
And that Robin McKinley, one of my favorite young adult authors, who recently converted to Christianity, is quite thoroughly allergic to him (as stated here).
And that Hollywood has made a flozzergnashing priddlyshnotz of Narnia (there are no words for it, really).
And that HarperCollins has ignored all textual evidence, literary logic, and scholarly output by INCORRECTLY renumbering the Chronicles of Narnia (which many of us have ranted about in the past for all the reasons outlined here).
And that Tolkien pooh-poohed his Chronicles in part because they included Father Christmas.
And that many of his colleagues felt he’d sold out to the world of commoners via the BBC and popular publishers (or maybe it was just jealousy).
And that sometimes you have to read his sentences several times over to really digest all of the truth and logic and brilliance packed into them.
And that his literary scholarship can sometimes make current literary scholars feel incompetent.
And that he often leaves readers hanging with, “In a book I read one time – I can’t remember which one…” (the price of possessing a searchable-PDF-high-quality-flatscanner-like memory).
And that he smoked (this one really gets some people).
And drank (now I’ve really done it).
Set it all aside because it doesn’t matter; the fact remains – C. S. Lewis was a brilliant writer. Since his writings are all I personally have of him, they are all I can speak to.
And they are indeed brilliant. Delightful. Unexpected. Rich. Deep. Profound. Playful. Reflective. And so many other things.
The Lewis Society to which I belong does, on occasion, genuflect a bit more than necessary. And a friend of mine sometimes jokes that I adhere to the doctrine of the Quadrinity. But I recognize my sometimes excessive adoration of Lewis for what it really is – sincere admiration (with a dash of awe) for a man who wielded language like a warrior’s sword, waved words like a magician’s wand, and rang truth like a chorister’s bell.
He did this as an expert of literary scholarship.
He did this as a devout believer of Jesus Christ.
I am glad to know him, even if just through his books. Those are more than enough.
[Lewis is so very much more than his Chronicles; even so, many readers only know him as the man who created Narnia. And so here are some of the best lines from that land where we all want to be.]
“Then he isn’t safe” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” –The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” –Prince Caspian
“If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie.” –The Silver Chair
“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” –The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
“Was it all a dream?” wondered Shasta. But it couldn’t have been a dream for there in the grass before him he saw the deep, large print of the Lion’s front right paw. It took one’s breath away to think of the weight that could make a footprint like that. –The Horse and His Boy
Then there came a swift flash like fire either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” –The Magician’s Nephew
“Come further up, come further in!” –The Last Battle
Okay, just one more, from Out of the Silent Planet, basically summing up the entire doctrine of the fall and our subsequent need for Christ’s redemptive work on the cross:
They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history – …
“It is because they have no Oyarsa,” said one of the pupils.
“It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,” said Augray.