(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

C. S. Lewis was a celebrated academic in the field of medieval literature, first at Oxford University, then at Cambridge, where he held the first chair in medieval and Renaissance literature. He also was a noted convert to Christianity who in the 1940’s established himself as a popular Christian apologist with a series of wartime radio talks, later collected under the title Mere Christianity (1952). Between 1938 and 1945 he wrote a trilogy of science-fiction books (the Space Trilogy, consisting of Out of the Silent Planet, 1938; Perelandra, 1943; and That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy Tale for Grownups, 1945) with underlying Christian themes. He was still unmarried in the early 1950’s, living with his brother and an elderly widow and her daughter.

It is perhaps surprising, then, that Lewis is best known by those other than academics as a children’s writer. The seven novels in his fantasy series the Chronicles of Narnia have remained consistent best sellers ever since their publication, and have inspired several film and television series. Although children evacuated from London did stay at his house in Oxford during World War II, the main inspiration for the stories came from memories of his own childhood reading, as recounted in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955), as well as by certain recurring images he had had, some for many years. Lewis had once bemoaned to his colleague J. R. R. Tolkien (a fellow Christian academic at Oxford and later author of the Lord of the Rings series) the lack of stories he had enjoyed as a boy. Such books included the animal stories of Beatrix Potter and the children’s stories of E. Nesbit. The only solution, they felt, was to write such stories themselves.

The result for Lewis was the publication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 1950. Lewis wrote six more stories over the next three years. However, the publishers, Geoffrey Bles, like today’s filmmakers, decided to space them out to one per year. He had found a young illustrator, Pauline Baynes, for the first book and asked her to stay with the series. After the series was published, Lewis received the 1957 Carnegie Medal, Britain’s most prestigious award for children’s literature, for the last chronicle, The Last Battle. Some have argued the award was really for the whole series, but in many ways, The Last Battle really is the best of the seven stories.

The order of reading the Chronicles which Lewis recommended is not the order in which they were written or published. Lewis suggested that new readers start with The Magician’s Nephew, which tells of the creation of Narnia. This should be followed by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then The...

(The entire section is 1151 words.)