C. S. Lewis Lewis, C(live) S(taples) (Vol. 6)

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Lewis, C(live) S(taples) (Vol. 6)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Lewis, C(live) S(taples) 1898–1963

Lewis was an English science-fiction novelist of the highest order, a poet, critic, Christian polemicist, and writer for children. William Luther White wrote: "The prolific imagination of C. S. Lewis has generated a multitude of powerful scenes and symbols which interpret Christianity in a way that is remarkably unforgettable."

Lewis, in the Ransom trilogy,… [plays] with the notion of something like the Platonic ideas taking flesh and walking (or stalking) the earth. How does one read such scenes? How does one read the end of The Last Battle, when Narnia becomes the new heaven and new earth? Certainly a willing suspension of disbelief is the last response Lewis asks from the reader. Like a gospel, a fiction by Lewis draws the reader in and forces him to accept the author's position, even in all its hyperbole, or reject it and be damned with the Calormenes, Weston, and all the rest. Lewis certainly was not writing novels. He has little sympathy for most of his characters, who either come up to his standards or get thrown away; his plots are pedestrian. He excels at fantastically imagined archetypal situations, that draw the reader in with a sense of déjà vu. If he judges the reader harshly, the options for good he provides are so beautiful as to be painful. (pp. 93-4)

Gerard Reedy, in Commonweal (copyright © 1974 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), March 29, 1974.

As a scholar of English literature Lewis made a considerable contribution. He placed a stamp on the English school at Oxford which was to last for a quarter of a century although, even before his death, the study of the hated modern poets was making inroads into the walled garden of the Anglo-Saxons and the Medievals which he had laboured so valiantly if narrowly to create. His major work of scholarship, The Allegory of Love is one of those rare academic works that survives its own time. Yet it is the writings which spring more directly from his Christian imagination, such as the incomparable seven of Narnia—the children's books which are certainly that but also very much more—and the great popular theological tracts, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves and The Letters to Malcolm, which will form the basis of his lasting fame.

They sprang as did his conversion to Christianity from his own deep inner life and they were given form not only by his literary sensitivity but by his deep commitment to theology.

Norman St. John-Stevas, "The Varnished Truth," in The Spectator (© 1974 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), July 20, 1974, p. 85.

[Lewis'] delight in argument [made] him the foremost apologist for Christianity in the English-speaking world.

[Two] qualities, literary sensitivity and unrelenting logic, characterize Lewis' published works as they did his conversation and account, in large measure, for the enduring popularity, 11 years after his death, of his 40-odd books. The Allegory of Love, The Discarded Image, and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century will endure. Anyone studying medieval literature will inevitably come upon the first two, while the last must rank as the most engagingly written of all the tomes in the Oxford literary history series. It also contains, in a section on the English divines, the most concise and lucid analysis of the spirit of the Lutheran reform I have ever seen:

In reality,… morality or duty … never yet made a man happy in himself or dear to others. It is shocking, but it is undeniable. We do not wish either to be or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and to associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind.

Much of Lewis is in those three sentences: his profound interest in religious questions; his peculiar ability to see, and capture in uncluttered prose, the bond that ties theological speculation to human experience; his insistence that...

(The entire section is 3,854 words.)