C.S Lewis for beginners

As you know, or at least I hope you’ve heard, today marks fifty years since the death of our beloved
Clive Staples Lewis. As I’m also sure you know, Lewis’ quiet death at home was overshadowed by the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy. Both men preferred the nick-name Jack.

I know little about JFK, but CSL?–he’s our man. Sadly, a lot of people tell me they are intimidated by his books or find them hard to get into and understand. My response– if you find a C.S. Lewis book tedious, you’ve simply picked up the wrong one.

For a child– or almost any adult, I recommend The Chronicles of Narnia. Read them in order, or don’t. Search for the Christian parallels or don’t. But anyone with a sense of whimsy and magic will find them delightful. Lewis once confessed to his good friend J.R.R Tolkien that he rushed the chronicles a bit. Lewis considered his adult fantasy novels far superior and always mourned their lackluster sales.

And really, what better recommendation can I give than Lewis’ own for his Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet; Perelandra; That Hideous Strength? He often told readers they could learn more about Christianity from Perelandra than all of his non-fiction books combined. 13 and up.

But neither of the above sets earn my top recommendation. My favorite C.S. Lewis tome, the one with the cover worn off and oft thumbed pages is The Screwtape Letters. A senior devil’s advice to his junior protege; I find The Screwtape Letters easy to read and incredibly applicable to daily life. It might take you a few minutes to get used to the reverse language (everything bad is good and vice versa) and you’ll have to explain that reversal when you read passages out loud.

For me, Mere Christianity rests as a close favorite. This is the book you’ve probably heard quoted most often. It explains Christianity from a logical perspective and was first delivered to British audiences as radio addresses during WWII. I love the book more than cupcakes and creampuffs, but I’ll admit it can be a bit hard to get into during the first few chapters.

Erik’s favorite, and the quickest read– The Great Divorce— describes the divorce between heaven and hell. Perhaps I should move this right up to the top? Lewis perfectly describes the smallness and pettiness of hell as opposed to the real, solid joy of heaven. The story beautifully illustrates the truth we will go where we are most comfortable– either we’ll give up our sins and enjoy the beauties of heaven or hold tight to our miseries in hell.

Putting these in order feels like ranking my children, I love them all. Hans insists I note Till We Have Faces next. A retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth from the point of view of Psyche’s sister Orual.

Personally, I love Lewis’ letters compiled into two volumes: Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer and C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children.

Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy, relates his early life, education, career and conversion to Christianity. I love the irony that many years after this book was published the old bachelor was indeed surprised by Joy Davidman, the woman who became his wife.

Joy and Jack only enjoyed a few years of married life before she succumbed to cancer. A Grief Observed relates his honest, crushing grief.

Next, the group I think of a C.S. Lewis advanced– The World’s Last Night, (Stefan’s favorite), Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, God in the Dock, Reflections on the Psalms and a dozen others. I’m not disparaging any of these, but I wouldn’t recommend reading any of these first. Wait until you’re a full-fledged C.S. Lewis addict and need to read everything he’s every penned.

Now, a caution– you might get really excited about The Dark Tower and Other Stories until you find the title story only partially completed. Hans says the minute he reaches heaven he’ll run to C.S. Lewis, yelling, “How does it end? How does it end?”

I’ve scarcely done this subject justice, but it’s a start. For me, reading C.S. Lewis over the decades has formed much of my character and the way I think. I’ll be forever grateful for his extraordinary words and like Hans, I have a few question for him when I reach heaven too.

Happy reading!


1 Comment

  1. Dyann

    December 1, 2013

    Funny how timely things happen sometimes. Just last Sunday I commented to the lady who heads up the book club I attend (also the bishop’s wife) that other than one or two of the Chronicles I’ve never read any of CS Lewis’s works. Thanks for the reviews, ‘rating,’ and info!

    [PS I’m a dork and I’ve read your whole blog. Yes, the whole thing; it took a while. And I love it. love Love LOVE it! Thank you for sharing your family with the world in such an honest, loving way. I’ve gleaned SO MANY ideas of ways to do better and be better with my own crazy brood (12, 10, 7, 5, 2). Don’t worry, I’m not the creepy stalker type–just an admirer of light and goodness.]

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