November 22nd this year marked 50 years since the death of C.S Lewis. Many of our speakers here at RZIM and the OCCA were involved in nationwide events and media opportunities celebrating his anniversary.
To commemorate Lewis’ life and work, Westminster Abbey unveiled a memorial stone in poet’s corner and held a symposium exploring Lewis’s remarkable achievements as a writer of fiction, apologetics and scholarship. Alister McGrath was invited to be one of the keynote speakers – you can listen to his talk on C.S Lewis and rational argument here.
Michael Ramsden was one of the panelists looking at what 21st century apologetics can learn from C.S. Lewis: click here.
C.S. Lewis was an established academic, apologist and writer but he is probably most fondly remembered as author of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Alister McGrath has written a new biography to mark the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ death. Like Lewis, McGrath has strong links with Oxford and Cambridge Universities and Northern Ireland, and he too, was an avowed atheist who later found faith.
Clive Staples Lewis, fondly known by many as ‘Jack,’ grew up in Northern Ireland with his father, mother and elder brother Warnie. When Lewis was ten, their mother Flora died of cancer and two weeks after this tragedy, he was shipped off to boarding school in England. ‘With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life…’
Lewis hated school – he says of two of his three boarding schools that ‘he never hated anything as much, not even the front line trenches in World War I.’ Following private tuition, Lewis went on to secure a ‘Triple First’ at Oxford University and eventually became a fellow in English Literature at Magdalen College. By the end of the 1930s, he had established a reputation as one of Oxford’s finest lecturers. Despite not applying for the role, Lewis became a professor at Cambridge University in 1955 until ill health forced him to resign in 1963.
Although born and raised in Northern Ireland, Oxford came to be Lewis’ home and it had a profound effect on much of his writing. The architecture of this great city captured Lewis’ imagination and there are a number of Oxford artifacts that allegedly helped to create the iconic imagery in Narnia. Near University Church, where Lewis was often a guest speaker, there is a door with two stone fawns (Mr Tumnus) either side of a brass lion door-knocker (Aslan). At the entrance to the Lamb and Flag Passage, off St Giles’, there used to be two heavy wooden doors (The Wardrobe) that opened to reveal a lamppost-lined pathway (Narnia)!
During the Second World War, Lewis had a number of evacuees living in his Oxford home, The Kilns. This may have been when he started thinking about writing children’s stories.
The Eagle and Child pub on St Giles’ was home to the Inklings writing group, which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The friendship of Lewis and Tolkien is well known, but McGrath emphasizes the enormity of each other’s impact: ‘…without Lewis, The Lord of the Rings might never have been written.’ Tolkien played a significant part in helping Lewis find faith by helping him reconnect the worlds of reason and imagination: ‘It is arguable that Tolkien removed the final obstacle that stood in Lewis’s path to his rediscovery of the Christian faith’
After his conversion to Christianity, Lewis wrote many books about faith but the Narnia chronicles are arguably his most powerful exposition of the Christian narrative. The imaginative world of Narnia and its universal appeal demonstrates the importance of stories in shaping our understanding of reality. Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan are presented with conflicting narratives – is Narnia the realm of the White Witch or does it belong to Aslan? Gradually, the true ‘good’ and ‘evil’ emerge and, after a fierce battle, Lewis’ Christ-like Aslan arises victorious. It is through his self-sacrifice on the stone table and subsequent resurrection that the ‘Sons of Adam’ and ‘Daughters of Eve’ are saved.
In his biography, McGrath shows that Narnia seems to provide a deeper, brighter and more meaningful world than anything we know from our own experience. He reminds us that Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia are about finding a master story that makes sense of all other stories: ‘For Lewis, the narrative of Narnia has the capacity to re-enchant a dis-enchanted world. It helps us to imagine our world differently’
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) assumed that he would be forgotten within five years of his death. However, half a century later, Lewis and his ideas still speak eloquently and continue to impact and shape the thoughts of many.
See more of Alister McGrath on C.S. Lewis:
- BBC 4 – Narnia’s Lost Poet – a touching, warm and revealing documentary featuring Alister McGrath. There are some clips of his contribution on our YouTube channel.
- BBC Radio 4 – The Brave New World – An audio portrait exploring the lives and ideas of CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley:
- The programme also included an exclusive interview with John Lennox about his experience of sitting in Lewis’ lectures.
- BBC Radio 2 – Good Morning Sunday with Clare Balding:
- BBC Radio 4 – Sunday Worship live from C.S. Lewis’ church Holy Trinity Headington
- BBC 2 – Songs of Praise – Alister Mcgrath looks at the fiction of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. There are some clips of his contribution on our YouTube channel.
- BBC Article – Alister McGrath explores the religious symbolism behind Narnia
- ABC Religion article – Alister McGrath asses the impact of C.S. Lewis 50 years on