Remembering C.S. Lewis, On the 50th Anniversary of His Death

C. S. Lewis' grave(Visiting Lewis’ grave. Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, Oxford. 2008)

For most of my young adulthood, my bedtime prayers always began thus:

Thank you God for my wonderful husband, a loving family, great friends, and C. S. Lewis.

To this day, Lewis has had more influence on my spiritual life than any other person. Without question, he’s the most influential person I’ve never met. (In fact, he was dead before my parents were even born.)

When I struggle with doubts about God’s goodness or even his existence, Lewis is among the first people I turn to. In fact, the argument that usually wins me back over is, “But Lewis believed in Him. He has to be real . . . and good.”

I can’t explain my deep, enduring attachment to this dead Irish Oxford don.

I once noted in my journal that any time I seemed to have a visionary moment — to connect with the Divine on some level — Lewis invariably appeared in those visions somehow. He wasn’t the source, but was always somehow present, sort of like a guardian spirit or genius. I wondered whether it were possible for humans to be related on a spiritual level — to have kinship ties to other souls, kind of like how earthly brothers and sisters share DNA . . . except their connection isn’t biological. I wondered whether, in the next life, Lewis would recognize me as his sister the way I seemed to recognize him as a spiritual brother. We just seemed to understand each other, like we’d come from the same place somehow — we intuitively understood the same language. I hoped he would.

I was first introduced to Lewis when I was in the fifth grade, when our class read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I was completely taken with Narnia, and excitedly sought out the rest of the chronicles from the school library. I remember discovering all seven hard-cover books in a row on the shelf and the ensuing exhilaration. I was completely unaware of the religious themes in the stories — I was just smitten with the land and the characters.

I began reading his other work when I was in university — at a time when I really needed spiritual support. After being blown away by The Great Divorce, I began reading everything else I could get my hands on — from Mere Christianity to the Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces, and even his letters. My soul feasted upon his stunning imagery, quick wit, and breathtaking wisdom.

bookshelf(My C. S. Lewis shelf)

Everything Lewis wrote heaves with life. I have never encountered anything like it. It doesn’t matter the genre — fantasy novel, essay, sermon, lecture; for me, every word sparkles with freshness.

When I was in England for an academic conference several years ago, I made sure we spent a couple of days in Oxford to visit Magdalen College (where he was a fellow for thirty years), and to walk down Addison’s Walk, where Tolkein and Dyson talked to him about Christianity before his conversion.

New Building, Magdalen CollegeThe New Building, Magdalen College, Oxford

Addisons Walk, Magdalen CollegeAddison’s Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford

We toured his home, The Kilns; we walked the grounds of his church; and saw his grave, where I surprised myself by bursting into tears. The Holy Spirit resided in this body, I thought. I felt it more palpably there, standing over the place where his body lay, than I ever had with anyone else.

kilnsThe Kilns. Headington Quarry, Oxford

Holy Trinity Church, OxfordHoly Trinity Church. Headington Quarry, Oxford

While in London, we visited Westminster Abbey, lingering at Poet’s Corner, where so many of my heroes are buried or commemorated. I distinctly remember thinking, Lewis belongs here. He made an enormous contribution to English literature with his Narnia stories — he ought to be remembered amongst other literary giants like Wordsworth and Dickens.

I never thought I’d actually see the day when Lewis would be officially recognized at Westminster Abbey, but it has come. Today, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Westminster Abbey will be unveiling a memorial stone to Lewis in Poets’ Corner — joining the likes of Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot and Chaucer as writers buried or commemorated there.

Of course, I won’t be anywhere near the memorial service while it happens, and it’s even doubtful I’ll ever see the memorial stone in my lifetime. But my heart is glad that this beloved writer, thinker, and apologist is getting recognition for his incredible contributions to English literature.

I confess I haven’t read him much in the last couple of years. By now I’ve read all of his well-known works and much of his lesser-known stuff, as well as numerous biographies and books about his writing. (I read Alister McGrath’s brand-new biography, C. S. Lewis: A Life, earlier this year. It was wonderful.) I haven’t given him as much attention in the last few years as I have in earlier eras of my life.

But my affection hasn’t wavered. His books are old friends I haven’t visited in a while, but I know I’ll visit them again.

And I still thank God for the opportunity to have witnessed such beauty.

* * *

Read more about Lewis’ popularity 50 years after his death: C. S. Lewis, 50 Years On by Greg Garrett (Huffington Post)

“It is, literally, the year of C. S. Lewis. Fifty years since his death, on Nov. 22, 1963 — yes, he died the same day as Kennedy and Aldous Huxley — he is more influential than ever.”

Any other Lewis fans out there? What’s your favourite book? Please share!

(Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. Which means if you click on them and buy something, I get a tiny commission. Thanks for supporting Becoming Peculiar!)

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  1. Christiana says:

    Oh, yes yes! I love C.S Lewis too and you have summed up my feelings so well! It would be hard to choose a favorite book (though I have a few yet to read by him.) But truths and insights from The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters are often in my mind.

    Being a fantasy writer I would say I was most influenced by the Narnia books (and then reading of his imaginary worlds as a child in Surpised by Joy) and the idea creating an entirely new world just for a story (or series.) Now it’s one of my favorite things to do. Of course, there is Middle Earth, too, but I didn’t read that until I was a teenager. I loved his Space Trilogy, too.

    We are currently reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a family, mostly because I feel like it captures a lot of magic of the upcoming holidays. I’m loving it all over again! And I can’t wait until Constance (and other future kids, hopefully) are old enough to really understand so I can experience that magical awe through them when we read them aloud. Yay for C.S Lewis!

  2. This is my favourite post yet. And I really love your blog. I am so glad about this news, long overdue but good news regardless of the tardiness. I you are still so incredibly young – and you are lucky enough to live in the northern hemisphere where things are relatively close (compared to me down here in Oz anyway). Why don’t you thing you will be back to London in your lifetime??

    • Oh my I clearly wrote that with insomnia and lack of spell check so sorry!!

    • Thanks, Kathleen! It’s possible that I’ll be in London again in my lifetime, but unlikely since I’ve decided to be a stay-at-home mom and (hopefully) homeschooler. My husband and I will likely never have the income needed to travel overseas again. But who knows where like might take me!

  3. Here here! (Or hear hear?) But yes, my life would not be the same were it not for Mere Christianity. That simple and concise book really put it all in perspective for me as I began my quest for God in my early twenties. Loved reading this!
    alison recently posted..Thankful for not wanting betterMy Profile

    • That’s so cool that Mere Christianity had such an impact on you. In his biography on Lewis, McGrath notes that part of the reason for Lewis’ longstanding popularity is his wide audience — Catholics and Protestants of all stripes appreciate his work. He really knew how to reach almost everybody.

  4. This is my favorite read today! Absolutely wonderful! Up until a year ago I had never even heard of CS Lewis. I know, I know. But rocks can be big and living under them isn’t really so bad. I digress. I am a late bloomer in nearly every area of life. My youngest son was born today, 10 years ago. My oldest son is 13. Both boys have introduced me into the world of CS Lewis. I thank them for it. Magical and wonderful as it is, the spiritual is where I have always hung my hat. (note: rocks). I’ve since kicked narcissism to the curb and began looking around a bit. CS Lewis is my kinda guy. Seeing the lovely stack on your shelf of his works puts me in mind for the idea of a very literary Christmas this year!

    Thank you for sharing all of your travels and your heart today! Oh and get yourself to England again. Never say never!

  5. I love that you refer to him as a Spiritual Brother, Kathleen. When my husband Evan and I were first dating, I referred to just “Lewis” so often that Evan dubbed him “Uncle Lewis.” I always knew that I loved Lewis, but then I read Michael Ward’s book Planet Narnia, and I was even more enchanted with Lewis’ ability to weave history and literature and fantasy together. Thanks for these beautiful reflections, I really want to read the new McGrath biography soon!
    Amy Rogers Hays recently posted..Confession: I like Twilight + 3 reasons I had thought I wouldn’tMy Profile

  6. Not a day goes by when I do not think of Lewis, and his impact on my life – from my conversion, to battles with pride, to my understanding of grief, to the health of my marriage. I told my husband the other day that I feel related to Lewis, as though he was a personal mentor to me. There is something about the strong connection that passes through Christian thinkers – a kind of hereditary line from Augustine to Aquinas to early christian existentialist thinkers like Kierkegaard, and later Barth and Bonhoeffer. But I think , for certain types of people, Lewis connects in a special way – his acknowledgement of certain kinds of sin, perhaps, in a way that most clearly identifies with us. Or maybe his conversion story is reminiscent of our own. I don’t know. But whatever it is, I am grateful. And it makes my heart joyful to know there are others who feel that connection, too.
    (Additionally, Kathleen, I adore your blog – I am not yet a mother, but I hope to be soon. I now know so many weird things about pregnancy, birth, nursing, infants, toddlers, etc. that my friends all think I’m a complete nutter, due to my parent-less status!)

  7. “When I struggle with doubts about God’s goodness or even his existence, Lewis is among the first people I turn to. In fact, the argument that usually wins me back over is, ‘But Lewis believed in Him. He has to be real . . . and good.’

    “I can’t explain my deep, enduring attachment to this dead Irish Oxford don.” My thoughts EXACTLY.

    After Jesus and after family (and furry family!), C.S. Lewis is the first person I want to meet in Heaven.

  8. I am a big big fan of C.S.Lewis, I also feel the connection you are talking about. I still have to read a lot of his books… have you read “The question of pain?” I am really curious about that one and hoping I will be able to find it soon.
    How lucky that you were able to visit his grave, and it’s great news that he will now have a stone at Westminster’s abbey.
    Amanda recently posted..26 weeks and life these days.My Profile

  9. I don’t feel like such a geek now! ;) I’ve been wanting to visit Lewis’s home for a long time now! I jsut heard about Alister McGrath’s book on a pod cast I was listening to! My favorite at this point is “The Last Battle”.

  10. Hi Kathleen,

    Thanks for your posts. Grew my our scoby and have my first batch working. My question is, do you
    continuous brew and what would your recommendations be.

    Love you site and thank you…

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