What Is It About C.S. Lewis?
I met C.S. Lewis when I was twelve years old. He had been dead for fourteen years.
My father introduced me. I was in the porch watching T.V. I’m almost certain I was watching “Charlie’s Angels,” and my dad called to me from the living room. He asked me to come (the sort of “asking” dads do when “no” isn’t an option) because he had a book to read to me. My dad didn’t read to me often, so I remember it vividly. I was irritated about having to turn off Farah Fawcett and Jacqueline Smith so my dad could read me some dumb book. I can still see the burnt orange carpet (à la mid-70’s) of our kitchen floor as I sulked through it to the living room where I probably threw myself on the gold-sheen couch with floral patterns. Dad crushed out his cigarette and opened the little paperback he was holding.
And my world changed.
The book was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And as Dad read, the expulsive power of a new affection for a magical land and a marvelous Lion shoved Farah Fawcett right out of the picture.
My dad read me the entire Narnian chronicles that fall, and I was hooked. I don’t know how many times I read those books in my early teens. Many times. And those led to the space trilogy, and then to Lewis’s apologetic works and autobiographies and essays, and then numerous Lewis biographies and more.
I’m still reading Lewis 37 years later and not tiring of him. His impact on me is such that one of my sons has Lewis for a middle name, and (you might think it morbid — Lewis, no doubt, would) every November 22 (the day Lewis died in 1963) is “C.S. Lewis Day” in the Bloom house, when we eat Narnian food and watch a documentary about Lewis’s life and talk about his faith.
What is it about C.S. Lewis that makes such a huge impact on so many of us? It’s not merely his brilliance or his ability to craft such lucid, poetic prose. There are many brilliant, wonderful writers. No, there was something uniquely powerful about this frumpy, balding, boisterous, chain-smoking professor of mediaeval and Renaissance literature.
Exploring what made Lewis uniquely powerful is why Desiring God hosted a conference in the fall of 2013 (marking the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death) titled, “The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis.” Besides the six plenary messages, there are 18 additional shorter messages on all things Lewis. If you go there, you will find audio steak as well as audio snacks for the soul.
But if you prefer reading, Crossway now has released a book under the same banner, The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis, containing chapter manifestations of the conference’s plenary messages delivered by Randy Alcorn, John Piper, Philip Ryken, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Douglas Wilson. It is rich fare, and if purchasing the book is not an option for you, you can download a free PDF and enjoy the food.
It was the relentless (and biblical!) pursuit of the Joy of joys that every human soul longs for (romantic) combined with a relentless (and biblical!) belief that “true rationality . . . is rooted in absolute Reason” (page 28 of the book) that made Lewis unique. Looking through both lenses, Lewis saw more deeply and more clearly than most of us see on our own. And through his writing, he helped us to see too.
Lewis was not perfect. Not everything he wrote was right. But when he was right, he was uniquely powerful in helping us see and savor the glorious right. It is worth your time to read or listen and cultivate your romantic rationalism.
My life has never been the same since that evening in the living room in 1977. Thank you, Dad, for calling me away from the mud puddle of “Charlie’s Angels” and introducing me to a man who knew where the Sea was. And when you see him, say hi to Jack for me.