CS Lewis and the Journey of the Soul
By Carolyn Weber
Post #6 in the blog series “I Read Dead People” on faith in great literature and the journey of the soul
Author Name: Clive Staples Lewis
Country of Origin: born in Belfast, but moved to England, where he owned a long career as professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge Universities
Genres: Lewis wrote across an astonishing range of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, fiction, memoir, essays, academic studies, letters and children’s literature. Much like with Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings, for instance, and friend of Lewis), I find friends of my who were fans of the Chronicles of Narnia classics (such as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) as children, are amazed to discover he also wrote Christian apologia in an intelligent, yet often witty and highly accessible style.
Brief Religious Heritage or Association: As Alister McGrath puts it, “If Lewis ever had any kind of Christian belief to start with, he soon lost it.” His mother, who apparently did own a strong faith, died when Lewis was a young child. After serving in the British Army during the First World War, he attended Oxford and stayed on as a professor. In the 1920’s he reconsidered his faith, and converted to Christianity.
Random Fact from the Author’s Life: Lewis entitled the story of his conversion Surprised by Joy – well before he had even met, and then married, the love of his life, Joy Davidman – like I always say, you can’t make this stuff up! He died at his Oxford home on November 22, 1963, only a few hours before the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.
Focus Text(s) for Discussion Here: Till We Have Faces (1956) – a novel, and the work of which Lewis claimed to be most proud.
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Suggested Edition of this Text/Biographies/Resources: I used most recently the Harcourt edition, 1984, of Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. I’ve long appreciated Alister McGrath’s succinct yet beautifully written biographical essay on Lewis in his collection A Cloud of Witnesses: Ten Great Christian Thinkers. McGrath gives a great overview of Lewis that is scholarly but utterly enjoyable; it also situates his life within the context of other contributors to Christian thought. Those seeking a longer, more sustained biographical foray might enjoy Chad Walsh’s two books with different slants: C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Sceptics, and The Literary Legacy of C.S. Lewis, as well as Roger L. Green and Walter Hooper’s C.S. Lewis: A Biography. But if you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest experiencing Lewis’s life and conversion in his own words, in his memoir Surprised by Joy.
How this Text has Challenged, Inspired and Fed my Faith Walk:
In his retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, Lewis assumes the voice and point of view of Orual, his version of one of Psyche’s older sisters. He makes her a fascinating character, not just merely the “evil” stepsister prototype usually so easy to punish in the end, and dismiss. Rather, Orual, the ugly and masculine (or at least almost androgynous) sister adores Psyche from her very birth, but with a self-consuming love. When Psyche is sacrificed by her father and left for dead, Orual is devastated, but eventually hardens herself and becomes the future queen of Glome, the barbaric, pre-Christian world that sets the stage for the story…
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