C.S. Lewis' exploration of Christian faith inspires new generation
By Jonathan Luxmoore
In a wooded suburb of this fabled university city, a battered typewriter sits on a desk beside a bay window that overlooks a tangled landscape of oaks and beeches.Nearby, ancient bookshelves guard a leather armchair surrounded by wall maps and pictures depicting a fantasy world.
When Clive Staples Lewis bought The Kilns, a former brick factory, in 1930, he used its remote calm to produce a stream of Christian stories, the best known of which, "The Chronicles of Narnia," has since sold 100 million copies in more than 45 languages. But Lewis also gained renown for his Christian apologetics. His "Mere Christianity," published in 1952, was rated "best religious book of the 20th century" by the U.S. magazine Christianity Today.
Until now, Lewis has been largely ignored at Oxford University, where he taught for three decades, until his death in 1963. He has gained greater recognition in the U.S., where the Episcopal Church celebrates a "Holy C.S. Lewis Day" each November.With interest growing, however, and three books of the Narnia series now blockbuster films, things are changing.
"Lewis wasn't a professional theologian, but his sense of the world Christianity portrays was just as profound as the best modern theologians'," said Judith Wolfe, an expert on the author and a theology faculty member of Oxford's St. John's College.
"He realized Christian literature wasn't presenting good characters who were also interesting; the evil characters were always more compelling," she said. "By portraying Christ as the lion Aslan in the Narnia stories, he hoped to reveal the real-life attractiveness of the holy."
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A native of what is now Northern Ireland, Lewis won an Oxford scholarship in 1916, graduating after fighting in the trenches of World War I. He became a fellow of Oxford's Magdalen College in 1925. The city is full of landmarks connected to Lewis. There's the Eagle and Child pub where his literary group, The Inklings, met; the walkways where he nurtured his fascination for Nordic, Celtic and Greek legends; and the Anglican Holy Trinity Church where he lies buried.
As a new generation is introduced to the world of Narnia, Anglican Father Michael Ward, a university chaplain, said he thinks Lewis' Christian vision is gaining a new relevance. Lewis' work has appeared on reading lists in both English literature and systematic theology at Oxford. The C.S. Lewis Society hosts weekly seminars at the university's Pusey House.
"Like his close friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis expressed his Christian faith through narrative and imagination which seems to be chiming in with contemporary needs," explained Father Ward, co-editor of the groundbreaking, The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis. "People are picking up intuitively again on the timeless religious element in his books, even if they're not directly aware of their fundamentally Christian message…”
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