The news of Lewis’s death, though, didn't appear in print until Nov. 25, and it appeared in the normal obituary section of The New York Times weekday paper. At an earlier point in his life, Lewis enjoyed vibrant community with family, friends, and colleagues displayed famously in his writers’ club, the Inklings—which included, among others, J.R.R. Tolkien. By the time Lewis died, however, many of those relationships had fizzled out, and only a handful people even knew about Lewis’s funeral in time to attend. In one of the new biographies of Lewis by Alister McGrath (the now-definitive C.S. Lewis: A Life), the writer lists eight attendees, and assumes others, at the funeral for Lewis. No immediate family members were present—his brother, Warnie, stayed in bed, too drunk and distraught to venture to the ceremony. Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, represented the family at the understated memorial.
But amid all of the attention to these three men during the past year—new biographies, films, conferences, magazines, articles—the legacy of Lewis stands out in relation to both those of the 35th U.S. president and of the prescient Brave New World author.
As Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. puts it in Publishers Weekly, “While Huxley is now largely forgotten and Kennedy remains a symbol of lost promise, Lewis lives on through his novels, stories, essays, and autobiographical works.” While I think that oversimplifies Kennedy and underestimates Huxley, the underlying point is worth considering: In one of the great ironies of history, Lewis at his death received less attention than Huxley, and far less than Kennedy. But it may be true that Lewis’s ideas claim the most lasting influence, both on the Christian tradition and on the Western culture beyond.
Lewis, a native of Belfast, Ireland, taught English literature at Oxford and Cambridge during the middle of the 20th century. Beginning in his teenage years and up through his early career, he was an atheist—but an uncomfortable one. In 1931, he became convinced that the Christian faith was more than a series of rational deductions; that it offered him a narrative that not only answered intellectual questions, but also satisfied his spiritual longings—what he described as the “god-sized hole” in his life. From that point on, he dedicated a significant portion of his energies to this idea that Christianity transcends facts and experience—Lewis believed Christianity wedded facts and experience in a deeper logical and emotional reality.
Lewis’s writing flowed in three streams: scholarly works, defenses of the Christian faith, and fiction. His canon, in addition to hundreds of essays and short writings, consists of more than 30 books, including widely celebrated criticisms on English literature and widely read works of fiction, poetry, and children’s stories. Today, several of these titles are familiar even to those with only a cursory interest in literature—such as the Chronicles of Narnia (which includes 1950’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), 1956’s Till We Have Faces, 1952’s Mere Christianity, and 1942’s The Screwtape Letters.