Clive Staples Lewis, popularly known as C.S. Lewis, was not only an incredibly influential writer during his lifetime, but has continued to draw thousands of readers over the years.
He was born in Ireland in 1898 and grew up surrounded by book lovers. One of his favorite authors was Beatrix Potter. He later tutored at Oxford where he was part of a small discussion group called “The Inklings” with J.R.R. Tolkien.
A C.S. Lewis Booklist
He wrote dozens of books during his lifetime, spanning the course of three decades. Here are some of his most well known works:
The Screwtape Letters (1942)
The Screwtape Letters is a classic when it comes to fighting off the whispers and lies that the devil so consistently and stealthily breathes into our ears. It is written in the form of letters between the high ranking demon, Screwtape, and his nephew and tempter-in-training, Wormwood. Throughout the correspondence Screwtape is coaching Wormwood on how to gain the soul of a new Christian. The way he is instructed to tempt the young man is simple, yet effective.
Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy…and of course, never let him suspect that he has tone and looks which similarly annoy her.
Fun Fact: Lewis dedicated this book to his friend J.R.R. Tolkein.
The Great Divorce (1945 )
This book is an allegorical tale in which the writer is aboard a bus on a journey from Purgatory to Heaven. He makes this journey as a transparent being, a “ghost”, yet his surroundings are all solid. So solid that he is unable to bear the weight of a leaf or walk among the sharp blades of grass. He won’t be able to engage with creation until he accepts the paradise that God designed.
It isn’t that the ghost had a negative assumption of what a leaf or a blade of grass is like, it’s just that it was a mere shadow of how it is in Heaven. Our earthly reality makes it impossible for us to really fathom what Heaven is like. If the ghost prefers his idea of what his surroundings are like, and refuses to try to comprehend God’s reality, he can choose to return to the “grey town” where he began. However, if he chooses to go back, what started out as Purgatory, will become his decided hell. Some ghosts prefer returning to this place because there they are in control of their own lives. As Lewis wrote:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.
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Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956)
Lewis wrote and published The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950. Little did he know that he would continue writing to make it a seven book fantasy novel series. The story takes place in the land of Narnia where there is magic, mythical creatures, and talking animals. The protagonists are human children from earth who traveled to Narnia through a magic wardrobe. Here they follow the direction of Aslan the lion, who describes Narnia as “always winter and never Christmas.” With Aslan’s help, the children courageously fight to keep Narnia from falling permanently into the evil plans of the white witch who froze the land into a one-hundred years winter. Of all Lewis’ books, The Chronicles of Narnia has sold the most copies.
Fun Fact: Lewis dedicated The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe to his godchild Lucy Pevensie who he based one of the characters after. In the front of the book he wrote her a letter, saying:
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.
Mere Christianity (1952)
In this book, Lewis so powerfully explains how the foundation of all Christian faiths can bring unity among us. Even the Wall Street Journal wrote about Mere Christianity: “It is not surprising that Lewis’s time-proven views are still flourishing while most other mid-20th-century works are nearly neglected.”
He tackled a variety of topics including moral law, our disposition toward sin, and the Trinity. He did this keeping in mind that it needed to be easy to understand for the general reader, rather than highly philosophical. He wrote:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
Fun Fact: The four books in Mere Christianity were broadcast on a BBC radio series during World War II. This series of 15-minute talks by C.S. Lewis was titled, “Right and Wrong: A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” You can tune into one of the 15-minute talks here.
The Four Loves (1960)
As I mentioned in a previous post about books on divine and human love, this book is the source of one of my favorite quotations, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” Lewis shares great wisdom on the different categories of love as well as how they play out in our everyday life, writing about them with their Greek names.
Affection storge: This is the cozy, comfortable kind of love that we experience in familiar and fond places whether that be the home we grew up in, our place of worship, or our college community.
Friendship philia: Lewis calls this kind of love the most fully human. It is the kind of love we share with another when we find something in common.
Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one’.
Romantic eros: This love gives us a glimpse of what being in the presence of Eternal Love will be like. It is the kind of love that dies to self and anticipates the needs of the other. It is an image of God’s love for the world.
Charity agape: This is where we ought to live, for the Beloved and as the beloved. We learn to have charity through the other three loves, but we are created to know and love God Himself.
Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.
A Grief Observed (1961)
After just four years of marriage, Lewis’ wife, Joy, died from cancer. This book was written after her death, and is a must read for anyone suffering the loss of a loved one. In this book Lewis will mourn with you:
“I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”
He will question God with you:
“Can I meet her again if I learn to love you so much that I don’t care whether I meet her or not?”
He will also find comfort with you, despite the unknown:
“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But rather a special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head, but not in refusal or in waiving the question. Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
By the end of his book, Lewis didn’t find all the answers. But he did find consolation in knowing his wife died with a spiritual peace.
This is what I love about Lewis. His humility and honesty. He isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions, and even when he doesn’t fully understand the answer, his faith persists. Whether you are looking for a fantasy novel, a book to pray and meditate with, or one with a more philosophical angle, the writing of C.S. Lewis is a great place to find what you are looking for!
Have you ever read the work of C.S. Lewis? Which one of his books is your favorite?
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