Almost everyone knows that C.S. Lewis, known to his friends and family as Jack, was a remarkable man of letters. For a serious writer of quality, he was incredibly prolific and incredibly popular. Almost everything he wrote is still in print, and almost everything he wrote is worth reading. Amazon lists 157 or 160 titles under his name. I mention here only a few items of interest.
Every high school senior should read The Abolition of Man. In it Lewis makes a powerful case for a version of natural law that belies the relativism in which students are inculcated in one way or another in school, especially in college. The problem is not strictly American or of recent vintage. Lewis was prompted to write the lectures that make up the book by a British high school English textbook. The Abolition of Man was published in 1943.
As a teacher of literature at Oxford and then Cambridge, Lewis wrote such influential scholarly works as The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition and Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, an installment in the comprehensive Oxford history of English literature series. As a college English major I used Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost with pleasure. Other distinguished books deriving from Lewis’s scholarly pursuits include The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, Studies in Words, An Experiment in Criticism, and Selected Literary Essays.
Lewis loved fable, myth, and allegory. He even tried his own hand at them. Among his works in this vein are The Pilgrim’s Regress and Till We Have Faces.
It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that every educated person is familiar in one way or another with Lewis’s Christian apologetics. He told the story of his own journey back to Christianity from atheism in Surprised By Joy. Lewis’s defense and elucidation of Christian faith took form in books too numerous to mention here. Among the most prominent are Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles. Closely related are The Four Loves and A Grief Observed, the book Lewis wrote following his wife’s death from cancer.
Lewis’s faith also found expression in fictional form. Who doesn’t know The Screwtape Letters? It has become a modern classic. Educated readers should also be familiar with The Great Divorce.
Lewis’s popular science fiction trilogy for adults gave expression to his philosophical and religious concerns as well. Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength are the novels that make up the trilogy. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia has become a children’s classic.
Richard Wolffe is a charter member of the Obamamania media. He is the author of the Chronicles of Obama, now comprising the two books Renegade: The Making of a President and, most recently, Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House.
In an appearance on Hardball last week (video below), Wolffe demonstrated his intellectual daring with critical words about Sarah Palin. Palin had cited C.S. Lewis as an author to whom she turns for divine inspiration. Wolffe thought this was absurd. Wolffe expressed incredulity that Palin turned to the author of children’s books for inspiration.
Matthews interrupted Wolffe: “I wouldn’t put down C.S. Lewis.”
“I’m not putting him down,” Wollfe responded. “But you know divine inspiration? There are things she could’ve said to divine inspiration. Choosing C.S. Lewis is an interesting one.”
Palin’s citation of C.S. Lewis is interesting, though not in the sense that Wolffe means. I would be interested to know in which of Lewis’s books Palin has found inspiration. Palin’s citation of Lewis in any event makes perfect sense. Even more interesting than Palin’s citation of Lewis is the fact that, at the time of his appearance on Hardball, Wolffe had no knowledge of Lewis as anyone other than the author of the Narnia books. Anyone who combines arrogance and ignorance in these proportions is a fool. Wolffe is hardly special in this respect, but he is a good example of the phenomenon.
UPDATE: Joe Malchow says that I should promote this post under the heading: “Every C.S. Lewis Book You Need to Read.” It’s that too!