Monday, 27 December 2010
By Justin at Faith and Geekery
To what musician would you compare C.S. Lewis? It’s a strange question, and it doesn’t have an easy answer. He was passionate in his faith, but not as fiery as Keith Green. He was intellectual in his execution, but not as nerdy as Rush.
Yet somehow CNN made the comparison to the last musician I’d think of when I think of C.S. Lewis: Elvis Presley.
C.S. Lewis was talking to his lawyer one day when the attorney told him he had to decide where his earnings would go after his death.Lewis, who had already written “The Chronicles of Narnia” book series, told the lawyer he didn’t need to worry.
“After I’ve been dead five years, no one will read anything I’ve written,” Lewis said.
Lewis was a gifted writer, but he would have been a lousy estate planner. More than 40 years after his death, the former medieval literature professor has become the Elvis Presley of Christian publishing: His legacy is lucrative and still growing, scholars and book editors say.
So…not the British Beatles, not the tragic Buddy Holly, not the spiritual Bach, not even the brainy They Might Be Giants? Elvis, the guy who never toured England, was their comparison. The analogy kind of breaks down pretty quickly, given that it only takes into consideration the financial side of things. I wish they would have explored the idea a little more.
Besides, I can’t even find a single Velvet C.S. Lewis on sale.
Overall it’s a nice article that includes an interview with Lewis’ step-son Douglas Gresham, and it gives more insight into the man that is sometimes overlooked. Much has been made of Lewis’ writings, and the fact that we’re still talking about major motion pictures based on this Christan man’s fiction nearly fifty years after his death says something. Geek blog Io9 made a few good points about him as well:
Among other reasons, Lewis’ sharp, clear writing style and his eagerness to relate his beliefs to ordinary people in a non-sectarian fashion are responsible for much of his popularity around the world. (The latest Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has done pretty badly in the U.S. but is a huge hit overseas, where it’s made three times as much as its Stateside earnings.)
You can just imagine Lewis starting a blog and tweeting if he was around today. Judging from the CNN article, that quality of approachability is a key factor in why so many people still respond to his writing.
CNN also lands on a major point about what else has kept Lewis popular for so many years:
…his books don’t seem dated, says Mickey Maudlin, HarperOne’s project editor for “The C.S. Lewis Bible.”
Lewis didn’t write about the doctrinal squabbles dividing Christian groups of his time, Maudlin says.
“He made a strategic decision early in his career to talk about ‘Mere Christianity,’ ’’ Maudlin says. “He never writes about different modes of baptism, different views of communion or anything that separates one church from another.”
The result: Lewis has a big following today among Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Mormons – even skeptics, Maudlin says.
“C.S. Lewis wasn’t trapped by tribal thinking,” Maudlin says. “He was able to speak to everybody. He felt called by God to be an explainer of the big issues.”
There’s a huge point here that I think a lot of people miss in his writings. Much like Billy Graham (who was also becoming a common name mid-century), his focus was on Jesus and the basic tenets of the faith. Just as no one went to Billy Graham to hear arguments about justification and pretribulation eschatology, Lewis did not focus his attention on the issues where Christians were most likely to disagree. Yes, his writing could be complex and his arguments compelling, but they were done to make sense of his faith rather than to champion people to a particular brand of Christian belief. When people ask the unfortunate questions about who would follow in Lewis’ shoes (or Graham’s for that matter), they can forget that his defenses were always on the major issues and the wonderful consequences of those issues.
This is also one of those things that I didn’t see addressed as much. C.S. Lewis, who came to faith as an adult, never seemed to lose a sense of wonder about it all. That God would become man and dwell among his people is a concept that drove his Narnia books. As an author, he imagined God’s redemptive work on other planets. He wrote a book from the perspective of a supreme demon. He posited that the damned would be more miserable in Heaven. He made heroes out of mice. That child-like faith was present in even his most serious of writings.
And that joy has a way of staying with someone who discovered it mid-life. Take Francis Collins, current director of the National Institutes of Health. His faith came about in part because of Mere Christianity, and his writings on Science (including his involvement in mapping the human genome) demonstrate the same sense of wonder at God’s creation. His book, The Language of God, is about his journey to faith and the ability to see God in the most minute details of science and human existence. It’s a further testament to Lewis’s legacy.
Another testament to his legacy? His career ever descend this far.