Baptizing the Imagination: The Influence of C. S. Lewis

lewisIn December of 2006 I was gifted a copy of The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis. I had read The Chronicles of Narnia in my childhood, and yet none of those books had the impact on my life as that of this fateful gift. Through the narration of the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, my eyes were opened to not only the effect and reality of Christian temptation, but to the concordia of truth and imagination. By 2006 I had also immersed myself in Tolkien’s works, including his essay on fairy stories, yet it was Screwtape that helped me untangle Tolkien’s idea of “myth” and apply it to a world more tangible than Middle Earth.

Having delighted in Screwtape I promptly began to work my through many other classics from Lewis: The Great DivorceMere Christianity, and Surprised by Joy the chief among these. Of these works it was Surprised by Joy that I enjoyed most, as it opened up the mind of the author of these treasured volumes, helping me to understand them more deeply. The irony in this is that Lewis himself was never interested in the author, merely in their writing and the message which it conveyed. As Alister McGrath notes in his 2013 biography C. S. Lewis: A Life, Lewis himself would at the ideas and words of Paradise Lost, but have little or no interest in the life and mind of Milton.

During the years following the gift of The Screwtape Letters, I received another gift. While discussing my distaste for most science fiction literature, a friend casually mentioned C. S. Lewis’ sci-fi trilogy. This caught me off guard, as I’d never heard them mentioned before; I promptly walked to the book store and bought all three volumes. I devoured volumes one and two (Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra), enamored with Lewis’ imaginative exploration of Venus and Mars, all written decades before Yuri Gagarin’s historical flight. But more than that, I was captivated by his melding of science fiction (itself a relatively new genre at the time) with his Christian worldview. Going beyond mere parallel or allegory, Lewis creates a Christian main character, acting in a God-created universe, and in Perelandra even getting to participate in the redemption history of an entirely separate race and world. It was beautiful, even erie—yet the awe it inspired was for the true Creator himself, rather than the “sub-creator” of the book.

Having finished the second in The Space Trilogy, I picked up the third. An entirely different book than the first two. The characters were more vibrant, the pattern of the story much different than the first, and the tale was told far more slowly. It took time to get through, but I was richly rewarded with the final hundred pages. In the climax and finale of That Hideous Strength, Lewis explores the depths of human depravity, politics, the Christian life, and even Arthurian Legend. These all come together in a tale of ultimate Good triumphing over evil, and the main character, one could almost say, is God, revealed through his sovereign plans for his people.

Through this exploration of Lewis’ writings I have learned much, and have been challenged deeply. He has opened my eyes to imagination and its role in the life of the Christian. He has helped me grow as a writer and a story-teller, and has helped me appreciate the role of literature in my life, changing how I think about my own son, his future in literature, and my role in helping shape that. Through his honesty about his own shortcomings and faults I have better seen similar faults in myself, and have been able to admit to them and address them. He has even encouraged me to delve into other literature such as Phantastes by George Macdonald, Milton, Dante, and Charles Williams. I am thankful for the role of C. S. Lewis in my life, and am so glad that I have more to read! Next on the list for me is Reflections on the PsalmsThe Pilgrim’s Regress, The Case for Christianity, and Studies in Words.

Related links

A Preface to Paradise Lost, by C. S. Lewis

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, by C. S. Lewis

Studies in Words, by C. S. Lewis

Known audio recordings of C. S. Lewis.

Past Watchful Dragons: Learning Spiritual Formation from C. S. Lewis (an audio lecture from Biola)

Phantastes, by George Macdonald


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