As a child I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I enjoyed the story but I was confused and disappointed because the other books in The Chronicles of Narnia didn’t have the same characters so I never read the whole series until I was an adult. Even so, the idea of a story that conveyed a Christian message stuck with me. At that young age, I think the writer in me grabbed onto concepts that impressed me or seemed intriguing or important in some way. Today, many of those threads have come together to make me the kind of writer I am.
I can’t recall my age or grade when I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I remember how deeply moved I felt when the Pevensie kids realized Edmund would have to be sacrificed and then when Aslan offered himself to be sacrificed in Edmund’s place, I realized the parallel with Christ’s sacrifice. Somehow, seeing it in a fresh, new way made a difference to me. That made me want to tell stories like that–stories that made a difference to people, an eternal difference.
Although I didn’t attempt any Christian symbolism in my Dragon Hollow Trilogy, I think the influence of Lewis (and Narnia) is there. Fantasy worlds allow us to suspend disbelief and open our hearts to believe the unbelievable. That’s how God works (unbelievable) and I think He can work in our hearts when they are opened up like that.
But Wait, There’s More!
C.S. Lewis is best known for Narnia, but he’s also widely known as a Christian scholar and academic. He has written many books on Christian apologetics, defending the faith. And his powerful but gentle candor left a legacy of quotable quotes for us. He had a way of telling it like it is, but making it sound like what you always wanted to hear.
His biography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, tells of his lifelong quest for joy and how that eventually led him to Christ after many years as an agnostic and even an atheist. His head told him God was impossible, but his heart longed for joy and led him to a different conclusion.
Among his Christian nonfiction, you’ll find classics such as Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and The Four Loves. His books can be a little bit difficult in terms of theology and his stiff British style, but there are worthwhile gems to be found in there.
The Many Faces of Fiction
After reading most of the writings of C.S. Lewis, I have to say I don’t think Narnia was his best piece of fiction. Oh sure, it was fun and had a good message. It became popular because it was readable and enjoyable to young and old alike. But I think his best novel was Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, his own retelling of the myth of Psyche from the perspective of her sister, Orual. It’s fascinating and just when you think you know where it’s headed, the plot takes a wild turn and ends up somewhere totally unexpected and even more delightful.
I was also fascinated with Lewis’ Space Trilogy consisting of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Who knew that our beloved Narnia author penned a Space Trilogy long before George Lucas? And it’s an interesting story, beginning with a guy who gets kidnapped, put on a space ship, and wakes up in space, not trusting the guys he’s with or their intentions for him. The plot is interesting and before long there are “alien” beings and life-and-death struggles. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet is the best. Some of the others can get bogged down in description or in an effort to demonstrate that time seemed to be moving slowly. Nonetheless, they are good reads, although parents might want to preview them before giving them to young readers. They can be difficult reading, plus there is some violence and disturbing images, especially in the third book.
Among Lewis’ other popular fiction titles are The Pilgrim’s Regress, The Screwtape Letters, and The Great Divorce. Of those three, I enjoyed The Great Divorce the best because of the interesting way it explores who gets into heaven and why. An observer watches people getting off a bus near heaven and many of them simply want to go back to the desperate place they lived before (implied to be hell).
Teacher and Storyteller
In my early years as a writer, I heard repeated advice: You’re either a fiction writer or a nonfiction writer. You can’t be both. People are talented in one or the other, but not both. Find which one you do best and stick with it exclusively. It’s too difficult to market yourself as both. You need to market yourself as a nonfiction writer or a novelist.
Over and over the refrain from many sources was that you couldn’t and shouldn’t try to do both fiction and nonfiction. For a long time I believed that advice. Not anymore. C.S. Lewis is an example of a writer who excelled in writing both fiction and nonfiction. He was both a teacher and storyteller.
For awhile I was in the habit of calling myself a teacher and storyteller (instead of an author). I got very positive reactions and the phrase opened up conversations with people that would never have happened if I simply labeled myself as an author. After all, at the foundation of being an author, what am I really doing? I’m telling stories and teaching biblical truths.
I adopted this concept, in part, because C.S. Lewis is a bit of a role model. I’m finding that industry “experts” really don’t know it all and I have to follow my gut and my God. In doing so, I felt C.S. Lewis provided an example of someone who not only was a teacher and storyteller, but who knew how to combine the two for maximum impact on readers.
That’s what I want to do, too. I want to hone my storytelling skills to become a better teacher and storyteller because that will make me a better writer (and author).
Go to Hell (in Literature)
The Screwtape Letters is set in an office in hell where a senior demon, Screwtape, and his secretary are corresponding with a new apprentice, Wormwood. They have assigned Wormwood to a young man who just converted to Christianity and they are instructing him on how to undermine his newfound faith. This video is a brief excerpt from a stage play directed by Max McLean and produced by Fellowship for Performing Arts.