- - Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Clive Staples Lewis wrote “about 40 books” in his lifetime, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. How many of them can you name without assistance?

This reviewer gave it a go and came up with 19 books, including six of the seven Narnia books, two of the space trilogy novels and one of his more scholarly works. Not bad, but still some obvious and embarrassing misses: “The Abolition of Man,” The Four Loves,” “That Hideous Strength” and The Bloody Horse and His Boy” all slipped my mind.

Here is a more interesting question: How did I know any of that?


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Lewis was an Oxford (and later Cambridge) professor of literature in the middle part of the 20th century who was very popular with the students. Nationally, he was known for a series of radio broadcasts that defended the faith of England during its darkest hour, when the Nazis were raining down bombs on cities. Internationally, he captured the imagination of many Americans in the postwar period. He even wound up on the cover of Time.

Yet by the time he died on Nov. 22, 1963, the same day as JFK’s assassination, Lewis had been forgotten by many and neglected by others. He personally believed only few of his works would be remembered for a time and would gradually fade into obscurity.



He was a terrible fortune teller. It’s truly hard to get a fix on the number of C.S. Lewis books that have sold worldwide. According to Amazon, just the Narnia books have sold more that 100 million copies, and his other books put up impressive numbers. Since the turn of the century, “Mere Christianity” has sold more than 3 million copies.

Those book sales are only part of a sprawling C.S. Lewis industry. His Narnia stories have graced stage and screen, many times. The secondary literature about Lewis’ works continues to sell well. Even his own life has been the stuff of interest for movies and other media.

How did we get from there to here — from relative obscurity to posthumous celebrity? One answer is what we call “superfans.” These are fans who will not only buy your wares but enthusiastically promote them as well. York College professor of rhetoric James Como is one of those superfans. He was a founding member of the New York C.S. Lewis Society in 1969. Groups like that one did what they could to promote the heck out of Lewis’ story and works after his death.

Now, Mr. Como has written “C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction.” Will it help remind the next generation why they should care about Lewis? It ought to.

Actress Debra Winger played Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, in the movie “Shadowlands.” In preparation for that role, she read many of his works to see what people found so appealing about his practical theology. “He may make difficult questions accessible. I don’t think he makes the answers ‘easy.’ I don’t think he answers questions. I think he discusses them,” the actress told the author in an interview.

And what discussions! If you read practically any of Lewis’ work, you will come up with questions that you’d like to ask the author, who has been dead since 1963. More often than not, he will then address your objections almost as if he were right there in the room with you.

Along the way, Lewis will toss off observations that can set your world on its head. If you think what our forebears had to say is hopelessly outdated then you just may be guilty of “chronological snobbery.” What makes for lasting friendships? Shared interests and shared truth related to those interests, duh. Think Jesus Christ was a “great moral teacher,” but only that? Perhaps you haven’t read the words attributed to him. He was either nuts, a congenital liar, nefarious or the wonderworking son of God. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.

You might expect this doesn’t apply to Lewis’ works of fiction, especially those for children. But C.S. Lewis the lecturer and the storyteller are not far apart. Recall that the four Pevensie children first encounter an enchanted wardrobe at the home of a professor who bears some resemblance to Lewis himself. He helps them to work out several logical questions about their entirely fantastical situation.

Mr. Como does a good job covering a lot of ground in a few pages. There’s a great deal to Lewis’ life and work. It is extremely useful to have a primer like this that gives people a bird’s-eye view of the man who gave us Narnia, and so much more besides.

• Jeremy Lott needs a new wardrobe.

• • •

C.S. LEWIS: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION

By James Como

Oxford University Press, $11.95, 134 pages

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