(Or, Eight Ways One Man Changed Me)
I owe my life to Professor Clive Staples Lewis.
I do not say this lightly. He truly changed, and in changing saved, my life. And, in commemoration of his death, I offer up this tribute of sorts.
First a little about Mr Lewis – he is said to have announced as a child of four that he henceforth wanted to be referred to as “Jack.” (I’ve always liked to imagine one could hardly expect different from someone with the burden of such names as “Clive” and “Staples.” The real reason was he named himself after a dear dog, Jacksie, which was killed by a car.)
An English professor in medieval literature, he wrote everything from the Oxford History of English Literature (which he jokingly referred to as. “Oh Hell”!) to the children’s series, Chronicles of Narnia.
He died at the age of 65, on 23 November, 1963, on the same day as JF Kennedy. Popular as he was in his life (and he was amazingly popular), his death was overshadowed, for obvious reasons.
- He helped me find faith again. Mere Christianity, with its appeal to reason in defending faith, gave me the rational basis for faith that I’d, before then, sought in vain. I didn’t even dare hope there might be such a basis, and it formed a dichotomy I never could resolve, until I turned my back on faith. He helped me retrace my steps.
- He helped me find my place in faith. His intellect gave mine a voice. Before Lewis I felt a misfit as far as my faith was concerned. In Lewis, I found the head of what I was to find was a vast tribe of Christian intellectuals going back through the ages. I finally knew why I’d never related to David, that most beloved of saints, and found a dear friend in Paul, that lover of a good argument.
- He helped me find my place as a writer. He gave me a model for who I could be. For who, it turned out, I really wanted to be. After discovering Lewis, I had a burning desire to share him with everyone I could. But to my dismay, I found that he was not as accessible as I imagined. Until it hit me: what Lewis had been to me, I could be to others. Boom.
- His writing became one of the most powerful writing models for me. His use of imagery changed how I write. If you have ever appreciated any of my many analogies, you have him to thank. If a professor of medieval English could write so lucidly, I surely had no excuse for lack of clarity.
- His writing has proved satisfying on many levels. I enjoy Lewis as a reader, as a lover of words and good writing, as a thinking person, and as a Christian. He speaks to me on every level, and speaks better than nearly anyone else for each. Especially as a Christian, God alone knows how often I have turned to Lewis for refreshment in a time of spiritual dryness.
- He taught me to think clearly. I was already learning this, of course. But Lewis was, and remains, on another level. I have met many minds, but Lewis, surpasses them all for both precision and articulation. Plus, he introduced me to Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Dorothy L Sayers, two minds who have greatly enriched my life.
- He saved me from intellectual snobbery. (I even learned the term from him.) Before him, I was already falling into it as a teenager, grasping desperately at my intellect in a world that seemed to have no use for it. Lewis showed me the danger of it, and even better, modelled what the combination of intellect and humility looked like. That latter was the true gift.
- Lewis combined a love of reason and a vibrant imagination in a way I’ve seen very few do. He showed me that reason need not stifle imagination, and that one could love philosophy and fantasy equally. John Piper (perhaps my favourite living preacher) calls him the Romantic Rationalist. I couldn’t say it better.
Lewis, old chap, thanks a million.
It would be remiss of me to speak of Lewis without mentioning those through whom I made his acquaintance:
- The classmate in junior secondary school who had the entire series of The Chronicles of Narnia and was lending everyone—I skipped the line by reading during break (and sometimes right in class!). I knew him then only as the strangely named author of a great series.
- The other friend in whose dad’s library I found the first copy of Lewis’ nonfiction that I ever read: Mere Christianity.
- The senior in medical school who actually borrowed Mere Christianity from my friend’s dad and from whom I then got it when he returned it. (Actually, I took it, reading it twice or thrice over before I considered that if the book meant anything, it at least deserved to be returned.)
- Selwyn Hughes, the now-late founder of CWR, who first introduced me to Lewis’ mind, by his frequent mentions in his Everyday With Jesus devotionals.
- My aunt in the US who graciously supplied me with my first collection of Lewis’ works for my 20th birthday, because Amazon did not yet deliver to Lagos, Nigeria. Your investment wasn’t wasted, Aunty!
PS. If you are interested in discovering Lewis’ non-fiction, his “Screwtape Letters” is a great place to start. If you don’t like that, you might not like him at all. Or else, start from his delightful “Chronicles of Narnia” series.
(Image via Wikimedia)