Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, C. S. Lewis!

A man is walking through the English countryside at sunset. It’s six more miles to the next town, and the sky ahead is slate gray.  Bound by a rash promise he made to a woman he just met, he wrangles through the thick hedge of a foreboding farmhouse. He musters his courage and rings the bell. 

No answer. He rings again. Hearing the sounds of a struggle, he runs around to the back and finds a young man trying to get free from two older chaps. After dubious explanations, the traveler is invited inside. 

Then the real story begins. The man—named Elwin Ransom—is drugged and abducted. What began as a journey of a few miles becomes a journey of millions—yes, millions—of miles. What began as a trip to a neighboring town becomes a trip through the vastness of space to new worlds. Ransom will meet life forms both alien and supernatural. He will meet himself and discover his true destiny.

So begins Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis—volume one in his acclaimed “Space Trilogy.” Ramson, a Cambridge don and a philologist who happens to love long walks in the country, is a lot like Lewis himself. Professor Lewis also loved walking tours, covering 20 miles a day in good weather, and he knew what it was like to be in the predicament of not being able to find a place to stay for the night. Perhaps such an experience sparked the creation of this story.

C. S. Lewis

And like Ransom, Lewis visited other worlds—if only in his fertile imagination. One day an image popped into his head--a faun wrestling with packages in the snow. Sound familiar? That was the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche  was the inspiration for Till We Have Faces, set in the mythical kingdom of Glome. Lewis even ventured to Heaven and Hell--in The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters.

As a young man, Lewis was an atheist, but through the influence of J. R. R. Tolkien and other friends, he became first a theist and then a Christian. In Surprised by Joy, he describes himself coming to faith-- "kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape." Yet, despite this shaky beginning, he became one of the greatest Christian apologists of the twentieth century. 

November 29th is C. S. Lewis’s birthday. I celebrate all the things he was—a broadcaster, an apologist, a scholar, an original thinker. But most of all, I celebrate the legacy of fantasy works he left behind--including Out of the Silent Planet, a book I can happily reread every few years and always find something new. 

Happy birthday, C. S. Lewis!

1 comment:

  1. Really wishing that they'd hurry up and put those books on kindle. My dad's early run paperbacks are rather dry. Been a long time since I've read them.