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60 years since the death of C.S. Lewis

Through fantasy, Lewis is showing what the Christian faith has always taught: that with God there is never room for despair.

FEATURES AUTOR 363/Jose_Moreno_Berrocal 23 DE NOVIEMBRE DE 2023 16:36 h
Aslan, an iconic character in The Chronicles of Narnia, the series written by C.S. Lewis.

On 22 November 1963, the great British writer C.S. Lewis died in his own home known as The Kilns.

I am currently in Oxford, where he died. And I cannot help thinking of the huge influence he has had on my life, especially since I first came across his work through one of my professors at the seminary where I studied in England, Daniel Webber. Since those days I have not stopped reading him with increasing interest and edification.

At that time, Lewis's death went unnoticed because it coincided with the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, in Dallas. I remember how when we were children my mother used to tell us about the impact of JFK's death, even in Spain. When years later I visited the Dallas museum dedicated to the memory of the president, on the sixth floor of the famous Dealey Plaza, I vividly remember signing the condolence book, echoing my mother's words about the murder.

Of course when you stand in the building, and at the window from which Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot the president, you can't help but doubt the official theory that it was the former Marine and resident of the former Soviet Union who did the shooting that ended Kennedy's life. From that position, it seems impossible to hit a moving object in the street.

Interestingly, another writer, Aldous Huxley, the famous author of Brave New World, also died on this date of 22 November. I read that book many years ago, but I am still impressed by its central thesis: the possibility of artificially manipulating human beings to give them complete happiness but, in exchange (there is always a price to pay) for giving up their freedom.

That is why, these days, BBC Radio 4 has broadcast a program with Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, about these three men united on the same day of their death under the suggestive title of Visionary Storytellers. There is a very curious book by Peter Kreeft in which he also reconstructs an imaginative dialogue between the three.

The title of the BBC program reinforces my conviction that if there is one legacy that C.S. Lewis left us, and whose relevance will endure, it will be his books of fiction: first and foremost, his Chronicles of Narnia, his stories, which are not just for children.

[destacate]Another writer, Aldous Huxley, the famous author of Brave New World, also died on this date of 22 November[/destacate]These fairy tales, which is the name under which we can include literature such as The Chronicles of Narnia, have not only left a deep impression on their readers, but continue to delight many through the different films that have been made about them.

The books combine adventure and fantasy in an intensely attractive world called Narnia, where one can encounter the strangest creatures: fauns, dwarves, animals and ... children.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is undoubtedly the key that unravels the whole plot of the seven Narnia books, mainly because it introduces us to Aslan, the lion whose atoning sacrifice on behalf of Edmund's life points vividly to that of the One who died on our behalf on the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ.

His penal substitution is the key to understand salvation by faith alone in the One who loved us and gave Himself for us on Calvary.

I recall that when I gave a series of lectures on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe around Spain, following the success of the film, I was quite surprised by the inability of most of the listeners to see in Aslan's action a pale reflection of Christ's vicarious work on our behalf.

In our culture, Christ seems to be much more an example than a Saviour, for in order to save us. It is not understood among us that only Christ's work on our behalf saves us, but that is exactly what the Bible says, that salvation is of the Lord alone.

This is taught in passages such as Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 11:6; Galatians 2:21; 2 Corinthians 5:21 and others.

But, apart from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I have always thought that The Silver Chair, which was published in 1953, is the best of the whole series. The reason is that the plot, and I am not making any spoilers here, is a perfect illustration of the Christian life, which is lived by faith.

Even a casual reader of the Bible immediately realises the centrality of faith in the Bible, not just for the beginnings of the Christian life, but for the whole of it. Many passages confirm this, the best known, perhaps, being Hebrews 11:1-12:3.

[destacate]The Silver Chair is a powerful statement against the scepticism, uncertainty and alienation that characterise many in our time[/destacate]

However, faith in the Bible, far from being, as is commonly thought, a vulgar form of credulity, is trust based on the evidences that God Himself has given us of His existence. These are not only the basis of faith, but nourish it.

Faith, according to the Bible, is not faith in faith, but is rooted in a myriad of certainties, such as the divine promises, Romans 4:13,16, or the sense of God Himself implanted in every human being, Romans 1:19,20 - to name a few.

This is what we find in The Silver Chair. The hero in this case is not one of the Pevensie children but a strange character known as Puddleglum.

His role will be crucial in defeating the Green Witch in the Land of the Underworld where appearances are deceptive. Puddleglum will be victorious and save his companions because of his trust in the truth of things as they are and as he has been told.

The Silver Chair is a powerful statement against the scepticism, uncertainty and alienation that characterise many in our time.

But not only the Chronicles of Narnia are relevant today. I think his so-called Space or Cosmic Trilogy is equally relevant.

This series of science fiction books is less known to the general public but is almost as fascinating. It consists of three books: Beyond the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Fortress. All three are highly entertaining but I would highlight the last one.

That Hideous Fortress is a dystopia in which we see the influence of one of C.S. Lewis's dearest friends, Charles Williams, a well-known English writer, whose novels are described by Nobel Prize winner T.S. Eliot as supernatural thrillers.

The importance of That Hideous Fortress lies in the fact that, like The Silver Chair, it deals with questions of great interest today, such as what makes us truly human, the dangers of totalitarianism, and many other highly current issues.

That Hideous Fortress is a fictionalisation of one of Lewis's most acclaimed prose works of modern times, The Abolition of Man.

[destacate]That Hideous Fortress deals with questions of great interest today, such as what makes us truly human and the dangers of totalitarianism[/destacate]In that little book, published in 1943, Lewis shows how there is an ethic or morality common to all mankind which he calls Tao. Paul mentions it in passages such as Romans 2:14,15.

This is a kind of natural law which would be normative for every human being but which for Lewis seemed threatened by a purely subjective view of right and wrong.

That shows Lewis's good insight, for such seems to be the prevailing philosophy today, a full-throated defence not of what is objectively right, but only of what I feel is right for me.

And while this may seem new to us, in reality there is nothing new under the sun as Ecclesiastes states. It was already said by a prophet to his own contemporaries in the 8th century BC, namely Isaiah in a passage such as chapter 5 and verse 20.

Lewis had a rare ability to show us what we really are. His fiction through all kinds of beings portrays us perfectly as guilty, weak and contradictory.

[destacate]Lewis' fiction portrays us perfectly as guilty, weak and contradictory.[/destacate]This is no small thing, for we see ourselves portrayed in so many of his characters, whatever they may be. But, at the same time, his fiction always points to some way out that will be given to us from above, in a way that is so often surprising and supernatural, which dazzles and shocks us at the same time.

Through fantasy Lewis is showing in an unexpected way what Christian faith has always taught in many ways in the Bible: that with God there is never room for despair, because our hope lies in the One whom C.S. Lewis' Aslan reflects so pale, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The One who truly died but now lives, and who will return victorious to this world to put an end to death for He alone controls everything, present and future, Revelation 1:18.

That is the ultimate reality to which all the good and phenomenally well-written stories of C.S. Lewis point. And that is why we must continue to read and enjoy the work of C.S. Lewis!

José Moreno Berrocal, Chair of the Theology Group of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance, author, and pastor of an evangelical church in Alcázar de San Juan (Spain).




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