An Author Observed
In my time being a student, I have been yelled at by two teachers (one a professor, one a high school teacher), for not reading enough C.S. Lewis. I remember the professor being fully beside himself for discovering that I have not read the entirety of the Chronicles of Narnia. The high school teacher I’m not so sure, he yelled at me for a lot of things, but I remember C.S. Lewis being on the list.
I remember clearly thinking in those instances, how to my knowledge, no one had yelled at me for not reading “X” book of the Bible. Even if I told them I hadn’t read a certain book yet, they would simply smile and nod, usually with a face mixed with smugness and sympathy, and would tell me “Oh, you’ll get there, no worries.” But if I hadn’t read A Grief Observed, or Mere Christianity? I would receive a very different face with very different words.
For me, (and Josh, don’t you dare make this a quote for this post on Twitter or so help me) but so often as a child I found the Chronicles of Narnia boring. Perhaps it’s an error in my DNA, or a deficiency in my Christian upbringing, but the Chronicles of Narnia weren’t dark enough for me. I would read them and find myself longing for something scarier, and I would choose the Grimm brothers over Lewis all too often. It’s not that I didn’t like Lewis or thought his children works were bad, it’s just they didn’t satisfy me, and I got bored with them quickly.
Now, as an adult, things have been different. I do enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia, much more so than I did as a child. And that’s OK. I thought back then, as I do now, that Lewis was an excellent writer. Despite some of his serious theological flaws, one of my hands down, favorite book of all TIME he wrote, Till We Have Faces. It was so good, that it makes other works of his pale more fiercely to me in comparison to it. I cried through the whole thing, even during the test on it. I think it’s one of the greatest works displaying the depravity of man and the power of beauty over that depravity, and how in a way glimpses of heaven and hell exists in each and every one of us. Till We Have Faces shows how we all long for the place where all the beauty comes from, because it has been revealed to us that not only beauty does exist, but that it really exists somewhere. This book shows us the Psalms, Eden, and Revelation all at once, in all their horror and splendor.
Similar to when I read Stephen King’s The Shining, it took me several years to read another work by King, simply because I believed there couldn't be another book he wrote better than that one. I had a very similar experience with Till We Have Faces — it was around two years later I had the courage to pick up another Lewis work, simply because I knew nothing he wrote could be better than Faces.
I’m grateful for my experience with C.S. Lewis, but I’m refuse to partake of the silly Christian social guilt associated with not reading “X” of his works. I don’t find it helpful, or in any way provoking me to read more of him, that’s for sure. Too often as Christians we treat Christian works (specifically Lewis’ books) as badges we earn, that we iron on to our little Christian vests for the world to see how well raised or erudite we are, and scoff at other Christians who don’t have the badges we have. I find this sinful and stupid. Unless it’s Scripture, you simply can’t judge someone for not reading a certain book. You just can’t. Not even C.S. Lewis.
And with that note, I leave you with an excerpt of my favorite quote from my favorite C.S. Lewis book.
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
― C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
[Editor's Note: This blog is a participant in #LewisWeek]