Today marks the 50th anniversary of the day C. S. Lewis died. To mark this anniversary, he will have a permanent place in Westminster Abbey, there to live on in the heart of his nation, and all who visit his memorial there.
While it is only fitting, and very proper, that Christians the world over remember him on this day, I have found myself unable to shake the thought that we ought not to remember his death—as much as we should bring to mind the many ways his life and legacy live on.
Regarding Lewis’s death on November 22, 1963, historians and journalists will tell you that his passing on this day was overshadowed by the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and, to a lesser extent, the death of novelist Aldous Huxley.
There is, inevitably, a mixture of profound sadness, and some interest in discovering—if it weren’t known before—that these three men left the earth on the same day.
And surely too, given the deep debt so many feel to Lewis as a writer, scholar, and person of faith, there are many who wish he might have lived on for another 10 or 15 years—as long as his great friend J. R. R. Tolkien did, to age 81, or even longer.
Such a wish, if felt, is understandable, for Lewis bestowed so many gifts through his life and writings. We can be forgiven, perhaps, for wishing there might have been more.
But then, that would have meant more years to be parted from his beloved wife, Joy. Few of us, I think, would really wish that.
I think of their reunion, there in the eternal lands of heaven, and call to mind words once spoken by D. L. Moody.
“Someday,” Moody had said, “you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment, I shall be more alive than I am now.”
I can imagine Lewis saying very much the same sort of thing. Indeed he did, though in the guise of fiction, when he wrote in the closing pages of “The Last Battle” of how “the land which was the real England grew nearer and nearer,” and how “the light ahead was growing stronger,” because “Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty.”
* * *
I cannot, in the space of 1,000 words, even begin to do anything like justice to the scope of Lewis’s life and legacy. And I wouldn’t try. But reading anew of how he imagined heaven, in the last of his books about Narnia, reminds me that so many, throughout the world, owe their hope of heaven in large part to Lewis.
If his books have sold in the millions, and they have, then surely there are many thousands who have come to faith through reading them. Over time, many of these believers have raised families of their own in the faith, thus extending out over time, and in the lives of their loved ones, a profoundly cherished gift they themselves first received from their reading of Lewis.
It takes little time to say this, but one could think for a very long time about how Lewis’s books have gone out into the world, and changed people’s lives. How beautiful, and how rare a thing to contemplate.
I am one of those for whom the gift of faith drew near through Lewis’s writing. When I was in sixth grade, not quite 13 years after Lewis died, a friend told me about “the Narnia books.”
I’d never heard of them, nor had I ever heard of C. S. Lewis. My friend brushed all that aside. “You’ve got to read them,” she said—and kept saying, till I said I’d give them a try.
So it was that I rode my bike over to her house, a big old colonial with high-ceilinged rooms. One of them was her bedroom, and while I waited in the hall, talking to her Mom, I saw her retrieve a very tattered-looking copy of “Prince Caspian,” partially hidden beneath a pile of clothes on the floor near her dresser. Smiling over her success in finding the book (she hadn’t been sure she would find it for a minute or two), she handed it to me.
So it was that my travels in the lands of Narnia began, with very little fanfare—but resulting in a debt that I shall always remember, through time and eternity.
For the truth is that my friend Liz wasn’t a Christian, nor was her family. She never became a Christian so far as I knew, and before long she moved away. But she did pass a bit of Narnia’s magic on to me, and I did come to faith that year in sixth grade.
My reading of the Narnia books was the final catalyst for my embrace of faith—the capstone, as it were, to a longing for heaven that had been growing within me since my early days of Sunday school. The concert of all these good seeds brought a glad harvest. More than a few years have passed, that memory will always be bright.
* * *
More than a few years have passed since November 22, 1963. The world lost a great writer and scholar that day, Lewis’s family a much-loved brother and stepfather. But heaven welcomed a beloved son and husband home.
There is little one might wish to add to that, perhaps only this.
Thank you, C. S. Lewis, for writing books that brought the hope of heaven near. I am one of so very many who can say that. We remember you. We always will.
Image copyright The Telegraph.
Kevin Belmonte, an award-winning writer and historian, is the author of several books, including the forthcoming biography “D. L. Moody: A Life” (May 2014).
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