Monday, November 18, 2013

CSL in Westminster Abbey

November 22 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. This Friday Dr Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, will unveil the memorial to him in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey:
...[D]ates and names have been cut on to most inches of Westminster Abbey. But the epitaphs are nowhere more crowded than in the Abbey’s South Transept – a place long since renamed Poets’ Corner. Here are buried, or commemorated, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden and Dickens – and quite a few others who have stood time’s test less well. CS Lewis, on the 50th anniversary of his death, will become the latest to join this literary “croud” this month. ....

...[T]he spendthrift playwright Ben Jonson couldn’t afford a full grave, and so was buried standing up (to save space) in a less desirable bit of the nave. His thigh bones twice came to light by accident in the 19th century: so much for eternal repose.

This faint touch of the absurd would have appealed to CS Lewis. He was, among other things, a gifted humorist with little time for pomp – christened Clive Staples, but “Jack” to his friends. ....

...[H]is works on medieval literature and Milton have become touchstones in their fields. His place in Poets’ Corner, however, was won on neither of these fronts, but by his imaginative prose.

The most widely read are his Chronicles of Narnia. Now children’s classics, these limpidly written adventure novels wrangle with the most complex theological ideas. Christianity is reimagined in a parallel world: God in manifest form is a lion called Aslan, neither safe nor tame.

By rinsing out the familiarities of liturgy and organised religion, CS Lewis throws into relief what he considers essential – sacrifice and belief, among other things. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the lion allows himself to be killed for the good of all, and is then reborn. In The Silver Chair, when Aslan’s existence falls most under doubt, a stubbornly loyal Narnian makes this case for belief without proof: “Suppose there isn’t an Aslan. All I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.” .... [more]