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Literature

The end of the beginning

So, we’ve finished our year of reading C.S. Lewis books and in my final blog I’ll try to sum up something of what we’ve learnt.

But first, thanks to Christine, Julia, Karen, Lisa and Sandra for joining me as we met each month and discussed the latest book.  Your insights and our discussions have been invaluable in opening up aspects of the books I hadn’t noticed, and I have valued the discipline that meant because we were meeting, I had to finish the latest book!

If you’ve joined the Facebook group, I hope that if you have also joined us by reading some of the books and blogs, you have enjoyed the experience of delving into C.S. Lewis too.

We agreed at our final meeting that the book club came at the right time for us for various reasons.  We entered the second and third lockdowns during the 12 months of the club, and we found it helpful that we had something to focus on and that because of Zoom we could still “meet” for our monthly discussions. In fact, in the end we never met in person, so the book club helped us cope with the restrictions of lockdown. For me, there was the strange coincidence that we read A Grief Observed just after my father died, and so I was able to engage with that book in a very personal way, particularly as my father’s thought was so shaped by C.S. Lewis. 

We also valued the fact that because of the book club we tackled books that we might not otherwise have tried. This was especially true of Lewis’s more theological books, but also of That Hideous Strength. Those who didn’t normally read science fiction tried it, although I’m not sure it made them any more interested in the genre – most felt it was one of the most difficult books.

Big themes emerged during the year; Lewis’s idea of joy and of the longing for God that will never fully be satisfied until we meet Him after death; the reality that we all fall short of God’s perfection, but that ultimately it doesn’t matter, because He still forgives and accepts us for who we are; the wonder and miracle of nature and creation; the dangers of the daily temptations that can gradually separate us from God; the logic of faith.  We found that Lewis was unrelenting in his honest portrayal of human nature, with all its flaws, but that he ultimately finds that there is always redemption.

We expected Lewis to be complex and high-minded and didn’t always find him easy reading – sometimes we might feel “please just get to the point”, but often also we were surprised by new insights.  For me one of those was the new realisation that there are so many everyday miracles, such as how a cut heals. We were also surprised and pleased by how honest his writings are. He was very self-aware and this was refreshing as he is often put on a pedestal as one of the great writers of the 20th century, but in his books we see him being as remorselessly critical of his own behaviour as he is of others’.

There was also the pleasure of enjoying Lewis the storyteller and we particularly liked The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters where he used his vivid imagination to help illustrate theology.  And of course, the Narnia books, which we all agreed at the final meeting were our favourites.

So what comes next? I am going to continue reading C.S. Lewis but perhaps not in such an intense way. I certainly have The Abolition of Man on the list, as when discussing That Hideous Strength in the Facebook Official C.S. Lewis Group a number of people recommended The Abolition of Man as setting out the ideas behind the novel. I also plan to read the first two books in the science fiction trilogy, and to have a look at Till We Have Faces.

Reading C.S. Lewis has helped me this year by reminding me of some key principles of my Christian faith. But it has also helped me through the sad reality of my father’s death. As I wrote at the beginning of the year and in my tribute blog, Dad introduced me to C.S. Lewis and it feels as though the timing has been absolutely right that I have had C.S. Lewis to accompany me at the end of Dad’s journey on earth.  

Because reading his books again has reinforced for me the lesson I learned from Dad and Lewis as a child, that when all sorts of things, like this book club, come to an end, that is just the beginning of something else. And death is not the end. It is just the end of our chapter on earth.

So it seems fitting to finish this year of blogs about reading C.S. Lewis by quoting again from The Last Battle, the final Chronicle of Narnia.

“As [Aslan] spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

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