The humility of C. S. Lewis

C_S_-LewisLike many of you, I’m a C. S. Lewis fan.  I still remember my first exposure to The Chronicles of Narnia: I read the first three books when I was still in elementary school.  I would have read more, but these were the only volumes our school library had.  Later, in college, after I had become a Christian, I sat down and read one volume each evening for a week, wistfully saying goodbye to all the characters at the end of The Last Battle, and wondering what it would be like to live forever in Aslan’s country, running without tiring, swimming up waterfalls.

But it’s not just Lewis’ fiction that I love.  I was recently talking with students about becoming a writer, suggesting that a good writer also needs to be a good reader, knowing what you admire about the work of writers you love.  And personally, what I’ve always appreciated about Lewis’ non-fiction was his stunning clarity.  His essays and metaphors could provoke near-epiphanies of insight that would leave me thinking, “Well, of course–why didn’t I see that before?”

Others, apparently, have had the same experience.  During this year’s March Madness, the folks over at InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Blog sponsored a tournament bracket of their own: what did people consider the greatest Christian book of all time?  The eventual winner was Augustine’s Confessions–but the other finalist was Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

That’s mighty elite company.

I sometimes wonder about the personality of those whom I consider my literary heroes.  You might not know it to read him, but apparently Lewis could be quite a prankster when the mood struck.  Even more importantly, despite his massive influence, he was deeply modest, speaking of his own work as he would anyone else’s, not caring for the spotlight.

In his introduction to Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, Walter Hooper, the American who in Lewis’ waning months became his private secretary, gives us glimpses into the man who had become both his mentor and friend.  The two men had been discussing Sir Thomas Malory’s tales of King Arthur.  Hooper expressed disappointment with Sir Lancelot’s egocentric habit of rescuing damsels in distress to “win worship,” that is, to make himself look good in the eyes of the world.  Curious, he then turned to Lewis with a question:

Without intending any embarrassment, I asked Lewis if he was ever aware of the fact that regardless of his intentions he was “winning worship” from his books.  He said in a low, still voice, and with the deepest and most complete humility I’ve ever observed in anyone, “One cannot be too careful not to think of it.”  The house, the garden, the whole universe seemed hushed for a moment, and then we began talking again.

That is yet one more reason to appreciate Lewis’ work, and the example he has left for all Christian writers to follow.