Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'C. S. Lewis Overflow'
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything C.S. Lewis and Narnia Book, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

C. S. Lewis's science fiction

Though I had read all of C.S. Lewis's well-known books about 15 years ago, my reading regimen thereafter and my spotty memory are such that by the time I began writing The Everything Book of C.S. Lewis and Narnia last year, the outline of his body of work had faded to, at best, sketchy highlights. It's one thing to know that reading his books had been life changing, something else to recite the main characters of most, if any, of them, or their plotlines. The Great Divorce, his short novel about a field trip from hell to heaven in which all but one of the members of the tour group decide to return to hell rather than give up their personal religions, made the greatest impression on me in my first tour through Lewis's works. Its outline was the one that stuck best in my mind.

The deadline schedule for my overview of Lewis was such that I could only skim and speed-read the works, and reviews and synopses of them, while doing my project. So only when the 100,000-word manuscript was all done and sent off to the editors near Boston did I have the luxury of slowly rereading the Lewis corpus and letting the books change my life again. I first reread the collected essays, because they are hardly treated at all in my book, and I thought they might inspire another volume on Lewis (which they do).

I have since read Letters to an American Lady, The Four Loves, Letters to Malcolm (Chiefly on Prayer), all by Lewis, and the excellent biographical memoir by Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham, Lenten Lands. I also found and read The Pilgrim’s Guide, C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, a collection of essays about Lewis edited by David Mills, formerly of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in the Pittsburgh suburb of Ambridge.

Now, I'm reading That Hideous Strength, the longest of Lewis's novels and the third in his science fiction or, as he calls it, scientifiction, trilogy. As he did a number of times throughout his writing career, this is a fictionalized treatment of a subject he treated first, nonfictionally, in The Abolition of Man. Throughout his career, Lewis maintained that the major enemy of Christian faith was not science in its true sense, but in the popularized characterization of science and scientific thinking in evolutionism (not evolution, but its pop fictionalized misrepresentation) and science fiction works like H.G. Wells', whose early works were more widely read and discussed in their time than the Harry Potter books are today (remembering that in Wells' heyday, reading novels was the least expensive entertainment available to mass audiences).

In Lewis's trilogy and especially in That Hideous Strength, he is directly challenging the worldview the atheist-materialist Wells made so popular. Though "science fiction" may have a connotation similar to "pulp fiction" in the minds of people with a general education and who are not themselves fans of the genre, Lewis was convinced that it was the most powerful literature of his lifetime, and he chose to fight fire with fire by creating his own science fiction. More about how he went about it next time.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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