Clive Staples Lewis was a celebrated Anglo-Irish novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, lay theologian and Christian apologist whose impact and influence lives on.

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Jack the Blogger

April 6th, 2015 | Skip to comments

Our continued affection for and the extended appeal of C. S. Lewis more than 52 years after his
 death, now half past the second decade of the supposedly post-postmodern
 21st Century, suggests to me two things about him and his work that
 may seem patently obvious.

Except for the fact that so 
few people have remarked upon these two things often enough even to
 call them obvious. To do so would be rather gauche. So count 
me as one who fearlessly risks overstatement (or understatement for 
that matter) in commenting on the loyalties of Jack’s expanding readership.

Timelessness Versus Mere Relevance

The first thing to be said
 is that Jack’s works—all genres and all manner of subject matter—continue
 with great aplomb to exude their astonishing impact upon present day
readers, certainly in orders of magnitude much greater than he witnessed 
or could have imagined even in his own lifetime. And they sell really
 well, too! And this is the case even though
 we are frequently told that his numerous shortcomings have finally caught
 up to him, thereby signaling the coming downturn in his popularity.

What shortcomings?

Well, we are led to believe 
that Jack is fussily anachronistic in themes; his metaphors hopelessly
 daunting, and dated when they’re not; his supernaturalist faith a
stern impediment for the un- or de-churched; his vocabulary well beyond 
the reach of the unschooled; or, paradoxically, embarrassingly concrete 
and un-theoretical for the academician.

As it happens, none of these
 deficits turn out to register as flaws among Jack’s actual readers,
 though they certainly may be true of his cultured despisers and detractors.
 (One recalls his statement, “We don’t need the critics to enjoy
 Chaucer; we need Chaucer to enjoy the critics.” In Jack’s case,
there seems to be no need to identify a reason to enjoy them.) Indeed, Jack’s readers, against 
the odds or not, have managed to prove true the heartiest of his readerly 
exhortations that primary experience of original authors always trumps 
any secondary reading activity (“Always better to read Plato than
 about him.”)

No, the winsomeness and clarity 
of Jack’s prose continues to penetrate the fog of “modern thought,”
 and finds its home in the hearts and minds of readers and thinkers looking
 for something refreshingly different, that dares to be original simply 
by refusing to be. Jack’s anachronism is not
 a pose but a principle; since “all things not eternal” are “eternally 
out of date,” and the surest way to avoid irrelevance is not to be
 avant garde, ahead of the trends, but not to worry about it one way
 or another, and to take the calendar and the polls out of the equation
 right from the start. The questions that arise when
confronting the central point of one of Jack’s essays or novels or 
sermons is never, “Is this old?” but always, “Is it so?”

course, the truths he foregrounds are neither old nor new; they’re 
timeless. For Jack’s words are predicated upon the notion that while
 our through-a glass-darkly understandings may grow or wane within a 
particular generation or civilization, human nature—our tendencies 
and propensities for good or evil, our predicaments and aspirations—are
 well documented, and transcend the particular eras in which we find
 ourselves situated. And yet, as Jack knew, humanity
 as God’s creation is not only always under scrutiny, but also alway s
under attack. (This, of course, is the substance of his prophetic 1943 
work, The Abolition of Man.)

But there is even more to this stor y
of Jack’s ongoing acclaim and warm reception. And this leads me to
the second thing that could be but is not obvious about Jack’s
 achievement. CSLewis

Caution: Blogger at Work

Few Christian writers since 
Jack have, in fact, found a way to accomplish exactly what he did, which
 is only to marshal all that God gave him in prodigious intellect, sparkling
 wit, relentless interrogation of reason, and incisive championing of
the power of the imagination—and then make the combination acutely 
accessible and poignant for the common man and woman. And children
 of all ages.

I mean no irreverence, and
 certainly no insult, to say that Lewis wrote with what we might call 
today “a blogger’s personality”: which is to say, with an immediacy
 and topicality and ultimate audience-centeredness that is at once provocative,
 bracing, and profound. In his gift for aphorism, his 
ingenuity in serving up multiple entry points into a subject, his conversance
 with “viral” trends in society, and the disarming subtlety of his
 convicting rhetoric, Jack makes a connection with readers that compels 
vibrant, sober attention and, more often than not, joyful allegiance. He can 
be dismissed (as B. F. Skinner and Richard Dawkins, among others, have 
tried), but he cannot be ignored.

There is even a kind of Twitter-like
 attention to brevity and concision one must denote: Jack’s asides 
are as memorable as most writers’ main texts. He writes for the ear.
 He creates images that evoke masterfully what may already have been
 stirring in one’s heart, or has been hitherto ungathered in the mind.
 He expresses himself in that unique voice that, once known, is always
 unmistakably his. He takes challenging concepts (epoch-making and era-breaking)
 and renders them sensible, approachable, meaningful for audiences across 
the globe.

Of course, by no means am I
 suggesting that Lewis would endorse the often exhibitionist technologies
 of communication suggested by MySpace, Facebook, or WordPress. No writer
 of his time, perhaps, was less interested in the kind of self-aggrandizing 
publicity and celebrityhood associated with “normal” self-marketing
 and ultra-promotion characteristic of our age.

The important thing for him 
to convey was not that certain ideas were “his” in some ego-driven 
possessive campaign for attention, but that the ideas he articulated
 and promoted belonged to everyone for all time, and were in danger of 
being drowned out “by the microphone of his age.” His defense of the public square 
included exorcism of the “chronological snobbery” that prevente d
earnest seekers from hearing all important News from Home.

Jack believed in what G.
K. Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead,” the ability of 
wise men and women of all time periods to speak to the present. He thus published—as
 prolific a scholar and imaginative writer as he was in the usual outlets—an
 amazing number of occasional pieces, “op-eds” as it were, to connect
 with readers of all stations and platforms. (Many of these are helpfully
 collected by Walter Hooper in volumes like God in the Dock and 
Christian Reflections.) These pieces appeared with 
regularity in the 1940s and 1950s in dozens of newsstand journals and 
newspapers and church-sponsored publication on an impressive variety
 of popular topics.

All were grounded in the common sense tradition:
 Jack speaking plainly and forthrightly out of the deep well of his understanding
 of the West’s traditions and Christianity’s core. Let the Oxbridge 
elite pontificate upon matters of extreme contemporaneity; Jack, thank
 you very much, prefers identifying the eternal in the temporal, and 
noticing the everlasting in the mere mortal.

It is the rare writer, and
 certainly the rare Christian writer, who is able to capture in sprightly
 prose for a diverse, multigenerational and capacious audience the burning 
essentials of an issue or topic, inviting the reader along for a willing
 conversational journey that will expose them to greater historical vistas
 and a vocabulary for expressing the heart’s deepest longings.

And so, in addition to poetry,
 myth, fantasy, literary history, memoir, sermon, and essay, we may now
 say, with no ironic winking or nudging, that Jack managed to master 
one more genre, the art of the blog––long before anyone knew what one

This entry, updated here, was originally published on HarperCollins’ C. S. Lewis site.


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