Today is the 114th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s birth in 1898 in Belfast.
But what to do on the anniversary of the birth of someone we so admire?
Do we memorialize the man with a quick tribute or a biography?
Do we study and dissect his fiction, his “Mere Christian” non-fiction, or his scholarly work? In doing so, do we read with reverence every quote, novel, and poem as if it had spiritual authority? Or do we try to “knock Lewis off of a marble pedestal” and show that he is a “popular” writer rather than a “literary” one, and as such, is not as worthy to be studied by literature professors? Or is the truth somewhere in between?
Do we engage in idolizing the man or do we instead make sure to point out Lewis’s humanity to prevent others from idolizing him?
Do we go out and buy one of his works and give it to someone who might be needing it at a specific point in their life? (And Lewis has many books that can fit specific purposes and audiences).
Do we become a proselytizer of Lewis and tell everyone how amazing he was and seek converts… in the hope that someone either gains faith in God or strengthens it?
Or perhaps we instead bring up the “issues” with Lewis and dismiss him with either a bit of venom in our voice or a shrug of the shoulders? “How dare he leave Susan out of Narnia in The Last Battle because she liked make-up! He must hate women!” “He allowed Emeth into Narnian heaven – he must be a universalist!”; “He was an old- white author and a product of his time – sexist and racist. We shouldn’t read him anymore.”; “How dare he smuggle religion into children’s books! It’s just an allegory, and allegory is bad writing” ; and so on and so on in poorly constructed critical arguments with preconceived assumptions behind them.
Do we form a social club and become Lewis “fans” and get excited over every bit of memorabilia or news from the web?
Maybe, if we are atheists, we attack him as our favorite whipping boy because of the “lord, liar, lunatic trilemma” (without realizing that he based that trilemma on a defined argument that the gospels were true eyewitness historical accounts – the trilemma is sound… but you either have to take the gospels as true or not first, which can be a point debated itself, of course). Perhaps the atheists among us just throw their hands up and see people as coming to Christ based on Lewis as just another example of how easily duped people really are?
Do we take him as a model of __________________ (fill in the blank) and as a personal hero helping us out in our journey of _______________ (fill in the blank)?
Do we call him “Jack” in tribute, and feel like he was just one of us… named, like the fictional Indiana Jones “after the dog”?
Do we put his name on our organizations and causes – all of the many of us out there that do so – and gain both the ‘great expectations’ (Dickens’ reference intended) that this gives us, along with the mantle of having to live up to folks’ individual and very strong notions of what C.S. Lewis means?
More whimsically, do we use the’ apostrophe-S’ in “C.S. Lewis’s birthday,” which is old school correct or use the generally accepted “C.S. Lewis’ birthday” which has been acceptable for many decades, but drives some grammar folks crazy?
And since social media is now a medium, do we take a photo from the web of him and post it up today with the hazy sort of permission/copyright of the blog world? Or do we use the “smoking” photo of Lewis because nobody has definitively claimed the copyright of it… but then risk anti-smokers having problems with it? :)
And what to do about the odd notion of saying “Happy Birthday” to one who has already preceded us into the next phase of existence and who has been born into the true story “which goes on forever, and in which every chapter is better than the one before.”?
Ultimately, out there on the web, at events, in discussions across the world, people, including us, do all this and more. Next year because of the 50th anniversary of his death, there will be all sorts of events and tributes to the man, to his life, to his works, to his memory, to the varied conceptions of his significance, and to his legacy. We are even doing our own set of events to honor the legacy.
Today, however, rather than telling you why C.S. Lewis was important or making an argument one way or another about what his significance was, we at the C.S. Lewis Foundation are just going to say a simple, “Happy Birthday.” (said with a playful and ironic wink to the idea of simplicity)
C.S. Lewis Foundation
For more on Lewis’s birthday, here are some wonderful posts by others:
Crystal Hurd: http://crystalhurd.com/?p=515