On this day, we seem to have decided it’s appropriate to recall one’s first exposure to C. S. Lewis. For me, it was somewhere around 1966, not that long after his death, in a brief and laudatory article somewhere – I’ve forgotten. I was bookish, a little sickly with asthma, so any new object of reading was a Good Thing. Every Friday evening brought a trip to our town library, after getting an injection to desensitize me to my various allergens, an injection loaded up with antihistamines to prevent serious reactions (treatments then were brute force, if in my case effective). The antihistamines served to knock me out for the weekend.
If I recall, by this time I had already discovered Dorothy Sayers and Peter Wimsey in the “mystery section,” and had already consumed in a state of ecstatic wonder The Lord of the Rings. I don’t believe that the article that piqued my interest in Lewis mentioned that he had any connection with these writers.
My first run at Lewis in the library misfired. For the life of me I could not remember his name, due to the antihistamines maybe, and picked up something by C. P. Snow instead. Probably The Two Cultures. There was, shall we say, a certain disharmony between the praise in the article I had read and the book at hand, so I went back to the article, returned Snow’s book, and picked up, I think, The Case for Christianity, and maybe Out of the Silent Planet. And that was that.
Over the next two years I devoured as much as I could find of Lewis’s work, which was rather a lot. Most of his work was in print, and I still have most of the editions I bought then ($1.95?!). I was not particularly religiously inclined at the time; I had gone through a fairly typical Episcopalian Sunday School education for the mid to late 1950s and early 1960s, but by some oversight of my parents I had been neither baptized nor confirmed. Six months with Lewis determined me to remedy that.
Now, fifty years after his death and not quite fifty years from my first reading of his work, I suppose that the great gift he gave me was an intellectual framework of sorts. Poorly used, no doubt at all, and probably abused sometimes, but nonetheless present; the clarity of his thought and his writing seem to have stood as barriers against sloppiness (and ours is a sloppy age). He set me off on the journey that I’ve followed, by fits and starts, inconsistently, sinfully, erratically, sullenly, resentfully, happily, ever since.