C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 1)

On a visit to Wheaton College’s Marion E. Wade Center in August 2014, I read through the results from two surveys (conducted in 1986 and 1996, respectively) on how C. S. Lewis had impacted the lives of Americans. Since nearly two decades had passed since anyone had tried to document such testimonies, I thought the time might be right to do so again.

20140804_184024

Consequently, in concert with the Wade Center, which posted a notice on its website and on its Facebook page, I collected a new round of personal reflections from Americans on how Lewis’s writings had affected their Christian worldview. Whereas the earlier surveys asked only for letters or e-mails with an open-ended request for testimonies, I decided to ask some more specific questions:

• When and how were you introduced to C. S. Lewis?
• Which of his writings have had the greatest impact on your thinking and/or spiritual development?
• Are you now, or have you ever been, involved with a C. S. Lewis society/organization or with some other activity connected with Lewis? Please explain.
• Have you viewed any of the Shadowlands productions? If so, what is your opinion of them?
• Have you viewed any of the Narnia productions, whether the ones created for television or the three Narnia films? If so, what is your opinion of them?

Then, at the end of the survey, I also gave an opportunity to add anything else about Lewis and his influence that the responders wanted to share. In all, the survey received eighty-seven responses, some quite detailed. I’ve attempted to analyze those responses.

When and How Were You Introduced to C. S. Lewis?
The responses to this question seemed to fall into four categories, with some overlap, of course. Most were introduced to Lewis’s works either on the recommendation of someone, through their family, in a class and/or lecture, or—more surprisingly perhaps than the other three—just by “chance” in a bookstore or library.

Chronicles of NarniaIt is no surprise that the family is the source for many individuals’ first exposure to Lewis, and that the Narnia books would be the vehicle. One respondent reported:

I think that my first introduction to C.S. Lewis was when I was in fourth or fifth grade. Since my mom is a teacher, we always had summer reading assignments that we had to complete. One of the required books she had me read was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Another respondent noted, rather amusingly, “My dad read the Chronicles of Narnia all aloud to me before I was three weeks old (literally), I read them all myself before I turned 7, and I have been a bit obsessed with them ever since.”

Mere Christianity 2Some had a Lewis book as part of a college course: Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man were mentioned specifically. One man, who is now a professor of history at a Christian university, also was first drawn to Lewis while in college, but indirectly:

I was introduced to Lewis, his thinking, and his works when I was in college. I was a new Christian and was reading Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict. In that book, McDowell references Lewis’s ‘Lord, Liar, or Lunatic’ argument, and I was swept away by the clear, unassailable logic in that argument. So I got a copy of Mere Christianity and read it.

One respondent was captured by the Lewis mystique when he participated in a study on Lewis by his pastor. Another was part of a youth group where the leader conducted a study on Mere Christianity, and another finally decided to read Lewis simply because the pastor kept quoting The Screwtape Letters so often.

Other respondents began their C. S. Lewis adventure by coming across the Narnia series in a library or by some other chance encounter. Three picked up their first Lewis book by browsing in a bookstore. One of those purchased Surprised by Joy because it was shelved next to the book she had intended to buy.

The most likely “first” Lewis book for those who didn’t begin with Narnia was either Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters. Probably the most unusual response in this category was the man who discovered Narnia on the cusp of his wedding, and who then commented, “I first read the 7 Narnia stories while on my honeymoon (!)” The exclamation point is his.

I’ll share more of the results of this survey in my next Lewis post next Saturday.