Last Saturday, I began sharing some of the results of the survey I conducted in tandem with the Wade Center on how Americans have been influenced by C. S. Lewis. As I noted, I asked a number of questions, the first of which was how they were introduced to Lewis. My second question was a natural follow-up to the first:
Which of his writings have had the greatest impact on your thinking and/or spiritual development?
In all, twenty of Lewis’s writings, counting both books and essays, were mentioned in this category. Respondents were allowed to mention as many books as they wished, since it can be difficult to pick just one that is a favorite.
That number–twenty–would have been expanded if I had treated all Narnia and Space Trilogy books (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) separately, but I chose to handle them as a unity, particularly because they were so often mentioned as a group. The “race,” so to speak, to find Lewis’s most popular book was a close one.
Mere Christianity came out on top with thirty-nine separate mentions, The Chronicles of Narnia were a close second with thirty-five, and the Space Trilogy received thirty-two votes. Whenever a respondent mentioned one of the Narnia books separately, the surprise is that The Last Battle, not The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, received more votes. For the Space Trilogy, Perelandra squeaked by That Hideous Strength by one vote, twelve to eleven.
Fourth in popularity was The Screwtape Letters with twenty-three tallies, followed by The Great Divorce, which earned nineteen. Another possibly unexpected result is that Lewis’s novel Till We Have Faces came in sixth, with thirteen respondents claiming it as one of their favorites. That would have pleased Lewis considerably since, in his lifetime, it was not as well received as he hoped it would be; he often mentions in his letters that it was his favorite, yet his biggest failure. That assessment, over time, has proven to be wrong.
The Problem of Pain and perhaps Lewis’s most famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” took the next two places. After that, there are a number of works clustered together in a tie vote–Miracles, The Abolition of Man, The Four Loves, and A Grief Observed.
What can be said about these results? Apparently, the apologetics presented in Mere Christianity continue to attract people. They are drawn to Lewis’s logical reasoning and his reasonable explanations for the truth of the Christian faith.
After that, they appreciate his ability to bring the faith alive in the imagination through his novels–Narnia and the Space Trilogy–and also by imaginative approaches to conveying Christian beliefs–The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. Those are the top five.
If I had been asked the question, it would have been difficult for me to provide a listing in order of my “favorites.” Why? They are all my favorites to some degree, although emotionally, I’m naturally most drawn to The Great Divorce and That Hideous Strength, as well as some very poignant paragraphs in “The Weight of Glory.”
I think I have to come to the same conclusion as one of the respondents who said that his favorite Lewis book happens to be whichever one he is reading at the moment.
Next Saturday, I’ll share information on how active those respondents are in organizations dedicated to promoting Lewis and his works.