"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."
Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963)
C.S. Lewis, perhaps more than anyone besides Terry Pratchett, helped me survive my teenage years. That's an odd thing for a religious skeptic to say, but let me assure you, the man changed my life. Through his writings, the wise, gentle Oxford don introduced me to a vision of what faith could be. He represented to me a world where humor and beauty and reason could co-exist in utter harmony, not to say interdependence. He showed me a vision, in his fantasy novels especially, of a fallen, painful world made whole again after a noble battle against evil. It was a world where an average person could find themselves acting courageously, where good and evil were clearly defined, and where there was redemption and forgiveness, even for the most evil.
Lewis told tales of courage, decency, honor, and simple goodness - values he exemplified in his own life. His were tales of wonder, fear, deep joy, and of powerful and ancient evil finally overthrown by goodness. C.S. Lewis, more than any other, was capable of seeing the world as it ought to be. And for a distressed young person, there can be no better solace than the fay, adventurous joy that Lewis expressed.
It is because of the rare and beautiful souls like Lewis that I cannot and will not allow myself be be dragged into the hate-filled cant against Christianity and Christians en masse that is so very popular in certain circles today. Those rare individuals for whom right is right simply because it is right, those people whose simple decency puts to shame the greatest ethical systems of philosophy, and those persons whose earnest and love-centered living inspires and elevates every life they touch - it is such people whose lives and work demand my respect, even if I do not share their faith.
Sure, we need sharp-tongued critics in our culture - they provide a necessary if sometimes unpleasant service. But they cannot and never will create the kind of joy, love or hope that bright spirits can generate in even the most dismal settings. Lewis inspired a generation of Londoners to survive the Nazi bombardments that brought the ancient city to its knees; he reminded men, women, and children how to be human in a world gone mad; and he injected new life, love, humor and reason into a religion marked by hypocrisy and shattered by the chaos of modernity.
He also helped a certain lonely, confused, and deeply miserable teenager to see hope in a very dark world, and I'd challenge anyone to better that.
I might not share the faith anymore, but I shall always be grateful for everything else that I learned from C.S. Lewis: the value of humility; the sheer magic and fierce beauty of life and nature; a simple sense of decency; and the realization that people are valuable and that most of them, when given the chance, are fundamentally decent. Perhaps most importantly, Lewis showed me that in the face of folly, fear, or pain, it is laughter above all else that can remind us of who we are and get us moving again.
Not a bad message for our own time, come to think of it.