It should have been front page news, or at least worthy of a front page teaser: “Beloved author C.S. Lewis dies, details inside.” Today we might imagine that it was on the evening news, that newspapers around the world devoted a page to his life, and that fans around the world acknowledged the loss. But actually, it was barely mentioned, and most people took no notice.
It wasn’t because the media didn’t recognize his importance, or because people weren’t interested in him; it was because most people were distracted.
C.S. Lewis died, of all days, on November 22, 1963 – exactly fifty years ago today. Unfortunately, someone else died the same day. As the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy’s death was certainly more important historically. It was more shocking. It was more newsworthy. Indeed it was the news story of all news stories, and even today – especially today – people talk about where they were when they found out about it. (In fact, I just posted a video of my dad recounting what it was like to meet Kennedy and subsequently learn of his death.)
But let us not, whatever else happened fifty years ago, forget about C.S. Lewis. To me, the Inklings are the literary equivalent of the Beatles. They dismissed the stigma of their genre and encouraged each other to put together great works of art that are as imaginative, fresh, and exciting today as when they were written so many years ago. As a fan, it’s difficult to conceive of the void that would exist had they never filled it.
In a lot of ways, Lewis and Tolkien are the yin and yang of fantasy. Lewis liked to write quickly, allegorically, and did not like to edit his manuscripts. Tolkien, on the other hand, wrote slowly, methodically, and did as much editing as writing. And so it was that Lewis wrote all seven Narnia books inside of six years whereas Tolkien spent a whole decade and beyond working on The Lord of the Rings. The two sets of books are two different types of fantasy, but just as Star Trek and Star Wars can coexist, so can these great works of literature, each balancing out each other’s charm. The same can be said for Lewis and Tolkien, two great friends that were so different, yet so connected.
Today let’s remember C.S. Lewis and celebrate his life. He remains a great friend to many a reader, even fifty years after his passing, and his stories will continue to delight children for the next fifty years and beyond.
“I am sorry that I have not answered your letters sooner; but Jack Lewis’s death on the 22nd has preoccupied me. It is also involving me in some correspondence, as many people still regard me as one of his intimates. Alas! that ceased to be so some ten years ago. We were separated first by the sudden apparition of Charles Williams, and then by his marriage. Of which he never even told me; I learned of it long after the event. But we owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie with the deep affection that it begot, remains.” – J.R.R. Tolkien