Jack and the Beanstalk


Today is the forty third anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. Known to his friends as ‘Jack’. Lewis’ legacy has continued to grow and prosper. His work, fallen into the ground like a magic bean has grown to one of the largest plants in the world–reaching to the clouds.

The irony of this is that Lewis thought, when he was facing his death, that there would be no money to support his two stepsons. He had given most of his money away during his lifetime, and he was convinced that his books would go out of print soon after his demise.

I had an interesting experience linked with this when I lived in England. I was, at the time, chaplain at Kings’ College in Cambridge. It was my custom to go to choral Evensong every day in the famous chapel. One afternoon before going to chapel I was reading Lewis’ essay, A Rejoinder to Dr Pittinger. Pittenger was a ‘process theologian’–a liberal who believed God changed with the changing ways of men’s thought. He was famous in his day, and during his lifetime he and Lewis had crossed swords. I had been reading part of the debate.

When I got to chapel (this was in 1987) a dottering old man came up and spoke to me. He heard my American accent and asked what brought me to England. I said, ‘The work of T.S.Eliot and C.S.Lewis.’ He said, ‘I knew them both.’ Then his face clouded and he said, ‘Eliot was a genius, but that Lewis should never have strayed from his own discipline of literature.’ He asked my name and then offered his hand and said, ‘I’m Norman Pittenger.’

The connection wasn’t made until I was back in my rooms and picked up my book and continued reading Lewis’ essay, A Rejoinder to Dr Pittenger. ‘That’s the same guy!’ I gasped. Lewis had been dead for nearly thirty years by that time, and I forgot that people who knew him were still very much with us. The providential sense of humor comes in that Lewis died, and in his modesty, thought that his works would soon die as well. Pittenger, who always followed the fashions of theology, lived to see Lewis’ reputation grow and grow until millions of copies of his books were published in countless languages, stage plays and a Hollywood movie were made of his love life, and he is counted among the immortals. Meanwhile, he watched his own work decline in popularity and relevance until it was no more than a footnote in theological textbooks.

Jack Lewis, like Jack in the Beanstalk, is the slayer of giants.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09289250674715026763 Mahsheed

    That was a beautiful point. I usually lurk but today I was moved to comment.Best,Mahsheed

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15188610049926660441 Karen

    The truth withstands all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09289250674715026763 Mahsheed

    I just finished “God in the Dock” and it included a debate with Dr. Pittinger about miracles. It sounds like the elderly man might have been envious, no? I’ve always thought of CS Lewis as a happy successful Christian who was lucky that he was not fated to suffer or be persecuted. I didn’t realize he didn’t even know he would leave a lasting legacy when he died. I didn’t realize he had his share of sorrows until it was forcefully brought home to me when I read the essay titled “Delinquents in the Snow” which is permeated with grief (for his wife?). BTW, when I read his essays on penology I absolutely thought of Theodore Dalrymple and wonder if he’s read them. It is chillingly prophetic.