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Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis

Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis

Professor Louis Markos Ph.D.
Houston Baptist University
Course No.  297
Course No.  297
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

What is it about British literary scholar and author C. S. Lewis—the Oxbridge don and self-described "very ordinary layman of the Church of England"—that touches millions of readers so deeply, making him the most widely read Christian spokesman of our time? In these lectures you will cover Lewis's spiritual autobiography and other creative works, as well as his scholarly writings that reflect on pain and grief, love and friendship, prophecy and miracles, and education and mythology.

Learning from Lewis

And what is the full span of what you can learn from Lewis? He created eloquent religious apologetics such as Mere Christianity and spiritually penetrating novels such as the

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What is it about British literary scholar and author C. S. Lewis—the Oxbridge don and self-described "very ordinary layman of the Church of England"—that touches millions of readers so deeply, making him the most widely read Christian spokesman of our time? In these lectures you will cover Lewis's spiritual autobiography and other creative works, as well as his scholarly writings that reflect on pain and grief, love and friendship, prophecy and miracles, and education and mythology.

Learning from Lewis

And what is the full span of what you can learn from Lewis? He created eloquent religious apologetics such as Mere Christianity and spiritually penetrating novels such as the Chronicles of Narnia series and Till We Have Faces. He wrote essays, memoirs, and scholarly books that continue to repay study, spark debate, and strike profound chords.

Lewis's works have continued to gain in power and popularity over the last half-century. Much has been written to assess his lasting legacy and why he has had such a profound impact on 20th-century readers.

As well as delving into the plots of Lewis's enduring works, you will consider questions such as:

  • From the magisterial Oxford History of English Literature to children's fantasy books, how did Lewis write with such brilliance and coherence across so many distinct and demanding fields?
  • What were the people, events, and influences that shaped his thought, his character, and the spiritual drama at his life's core?
  • What do Lewis's fictional and factual autobiographies reveal about his conversion and his efforts to "explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times"?
  • How did he argue for his ethical notion of "the Tao"—a nonrelative set of standards, held widely across all cultures, which modern ideologies often distort?
  • How did he use his apologetical writings to come to grips with perennial spiritual questions involving miracles; the meaning of suffering; the reality of heaven and hell; and the nature of choice, sin, and salvation?
  • How do his scholarly works analyze modern prejudices about the past and offer a vivid, accessible defense of medieval and Renaissance thought?

An Award-winning Professor

Professor Louis Markos is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and has won teaching awards at both the University of Michigan and Houston Baptist University.

He presents this course as a sympathetic, deeply felt exposition of Lewis's multifaceted thought and works, making no secret of the fact that he is a longtime and enthusiastic fan of Lewis's writings.

"C. S. Lewis's works do not exist in an abstract realm of pure thought. Instead, to paraphrase Wordsworth (a major influence), they are proven in the blood and tested along the heart," says Dr. Markos.

Clive Staples Lewis: A Life Reflected in Writing

Because so much of his life was reflected in his works, to understand C. S. Lewis the writer it is essential to know C. S. Lewis as a man and literary figure.

Clive Staples Lewis (Jack to his friends) was an Irish Protestant, born in Belfast in 1898. A happy childhood ended when his mother died in 1908 when Lewis was nine and his father decided to send him to boarding schools that he despised.

Fortunately, he met tutor William Kirkpatrick and under his guidance was accepted to Oxford University. He entered as a confirmed atheist, but under the influence of friends he met there—J. R. R. Tolkien among them—Lewis became a Christian.

His newfound faith changed him completely, and in 1933 he quickly composed a fictional account of his conversion: The Pilgrim's Regress.

Over the next 15 years, he wrote prolifically. Everything he wrote, sacred or secular, was related to his Christian faith. During World War II, he agreed to deliver a series of broadcast talks on the Christian religion, which were later collected as Mere Christianity.

In 1954, Lewis was elected Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge. He would build the rest of his life around that university and his Oxford home, the Kilns.

About this time, Lewis befriended and later married Joy Gresham, a divorced American Jew who had converted to Christianity. After three years of marriage, however, Joy died of cancer. Lewis was devastated and wrote a moving account of his sadness: A Grief Observed.

Lewis died on November 22, 1963, just before his 65th birthday.

Lewis's Beliefs: His Nonfiction Works

Professor Markos has crafted this course to focus in the first six lectures on Lewis's personal convictions and thought, concentrating on his nonfiction works.

In covering Surprised by Joy and The Pilgrim's Regress, Professor Markos argues that Lewis's real biography is the story of his spiritual pilgrimage. Why did he see his movement toward Christianity in terms of joy and desire? How did this influence his apologetics?

"One of Lewis's goals was to bring philosophy—and theology—back to the world, to embody it in flesh and blood, and to breathe into it the healthy air of common sense. His life, his thought, his work were profoundly incarnational, like the God he worshipped," says Professor Markos.

"If you wish to take Lewis's works seriously, you must accept them as creations of passionate thinking: of the spiritual brought down to the physical, of experience carried up into reason."

In addition to being a popular writer, Lewis was a major figure in the academic study of literature. You will learn that in his scholarly work, Lewis sought to challenge common modern prejudices and to gain a hearing for the views held by people in past ages.

Lewis's Tales: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Allegory

In Lectures 7 through 11, we turn to Lewis the fictional novelist:

  • The unfallen world of Perelandra in the Space Trilogy (1938–45)
  • The beloved Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956) children's series for which he is perhaps best known
  • Till We Have Faces (1961), a mature and beautiful reworking of the Cupid and Psyche myth whose heroine is patterned after Lewis's wife, Joy.

All five of these lectures offer synopses of the key plot elements in each work and explore Christian allegories that lurk just below the surface of each tale.

Professor Markos brings the series to a close with a discussion of A Grief Observed, Lewis's intensely personal account of his desolation in the wake of his wife's death and the long and painful journey that brought him back to faith.

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    The Legacy of C. S. Lewis
    Why has Lewis had such a profound impact on 20th-century readers? What is distinctive about his method of speaking for Christian beliefs? What shaped his thought and works? x
  • 2
    Argument by Desire—Surprised by Joy and The Pilgrim's Regress
    Lewis's "real" biography is the story of his spiritual pilgrimage. Why did he see his movement toward Christianity in terms of joy and desire? How did this influence his apologetics? x
  • 3
    Ethics and the Tao—Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man
    In an age of relativism and skepticism, Lewis not only defended the idea that ethics are objective, but also suggested that morality at its highest points beyond itself to the divine. x
  • 4
    Nature and Supernature—Miracles and The Problem of Pain
    Lewis's book on miracles and his book on pain may seem unrelated, but in fact they have a close and vital connection. To grasp just what that is, you'll want to witness this lecture. x
  • 5
    Heaven and Hell—The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce
    Lewis used his imagination to explore not merely the theology but also the psychology of sin: the process by which sinners, through persistent selfishness, finally efface not only their God-given potential but their very humanity. Heaven, by contrast, is the fulfillment of our humanity. x
  • 6
    Lewis the Scholar—Apologist for the Past
    In addition to being a popular writer, Lewis is a major figure in the academic study of literature. In his scholarly work, Lewis sought to challenge common modern prejudices and to bring to light the views held by people in past ages. x
  • 7
    Paradise Regained—The Space Trilogy I
    Lewis not only argued for the beauty and truth of older ideas, but sought to manifest that beauty and truth in his fiction. In Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, he beckons you on a journey through a living universe to two still-Edenic planets, raising searching questions about modern man's urge for immortality. x
  • 8
    Temptation, Struggle, and Choice—The Space Trilogy II
    Watch a master intellect and storyteller at work as Lewis re-enacts the drama of temptation and choice, first on the unfallen world of Perelandra and then in a corner of our own fallen Earth. x
  • 9
    Smuggled Theology—The Chronicles of Narnia I
    Lewis is perhaps best known and loved for his seven "Chronicles of Narnia," fantasy tales for children of all ages that conjure a world of magic and wonder. Here you consider the first two Chronicles: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. x
  • 10
    Journeys of Faith—The Chronicles of Narnia II
    Here the middle three "Chronicles of Narnia"—The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Horse and His Boy—are illuminated more deeply through reflections on key passages that reveal Lewis's beliefs and concerns. x
  • 11
    The Beginning and the End—The Chronicles of Narnia III
    The final two Chronicles, The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle, relate the creation and destruction of Narnia. What separates the good from the evil characters in Lewis's vision? x
  • 12
    Suffering unto Wisdom—Till We Have Faces and A Grief Observed
    Lewis's last novel, Till We Have Faces, beautifully reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche. The heroine is patterned on Joy Gresham Lewis. His later memoir, A Grief Observed, is an equally mature and profound study of the despair he felt over her death, and his own long and painful road back to faith. x

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Louis Markos
Ph.D. Louis Markos
Houston Baptist University

Dr. Louis Markos is Professor in English at Houston Baptist University, where he also holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities. He earned his B.A. in English and History from Colgate University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan. Professor Markos specializes in British romantic poetry, literary theory, and the classics and teaches courses in all three of these areas, as well as in Victorian poetry and prose, 17th-century poetry and prose, mythology, epic, and film. He received the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award from the University of Michigan and was named the Opal Goolsby Teacher of the Year at Houston Baptist. Dr. Markos has published several articles and is the author of How C. S. Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle With The Modern and Postmodern World.

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by 101 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent Overview of a Legacy First of all, I liked the fact that the professor openly admits he is partially biased in favor of CS Lewis, agrees with him and was influenced by him. Personally, if I want to get an overview of a person's body of work, I want to hear from someone who has and continues to read him avidly and enjoys his work. To me that adds credibility and passion to this course. I thought the professors presentation was a bit over enthusiastic in spots but overall that enthusiasm is what kept me interested in what he had to present. After accepting that I found it helpful not offensive. The professor certainly knows and likes, as previously mentioned, the works of CS Lewis. That helps in my opinion. He knows Lewis's works quite well as is obvious from the information shared. I discovered works by Lewis that I never considered plus coverage of the Narnia Chronicles that I read to my children some time ago that clarified it for me quite well. I think it is going to be a must read for my forthcoming grandchild now. I plan on re-listening to these lectures first beforehand however. Lewis was not only a prolific writer but one who dwelt in a wide variety of genre as the lecturer demonstrates. He was as you discover responsible to some degree for the development of children's literature with the Narnia Chronicles as well as contributions to the science fiction genre. Overall, I learned a good deal about C.S. Lewis and some things about Christianity to boot. I would recommend this course for anyone looking for an overview of this unusual and deep thinking author. I found it captivating and instructive and glad that I purchased it. It will bear re-listening BTW as it is thoughtful material. The instructors bias? A welcome addition in a world that hardly takes a position on anything these days. Frankly, I think the admitted bias added not detracted from this course. I think most will say the same. September 6, 2014
Rated 2 out of 5 by I didn't sign on for a sermon I expected that there would be a not-insignificant amount of God-talk involved. It is a course on Lewis. What I did not expect was that I would be perpetually bombarded with the lecturer's personal defense of patriarchy and attacks on science, feminism, child rearing, and generally everything about modern life. I regret contributing to his pay cheque by purchasing this course. In future please mark courses like this one in BIG RED LETTERS: This is not a course on literature. September 5, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Worthwhile intro Good introduction to an important author. The course material was well-organized and generally easy to follow as audio only. The many summaries of Lewis books will help potential readers choose which of those works to read and study. Professor Markos indicates right away that he identifies strongly with Lewis. Most of the time that stance didn't interfere with his presentation, but occasionally Professor Markos sounded too 'over the top' to me, making laudatory statements that didn't also help my understanding. Still, a worthwhile course for those interested in any of the wide range of C. S. Lewis writings. July 18, 2014
Rated 2 out of 5 by Sermons, not Scholarship I purchased this lecture series because it was billed as a scholarly examination of the writings and philosophy of C.S. Lewis. What I actually got was a combination of fervent agreement with Lewis's statements, glowing reviews and plot summaries of Lewis's writings, and all too much modern American evangelical protestant preaching using Lewis's ideas as the jumping-off point for a condemnation of "Modernism". This is not a scholarly work. It makes no attempt to place Lewis's ideas in context, either among other Chrstian apologists of the time (e.g. G.K. Chesteron, who is not mentioned) or among the leading secular (and religious!) critics of Lewis's theology. Dissenting opinions are caricatured and dismissed, not addressed. Similarly, no attempt is made to put Lewis's fiction into either a historical or genre context, or to examine its merits as literature (distinct from its philosophy). The oft-heard criticism of Lewis -- that his religion overwhelms his art -- is not even raised, much less examined. Professor Markos tells us up front that he identifies very closely with Lewis and his views. I suspect he identifies so very closely that he is unable to even understand dissenting arguments, much less do them justice in an impartial critical review. And there is simply no excuse for the many, many times that the lecture wanders off into a sermon on the evils of Modernism, as understood by a particular flavor of recent American protestant. July 13, 2014
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