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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

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Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis

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

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
 |  30 minutes each
  • 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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Your professor

Louis Markos

About Your Professor

Louis Markos, Ph.D.
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...
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Rated 4 out of 5 by 126 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Highly recommended I have read some of the other reviews and don't see where they are coming from. This was a very enjoyable course. I commute for 30 minutes and listened to each disk twice in case I zoned out. I have just finished another short course and am ready to listen to this one again. I enjoy C.S. Lewis' writings and it was very informative and really helped me add to my appreciation of them. Some of his background on medieval times was very enlightening. I would highly recommend it. September 24, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by C.S. Lewis Would Be Proud This course explores the greatest works of C.S. Lewis. The first half of the course focuses on his non-fiction works and the second half on his fiction works, ending with the famous Chronicles of Narnia. Each lecture gives a short synopsis of the work, but the professor's primary goal is to give the background of the work and explore the messages that Lewis was trying to convey. As a preliminary matter, anyone listening to this should be aware that C.S. Lewis was a devout Christian who focused much of his time extolling the virtues of Christianity and persuading others to adopt the faith. Nearly all of his works are either overtly Christian or Christian allegories. The professor begins his presentation by expressing that he shares Lewis's worldview, which is particularly appropriate in this context because it gives the professor a deeper understanding of Lewis's message. While it is possible that some of the professor's lectures may come off as "preachy," the listener should bear in mind that Lewis was typically trying to do just that—i.e., preach the Gospel. Lewis did not hide his faith and no serious review of his work can be done without exploring his beliefs as well as the foundations of Christian thought. The professor handled this both skillfully and respectfully. The professor's knowledge of Lewis's is vast, and the class is both informative and entertaining. I gained a much deeper appreciation of Lewis as a person and Lewis as an author. August 31, 2015
Rated 2 out of 5 by Not Quite There As someone who isn't Christian and whose only knowledge of C.S. Lewis is based on the Narnia books I loved as a child, I'm...on the fence. Prof. Markos is an enthusiastic and engaging lecturer, but, as others have pointed out, his lectures are delivered in such a way that it's difficult to extricate Lewis' actual ideas from Prof. Markos' own worldview. Personally, I feel like I'm left with a very tenuous (and possibly inaccurate) grasp of Lewis' ideas. Since there's quite a lot of Lewis that I haven't read, I did appreciate Prof. Markos' recaps. However, I would've preferred much more discussion of the historical context of Lewis' life--aside from a mention of an incident in one of the Narnia books being a metaphor for the atomic bomb, there was no attempt to discuss how outside events influenced Lewis' work. This was a topic I was looking forward to when I got the course, but it just didn't deliver. All in all, I wouldn't call it a "bad" course by any means, but I think it could do with some reorganization. (Or maybe a revised version?) August 30, 2015
Rated 1 out of 5 by Preachers Should Teach; Teachers Shouldn't Preach Mr. Darcy gives a very good analysis in his review below: "Where Was C. S. Lewis in These Lectures?" This course falls short of exploring Lewis' ideas in context of his influences, his experiences, his time period and his writing style. Shockingly few sentences are devoted to any of that. Instead, the course fails to go beyond being simply a review of the content of his books--which, if you have already read them, is completely unnecessary. I wanted the kind of context any other normal literary class would provide. Instead, this is a fan piece amateurishly attempting to be a real academic survey. This class painfully felt like a means to an end, where the author's content has completely taken over any attempt to look at its creator. August 17, 2015
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