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
 |  Average 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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Reviews

Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 171.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointment I have had good luck with The Great Courses in the past, but the past two courses have left me disappointed. This one in particular is just plain BAD!! I feel as if it is mostly opinion and very little fact or detail.
Date published: 2017-07-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good information delivered like a sermon This course has potential but the urgency in the speaker's delivery is nerve-racking. I'd like to tell him, "Relax. You don't have to convince me that this is interesting!"
Date published: 2017-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A trip through the Wardrobe I originally purchased this over 10 years ago. Since then I have purchased a few more as I give them away. The professor is enthusiastic about CS Lewis and knows his subject well. If you know Lewis well or only know his name from watching the Narnia movies, this course will not be a waste of your time. In fact, you will be better for the time and money spent.
Date published: 2017-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Passionate survey of Lewis' corpus Great course! I noticed other reviews accusing Markos of bias towards Lewis. While Markos' appreciation and love for Lewis definitely shines through, he deals with Lewis fairly, pointing out errors and shortcomings. I teach a high school level elective on Lewis and this course provided me with thoughts and persepctives I had not before considred. I would highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2017-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lewis explained! This was a wonderful course. Everything was explained in simple terms as Lewis would have done. He was not presented as a saint, but strictly as a person who truly desired to not only know God, but represent His love to others. I have read all of Lewis' work, but struggle with the "Abolition of Man." I am not smart enough to fully grasp it. But this course helped. The instructor was outstanding.
Date published: 2017-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good and interesting study. I loved this course. I have been interested in CS Lewis for years. This course was the best I have heard. This course has made me want to read his books again. Thanks for sending the course my way. God bless.
Date published: 2017-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great series I knew of C. S. Lewis, but I had no idea what a great body of work he left behind. Great presenter.
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this course - the pace, admiration of the professor for Lewis and his Christianity were a great combo.
Date published: 2017-04-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not for the non-believer I purchased this lecture series because I wanted to try and understand C.S. Lewis on his own terms. I had read the Narnia series and enjoyed them, but all I knew of Lewis the man came my understanding of his friendship and estrangement from J.R.R. Tolkien. Professor Markos is definitely passionate about the material he is discussing. However throughout the course I could not help but feel like I was receiving in a sermon rather than a lecture. As an atheist I couldn't help but feel like throughout the course that I was standing on the outside looking in. In the first lecture Professor Markos stated "More than a great writer, Lewis was a man who truely lived out his faith". Perhaps any attempt then to understand lewis from a secular position is impossible but I couldn't help but feel that this course did not even try to seperate the assumptions of christianity from the material. For instance: - In lecture two Professor Markos discusses how Lewis's ideas contradict Freud. - In lecture three Professor Markos discusses how Lewis's ideas contradict Nietzsche - In lecture four Professor Markos in an offhand remark on how willing people are to reject supernatural explanations he seems to suggest that he believes there is no real case for the theory of evolution (I bring this up only because the comment sort of took me back in a "Did he just say the?" kind of way) Though to Professor Markos credit in the Appendix he does provide a critique of Lewis's critiques it just felt like in the actual course there was no attempt even made to remove a christian perspective from the material.
Date published: 2017-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant The presenter's stye seems overly dramatic at first, but it suits his presentation. He tears through a summary of C.S. Lewis's large body of work in a very concise way--doing justice to it with enough detail, but focuses on nuggets of Lewis's thought and perspective that are brilliantly analyzed and brilliantly presented. The dramatic style provides emphasis that keeps the listener on track. Great for thinkers and lots of insight for Lewis fans.
Date published: 2017-03-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Narnia Analysis Excellent, Other lect felt lacking While the Chronicles of Narnia were covered in excellence, alot of the other lectures involved philosophical concepts that were difficult for me to grasp, seemed confusing, or uninteresting to me. Pluses: • Excellent summaries of the Chronicles of Narnia and literary analysis/insight • At times the philosophical and spiritual discussion was intriguing (such as lectures 3 and 5) Minuses: • The professor’s talking style seemed rushed • Too often I found myself either not understanding some of the philosophical concepts being discussed or did not find them interesting • The professor seemed to gush a little too much over the “greatness” of C.S. Lewis
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent and Inspiring Lecture Series This was an excellent and inspiring lecture series that's a "must" for fans of C.S. Lewis. I learned so much not only about Lewis, but about his work that was fascinating and informative. The professor is also passionate about the subject, and his enthusiasm is contagious as you listen to these courses. A great series!
Date published: 2017-02-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from My first disappointment I have been ordering courses from your company for at least ten or more years. My interests have ranged from music to phonics, literature to history, religion, photography and so forth. I have liked some professors more than others. However, this the first time I have been utterly disappointed and dismayed. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that this professor received a wide ranging education. Some of his statements about the nature of science and the beliefs of many well schooled and knowledgeable people border on the absurd. Although I am sure he know a great deal about his subject, he seems to be clueless as to much of the world around him.
Date published: 2017-01-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Fast talkers have little credibility. I have completed over 100 Great Courses and have profited from almost all of them until this course. Many decades ago my Father was a Baptist Minister. I learned to tune him out when he would get excited, talk fast, and shout. In time, I adopted views of religion much different from his. In the years that have passed, I have only heard this kind of presentation when shopping for used cars. This course may have content of value but I could not get past the presentation and missed anything of value.
Date published: 2017-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive & Insightful The class is fair and complete in describing the works of C. S. Lewis. The professor is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. In describing the ideas of Lewis, the teacher, of necessity, presents Christian beliefs. This is an outstanding course. C. S. Lewis is a remarkable thinker and author, and his worldview is worthy of study.
Date published: 2016-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Study Course was very informative, valuable resource and enjoyable to listen to.
Date published: 2016-10-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but could be better. The lecture cd is very good. You get a nice overview of C.S. Lewis's work. The book that comes with course is weak. It leaves out many key points the lecturer is making. The lecturer talks too fast to easily write down.
Date published: 2016-09-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good course, but... The Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis is a very informative course regarding the literature of an excellent writer. The work(s) of C. S. Lewis are fascinating. However, Professor Louis Markos is so excited about C. S. Lewis and he lectures so fast that I cannot keep up with his high-tone speech. My mind needs a slower speaking Professor in order to allow me to comprehend what is being said.
Date published: 2016-09-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disservice to C. S. Lewis It's difficult to tell where the lecturer ends and C. S. Lewis begin. The lecturer seems to think he's the embodiment of Lewis's ideas. A real disservice to C. S. Lewis. Doesn't appear to be up to the usual standards of The Great Courses.
Date published: 2016-09-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Apologetic Accepted In the Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis, Professor Louis Markos ironically offers an apologetic for the man who may in fact be the greatest apologist of not only his time, but of all time. Clearly, Prof. Markos is enthusiastic about C.S. Lewis and is highly influenced by him. These are both good things in and of themselves. However, in this case they often hijacked the material presented in this lecture series. His unabridged excitement over the writings of Lewis became a distraction on many occasions. In several instances I found myself cringing at his “goofy” anecdotes. As for the content, I had trouble wrapping my head around the analysis of Markos, particularly the fictional work of Lewis. On occasion I was left scratching my head at what Markos was attempting to communicate. The blending of Lewis’ life with what motivated his writing, especially the theology within his fiction, did not work for me. Lewis and his writings are complex and the lectures did not help unpack the complexity of Lewis’ works. While listening, I felt as though my comprehension became stuck in a quagmire of muddied apologetic waters. With all that said, I would recommend this course by the thinnest of margins. Markos’ enthusiasm and in-depth knowledge of the subject often provided a counter to the shortcomings of this lecture series. In the end, my own heightened expectations of the course may have doomed my appreciation of C.S. Lewis and his great and abundant works presented in these lectures.
Date published: 2016-08-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Mere Mediocrity audio download version A difficult course to evaluate. On the plus side, Professor Markos is plenty enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the subject matter: C. S. Lewis. And Lewis did lead a very interesting life, had interesting associates and friends and was a much more complete human than I would have suspected. Dr. Markos does a reasonable job in providing such information. Enough pros to elevate the overall rating to 2 stars. But Barely. As to the cons, many other reviewers have commented at length on the "preaching" that seems to creep into Dr. Markos' lectures. Now I am not at all put off by a course on a Christian teaching a course about a celebrated Christian who wrote polemic Christian books, but when the professor fails in many, many instances to provide any balance to either the works of Lewis or of the man himself, he does a disservice to the positive things that may be said about both. Dr. Markos is truly a Lewis "fanboy", something instantly recognizable to anyone who has come across a Star Wars discussion site. Professor Markos does not provide us with a "critique" of Lewis' writings, but just leads cheers all the way from the beginning to the end. For example listening to Professor Markos, one would get the impression that all of the Narnia books are equally good (although he does say that the first and last ones are his favorites). This certainly is not my view, having read them all to my son at an early age, nor is it the view of many who are far more qualified to comment on Literature than I. For me, however, those are not the most egregious portions of the lectures. Professor Markos notes many times throughout the course that Lewis views modernity and moderns negatively, often referencing in contrast Lewis' fondness for the Middle Ages. It becomes difficult during these discussions to tell whether Lewis presents arguments against modernity or they are the product of Dr. Markos. Regardless, Markos continued use of the "strawman" argument where he makes a claim as to what moderns say or believe, with no substantiation, and then presents what Lewis would or did say to that modern position is quite disappointing, for anyone and the more so for someone with Dr. Markos' educational background. Always easy to knowck a strawman down. Often Professor Markos does not even say that some or many moderns believe a certain thing, but lumps all into the same category. Finally on this subject, Professor Markos gives the impression that a modern could not be a Christian. I was quite looking forward to this course as an educational experience about a man and his works about which I knew only a little. I know a little more now, but not nearly so much as I hoped and expected. Not recommended,
Date published: 2016-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent in all facets For anyone having just a cursory understanding of the persona let alone the writings of this amazing man and theologian, this course will bring to light a much better understanding of all of these things and more. For example, I wasn't aware of his religious writings let alone profound beliefs. Markos, somewhat animated even in the audio version makes the connection taking us down a path where the listener can experience it as well
Date published: 2016-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation When I read the reviews I was surprised to read that a few people issued poor reviews and felt that Dr. Markos was "too preachy". I believe that is an unfair evaluation of him as a professor. He inspired me to pick up my very old copy of "Mere Christianity" and to begin again. I believe Dr. Markos is simply stating a fair representation of C. S. Lewis who on many occasion was accused of being "too preachy". Please see "Mere Christianity" chapter 5 first paragraph "religious jaw". Thank you.
Date published: 2016-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A succinct compuilation There are many biographies, but these lectures bring his books into orderly categories. Markos loves his material and his passion enthuses the presentation. As a Lewis-phile, this did not add that much new stuff but I found it enjoyable to have the entire corpus neatly packaged and compared. I personally feel this is a must-have for a Lewis collector. It certainly is an essential set of lectures for college students new to Lewis' apologetics.
Date published: 2016-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Master Thinker Masterfully Taught Dr. Louis Markos has done a magnificent job capturing the life and thought of C.S. Lewis. His treatment of Lewis is fair and balanced. He teaches with both energy and insight—two vital ingredients for education that is illuminating and life-changing. I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in Lewis. I'd also recommend it to anyone invested in examples of how to teach well!
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from To the next level I've loved Lewis and his work for decades. If you want to take your appreciation for his writing and what is behind it to the next level ("Oh, did he write more than Narnia?"), this course is an excellent step.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course This is a wonderful course. It is well taught with enthusiasm and style. The material is substantial and eye-opening. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Have listened to this multiple times A fun listen for anyone who is a fan of C.S. Lewis. Energetic presentation that will provide new insights for even a long time Lewis reader.
Date published: 2015-12-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Made Me Uncomfortable I'm about six lectures into this course, and I'm not sure I'll finish it. I was expecting a more literary review of Lewis's writings. Maybe that's unrealistic, given how much of Lewis's writing was religiously based. I've read a lot of Lewis's books - not just the Narnia series, but many of his books on Christianity such as Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters as well, and loved them. However, Prof. Markos seems to be proselytizing more than lecturing, and that makes me uncomfortable. I believe it's possible to discuss the Bible, for instance, without trying to convert listeners (like Dr. Amy-Jill Levine does in her courses). I'm a Christian, but a very private one, and I'd rather hear about C. S. Lewis from a more objective, literary, and possibly more secular point of view.
Date published: 2015-11-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Interesting and Well Presented This course broadened my knowledge and understanding of his writings and life. The professor's presentation was enthusiastic and appealing. I finished the course much more informed and appreciative of the author.
Date published: 2015-10-15
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