Today we mark 50 years since the passing of one of the Christian world’s most influential writers, CS Lewis. It’s a day most people who were alive at the time probably won’t forget, though for reasons other than Lewis’ death.
Jack’s stepson, Douglas Gresham recounts the day as follows in, Lenten Lands, an account of his childhood with Joy Davidman and CS Lewis.
It was raining; one of those dark, despondently wet and cold days of England’s early winter… I was at Applegarth; most of my studies were completed, but there were still a few loose ends to tidy up. It was raining weakly and sporadically, as if no-one really cared one way or the another. I was inside doing nothing in particular when suddenly someone shouted, “They shot Kennedy!” My initial reaction was that of disbelief. Time passed…and the inescapable conclusion was forced upon us that it was true… I felt deeply sorry for his wife and family, for I knew what they must be feeling, and then I pushed such thoughts out of my mind and merely proceeded with the evening’s routine…
Time passed, perhaps an hour, and then the four or five of us in the room heard a sound that brought raised eyebrows and interested looks to the faces of my colleagues. The unmistakeable sound of very definitely feminine feet…running on the concrete path…I looked up; I didn’t know who was coming…but I knew that she was coming for me, and I knew why…
“Don…will you please come with me?” she said… I felt the sympathy and pity for me that she was feeling. I knew Jack was dead. I walked by her side back towards the house. “It’s bad news, I’m afraid,” she said looking down at her feet. “I know,” I replied softly. “My stepfather has died, hasn’t her?” “Yes, I’m afraid so.” She did not look at me as we walked back to the house, for which I was grateful… The rain had started to fall again. I was glad of it, that my face would be wet with more than tears. Twelve days earlier, I had had my eighteenth birthday, and at eighteen a man is too old and not yet old enough to weep in public…
No-one had thought to inform the American press of Jack’s death, and I knew Jack had a large following in the States, so I telephoned Walter Hooper, who was at home in America at the time. He was deeply saddened and promised to inform those whom he considered should be told in the States….
Of those few days of sorrow, anxiety, loss and worry, little remains in my mind… One memory, a more substantial shadow than the rest, is my bidding farewell to Fred Paxford. His heavy arm across my shoulders, Fred said, “Ah, yer jus’ gotter carry on, son. Yer jus’ gotter carry on.” I had never imagined that Fred could cry.
Douglas Gresham penned these words on 22 November 1983. Thirty years later, the legacy of CS Lewis remains undiminished. To commemorate 50 years since Lewis’ passing, numerous organisations, societies, groups of scholars and fans have organised events throughout this year.
In the UK:
Westminster Abbey, London, sees host to the most prestigious event to commemorate Lewis this year. A conference was held yesterday (21 Nov) and today (22 Nov) sees a thanksgiving service and the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the Poets’ Corner in the Abbey which now places Lewis among other noted British writers and poets such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Jane Austen.
In Headington, Oxford, (where Lewis lived for most of his life) his parish church, Holy Trinity, held a Jubilee Festival from 19-22 September to commemorate the life of Lewis.
Cambridge University (where Lewis held the chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature from 1954 to 1963) has announced a new scholarship in his honour.
Across the Pond:
Various conferences have already been held in the US this year:
The CS Lewis Foundation held a Summer Conference in San Diego, CA from June 21-23
The annual Desiring God conference in Minneapolis, MN was on the theme: The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis from September 27 – 29. You can still listen to recordings of the talks here.
The Wade Centre at Wheaton College, IL (which houses manuscripts and materials from the works of CS Lewis and and contemporary British Authors) held a one day seminar on CS Lewis and American Culture on 1 November.
Ongoing and forthcoming events:
Belfast, Northern Ireland (the city of Lewis’ birth) is holding a festival this week from 18-23 Nov.
The historic Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, England is celebrating Lewis by converting their lower floors into a Narnian-inspired The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe experience.
Our friends over at The Dancing Lawn are asking for submissions of Haikus to honour the great man.
Biola University, CA will be holding a series of four chapels from 2-6 December 2013 focusing on CS Lewis’s fiction and three of his best-loved works.
Share with us any other upcoming events you know of and also let us know what impact Lewis’ writings have had on you 50 years after his death here.