Narnia Born Again
Kathryn Lindskoog, an independent scholar, has dedicated much of the last twenty years to investigating the integrity of some of Lewis's purported friends. In The C.S. Lewis Hoax and Light in the Shadowlands (both Multnomah), Lindskoog notoriously argued that Lewis's posthumously published novel The Dark Tower (which was among the manuscripts Hooper says he saved from a bonfire) is a forgery and that Hooper has exaggerated the intimacy of his acquaintance with Lewis. Hooper has denied Lindskoog's allegations and Mattson has threatened to sue for libel, although writers as diverse as Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula Le Guin and Richard Wilbur have encouraged Lindskoog's investigations.
Whether Lindskoog is right or wrong about The Dark Tower may never be known. But regardless, her charge that Hooper has used his friendship with Lewis to his own advantage could be leveled at many Lewis enthusiasts. When evangelicals brandish Lewis as a weapon to win the world's respect, they sometimes forget what's most respectable about him: that the gift of friendship offered in Lewis's books bestows dignity. Mattson's C.S. Lewis Foundation certainly misses the point: Mythologizing Lewis as academia's once and future king will only aggravate secular critics' skepticism and hostility toward him and, what's worse, further intimidate the countless people who read Lewis for love.
One of those is Holly Etchison, a 25-year-old Georgia native with fiery red hair that hangs to her waist, who had never been out of the country before she arrived in England for the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute. Etchison, who accepted Christ as her savior at age 3, says she has lived most of her life in "a bubble world of Christianity." Last year, after she read an article in Christian Reader magazine (the evangelical equivalent of Reader's Digest) about the restoration of The Kilns, she began a correspondence with the foundation. Etchison eventually won a scholarship to attend the conference, for a two-page letter describing "the font of inspiration and wellspring of peace I find in the pages of [Lewis's] works."
During the closing worship service at Oxford, Etchison sat at the very top of the Sheldonian Theater, close to the ceiling decorated with an allegorical painting of Truth breaking through the skies and casting out the demons of envy, rapine and "brutish, scoffing ignorance." She listened to a recitation of Lewis's 1941 sermon called "The Weight of Glory," which concludes with reflections on the believer's burden of moving in a world of people who have immortal souls.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.... It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
It's precisely the burden of taking people seriously that Holly Etchison says she's learning to bear by reading Lewis's books. "I used to be like, 'When was your salvation experience?'" she says. "But I'm learning to be much more respectful of other people who believe differently.... That's something C.S. Lewis is helping me with."
Her witness suggests that Etchison has overcome the feelings of inferiority that seem to haunt many of Lewis's followers. The world will never be swayed by evangelical spectacles of hero worship and furious efforts to prove Lewis right. But then it's not really Clarence Darrow or the secular university that evangelicals have to fight. The enemy of Lewis's followers is a well-founded secular conviction: As a movement, evangelicalism just doesn't take the world seriously.