These words from Shakespeare’s King Lear serve as the epitaph on C.S. Lewis’s gravestone. At first glance, they may puzzle the reader. Why this quote? Lewis’s brother Major Warren Lewis, affectionately known as “Warnie,” chose this line for the stone he later shared with his younger, and much more famous, brother. Both men held vivid memories of this quote from a wall calendar, hanging in their childhood home the day their mother died of cancer. Warnie must have wondered how he would endure the likewise devastating loss of his brother.
Fifty years ago today, Clives Staples (“Jack”) Lewis, was laid to rest in the small cemetery of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, on the outskirts of Oxford, England. Only a small contingent of friends and family attended the service. Warnie, overcome with grief, was not even present. Lewis himself did not expect the influence of his works to outlive him more than a few years. He was wrong. Fifty years later, Lewis’s life and legacy continue to influence, inspire, exhort, encourage, and entertain countless people around the globe.
My first novel Inklings opens the day of C.S. Lewis’s funeral. My fictional character David MacKenzie attends the service and is profoundly impacted. He determines to rededicate his life to God and carry on the Lewis legacy to a new generation. Here’s a brief excerpt from the prologue:
November 26, 1963
David MacKenzie had made a decision. He just hadn’t decided how to tell his fiancée.
For most of the day—after the funeral—he had walked around the parks of Oxford, thinking and praying. Now that he had reached his decision, he was sharing his thoughts with his friend and colleague, Austen Holmes, over dinner in the Eagle and Child pub. David wearily helped himself to shepherd’s pie as he talked.
“Austen, I wish you could have been there. It’s such a pity that Jack Lewis, the C.S. Lewis—one of Oxford’s greatest writers and thinkers—should have had only a few friends and family at his funeral.”
Austen replied quietly. “But really, David, don’t you believe he would have preferred it that way? Besides, I don’t think very many people even heard about it, what with the Kennedy assassination and all. Did his brother publish any notices?”
“I don’t know.” David thoughtfully set down his fork. “Poor old Major Lewis. He’s quite beside himself and wasn’t even able to get out of bed to attend the service. I don’t know what he’ll do without Jack. I don’t know what any of us will do.” David’s young, winsome face clouded with grief. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“A lit candle was placed on top of the coffin as it was carried out to the churchyard,” he said with more composure. “You know what the weather was like today: clear, cold, and crisp. One of those perfect autumn days that Jack absolutely loved. But what struck me most, Austen, was that the candle’s flame burned so brightly and never wavered. Even outdoors, the flame held. I think everyone noticed. To me that brightly burning candle symbolized the man’s very life.”
Finishing his dinner, David poured himself a cup of tea. Austen waited without speaking, sensing his friend had more to share. Although both of the University tutors were considered handsome, they were a study in contrasts. Austen was the typical Anglo-Saxon: tall and lanky, blond hair, bluish-green eyes, fair skin, angular features. David had more of the Celt about him: muscular build, bright blue eyes, fair skin, but dark—almost black—wavy hair.
David broke their silence. “Austen, Jack Lewis did something with his life. He could have been just a quiet Oxford don, but he was compelled to share his faith—through stories, radio talks, lectures, and books. And everything he wrote or spoke had such excellence, such beauty. He made you want to believe as he did. That candle today—that would not be extinguished even with his death—challenged me and made me truly want to do something for God with my life. Maybe, in some small way, carry on the Lewis legacy, if you will.”
“All right.” Austen smiled. “I know you have a plan. What is it?”
David leaned forward eagerly. “I would like to organize a new Oxford student club, a sort of second-generation ‘Inklings.’ We could meet every week to read and discuss the writings of the original Inklings—Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, Barfield—right here in the Bird and Baby, just as they did. Maybe the students would be inspired to try their own hand at writing, and this could be the forum for it.”
“And the ‘we’ means you want my help?”
“Of course!” David grinned. “You can be our resident Tolkien expert. And who knows? Maybe the venerable author himself may grace our presence now and then.”
Austen considered the proposal briefly. “Well, I’m game. I think it’s a grand idea.”
“Excellent!” David happily leaned back in the booth. “We can do our part to keep the candle burning. I know God has called me here to Oxford to do more than teach, and that’s what’s been challenging me all day.”
(Jeschke, Melanie. Inklings. Helping Hands Press, 2013. 1-2. Kindle Edition).
Like my fictional character, I am challenged by the life and legacy of C.S. Lewis to do my part, to keep the candle burning and encourage others not only to enjoy the writings of Lewis, but also to seek the Way, the Truth, and the Life that inspired him. I hope my writing can, in some small way, add to the flame.
“Aslan is (still) on the move!”