Recommended Reads: The Only C.S. Lewis Book I Still Own

A Grief Observed.jpgC.S. Lewis died years before I was even born, but yet I feel as if that old crusty British academic and I have a long and complex history together. He was my first literary love. I fell in love with his world of Narnia, and with so many of the characters (Lucy will always be my favorite). A world of imagination. A world of fantasy. The type of world that usually would’ve been banned.

Fantasy was strictly banned because it was considered a gateway to the occult. The Chronicles of Narnia were only allowed because C.S. Lewis was a devout Christian and his books contained a crap ton of Christian metaphors. The fact that Aslan represented Jesus and that that little rat Edmond who sold his siblings out for some gross British candy (come on, Edmond, it wasn’t even something good like cookie dough ice cream) represented me was pointed out and discussed in length in order to be sure I hadn’t missed the symbolism. Aslan died for Edmond. Or, how it felt to me: I was Edmond; I killed Aslan. (I recently packed up my collection of Narnia reads and set them to Goodwill because I knew the whole You Killed Aslan thing would set off my Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome. And besides, I’ve gone for the harder stuff. Now I read things like Harry Potter.)

I loved Narnia and fantasy and magical creatures so much that I named my first cat, Lewis, after C.S. Lewis. And my next cat, Jack, also after C.S. Lewis. His world is imaginative and wonderful in so many ways, and it was also the only fantasy world that I had access to.

Later on, when I was experimenting with things like The Five Points of Calvinism when other teens and college students were experimenting sexually, I read through his Christian Classics (Mere Christianity, and so forth). I owned a pretty matching set of all his works that I displayed proudly on my shelf.

But things changed, I changed, and I tend to not agree much with C.S. these days, which is fine. And some of his books are trigger-y so I don’t plan on rereading them, but that’s not really his fault. It’s more the context they were discussed in and the way they were presented (like the whole Edmond thing). But despite clearing out most of my books by old C.S. (and so many other Christian books from my past lifetime), there’s one that I won’t be parting with.

I first read A Grief Observed, a collection of C.S. Lewis’ raw journal entries on the grief of losing his wife, when I found out that I was losing my dad, one inch at a time, to a horrible brain disorder. He describes grief as “a long valley, a winding valley where every bend may reveal a totally new landscape” (p. 60). And I’ve reread this tiny book several times since when I’ve needed a companion along that winding valley.

Honestly, it’s the only book on the subject of grief that I’ve found personally helpful. It’s not a How to Grieve Correctly manual. It doesn’t offer advice. It doesn’t even offer comfort. It tells me that I’m not alone. And when I’m in the middle of darkness and grief, being told that I’m not alone is the best thing that anyone can say.

Sometimes I wish more people talked and wrote about darkness — the things that keep us up at night clinging to our bed with terror or leave us so frozen as a riptide of emotion pulls us out to sea that we can’t even move when the alarm goes off in the morning. The things that nearly drown us. The things that give us scars. And the scars we hide so well. I wish darkness wasn’t such a taboo subject. This is why I still love A Grief Observed: C.S. Lewis isn’t afraid to talk about darkness.

It can be awkward to talk about dark things. We want quick fixes. We want people to get over it so that they (but more importantly we) can go back to life as usual. And I think Christians can be especially guilty of this. I know I’ve had more than a few well-meaning but nevertheless painful Bible verses thrown at me in the name of theological comfort over the years. But despite his deep faith C.S. Lewis not only doesn’t fall into this, he actually find it extremely unhelpful. “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly,” he writes. “Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consultation of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand” (p. 25).

There is no getting back to life as usual after a major loss. Sure, you eventually reach some sort of normalcy, some sort of rhythm to life. But it’s a new normal, a normal that now has a hole the shape of a wife, father, sister, grandfather, aunt, or friend — and always will. This makes it “hard to be patient with people who say ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death … You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.” He beautifully continues, “I look up at the night sky. Is anything more certain than in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn?” (p. 15).

I appreciate how candidly C.S. Lewis describes how loss impacts everyday life, especially social interactions. He writes that “An odd byproduct of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t” (p. 10).

C.S. Lewis then  goes on to say that he likes “best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers” (p. 10-11). Grief can leave you feeling so isolated but somehow just knowing I’m not the only one who has ever felt as if I needed — or even wanted — to be isolated off in a special Bereaved-Only Settlement in order to avoid the awkwardness and pain that can come with merely saying hello always makes me feel less alone when I need to reread this little book.

So that’s my recommended read for April. What books have been there for you during those dark seasons?

 

21 thoughts on “Recommended Reads: The Only C.S. Lewis Book I Still Own

  1. I wish I knew of this book when I lost my mother. It might have saved me the cost of therapy. I will get a copy as it seems many my age are losing their parents and experiencing grief.

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    • It’s a small book. And it doesn’t provide any answers but it made me feel less alone, and that was huge. But I still needed therapy, too.

      Losing a parent is so hard. I’m sorry you’ve experienced it, too. And I hope A Grief Observed helps you feel a little less alone, too.

      Love and ((HUGS)).

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  2. “Aslan died for Edmond. Or, how it felt to me: I was Edmond; I killed Aslan.” Heh, yup. ME TOO.

    Mmmmmm. I feel similar about C.S. Lewis. I keep meaning to read some of his other books. This post reminded me that I want to. :3

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    • He’s kind of … um … sexist sometimes. So just throwing that out there as a warning (not saying you shouldn’t read them, but just a heads up). He does have a great writing voice though.

      I have a friend who loves his sci-fi series so much she buys them whenever she sees them at used book stores so she can give them out. I never got around to read those (read almost all the others, just wasn’t really into the idea of those books I guess), so I can’t comment. Because they were some of the only sci-fi that was allowed I want personally see reading them — not C.S. Lewis’ fault but the fact that they were the only allowed ones now leaves a bad flavor in my mouth when I think about reading them.

      After A Grief Observed my next favorite non-Narnia book was probably The Four Loves. It’s not a theological work, just his musings on different types of love. And I remember finding it interesting (unfortunately though it was quoted too much on purity books, so my old church sort of spoiled that one too even though it isn’t even about purity).

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      • I’ve heard people mention the sexist thing, which makes sense from the whole “girls don’t fight in war” thing. I’ve wanted to read “Till We Have Faces” because one friend adored it, but another found it massively depressing.

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        • I read it but I honestly just didn’t really get into the characters or story. But I did find it depressing. So maybe you’ll have to read it and see for yourself. 🙂

          The sexism comes out more blatantly if you read his theological works. For example, in God on the Dock there’s a whole chapter about how women can’t be in leadership and if God had any more feminine traits it would completely change everything. So men are in leadership because they best reflect the image of God. He also sometimes makes off handed comments that are offensive (like that women wouldn’t be into reading about theology).

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  3. I never read his books ,but both sons loved The Narnia films!! My church experience never had people telling me what to read or not to read as a teen or older person I had at least three plus narcissistic pastors , but the people were mostly wonderful. My faith in Christ is all I need, and grief and loss has been a major part of my life. Writing and talking to others helps me to grieve and to help others in their grief. My favorite saying is ” Love lifted me to Christ and He is love ” ❤ carla

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    • Fantasy books (movies, TV shows, video games, etc.) were banned both within my church but also my home. So it was a bit of a double whammy.

      You might enjoy C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed is a beautiful book but he has written about all kinds of topics beyond grief and children’s fantasy.

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  4. It is many years since I Read “AGrief Observed”. This week my favourite aunt died ( 4 days short of her 93rmd birthday) and a Clare friend has been diagnosed with mesothelioma – asbestos cancer. Very poor prognosis. It might be time for a re-read. Thank you..

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  5. I am definitely going to read this book. Thank you for real writing. My go to book is “the road less travelled and beyond” by M.Scott Peck. Brutally honest.

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  6. I too have left behind reading most of my C.S. Lewis collection, although they still occupy shelf space. “A Grief Observed” is definitely s keeper, but if I had to pick only one of his books to keep, it would be “Till We Have Faces”. Did you ever get the chance to read it, Kelsey? It took me three reads over 2-1/2 decades to “get it”, but now it is my all-time favorite of his works.

    Take care,
    C

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  7. I suppose reading previous comments before posting my own would be helpful… Now I know you read Faces. Try it again in ten years. It took me a while – and I think my understanding was also related to accumulated life experience as well.

    Anyway, I feel the same as your friend about The Space Trilogy, although I do not purchase them, just recommend them to everyone with even a remote interest in the Sci-Fi/Fantady genre.

    Ok, done now. 😆
    C

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