Why I’m Not Writing a C.S. Lewis Birthday Post

He’s dead.

Well, that’s the main reason I’m not writing a special happy birthday post for C.S. Lewis. True, if he were alive, we would be celebrating his eleventy-fourth birthday, which would be exceptional indeed. But he isn’t alive. He is dead.

And if he was alive, my career of telling people what C.S. Lewis was on about would be in trouble, wouldn’t it? After all, we could just ask him what he thought. We can’t have that now, can we?

But apart from my selfish reasons, isn’t it a bit strange to be celebrating the birthday of a dead man? Perhaps I’m just not as into this posthumous birthday greetings as I should be. Voltaire recently had a birthday, but I didn’t send a note. Today is also Madeleine L’Engle’s birthday, though I follow her on twitter so she must still be alive. And we can’t forget Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, who was born on this day. I’m not certain who he is, but he has a very cool German name and is quite dead.

Perhaps my hesitancy to celebrate C.S. Lewis’s 114th birthday comes from my reaction to the community of those who cast a sort of saintly glow over the deceased British author. It’s true that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe follows only Tolkien and Dickens in global sales. It is also true that scores of people continue to speak of the transformation that his literature has occasioned in their lives, drawing them deeper into the worlds of imagination and faith.

But have we gone too far?

Here’s a story sent to me by the widow of a student of C.S. Lewis’ named Eddie Edmonds. Eddie, who I had the chance to visit with some before he passed away, was the founding Dean of Education at the University of Prince Edward Island, and a literature student at Oxford in the 1930s, before his tutor, C.S. Lewis, was famous.

In 1998, Eddie was invited to Wheaton College to present a paper for the Centenary Celebration of Lewis’ birth at Mythcon XXIX. Now, it would only be fair to describe the context. Eddie was a reserved English gentleman from an important family line, a celebrated poet and scholar who grew up in an educational atmosphere that has since slipped away. He was welcomed warmly at Wheaton, and was soon surrounded by an array of scholars and fans of the Inklings.

While Eddie was a Tolkien fan himself, he was surprised by the Mythcon attendees. He found himself in the lunch line surrounded by elves and dwarfs and be-wimpled medieval women wandering through the Chicago suburb.  Some of these supernatural delegates were at the table with Eddie and his wife, though they were “ignorant of my standing as Eddie’s wife,” I am told. When he stepped out they commented surreptitiously that he was no spring chicken. I would have probably agreed in that setting.

Needless to say, Mythcon is a lively affair. And as it was a celebration of Lewis’ birth, at one of the gatherings, the conference as a mass sang “Happy Birthday” to “Jack.” Eddie, a man who had actually studied under the Oxford Don and knew his intellectual habits, leaned over to his wife and whispered sotto voce, “The man’s dead!”

He is! Dead I mean. He still is, fourteen years later.

Now, it is true that I could make good use of his birthday to speak of our admiration of Lewis’ work, to retell his biography, to draw links between ideas, or to critique the myth while reconsidering the man, as some of myblogmates have done. But I won’t do that. He’s dead!

A Wimple Photograph from Medieval Times

Instead, I’ve decided not to acknowledge his birthday at all. Eleventy-four or no, C.S. Lewis has died, and it is left to us to take up the task of telling stories and retelling the Story in the twenty-first century.

I will, however, find a way to get to Mythcon. I wonder how I’d look in a wimple.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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18 Responses to Why I’m Not Writing a C.S. Lewis Birthday Post

  1. In response to the following line from your essay above: “But apart from my selfish reasons, isn’t it a bit strange to be celebrating the birthday of a dead man?” Hmm. Suggests we ought also to do away with Christmas.

    Like

  2. jubilare says:

    Wait… isn’t this post a back-handed acknowledgement of his birthday? 😉 I didn’t even know it was the anniversary of his birth until this popped up.
    I think we do our great men and women, of history, literature, and the arts, a great disservice when we surround them with a “saintly glow.” After all, since when is it healthy to reverence our brothers and sisters so highly, dead or alive? I… find it cruel, actually, to hold a fellow human up in reverence that surpasses respect. Maybe that is just my perspective, though.

    You would probably look better in a wimple than I would. 😛

    Like

  3. Having just come from the Wellington premier of the Hobbit, where the streets were lined with hobbits, elves and gandalf look alikes – I have to wonder what Tolkien (and Lewis for that matter) would make of it all…

    Like

  4. Pingback: Today is C.S. Lewis’s Birthday | Living the Legacy of C.S. Lewis

  5. robstroud says:

    Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg invented the sandwich, which he ignorantly shared with the novel creation with his trusted friend Edward George Henry Montagu, Earl of Sandwich. Needless to say, the Englishman stole his secret and the attendant fame.

    Like

  6. Jessica says:

    I just checked and according to John 11:25-26, Jack is very much alive–even more so.

    Madeleine L’Engle, despite dying on September 6, 2007, also lives, since she can still Tweet.

    Like

  7. Pingback: What Did C.S. Lewis do on his Birthdays? An Eleventy-Fifth Birthday Inquiry that Failed | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  8. Pingback: What Did C.S. Lewis do on his Birthdays? An Eleventy-Sixth Birthday Inquiry that Failed | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  9. Pingback: What Did C.S. Lewis do on his Birthdays? An Eleventy-Sixth Birthday Inquiry that Failed | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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