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Monday, November 30, 1998 Published at 22:17 GMT


Beyond the wardrobe

The timeless appeal of C S Lewis

Fans of C S Lewis are celebrating the centenary of his birth.

[ image: Cup of success: Just one of the centenary gifts]
Cup of success: Just one of the centenary gifts
To mark the 100 years since his birth, numerous events are taking place worldwide.

However, the focal point for celebrations will be in the UK and the United States, where the author has acquired something of a cult status.

The centenary events will take the form of special editions of his books, commemorative stamps and even bringing his works to life on stage.

Narnia comes to life
In the UK, the Royal Shakespeare company is launching a special stage production of his most famous Narnia book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Lewis' home in Oxford, The Kilns, is also being lovingly restored in the style of the 1940s.

[ image: Titles that continue to make C S Lewis  a bestseller]
Titles that continue to make C S Lewis a bestseller
However, despite the author's enduring popularity with children in Britain, interest in the UK is overshadowed by his popularity in the United States.

C S Lewis on the difficulty of religious belief
This has grown not only from his status as a children's author but as one of the most influential gurus of traditional Christianity.

Popularity surge

Lewis' popularity has surged in the last decade.

His books still sell more than 1.5 million copies annually. They have also been made into television series.

The recent film Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, depicted Lewis' relationship with his wife Joy who died of cancer.

There are numerous Websites and chat rooms too that would, no doubt, surprise even Lewis, himself.

The three faces of Lewis

The celebrated author of the children's books the Narnia chronicles was born on 29 November, 1898, in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

During his lifetime, Lewis fulfilled three seemingly different vocations. There was Lewis the Oxbridge literary scholar and critic(eg The Allegory of Love, 1936). Then came Lewis the author of science fiction (eg Perelandra in 1943), and children's literature (The Chronicles of Narnia, 1950-56). And thirdly Lewis the popular writer and broadcaster of Christian apologetics (eg The Screwtape Letters in 1942).

[ image: Lewis up with the saints in Monrovia]
Lewis up with the saints in Monrovia
It is mainly on this third basis that Lewis - an avowed atheist turned Christian - has become a publishing phenomenon in the United States and one of the top-selling authors of the century.

Lewis expert Chris Mitchell says: "Part of his attraction here is his robust sense of the supernatural. To have someone with the credentials he had to give credence to the supernatural side of things was extremely important because true claims of Christianity are grounded in the supernatural."

One of the many US societies devoted to the author is the C S Lewis Society, of Southern California.

To mark the centenary, its members will be embarking on a special pilgrimage to St Luke's Church, in Monrovia, where, alongside St Augustine and St Nina, the author is immortalised in stained glass.

But although Lewis' prolific output in so many fields may seem contradictory, many believe it was all interlinked. His Narnia stories for instance have been seen as profound religious allegories.

[ image: A centre of genius: The Kilns in Oxford]
A centre of genius: The Kilns in Oxford
America's C S Lewis Foundation see a connection.

It is "dedicated to advancing the renewal of Christian thought and academic freedom within the mainstream of contemporary colleges and universities".

It is also the behind the restoration of The Kilns, the house where Lewis did much of his writing - from theological treatises to his children's fantasies.

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