Lessl (2004) discussed the rhetorical aspects of the work of C.S. Lewis, particularly emphasizing Lewis’s twin emphases, reason and imagination (p. 128). The remainder of this post will briefly compare and contrast aspects of the communication of C.S. Lewis with the communication of his predecessor and contemporary G.K. Chesterton.
According to Lessl, Lewis viewed myths as a necessary counterpart to logical teaching. To Lewis, stories provided experiences that proofs could not give (pp. 122-123). The truth of this assumption can be seen in the response to Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The Great Divorce, Perelandra, and The Screwtape Letters, to name a few of his best-known works of fiction. Not only are these works enjoyed as stories, but individuals often report enrichment to their spiritual lives and understanding as a result of encountering them.
Chesterton’s works illustrate that his beliefs were similar to Lewis’s. Along with his weighty and intricate apologetic and theological works such as Orthodoxy and Heretics, Chesterton also wrote numerous works of unusually whimsical fiction, such as The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Ball and the Cross, and The Man Who Was Thursday. Like Lewis, he invited readers to experience his Christian beliefs through stories as well as through logical proofs.
Despite this overarching similarity, Lewis’s and Chesterton’s uses of stories differed strikingly. Lessl used Till We Have Faces to illustrate the masterful way in which Lewis wove his philosophical perspectives into his works of fiction (pp. 132-135). For Lewis, stories were a teaching platform meant to end in a particular location. At the end of The Last Battle, the Pevensie children unequivocally find themselves in the Christian heaven. Metaphorically speaking, readers of Lewis’s works always find themselves in heaven at the end of one of his works. Though Lewis once told a child admirer that a story should be admired for itself and not picked apart too deeply for its purpose (Lewis, 1995, pp. 35-36), it is clear that his stories were intended to convey the reader to a specific philosophical place.
Chesterton’s works were also peppered with philosophical perspectives, but his conclusions were not necessarily as neatly tied up as Lewis’s. For instance, The Man Who Was Thursday ends quite ambiguously, with the character who represents God listening to various philosophical objections and then offering himself instead of a logical solution. Chesterton seemed to be acknowledging to his readers that weighty objections to faith exist; however, he also presented the madness of Satan in contrast to the sovereignty of God (Chesterton, 2001, pp. 178-181) and invited readers to make their own judgments. Chesterton’s goal seemed to be to lead the reader to a point of decision-making, while in Lewis’s stories, the decision is already made, and what follows is for Lewis to unfold to the reader how that decision is justified.
Both authors obviously valued stories and reasoned logic as apologetic tools. For Lewis, though, the argument was clear and the conclusion inevitable. For Chesterton, the clarity of the argument hurled the reader toward a decision, though he did not necessarily explain what that decision should be. Perhaps it could be argued that Lewis’s method was the forerunner of the styles of modern Christian authors like Frank Peretti and William P. Young, whose fictional allegories presuppose a faith conclusion, while Chesterton’s method was the forerunner of classic Christian authors like Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene, who made cases for faith but did not necessarily presuppose conclusions.
Chesterton, G.K. (2001). The man who was Thursday. New York, NY: Random House.
Lessl, T. (2004). The legacy of C.S. Lewis and the prospect of religious rhetoric. Journal of Communication and Religion, 27, 117-137.
Lewis, C. S. (1995). Letters to Children. New York, NY: Touchstone.