by Jim Denney, author of Your Writing Mentor C. S. Lewis
A few years ago, I was reading an autobiographical book by J. B. Phillips called Ring of Truth. In that book, Phillips recounted a startling conversation between himself and C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. What makes this conversation so remarkable is that Phillips claimed it took place after Lewis’s death.
Phillips began his account of this strange conversation by stating that he was skeptical of all paranormal claims, adding that he was “as unsuperstitious as they come.”[i] Phillips went on to say:
A few days after [Lewis’s] death, while I was watching television, he “appeared” sitting in a chair within a few feet of me, and spoke a few words which were particularly relevant to the difficult circumstances through which I was passing. He was ruddier in complexion than ever, grinning all over his face and, as the old-fashioned saying has it, positively glowing with health. The interesting thing to me was that I had not been thinking about him at all. I was neither alarmed nor surprised. . . .
A week later, this time when I was in bed reading before going to sleep, he appeared again, even more rosily radiant than before, and [he] repeated the same message, which was very important to me at the time.[ii]
In Ring of Truth, Phillips did not elaborate on the matter that was troubling him. But he later related this incident to London journalist Dennis Bardens. Phillips told Bardens he had been dreading the process of dying. It seems that Lewis wanted Phillips to know that, as a Christian, he had nothing to fear from death or even the passage through death.[iii] Lewis’s message to Phillips: “It’s not as hard as you think, you know.”[iv]
I can’t say whether Lewis appeared to J. B. Phillips as a spirit, a hallucination, or a dream. But I trust Phillips’s truthfulness. I’m convinced that he gave an accurate account of his perception of these encounters with Lewis.
This account by J. B. Phillips makes me wish that I, too, could have a personal encounter with C. S. Lewis. I would like to be mentored by Lewis the thinker, Lewis the man of reason and faith, and Lewis the writer. I would like to take my questions to him, spread them out before him, and hear him say, “It’s not as hard as you think, you know.”
Out of a desire to hear C. S. Lewis speak to me and mentor me, I wrote a book called Your Writing Mentor C.S. Lewis.
Lewis never wrote a book on writing, yet he did describe his creative process in a number of speeches, essays, and letters to is fans. He has left us a treasury of writing wisdom. I have spent countless hours combing through his writings and the many books and articles written about him. Out of that research I’ve distilled his writerly insights and habits into this new book, Your Writing Mentor C.S. Lewis. In the process of researching and writing the book, I feel I’ve heard him teaching and mentoring me.
C. S. Lewis wrote at least twenty-two nonfiction books, fourteen novels, two science fiction short stories, several collections of essays, and enough letters to fill multiple volumes. He produced all of this literature and these letters while maintaining a full-time career as a professor of English literature, first at Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925-1954), then at Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954-1963). The key to Lewis’s amazing literary output is that he was a “writer in overdrive.” That is, he wrote with amazing speed in a state of unconscious creative flow. In the process, he wrote intuitively and brilliantly.
J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, once called his friend C. S. Lewis a man of “great generosity and capacity for friendship,” adding:
The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not “influence” as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my “stuff” could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more, I should never have brought The L. of the R. to a conclusion.[v]
It’s true. Tolkien began showing Lewis passages of his sprawling myth of Middle Earth early in their friendship. For years, Lewis was Tolkien’s sole encourager, the only person helping to motivate Tolkien to push his epic tale to completion. If not for Lewis, the world might never have heard of The Lord of the Rings.
On April 15, 1918, the world nearly lost C. S. Lewis. On that day, nineteen-year-old Second Lieutenant Clive Staples Lewis of the Somerset Light Infantry took part in an assault on German positions in the French village of Riez du Vinage. An artillery shell exploded near Lewis, killing one of his close friends and nearly killing Lewis. He carried shrapnel from that shell in his chest for the rest of his life. Had Lewis died that day, there would have been no Screwtape Letters, no Space Trilogy, no Chronicles of Narnia—and probably no Lord of the Rings.
Imagine a world without the writings of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Now imagine a world without your ideas, your insights, your stories. The world needs your vision, insight, and imagination. That’s why I wrote Your Writing Mentor C.S. Lewis. My goal in that book is to energize you with the same principles that empowered Lewis and urged Tolkien onward. Here’s the Table of Contents from the book:
1. C. S. Lewis, Writer in Overdrive
On Lewis’s amazing ability to write quickly and brilliantly.
2. A Childlike Approach to Writing
How to shed the inhibitions and self-defeating habits that hold us back.
3. Keeping Up with Lewis
A step-by-step explanation of how to get into “flow” so we can write quickly and freely “in overdrive”—as Lewis did.
4. Why We Write
An examination of Lewis’s motivation for writing—and developing our own sense of mission as writers.
5. The Discipline of Writing
How to write consistently and productively every day, as Lewis did.
6. The Craft of Writing
How to write effectively and brilliantly, as Lewis did.
7. Escapism, Art, or Allegory?
Should we write merely to entertain—or should we strive for higher art and deeper meaning?
8. Writing for Children
Lewis’s insights into the special needs of young readers.
9. Other Worlds, Other Realities
Writing fantasy and science fiction.
10. Five Thousand Words or Less
The special rules (which Lewis exemplified) for writing short stories.
In my study of C. S. Lewis, I discovered that he wrote with amazing speed in a state of creative flow. This book will show you how you can write quickly, freely, and brilliantly as Lewis did. So let me introduce you to this wonderful friend I’ve never met—my writing mentor, and yours, C. S. Lewis.
[i] J. B. Phillips, Ring of Truth: A Translator’s Testimony (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967), 88.
[ii] J. B. Phillips, Ring of Truth, 89-90.
[iii] Dennis Bardens, Mysterious Worlds (New York: W. H. Allen, 1970), 126.
[iv] Marie A. Conn, C. S. Lewis and Human Suffering: Light Among the Shadows (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2008), 1.
[v] Humphrey Carpenter, ed., The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000), 362.