I consider myself a writer. As a young teen I won a contest and got published in an anthology, I have several other short stories written, and I have one play that nobody is ever allowed to look at ever but is my only finished “long” work. I also write a ton of stuff for this blog (in fact, my output rather shocks me).
C.S. Lewis is my favorite author. There are a lot of things that writers can learn from reading him. He is absolutely brilliant at evoking…things, I guess. Images, emotions, vague concepts turned into tangible realities. Lewis knows that great writing comes from choosing the right words, not the most. He packs a ton of power into perfectly chosen words and phrases, managing to paint unforgettable and fully fleshed out characters using simple, broad strokes.
But there is one thing C.S. Lewis does in his fiction that no fiction writer should ever, ever do: Lewis preaches. He preaches openly. He blatantly peddles a particular ideology and doesn’t care who knows it. To give a clear example,”The Screwtape Letters” is more than a normal book. It’s a sermon, and he imparts his views on morality to the reader directly. If Lewis lacks one thing, it is subtlety. Even “Till We Have Faces”, arguably his least obtuse work, inserts some beautifully written but definitely clear-cut moralizing at the end of it. Lewis does not leave room for the reader to disagree with him. By the end of the story he wants to convince you of something.
And Lewis pulls it off, because Lewis is a genius. Somehow Lewis proselytizes and moralizes and preaches loudly and openly in his novels and not only gets away with it but creates absolutely beautiful work. “The Screwtape Letters” might be a sermon, but it’s also a wicked satire. Lewis, basically, has the gift of writing interesting sermons.
And that is something nobody should try and imitate. Most writers are not C.S. Lewis. Even Tolkien is not C.S. Lewis. Tolkien’s work is infused with a glorious strain of Christian spirit, but Tolkien very intentionally wrote it with absolutely no attempt in mind to try and convert people to Catholicism or peddle his particular moral view. He simply tried to write a brilliant story…and he did. In fact, Tolkien criticized the later Narnia books because he believed that even Lewis was preaching too much (I disagree, but I get why he’d think that)!
Don’t get me wrong – everybody who writes needs to have a particular point of view to work from in mind when they start their story. You cannot write a work of fiction working under the assumption that it’s equally possible that nihilism and Thomism are the correct philosophical worldview. This leads to work utterly lacking in any sort of conviction, and it comes off as if the author has no idea what he wants to write about. And it’s even fine to say, “By the end of the story I want people to realize that Christian redemption is what changed Jean Valjean’s life”.
But do not write a story that goes “Here’s an undersea world with a fish named Aslo who’s really Jesus”. This is not only just aping off Lewis, but you will not be able to pull it off. Instead of coming off deep and insightful, you are going to look like an arrogant tool, and you will turn people off.
If you want to write Christian fiction, write fiction from a Christian perspective. Don’t write a Christian sermon as told by a fictional character, or a journey through the afterlife written specifically so you could peddle your beliefs, or a fantasy series designed to teach children about Christianity. You will fail, and badly. The ability to proselytize and not come off as arrogant and condescending is a gift that 99.9% of writers do not possess, including most of the masters.
You and I are not C.S. Lewis, and we shouldn’t try to be.