Skip to main content

In this essay, Charlie W. Starr argues that evangelical Christians do not know what art is for. In an age when the best that even theologians can offer in response to the arts is “culture war” or “worldview analysis,” Christians who want to find the intersection between faith and film should look to C. S. Lewis for guidance. Lewis understood that worldview analysis is problematic and that art cannot be used for utilitarian reasons (such as teaching morality or truth) until it first achieves its primary purposes: pleasure, play, leisure, and the enactment of a God-given creative impulse. We read, view, and listen to art because it is fun, gives us new experiences, delights our imaginations, and gives us greater vision. Charlie W. Starr is a professor of English and Humanities at Kentucky Christian University.

Faith without Film1 is Dull

My first experience of it might have been at age 13 when that Star Destroyer came swooping in over my head like some Leviathan of biblical proportion in the opening sequence of Star Wars.2 I am more certain that I encountered it in 1982 when Blade Runner’s3 atmosphere—its concrete, fully fleshed-out setting—showed itself to be as much a character in the film as any of the actors. The sights and sounds were palpable, the thing I experienced an otherness defying explanation in words but as strong in its message as any tome. It was there in the costumes, the neon, the smoke, the synthetic Vangelis soundtrack, the spotlights and strobes, the noir-ish angst in every actor’s expression of emotion, the story about the tortoise lying on its back in the movie’s beginning and the poetic death soliloquy spoken by replicant Roy at the film’s end: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

I also remember when I realized that my experience of it mimicked something biblical. The movie was otherwise horrible to watch, not because it was a bad film, but because of the brutality, the twisted nature of the evil it portrayed. Nevertheless a friend told me I had to watch Blue Velvet4 for the scene in the car in front of the church where Jeffrey asks why there is so much trouble in the world. And against a backdrop of stained glass and organ music, a stunningly beautiful Sandy (Laura Dern) first says, “I don’t know.” But then follows with, “I had a dream.” And she explains how in the dream the world was dark because there were not any robins in it, and the robins represented love. Then suddenly countless robins were set free and they flooded the world with a blinding light of love, a love that somehow seemed to be able to make a difference—and it actually did. And she concludes, “So, I guess it means … there is trouble till the robins come.” It was an answer similar to the one God had given Job. He did not answer with a theological treatise on the nature of suffering. God simply showed Job a story—picture after picture of God Himself caught up in a whirlwind. And Job was transformed, converted by what he saw: 

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.(Job 42:5-6, NIV)

The picture God paints, He paints in words, but what He speaks to Job is a picture nevertheless (and one wonders if images projected out of the whirlwind accompanied God’s dialog); it is the picture that made the difference.

The “it” of which I speak is not a lesson to be learned, a truth to be summarized, or a philosophy to be analyzed. It is an experience. Call it aesthetic transportation, call it imaginative transformation; it is an experience of wonder evoked in the imagination by film (or other art forms). It is an experience which delights us, transports us, entertains us, and fills us with an understanding of something larger than ourselves, something we may not be able to speak in words, but we can taste just the same. And it is an experience which evangelical Christians in America have ineptly struggled to produce (especially in film) for decades with little success. What have we been doing wrong?

My astonishing claim is this: most of evangelical Christianity for the last hundred years (and longer) has gotten art and culture all wrong. We do not know what culture is for, we do not know what art is for, and we keep asking the wrong people: theologians. When we want to overcome a sickness, we go to a doctor. When we want to fix a leak, we call a plumber. We ask the experts and get the right answers. Why do we not do the same with art, especially the dominant art form in our culture, film? My claim is even more incredible, considering that my answer to the question, “So what expert we should ask?” is a man who called film “an astonishingly ugly art” which he found “disagreeable to the eye—crowded, unrestful, inharmonious.”5 But in an age when the best theologians can come up with in response to the arts is “culture war” or “worldview analysis,” what we most need is someone (perhaps a writer who also has background in theology) with the intellectual discipline of a philosopher and the critical eye, experience, and imagination of an artist. The theme of this “Reel Presence” issue of CSR involves the search for intersections between faith and film. My argument is simple: anyone who wants to find that intersection should look to the guidance of C. S. Lewis. And though he said little about film specifically, what he does say about it and the arts in general can correct a generation of mistakes in evangelical approaches to literature, art, music and film.6

Is Art Utilitarian?

With regard to the significance of the arts or culture in general, Lewis once concluded that “culture,7 though not in itself meritorious, was innocent and pleasant, might be a vocation for some, was helpful in bringing certain souls to Christ, and could be pursued to the glory of God.”8 Though he valued culture, Lewis did not see it as a final good—an end unto itself. It is true that Lewis saw a connection between art and knowledge. In The Great Divorce, for example, a painter who has just come into heaven is told that “When you painted on earth … it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too.”9And such glimpses, as Lewis himself found in “inanimate nature and marvelous literature,” evoke in us an experience of “intense longing,”10 an “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”11 Lewis calls this desire “Joy,”12 and Joy is a marker—a stab of desire whose object is not to be found on earth:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.13

Lewis sees the intense desire he calls Joy as an “ontological proof” for the existence of heaven and God.14 He says, “if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object.”15 The desire will, in fact, erupt out of earthly encounters of pleasure—encounters with beauty in nature, with sexual pleasure, and with the beauty of artistic texts, especially (for Lewis) the literature of myth and fantasy.16 But each of these earthly objects, then, can be confused for the true, heavenly object, and must be seen as merely a signpost, a hint of the real thing.17 Nevertheless, the implication for art is that it may potentially point us to the truth of God’s existence. It did for C. S. Lewis.

That said, Lewis did not see the purpose of art to be the production of sermonic tropes, the mass marketing of Christian propaganda, or a philosophical search for an ideal, Platonic, heavenly realm. Even as viewers of art we should not look to see if there is a hidden Christian message in a movie or book. On the contrary, “the first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.”18 Writing specifically about literature, Lewis claims that whatever edification we get is not about finding truth in books: “To value them chiefly for reflections which they may suggest to us or morals we may draw from them, is a flagrant instance of ‘using’ [texts for our own purposes] instead of ‘receiving’” [them for what they are].19 Instead, great art is about a particular activity of imagination; it is about finding new ways of seeing—about seeing through the eyes of others:

The nearest I have yet got to an answer [to the question of literature’s value] is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself. … We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. … My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. … [I]n reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. … Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.20

In short, Lewis very specifically rejects any view that “literature is to be valued … for telling us truths about life”21; instead, he values literature apart from its utilitarian purposes. This flies in the face of much contemporary Christian thinking about art and culture, both on popular and intellectual fronts. On the popular front are well meaning Christians who accept the model of “culture war”22—we are in a battle that must be fought by governing what our kids are exposed to and protesting against films, songs, and TV shows which are hostile to our point of view. On the intellectual front is an emphasis on “worldview analysis”23—examining the worldviews behind artistic texts to point out their hidden assumptions or mine their truth value. And while both have their place, they fail to understand what art is for.

Problems with Worldview Analysis

The one time Lewis says anything about what we call worldview analysis is in his essay “Christianity and Culture.” Here he agrees that, in a work of art,

the real beliefs may differ from the professed and may lurk in the turn of a phrase or the choice of an epithet; with the result that many preferences which seem to the ignorant to be simply “matters of taste” are visible to the trained critic as choices between good and evil, or truth and error.24

But he follows this recognition by raising several questions and cautions. One is whether a man who has “had a literary training” ought also to be a judge of the worldviews he reveals. Is this not the purview of the philosopher?25 Secondly, Lewis wonders if aspects of a negative analysis have less to do with ideas and more to do with taste.26 I read Lewis here as saying that aesthetic sensibilities are often ignored in worldview approaches to art. But to Lewis, an artistic text like a book is

both Logos (something said) and Poiema (something made). As Logos it tells a story, or expresses an emotion, or exhorts or pleads or describes or rebukes or excites laughter. As Poiema, by its aural beauties and also by the balance and contrast and the unified multiplicity of its successive parts, it is an objet d’art, a thing shaped so as to give great satisfaction.27

There is, furthermore, a question to raise about an approach to art which spends so much time “reading between the lines” that it neglects “the obvious surface facts about a book.”28 Is it not possible, for example, that, despite a book’s “dreadful latent materialism, it does set courage and fidelity before the reader in an attractive light, and thousands of readers will be edified … by reading it?”29 Besides this problem of over-analysis, we should have doubts about an approach to art which removes any sense of its primary purpose. Lewis says,

I agree … that our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. … [However,] to do them at all, we must somehow do them as if they were not. It is a serious matter to choose wholesome recreations: but they would no longer be recreations if we pursued them seriously. … For a great deal (not all) of our literature was made to be read lightly for entertainment. If we do not read it, in a sense, “for fun” … we are not using it as it was meant to be used, and all our criticism of it will be pure illusion. For you cannot judge any artefact except by using it as it was intended. It is no good judging a butter-knife by seeing whether it will saw logs.30

Near the end of the essay on “Christianity and Culture,” Lewis offers the tentative suggestion that there might be

two kinds of good and bad. The first, such as virtue and vice or love and hatred, besides being good or bad themselves make the possessor good or bad. The second do not. They include such things as physical beauty or ugliness, the possession or lack of a sense of humour, strength or weakness, pleasure or pain.31

And though Lewis sees potential problems with his categories, I think it legitimate to apply them to the arts in this way: if I say a secular film is bad because it is filled with false ideas, foul language, gratuitous sex, and gory violence, and then I say a Christian film is bad because the production values are cheap, the script overly didactic, the story dull and the acting poor, I am not using the word “bad” in the same way. The former is bad for reasons involving morality and truth; the latter is bad for reasons involving aesthetics and imaginative effect.32 Worldview analysis will almost always leave these latter considerations out of the equation.

An even stronger argument to be gleaned from Lewis regarding the problems of worldview analysis has to do with the nature of “meaning.” “What does it mean?” is a question we ask all the time, often about the symbols and images we encounter in books, songs, and movies. But do we ever ask, “What does meaning mean?” Usually when we ask for the meaning of a word, a line in a song, or a symbolic image, we want an explanation in words. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke journeys down into his own cave of knowledge and confronts Darth Vader. He cuts Vader’s head clean off, only to find his own face looking back at him.33 When my daughter first saw this scene she asked me what it meant. I told her, “It means Luke’s worst enemy is himself. He has to fight his own fear and doubt before he can face the real Darth Vader. What happened in the cave was a dream or vision.” I explained the meaning in words. But movies mean more than the words in them. Their magic is in the meanings they communicate beyond words. Their truth is in their images and experiential quality. 

In an essay called “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” Lewis helps us search for the meaning of meaning:

[I]t must not be supposed that I am in any sense putting forward the imagination as the organ of truth. We are not talking of truth, but of meaning: meaning which is the antecedent condition both of truth and falsehood, whose antithesis is not error but nonsense. … For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.34

An obscure statement at best, what Lewis argues here, among other things, is that meaning is not the same thing as truth, the one belonging to the faculty of imagination, the other to the faculty of reason.

He discusses one major implication of this dichotomy in his essay, “Myth Became Fact,” where he makes a connection between “myth” and “reality” and then a separation of “reality” from “truth”: “What flows into you from the myth is not truth but reality (truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is).”35 Reality (or fact) is what is; truth is a proposition about fact. Next, Lewis describes our earthly existence as a “valley of separation,”36 or abstraction, arguing that “myth is the mountain whence all the different streams arise which become truths down here in the valley; in hac valle abstractionis.”37Lewis is saying that meaning can be abstract language statements like my explanation of Luke’s internal struggle in TheEmpire Strikes Back. But it can also be experiential and can precede language.

The context of the “Myth Became Fact” essay is the epistemological dilemma of thinking versus experiencing. To know by thought is to withdraw ourselves from reality. To know by experience is to be so caught up in the real that we cannot think about it clearly. Consider how we can laugh at a joke or think about why it is funny, but we cannot do both at the same time. More importantly, our very ability to know is hampered by this bifurcation: “‘If only my toothache would stop, I could write another chapter about Pain.’ But once it stops, what do I know about pain?”38 We cannot study pleasure while having sex, “repentance while repenting,” nor humor while we are laughing hysterically, but “when else can you really know these things?”39

In order to understand how limiting this dilemma really is, Lewis suggests we think about the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus was allowed to lead Eurydice by the hand, but the moment he tried to turn around and see her, she disappeared. If we focus on the myth, the abstract concept of thinking versus expe-riencing is suddenly “imaginable.” If I take what Lewis is saying and explain it in abstract, allegorical statements, then “experience” is Orpheus holding Eurydice’s hand, “thinking” is her disappearing when he turns around to get a clear look at her, and the “myth,” apart from this explanation, is an image of these ideas which acts on our imagination like an experience. Lewis goes on to note that our response might be that we have never seen the meaning just described in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. To this he replies, “Of course not. You are not looking for an abstract ‘meaning’ at all.”40 If we were looking for abstract meanings in the myth, it would stop being a myth to us and become an allegory (as I just made it above). Lewis says that, in receiving the myth as a myth,

you were not knowing, but tasting; but what you were tasting turns out to be a universal principle. The moment we state this principle, we are admittedly back in the world of abstraction. It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely.41

In other words, when we take a meaning out of a myth, we turn it into an abstract statement, an idea. When we leave the meaning in the myth and do not try to turn it into language statements, the meaning remains (or at least mimics) a concrete experience. Through myth, ideas can be experienced concretely. Lewis gives a hint that this actively occurs in the imagination, a mode of thinking which shares qualities of both reason and experience.

When we receive myth as story, we are experiencing a principle concretely. Only when we put the experience into words does the principle become abstract. But if we can know a principle either concretely or by abstraction, then meaning can be either concrete or abstract. This agrees with the statement in the “Bluspels” essay that meaning is the necessary antecedent to truth.42 Some meanings are abstract propositions—word statements like my explanation of the scene from Empire Strikes Back. But there are other kinds of meanings which can only be grasped in the experiential imagination. Such meanings, the kind we get in myth for example, come prior to abstraction and apart from language. From them we do not get truths about reality but tastes of reality itself.

Lewis makes this mythic connection very specifically to film. Though he had something of a love/hate relationship with movies (mostly hate),43 Lewis once made the profoundly positive statement that myth can be rendered through film. Myth is a communication which is not in the words used to communicate it but in the form of the myth itself. Lewis explains this in his introduction to George MacDonald: An Anthology:

We all agree that the story of Balder is a great myth, a thing of inexhaustible value. But of whose version—whose words—are we thinking when we say this? For my own part, the answer is that I am not thinking of anyone’s words. […] What really delights and nourishes me is a particular pattern of events, which would equally delight and nourish if it had reached me by some medium which involved no words at all—say by a mime, or a film.44

This idea that myth as a mode of languaging is even more clear in Lewis’s A Preface to Paradise Lost: “Giants, dragons, paradises, gods, and the like are themselves the expression of certain basic elements in man’s spiritual experience. In that sense they are more like words—the words of a language which speaks the else unspeakable.”45 Myth communicates meaning apart from words. And the same thing can be said for film.46

In “On Fairy-Stories,” Lewis’s colleague J. R. R. Tolkien rejects the then-widely-held idea that myth is a “disease of language” and argues instead that the opposite is more the case.47 M. Night Shyamalan argues a similar point in his film Unbreakable. There he sees language as originating in pictures. Says the expert in comic art: “I believe comics are a last link to an ancient way of passing on history. The Egyptians drew on walls. Countries all over the world still pass on knowledge through pictorial forms. I believe comics are a form of history that someone, somewhere, felt or experienced.”48 Though we may not think much of comic books revealing the hidden nature of the universe, Shyamalan is making a point that can be verified and is so by Lewis’s friend and fellow Inkling Owen Barfield whose book Poetic Diction influenced Lewis’s epistemology greatly.

In Unbreakable, Shyamalan offers a theory of myth, of a concrete picture language that precedes modern language forms wherein sign abstracts the signified. The image form, surviving in a kind of collective human unconscious, intrudes itself into contemporary culture through comic art. What it reveals is an archetypal pattern of the hero, Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth.”49 Shyamalan further intuits a quality of communicating which Barfield uncovers in his Poetic Diction.50 A careful study of linguistic history reveals that a strong distinction between sign and signified, between the literal and the figurative, is new to human thinking. For people before the modern era (even up through the medieval period), to name a thing was to invoke it; speech had physical consequences in the world; words were what they signified; metaphorical meanings were possible because their connective representation was in some way literal. Film resonates with Barfield’s view of past language. What it says is what it is, and what it shows is what it means. In the past, words were more like pictures, in fact more like physical actions.51

Barfield suggests, for example, the metaphor, “I have no stomach” for this or that.52 This phrase is used to express our dislike for a thing. It is figurative … mostly. When I say, “I have no stomach for modern art,” I am not saying I get nauseous when I look at an abstract painting. However, if I say, “I have no stomach for horror films,” I am not only expressing my dislike for them, I am also saying that the blood, gore, and suspense in them do make me nauseous. Here is an example of a phrase that is both literal and figurative at the same time. Barfield claims humanity used to think and use language this way constantly. Speech and action were much closer to each other than in our own day.

Similarly, just as myth is a form of languaging and an expression of concrete thought, so film too is a mode of languaging which communicates to us like a physical action, as a concrete experience, and it is able to do so either without language or by converting language into experiential form. An example of film communicating as form without word can be seen in the early Tim Burton movie, Edward Scissorhands. In the middle of the movie, we see a long shot of the street on which Edward’s adoptive family lives. Husbands simultaneously walk out to their cars from the various homes to begin the morning commute. They get in the cars at the same time, pull out of their driveways at the same time, and drive off after a bit of hesitation and jockeying for road space. There are no words, only pleasant, Leave It to Beaver-esque music. But here is what is really strange: the houses and the cars are all painted pastel colors. From a greater distance, the street might look like an Easter basket. The colors are all solid, no two tones: whole houses and cars painted pink, or blue, or yellow, or green pastel.53 Actions, sights, and sounds—all of them deliberate, intended. And without language, meaning is communicated in this scene. We certainly can, in this instance, put the meaning into words: “Suburbia is a world of conformity and façade.” But the point is that we get the meaning without having to put it into words. Film can communicate in a mythic fashion, often with meanings which cannot be abstracted into worldview analysis. Even when language is important in the meaning of a film, it can be delivered to us in this same concrete or experiential mode.54

One more example: think of some favorite song, the kind that “blows you away” the first time you hear it. It moves you. You connect to it. It evokes feelings and thoughts you cannot quite describe. Recall next how a month or two (or six) later you actually bother to pay attention to the lyrics, and you finally figure out what the song was saying. In one sense you knew all along what the song was about. You understood meanings in it that could not be put into words—meanings in the music itself or in the way a certain phrase touched your heart or connected with memories. The analysis of the lyrics was your reasoning self becoming aware of abstract, propositional meanings that your experiential self had not encountered. But in your imagination, you still experienced meaning before you analyzed anything. To use Lewis’s terminology, you first tasted the song, then you came to know it. But to abandon the taste—the meanings which still cannot be put into words even after some analysis—is to abandon meanings which are certainly there.

The very nature of meaning in art is that many of its meanings will not be philosophically reducible. In an essay called “The Language of Religion,” Lewis points out that, far from being able to quantify reality in terms of the specialized languages of science or theology, most of experience can only be communicated with plain or poetic language: “Now it seems to me a mistake to think that our experience in general can be communicated by precise and literal language. … The truth seems to me the opposite.”55 Even a theologically accurate phrase, like “Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” is a metaphor.56 It is true, but it is not literal. The relationship had between Christ and the Father in the Trinity is not the exact same as the relationship had between a man and his son. There was a time in which my son did not exist. Then he came into existence. But the First and Second Persons of the Trinity have co-existed eternally. We may attempt to convert the metaphor into a theological abstraction like, “there is between Jesus and God an asymmetrical, social, harmonious relation involving homogeneity,”57 but in doing so the meaning will be all but lost to us. Lewis concludes that the “very essence of our life as conscious beings, all day and every day, consists of something which cannot be communicated except by hints, similes, metaphors, and the use of those emotions … which are pointers to it.”58 If life itself is seldom reducible to the abstract language of philosophy and theology, how much more must our approach to the arts be one which recognizes meanings that cannot be stated in any terms—or, at best, in poetic terms—let alone the terms of worldview analysis? Human knowing simply does not operate that way, and human art belongs more to the realms of concrete experience and analogical imagination.59

For Lewis, meaning is connection, the perception of a relationship. But we cannot think of meaning as solely an explanation in words. When we break out of that thinking, we begin to see art’s purpose and methods. Art communicates experiences more than abstract truths and meanings more than philosophical positions. The meanings in art may be born of language, and such meanings may be translated into truth statements. But many of the meanings will exist apart from language. Many of them will be mythic, analogical, experiential, emotional, unconscious, semi-conscious, without clear definition, and even accidental.

Here, then, is the problem for worldview analysis: if the only thing we look for in examining an art form is a series of abstract, philosophical truth statements, we are missing both the power and purpose of art. I am not saying we should forget about examining worldviews in art (and neither does Lewis in “Christianity and Culture”). I am saying that worldview analysis tends to look for philosophical thought systems and nothing else. Students taught this approach to art end up with a myopic critical vision. Furthermore, they end up spending their time “using” art instead of “receiving” it with the result that art stops being what Lewis says it should be most: “for fun.”60

Imagine reducing the art of cooking to mere nutrition. We certainly need to know about it in order to be healthy, but if the joy of taste is sacrificed to nutritional facts, then food is reduced to a burden our taste buds must merely endure. Food needs to have flavor! And art needs to delight and to give us tastes of the real. This means it should first be approached experientially and imaginatively before it is ever viewed philosophically.

Art’s Purposes

None of this is to say that Lewis completely rejects the “using” of art in education. Though he primarily values art apart from its truth-bearing potentials, he nevertheless strikes a balance for us between our desires to enjoy art for what it is on the one hand and use it for edification on the other:

The purpose of education has been described by Milton as that of fitting a man “to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.”…Aristotle would substantially agree with this, but would add the conception that it should also be a preparation for leisure. … Vocational training, on the other hand, prepares the pupil not for leisure, but for work; it aims at making not a good man but a good banker, a good electrician, a good scavenger, or a good surgeon. You see at once that education is essentially for freemen and vocational training for slaves. … If education is beaten by training, civilization dies.61

Christian thinking about the arts—here I mean the thinking of American, Protestant, Conservative, Evangelical Christianity—has suffered from pragmatism and didacticism. Rather than “enjoy” or “appreciate” art, we “use” it like dishes and cars to serve functions we consider important. What Lewis is saying is that, if art can serve the Kingdom of God, it is a good thing, but art created for the purpose of spreading the Kingdom of God (which is to say, art created for any purpose other than what art is for) will generally be bad, that is, inartistic. To use Lewis’s terms, art thus becomes vocational, training beats education, and civilization (as it might be influenced by Christians) dies. Bad Christian art ends up defeating its own purposes. It does not reach anyone, and it quickly fades into obscurity.

It is by happy coincidence and thanks to Lewis’s unusual spelling of the word “anaesthetics”62 that I learned the words “aesthetic” (the study of beauty), and “anesthetic” (the thing we most want the doctor to give us when going under the knife) come from the same root word, having to do with feeling or sensation. I am convinced that much of modern American evangelical Christianity suffers from an anesthetic view of art.63 The result is Christian art which bores us to sleep. Contrary to an anesthetic, utilitarian view of art, Lewis, like his friend Tolkien, valued the making of fairy tale stories (for example), especially when produced as an act of “sub-creation,” of doing on a finite level what God did infinitely at the creation.64 The purpose of such sub-creation is not to make something to be used for other purposes, but to participate in pleasure and worship in acting out in ourselves the Divine impulse of creativity given us as bearers of the image of God.65 Applied to the arts in general, the point is that we make art for the delight of making. That act alone is sufficient reason for a book’s, painting’s, or movie’s existence—it is made out of delight, out of a God-given desire to imitate Him. It is an act of worship.

But the by-product of such activity is art that can have an effect on our civilization. Lewis concludes that, to be truly effective in affecting culture, we must stop making the affecting of culture our first goal:66 “We must attack the enemy’s lines of communication, [this is true. But w]hat we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent.”67 Recall Lewis’s statement that leisure and play are of serious concern, but we cannot approach them too seriously.68 Here he is saying the same thing about art. Unless we are doing it in our leisure, with a sense of play, and out of our God-given creative (or sub-creative) impulses, it will not be good art. All we have to do is think of the difference between The Passion of the Christ69 and Facing the Giants70 for the point to become obvious. Admittedly, it is also counter-intuitive. But this, according to Lewis, is because we live in a fallen world in which play is frivolous:

Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for “down here” is not their natural place. Here they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.71

And art, then, can perhaps only be serious when it is created in play.

The Moral Imagination

Once again, though Lewis believed literature and other arts were not meant to be “used” for their truth value but “received” for their experiential delight, he did acknowledge the important relationship between art and moral development. In an essay called “Horrid Red Things,” Lewis argues that one of the things Christians must do to reach “modern” people is to “try to teach them something about the difference between thinking and imagining.”72 He illustrates:

I once heard a lady tell her daughter that if you ate too many aspirin tablets you would die. “But why?” asked the child. “If you squash them you don’t find any horrid red things inside them.” Obviously, when this child thought of poison she not only had an attendant image of “horrid red things”, but she actually believed that poison was red. And this is an error. … [However,] if I, staying at the house, had raised a glass of what looked like water to my lips, and the child had said, “Don’t drink that. Mummie says it’s poisonous,” I should have been foolish to disregard the warning. … There is thus a distinction not only between thought and imagination in general, but even between thought and those images which the thinker (falsely) believes to be true.73

The little girl clearly knew that poison was a bad thing, but she also thought that it was red. She had a right idea and a wrong image. And this wrong image could clearly lead the little girl to taking poison someday, not because she thinks poison good, but because the object she is about to swallow does not look poisonous to her.

Lewis presents this dichotomy again in The Screwtape Letters where a newly converted Christian is floundering in a sea of images confused with ideas. Elder demon Screwtape writes to hip pupil Wormwood about how best to tempt his patient:

At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of “Christians” in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real—though of course an unconscious—difficulty to him.74

Consider how the American church today, without quite knowing how it was working, has had some success in reversing this trend through converting the classical worship service into the contemporary celebration of voices and instruments. Removing the images that got in the way of belief—stained-glass stuffiness, hardened pews and faces, boring liturgy, and pasted smiles—the church in the last 30 years has been able to draw people to the truth of Christ, not by restructuring Christian content, as liberal Christianity has attempted to do, but by reconstructing the imaginative art forms (primarily in music and architecture) by which it is presented.

Lewis saw this exact need. At the writing of the Narnia books, there were those who believed that Lewis began by asking himself how he could share Christ with children, which he thought best doable through fairy tales. Then he supposedly drew up a list of Christian truths he wanted to share with kids and put them into allegories. Says Lewis, “This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”75 Lewis follows his own advice regarding the earlier point that we should not make art for the purpose of affecting culture, but rather culture will be affected if we make good art. His own processes were imaginative, creative, and his intentions were far from didactic.

More important to the current point is what Lewis says after he recognized that fairy tales were the best form he could find for all the creative energy he was about to unleash on paper:

I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. … But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?76

Without being “teachy,” Lewis teaches through Narnia, and Christians have begun to do the same again in our culture, making some inroads in music if fewer in literature,77 film,78 and other art forms.79

The point is a simple one: human beings pursue knowledge of the real through two modes of thought: reason and imagination. The first deals in abstract language and propositional statements. The second deals in images and concrete (even vicarious) experiences. Both matter for knowing, but imagination has been ignored or reduced in importance since the Enlightenment, and imagination is arguably more important in moral education than is reason.80

This is Lewis’s point in The Abolition of Man:

St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in “ordinate affections” or “just sentiments” will easily find the first principles in Ethics: but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful. … All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.81

In plainer words: an imaginative understanding of goodness—one gleaned from story, song, beauty, one produced by an education that ties real qualities of the real to the feelings they ought to invoke—must precede a reasoned knowledge of moral precepts. Or, to use my anesthesia metaphor, a true aesthetic recognizes that good art teaches us how we ought to feel about things—objects, places, experiences—while bad art anesthetizes us to the good which ought to govern us. Lewis calls the products of such bad education, “Men without Chests.”82 I might call them patients etherized on an operating table.83

Teach second graders the Ten Commandments all you want; it is the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal that they will hold on to when someone questions commandment one before them. Lewis says that “no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.”84 If reason is to rule the appetites, it can only do so through the power of a third element, an imaginative sense of what is right or ought to be or (the technical term that I use), cool.

Coolness is what drew many of us to Christ. Whether it was the experience of a weekend-long Christian Rave, the raucous joy of an Alt-Band concert praising God, the fantasy story by Lewis or Tolkien that drew our curiosity, the wise mentor, the high school friend who seemed to have it all together, the hip youth minister or the tattooed-and-pierced coffee house friend who showed the beauty or nobility of Christ to us before we ever thought Christianity might be true—that was what drew us first.

In the passage on the creation of the Narnia stories above, Lewis connects story to stealing “past watchful dragons,” that is, to recovering right moral sensibilities through imagination as well as envisioning Christianity by the same. His own poster child for the failure of abstract, story-less ethical education which leaves imagination and right response to experience out of the equation appears in his Narnia novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It begins, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”85 Eustace is the worst kind of child Lewis could imagine: one raised by “modern” parents. Eustace hates fairytales, preferring books of information containing “pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.”86 Eustace is pretentious, petty, spiteful, and selfish. He is cruel to animals (even talking ones), steals water on a sea voyage when low supplies demand strict rations, acts a coward while hiding behind the self-righteousness of claiming to be a pacifist, and complains when the only girl on the voyage gets the only private cabin.

Eustace’s problem is that he has not read any imaginative books like fairy-tales or adventure stories and so has not received proper moral instruction. He does not even recognize a dragon when he sees one because “he had read none of the right books.”87 Upon approaching a dragon’s cave, Eustace is confused by what he finds there. Says Lewis: “Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons”88 (today we might add that Eustace had not seen any of the right films either but was stuck with educational shows on Public Broadcast-ing Stations and low-budget Christian videos about children behaving nicely). Later in the novel, Eustace’s cousin Edmund is able to solve a mystery because he is the “only one of the party who had read several detective stories.”89 In other words, his imagination has been trained through the experience of fiction so that, in his thinking, he is capable of seeing what others cannot.

What Eustace most needs is to experience reality so that he can know with his heart and not just his head; however, because he is too far gone into the abstract, theoretical shadow world of facts, figures, and practical applications, he needs more than just a dose of reality. He needs a higher reality, a world of the fantastic far more real than his own. He gets Narnia. Eustace is pulled into Narnia where, having learned before only in the abstract, about lifeless things, he can now learn by concrete experience of the really real. It takes becoming a dragon himself,90 and then being “undragoned” by Aslan,91 but Eustace does finally learn what his cold, analytical heart had been missing.

It can glorify God, speak truth, and be used to build His Kingdom. It can even be used for moral development and instruction. But it can be used for none of these purposes if they become our primary reasons for making art or receiving it. C. S. Lewis is clear: we make art out of pleasure, for play, out of our leisure, and because we bear the creative impulse of a creative God. And we read, view, and listen to art because it is fun, it gives us new experiences, it delights our imaginations, and it gives us greater vision. It does not drug us to sleep; it wakes us to the full. It is winter in eastern Kentucky when I write these words. A very dark and sleepy time. I look forward to spring, when the robins come back to the hills. And I look forward to the summer, when this film issue of CSR is released. Maybe it will raise a whirlwind.

Cite this article
Charlie W. Starr, “Faith without Film is Dull: C. S. Lewis Corrects Evangelicals on Art, Movies, and Worldview Analysis”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 40:4 , 355-374


  1. Or Art in General.
  2. Star Wars, directed by George Lucas (Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox, 1977).
  3. Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott (Los Angeles: Warner Brothers, 1982).
  4. Blue Velvet, directed by David Lynch (Los Angeles: MGM, 1986).
  5. C. S. Lewis, “27 March 1951,” in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006), 105. See below for additional references.
  6. Of course there are some notable exceptions to my generalizations about this evangelical wrongheadedness on culture, but focusing on Lewis as primer-on-the-arts means there is not room in this essay to explore writings on Christianity and culture (especially film) which are getting it right. See, for example, Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor, A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003); Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi, eds., Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005); Daniel Treier, Mark Husbands and Roger Lundin, The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007); and Brian Godawa, Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story & Imagination (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). Still, the problems I address in this essay are well represented in contemporary Christian writing on culture (especially film), and among ministers and laity. See, for ex-ample, the anti-pop-culture, analysis focused, culture war approach in chapter 44 of Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1999), 465-475; and chapters 1, 3 and 4 of Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 31-62, 97-150 where, following a model cre-ated by Francis Schaeffer, Pearcey offers an epistemology which fails to take into account the epistemological implications of the human imagination (see especially pages 114-115), and misreads Lewis’s theory of the relationship between truth and myth (because she leaves imagination out of her epistemology—see pages 119-121; I should note that, since the writ-ing of her book, Pearcey has read and endorsed Godawa’s Word Pictures, and I look forward to seeing how Godawa’s theology of imagination impacts Pearcey’s writing on the arts); Pearcey furthermore champions no approach to art other than the analysis of worldviews (see pages 56-57 and 149). Even a book published just last year by syndicated Christian film critic Scott Nehring, You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens (Right-Line, 2010), exhibits several flaws which Lewis’s understanding of the arts corrects. While part two of Nehring’s book takes an excellent approach to film viewing, combining analysis with imaginative encounter (see pages 101-176), part one of his book recalls too much of a culture war approach to film (pages 1-97) and part three (pages 179-278) reduces film criti-cism to focusing on a film’s uses (see Lewis’s argument against this approach below) and offers no theology of pleasure for a pasttime he clearly (and therefore with some amount of guilt) enjoys (see chapters 26 and 27 and especially page 206). I must also acknowledge that, in my attempt to pack in as much as possible of Lewis’s writing on the arts in these limited pages, I have also had to set aside other Lewis critics who have given thought to some of the issues raised in this essay. See, for example, Peter J. Schakel, Reason and Imagination in C. S. Lewis: A Study of Till We Have Faces (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984); Bruce L. Edwards, Jr., A Rhetoric of Reading: C. S. Lewis’s Defense of Western Literacy (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1986); Peter J. Schakel and Charles A. Huttar, eds., Word and Story in C. S. Lewis (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1991); Peter J. Schakel, Imagination and the Arts in C. S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2002); and my own essay, “Meaning, Meanings and Epistemology in C. S. Lewis,” Mythlore: A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Mythopoeic Literature 25.3/4 (2007): 161-182. A few critics have written extensively regarding Lewis’s ideas about film and mass media: Justin Phillips, C. S. Lewis at the BBC: Messages of Hope in the Darkness of War (London: HarperCollins, 2002); Terry Lindvall, “Embalmed Images: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Film,” Christian Broadcasting Network, accessed December 30, 2010, LewisFilm.aspx; and my essay, “The Silver Chair and the Silver Screen: C. S. Lewis on Myth, Fairy Tale and Film,” in Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth and Religion in C. S.Lewis’ Chronicles, ed. Shanna Caughey (Dallas: Benbella Books, 2005), 3-23.
  7. Of the various topics which could be discussed under the umbrella of cultural analysis, I here intend, following Lewis’s lead, to focus on the arts.
  8. C. S. Lewis, “Christianity and Culture,” in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins, 2000), 85.
  9. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce: A Dream (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1973), 83.
  10. C. S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity Reason and Romanti-cism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1943), 202.
  11. C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt Brace Jova-novich, 1955), 17-18.
  12. Ibid., 18.
  13. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Westwood, NJ: Barbour & Co., 1952), 115.
  14. Lewis, Regress, 205.
  15. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins, 2000), 98.
  16. Lewis, Regress, 203. This core Lewisian theme of encountering God through earthly beauty is played out with phenomenal power in the 1999 film American Beauty in the character of Ricky Fitts, a troubled teen from a dysfunctional home who nevertheless has learned to experience the transcendent through even the most commonplace beauties. The central moment in this thematic development is when Ricky shows his girlfriend a video he’s made of a plastic grocery bag caught in a whirlwind against a brick wall—the bag “danced” with him for “fifteen minutes” and he realized then “that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever.” He concludes, “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it … and my heart is going to cave in” (American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes [Los Angeles: Dream Works, 1999]).
  17. Lewis, Regress, 203.
  18. C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 19.
  19. Ibid., 82-83. See, especially, all of chapter eight for Lewis’s discussion on the connections and disconnections between art and reality and art and truth.
  20. Ibid., 137, 140-41.
  21. Ibid., 130.
  22. As recounted, for example, in William D. Romanowski, Pop Culture Wars: Religion & the Role of Entertainment in American Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996). Lewerenz and Nicolosi show, in the very tack which their book takes, an attempt to move beyond this approach, arguing that “Blaming Hollywood has to be considered a failed tactic that needs to be abandoned,” Lewerenz, Screen, 9. And I was especially pleased to find a new attitude toward discussions on Christianity and culture in their book upon reading it. Detweiler and Taylor claim that they “approach popular culture first and foremost as fans,” Detweiler, A Matrix, 8.
  23. As noted in Pearcey, Total Truth, above.
  24. Lewis, “Culture,” 86.
  25. Ibid., 86-87.
  26. Ibid., 87.
  27. Lewis, Experiment, 132. See also page 82.
  28. Lewis, “Culture,” 88.
  29. Ibid., 89.
  30. Ibid., 90.
  31. Ibid., 91.
  32. See below as to why these elements matter.
  33. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, directed by Irvin Kirshner (Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox, 1980).
  34. C. S. Lewis, “Bluspels and Flalansferes: A Semantic Nightmare,” in Selected Literary Essays, ed. Walter Hooper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 265.
  35. C. S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact,” in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins, 2000), 141.
  36. Ibid., 141n
  37. Ibid., 141. The Latin means, “in this valley of separation.”
  38. Ibid., 140.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Ibid., 141.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Lewis, “Bluspels,” 265.
  43. I do not have room to cover everything Lewis said about film. Those interested in his specific film references should look at the essays by Terry Lindvall and myself referenced above. Those with solid Lewis libraries might consider looking up the following references (which represent only a taste of everything Lewis said about film): C. S. Lewis, “1 September 1933” in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 2 Books, Broadcasts, and the War: 1931-1949, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2004), 120; Lewis, “24 January 1949,” Ibid., 910; Lewis, “On Stories,” in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Harvest/HBJ, 1966), 16-17; Lewis, “3 August 1956,” in Collected Letters 3, 776; Lewis, “2 April 1963,” in Ibid., 1423; Lewis, “25 August 1956,” in Ibid., 783; C. S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost (London: Oxford University Press, 1942), 58.
  44. C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald: An Anthology (London: Fount Paperbacks, 1946), 26-27. Emphasis added.
  45. Lewis, Paradise, 57. See also, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”: “For Jung, fairy tale liberates Archetypes which dwell in the collective unconscious, and when we read a good fairy tale we are obeying the old precept ‘Know thyself’. I would venture to add to this my own theory, not indeed of the Kind as a whole, but of one feature in it: I mean, the presence of beings other than human which yet behave, in varying degrees, humanly: the giants and dwarfs and talking beasts. I believe these to be at least (for they may have many other sources of power and beauty) an admirable hieroglyphic which conveys psychology, types of character, more briefly than novelistic presentation and to readers whom novelistic presentation could not yet reach.Consider Mr [sic] Badger in The Wind in the Willows—that extraordinary amalgam of high rank, coarse manners, gruffness, shyness, and goodness. The child who has once met Mr Badger has ever afterwards, in its bones, a knowledge of humanity and of English social history which it could not get in any other way” (C. S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley [London: Harper Collins, 2000], 27). Emphasis added.
  46. I am not arguing that all film is mythic but that film is capable of communicating mythically.
  47. J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, ed. C. S. Lewis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 48.
  48. Unbreakable, directed by M. Night Shyamalan (Burbank: Touchstone, 2000).
  49. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), 3-46. Campbell’s “monomyth” is expanded and applied nicely to screen writing in Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd ed. (Los Angeles: Michael Wiese Productions, 2007).
  50. Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1973), 45-92.
  51. Even language when used in film possesses this concrete quality (see below).
  52. Barfield, Diction, 80.
  53. Edward Scissorhands, directed by Tim Burton (Los Angeles: Twentieth Century Fox, 1990).
  54. The best example I have seen of this delivery is in the revelation scene at the end of The Sixth Sense (The Sixth Sense, directed by M. Night Shyamalan [Los Angeles: Barry Mendel Productions, 1999]) where images and phrases come flooding back to the hero and the audience with the power and immediacy of concrete experience. In contrast, I think of the failure of the long expositional encounter between Neo and the Architect in the second of the Matrix films (The Matrix Reloaded, directed by the Wachowski Brothers [Los Angeles: Warner Brothers, 2003])—a perfect example of language so abstract, the audience cannot experience it but only make sense of it via analysis through several cycles of rewinding and replaying.
  55. C. S. Lewis, “The Language of Religion,” in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins, 2000), 263.
  56. Ibid., 262.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Ibid., 265.
  59. If my argument here seems extreme, keep in mind two points: 1. This is an essay on C. S. Lewis’s approach to art, and while Lewis saw a place for worldview analysis, he approached art almost exclusively in other ways, emphasizing experience, imagination, and aesthetics; 2. I am not advocating the abandonment of reason, a relativistic post-modern epistemology, or even the complete abandonment of worldview analysis when approaching art. What I am advocating is an approach which balances reason and imagination, truth and beauty, theology and aesthetics.
  60. Lewis, “Culture,” 90.
  61. C. S. Lewis, “Our English Syllabus,” in Rehabilitations and Other Essays (London: Oxford University Press, 1939), 81-82.
  62. Lewis, “26 October 1955,” in Collected Letters 3, 667.
  63. Some excellent exceptions granted (see below).
  64. See Tolkien, “Fairy,” 74-75, 86-89.
  65. C. S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins, 2000), 509.
  66. See below for Lewis’s own example of how the Narnia books came into being.
  67. C. S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins, 2000), 150. Lewis also says, “It is not the books written in direct defense of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materi-alistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him [the anti-Christian]. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian” (Ibid).
  68. Lewis, “Culture,” 90.
  69. The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson (Los Angeles: Icon, 2004).
  70. Facing the Giants, directed by Alex Kendrick (Orange CA: Carmel Entertainment, 2006).
  71. C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964), 92-93.
  72. C. S. Lewis, “‘Horrid Red Things,’” in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins, 2000), 128.
  73. Ibid., 128-29.
  74. C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Collier Books, 1942), 12-13.
  75. C. S. Lewis, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said,” in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins, 2000), 527.
  76. Ibid., 527-528.
  77. A notable exception in literature: Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (New York: Picador, 2004), which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.
  78. Granted such wonderful exceptions as The Passion of the Christ; To end All Wars, directed by David L. Cunningham (Kailua-Kona, HI: Argyll Film Partners, 2001); Amazing Grace, directed by Michael Apted (Burbank: FourBoys Films, 2006); and Henry Poole Is Here, directed by Mark Pellington (Los Angeles: Camelot Pictures, 2008).
  79. Some notoriety has been achieved in recent years by artist and writer Makoto Fujimura. See an introduction to his accomplishments and works at Makoto Fujimura, accessed December 31, 2010,
  80. See the well researched argument in William Kilpatrick, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong: And What We Can Do About It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), especially chapters 7 (129-143) and 9 (165-171); and chapter 1 of Vigen Guroian, Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
  81. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man: Reflections on Education with Special Reference to The Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools (New York: Collier Books, 1947), 26-27.
  82. Ibid., 34.
  83. To paraphrase Lewis’s least favorite line from Eliot’s “Prufrock” (T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th ed., eds. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy [New York: Norton, 2005])—see C. S. Lewis, “A Confes-sion,” in Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1992), 1, where Lewis waxes poetic on his inability, after 20 years of looking at evenings, to see how any of them might “suggest / A patient etherized upon a table…” (lines 4-5)
  84. Lewis, Abolition, 33-34.
  85. C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: Harper Collins, 1952), 1.
  86. Ibid., 2.
  87. Ibid., 89.
  88. Ibid., 92.
  89. Ibid., 131.
  90. Ibid., 94-97.
  91. Ibid., 113-117.

Charlie W. Starr

Charlie W. Starr is a professor of English and Humanities at Kentucky Christian University.