A tale of two Jacks. One man's initials led his close friends to call him Jack. The other man decided from an early age that he would be known as Jack, and so his close friends called him thus. One man was statesman. The other was a student and a scholar. No matter how different their lives may have been, and no matter how different their legacies are viewed, one thing is true: both men died on November 22, 1963. Of course, what grabbed the headlines and media attention that fateful day was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Meanwhile across the pond, the other Jack died as well. But C.S. Lewis's death was largely overshadowed by the grave news from Dallas.
As I scrolled through the various news feeds on social media at lunch today, I was pleased to see that there was an equal, if not greater amount of posts concerning the other Jack. Today Lewis was honored with a place in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. The memorial, which was unveiled today, includes one of my favorite Lewis quotes. And Lewis's recognition as an author, thinker, and scholar now rests among the cloud of literary witnesses along with Shakespeare, Chaucer, and many others. There's a bit of irony here, which, perhaps Lewis would find humorous. He began his academic career with ambitions of being a poet but soon found his skill and wit useful and publishable elsewhere. And yet now he is memorialized among many of the great poets of the ages.
Much more still could be said about the legacy of Lewis, which, from my perspective, is greater and far more extensive. There is no doubt that President Kennedy did many great things and his legacy deserves an important place in the annals of history. However, the genius of Lewis's work and legacy was, and continues to be, found in his proclamation and defense of Christ. This is of paramount importance. I would rather be a Narnian any day than sit at the round table of Camelot. As it turns out, Lewis's mythical world is full of the richness of reality while Kennedy's Camelot is the true fantasy. There is a world (even worlds) of difference between the two. I would rather be a door keeper at Aslan's wardrobe than dine at the tables of a state dinner.
Perhaps, to paraphrase a letter of Lewis's friend J.R.R. Tolkien, it is better to let the man's writing speak for itself rather than listen to all the commentary (although there is a good deal of noteworthy substance out there today on that front - and thank God for it!). I look forward to the day when the leaves no longer fall from trees and the dead poets' society will carry on with a resounding Alleluia before the Lamb's throne.
Tolkien's words, I think, capture my thoughts about Lewis's death far better than I could eulogize. Here are a couple selections from his letters on the death of his good friend.
(To his daughter Priscilla on November 26, 1963)
Thank you so much for your letter...So far I have felt the normal feelings of a man my age - like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: this one feels like an axe-blow near the roots.
(To his son Michael in November 1963)
We were separated first by the sudden apparition of Charles Williams, and then by his marriage. Of which he never even told me: I learned of it long after the event. But we owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie with the deep affection that it begot, remains. He was a great man of whom the cold-blooded official obituaries only scraped the surface, in places with injustice.
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. p. 341.