Wednesday, October 22, 2014 · 2:25 a.m.

Chattanooga's C. S. Lewis scene

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Fans of "The Chronicles of Narnia" bring the book to life through the library of films based on the books and the board game. (Photo: Charlotta Wasteson)

No childhood is complete without a full trek through “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Thanks to Chattanooga’s enterprising literary community, the exploration doesn’t have to end in adolescence.

The C. S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga and the annual C. S. Lewis Lecture at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga keep the conversation alive, allowing members and the general public to relive fond memories of Aslan the lion and discover new depths of the author’s work.

“The beauty of his writing is imaginatively satisfying,” said David Beckmann, a founding member of the C. S. Lewis Society and an Episcopal priest. “Our group is something that anyone can come to who’s interested in philosophy, theology or just fantasy stories. There’s something there for everybody.”

The organization began as a book group among friends in January 2005 and has since grown to a diverse gathering of readers representing all age groups. In addition to the monthly meetings and discussions, the society actively hosts a series of speakers to present their own studies on Lewis.

Recent evening events have included authors, literary critics, professors and members of the clergy such as Michael Ward, the Rev. Will Vaus, and Lyle Dorsett, who spoke about “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the breadth of Lewis’ theological thought, and the connectivity of the Irish author’s works and life, respectively.

A higher level
Established in 1983, the C. S. Lewis Lectureship at UTC offers a similar opportunity for Lewis lovers and those of any religious background interested in traversing the complex world of theology rendered in intelligible terms.

The annual March event pulls local Lewis authorities from UTC, Covenant College, Bryan College, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the C. S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga. Funded through endowments from the UC Foundation and the Generosity Trust of Chattanooga, the lectureship has featured professors from the University of Notre Dame, Beeson Divinity School, Boston College and Baylor University.

Next year, Marquette University scholar Stephen Long will share his distinctly ecumenical perspective on any number of topics, including theology, language, economics and social order. 

“[The lectureship] is modeled after similar lectureships at other universities and was launched as a thank you to Chattanooga supporters of IVCF,” Dr. Doug Kutz, chairman of the planning committee, said. “Speakers are selected for their ability to perpetuate the Christian and literary legacy of C. S. Lewis.”

Why Lewis?
Kutz noted that it was in his freshman year of college that he discovered Lewis and developed an enduring appetite for the arresting material. The professor of chemistry is hardly the only reader enthralled by the Irishman’s work.

There are countless C. S. Lewis societies—New York, California, Florida, Central Massachusetts and Oxford, to name a few—and annual conferences and festivals celebrating his legacy and continuing to critique his literary and theological contributions. 

When thinking about the author’s draw—the reason Lewis more so than his contemporaries remains a modern preoccupation—the Chattanooga Lewisites point to his eloquence in translating a wide range of topics into accessible prose for an interested audience.

The Kilns, Lewis' Oxford residence, is now a center for scholarly retreat and study. (Photo: Holly Hayes)

This charm extended to a convert’s view of Christianity, an intriguing subject given the present culture of terse religious discourse, which is perhaps the largest clue as to his persistent appeal.   

“Most of all, he was a generous writer, who wrote about Christianity in a way that took into account the perspective of outsiders,” said Dr. Wilfred McClay, Suntrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities at UTC and a member of the planning committee. “[Lewis] did not get caught up in all the quarrels that beset the Christian world, but sought instead to boil things down to the essence of that matter, to what he called ‘Mere Christianity.’ And he did it so successfully that no one since has come close to matching him.”

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