For the last week our televisions and newspapers have been taken up with commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As I write this, we are just an hour away from bells tolling across the land. It is right that we pause and remember the event that changed so many lives and in ways we won’t ever fully unravel, changed a generation of Americans and altered the cultural landscape of our nation.
Two other giants of the 20th century also died on November 22, 1963 and deserve our remembrances and appreciations. Perhaps the most important Christian apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis died in his beloved Oxford the same day one of the most prophetic writers of the century, Aldous Huxley passed away in a bed in Los Angeles. The death of both men was overshadowed by Kennedy’s assassination and have been for the last fifty years. Still, these writers had a profound and lasting influence on minds and imaginations around the world and, at least in the case of Lewis, it might well be that his influence over the last fifty years has been more wide and profound than was that legacy cut short in Dallas.
Nearly all of Lewis’ books are still available in print and in just the last couple of years at least two new volumes have been salvaged from his records and made available to the public. His life has been the subject of a major motion picture. His children’s books continue to baptize the imaginations of our young and have been made into movies that have reached even more. His Christian apologetics have converted atheists, like he once was himself, and instructed anew millions raised in the church. His scholarship stands the test of time. His adult fiction, particularly his novel That Hideous Strength has never been more timely. His The Abolition of Man remains a powerful tonic to the moral relativism of the modern world.
Later today Clives Staples Lewis joins the likes of some of the greatest literary artists in the English speaking world including Chaucer, Browning, Blake, Dickens, Austin, and Kipling, with a special memorial in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey. The honor is more than well-deserved.
Aldous Huxley’s literary influence has not remained nearly as influential as has Lewis’ but his Brave New World remains one of the greatest warnings against the trends of the modern world. From genetic engineering to drugs for sexual enhancement, few writers were as prescient about the way our culture would decline into decadence over the last seventy years. His imaginary world built on the elimination of pain and the maximization of mindless contentment deserves reading and re-reading in our age of electronic distraction, declining education standards, and sexual mores as loose as the novelist could ever have imagined.
As we commemorate our fallen political figure today, let’s also remember the literary giants who warned us, prepared us, and continue to inspire and instruct those who still read books in our own Brave New World full, as it is, of hideous strengths.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This essay has been reprinted with gracious permission of the author and originally appeared on the Remnants of Imagination.