By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
Although Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) – known as ‘Jack’ to his friends and family – is best-known for his seven children’s fantasy novels set in the land of Narnia, C. S. Lewis wrote a number of other works – fiction and non-fiction, science fiction and literary criticism – which have become classics in their field.
Below, we introduce ten of the very best works of C. S. Lewis, which any Lewis fan should seek out. They are not arranged in any preferential order.
1. The Allegory of Love.
Lewis’s most famous book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is often described as Christian allegory – although Lewis himself denied that it was an allegory.
Nevertheless, over a decade before he published that first Narnia book, Lewis had already made his name as a literary critic with this 1936 book which argues that medieval courtly love poetry did more to revolutionise our conception of romantic love than the Renaissance.
Recommended edition: The Allegory of Love: A Study In Medieval Tradition (Canto Classics)
2. The Magician’s Nephew.
Although it was the sixth published Narnia novel, in 1955, this novel was a prequel, set before the events of the earlier published novels, and so is often named as the ‘first’ book in the Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis took the name Narnia from an old map which included Narni, a region of Italy).
One of Lewis’s inspirations for writing a prequel was a query from a friend about the lantern which stands in the middle of Narnia, in the place where Lucy meets the faun Mr Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
This novel, then, is a kind of Old Testament creation story, telling how Aslan created the world of Narnia 1,000 years before the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, thanks in part to a lantern taken from our world (London in the year 1900, to be precise).
Recommended edition: Magician’s Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia)
3. The Screwtape Letters.
This 1942 novel is a work of Christian apologetics, and takes the form of a series of letters written by Screwtape, a demon, to his nephew, Wormwood. The novel is, first and foremost, about temptation and the Christian’s responsibility to resist it. It’s witty and satirical while Lewis also raises some interesting theological questions through the epistolary form.
4. Out of the Silent Planet.
The first in a loose trilogy of science-fiction novels Lewis wrote, whose protagonist (a philologist) was based on Lewis’s friend and fellow Inkling, J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1938, it’s Lewis’s earliest great work of fiction and a planetary romance influenced by David Lindsay’s (odd) 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus.
Although its pacing leaves a lot to be desired and it isn’t exactly action-packed, it’s a noteworthy early work of British science fiction.
Recommended edition: Out of the Silent Planet (The Cosmic Trilogy)
5. The Problem of Pain.
Published two years before The Screwtape Letters, in 1940, this book takes another theological issue – in this case, the problem of pain and suffering and why a loving God would allow it to exist in the world – and explores it, but this time in a non-fiction work.
Recommended edition: Problem of Pain (C. Lewis Signature Classic) (C. S. Lewis Signature Classic)
6. The Discarded Image.
Another work of non-fiction, this was his last book, published posthumously in 1964 following Lewis’ death in November the previous year (famously, he died on the same day that JFK was assassinated – the same day on which Aldous Huxley also died).
It’s an accessible and highly readable introduction to the various philosophical and scientific belief systems underpinning medieval and Renaissance literature, shot through with Lewis’s strong opinions on the literature of both periods.
7. The Silver Chair.
Along with The Horse and His Boy, this is probably the most neglected of the seven Chronicles of Narnia, although it’s less easy to see why in the case of The Silver Chair. It doesn’t feature any of the core Pevensie children, instead focusing on Eustace Scrubb (from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and his schoolmate Jill Pole, who escape school bullies by entering the world of Narnia.
A cast of some of Lewis’s best characters, including Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle and the villainous Lady of the Green Kirtle, make this one of Lewis’s best Narnia novels.
Recommended edition: The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 6)
8. Prince Caspian.
The second published novel in the Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian was published in 1951 and sees the four Pevensie children who appeared in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe return to Narnia to help the titular prince to win the crown. There are some nice references to events and objects which featured in the first novel, which was set some 1,300 years earlier in Narnian history.
Recommended edition: Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia)
9. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
This is the ‘sea story’ in the seven-part Chronicles of Narnia: this time, it is not a wardrobe but a painting of a ship that acts as the portal through to Narnia. Lucy and Edmund, the two youngest Pevensie children, are transported back into Narnia along with their cousin, the unpopular Eustance Clarence Scrubb, a boy so objectionable that he ‘almost deserved’ his name.
The third Narnia book to be published and the fifth in terms of the series’ internal chronology, it’s one of the most exciting adventures in the whole heptalogy.
Recommended edition: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia)
10. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
As mentioned above, this 1950 novel, the first published book in the Chronicles of Narnia, is viewed by most as an allegory for the New Testament story of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Four siblings, staying at an eccentric professor’s house to escape the air raids of the Second World War, discover a portal at the back of a wardrobe, which leads through to the snow-covered land of Narnia where it is ‘always winter but never Christmas’. The book, published in 1950, launched the fantasy series for which Lewis is now best-known. We have analysed this classic novel in depth here.
Recommended edition: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia)