I have always had a complicated relationship with C.S Lewis. I think I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia when I was about six. It was at a cousin's house (my cousins were all male and playing with them was not much fun till I learned to love football) - he had The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and it looked great (I had just read The Hobbit and found out that fantasy was a marvellous thing)So I read it that afternoon in a couple of hours, sitting between the back of the sofa and the window. And then I found that my school library had them. The next few months were spent in reading and rereading them. I loved Narnia.
Somehow, the religious allusions in Narnia escaped me for years. I'm not sure what this says about me as a literature student, but maybe I was just a very trusting young child. When I found out, it didn't particularly bother me. The school I was in had a lot to do with my religion (the parents did not interfere) and while allegedly Christian it didn't really go into the nastier (to me) bits of the faith. Basically, there was this book with some fun stories, and there was this loving God, and that was it. I didn't really have to believe in Christianity, as long as I believed in God that was enough.
As I grew older and grew away from religion, I still admired his version of it. The Screwtape Letters was sheer delight ("She's the sort of woman who lives for others. You can tell the others by their hunted expressions").
Till We Have Faces (picked up secondhand in good condition but with drawings in purple crayon at random places) was awe inspiring. That was a version of religion I could respect, if not follow. How can we meet them face to face till we have faces? Till We Have Faces was Real religion, blood spilled in dark places.
The Cosmic Trilogy I read in the wrong order completely. I read Perelandra (the second book) when I was about ten, at a guesthouse in Panchgani the same week I read The Lord Of The Rings. I found That Hideous Strength (the third) in the school library. That book was issued more times that year than in the previous ten put together. Once by Shikha, who I forced to read it, but the rest of the time by me. Then I found Out of the Silent Planet (book one) at the BCL - in the children's section, which was closed to us adult type readers, (They also had McEwan's The Child in Time and Joyce's Portrait... there. Why? I don't know.) But I found the series in a three-in-one book with one of the roadside booksellers in Saket. And there was much rejoicing.
Out of the Silent Planet is a comparitively light book to read, worth it for the gorgeous descriptions, the imagination, and the Sorns (also seen in Alan Moore's LX2). Perelandra has loads of vaguely Christian discussion relating to the Fall. It's good for the arguments. That Hideous Strength is a masterpiece. The theology is not so hityouoverthehead as Perelandra's, and it's a subtler, scarier novel with a resurrected Merlin bought in for good measure.
For a couple of years now, I've been angry with Lewis. For what he says about Eve in Paradise Lost. For what he does to Susan. For all kinds of things, based on a larger issue which was that an author I had allowed to affect me so deeply honestly believed that I was going to hell. And I felt betrayed, because he'd gone and created something for me to love, and had then made not-applicable to me because I wasn't a good little Christian child. I even felt offended from a racial point of view - the God that the brown skinned Narnians believed in was sadly deceiving them, while the white Narnians were completely enlightened. There's even a bit in OOTSP where he makes a positive reference to the White Man's Burden.
The problem is, though, I cannot stop loving the man. I feel a kind of exasperated tolerance for the more ridiculous of his views, but he's still one of the greatest writers I know of. I remember lines from his work now, books I haven't read for years. He and Tolkien are like two old fashioned father types, for me. (In the immortal words of June - you love him even though he thinks fags go to hell, women belong in kitchen and george bush is a fantastic dude. or any indian equivalent of that. that was an example, i doubt tolkien would like dubya.)
So no, I don't like his religious beliefs. Or the fact that he felt he had to beat my six year old self over the head with them. Why do I respect him? Because we had a lovely theological argument in class today about the Fall, and I came home and too out Perelandra because a teacher had asked to borrow it. And I sat all afternoon and finished Out of the Silent Planet and am halfway through Perelandra and they're gorgeous.
Read Neil Gaiman on Lewis here