Many sorts of people are called "walking contradictions," almost none of them deservedly. Most of the time it's a phrase used to deride someone whose varying lifestyle elements aren't supposed to go together - think of the eye rolls that still greet white rappers - rather than being truly contradictory. Here's another that sounds a bit off: devout Christian theologian and best-selling sci fi/fantasy author.

You certainly wouldn't be expected to run into one these days. Few who make serious study of "traditional" religious belief would venture into the modern realm of "genre fiction," an insular realm that tends to revel in the irreligious, and those who do tend to come from the most extreme fringe - see the vile Left Behind series (or, rather, don't) for an example.

Yet Clive Staples Lewis was such a man, and he was no mere footnote in genre history - as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia (the most recent movie adaptation thereof is the subject of this week's Escape to The Movies), Lewis stands as one of the all-time towering figures of modern fantasy, casting a shadow over the whole of the subject surpassed only by his friend J.R.R. Tolkien and their pulp predecessor Robert E. Howard. But before he was known as a spinner of "new mythology," he was already renowned as an intellectual defender of Christian philosophy, and these dual roles would compliment, intertwine and even clash forevermore in both his life and legacy.

The explicit mixing of what today would be called neo-pagan mythmaking with devout Christianity has made the otherwise innocuous and whimsical Narnia books lightning rods for criticism and dissection from the very beginning. Tolkien himself disparaged his friend's "kitchen-sink" approach to mythology and explicit spiritual references. Secular critics have decried the series' moralism, while some Christian critics have accused the author of re-writing doctrine to suit his own ideas. Last week, actor Liam Neeson - who voices the lion messiah Aslan in the films - invited a firestorm of controversy simply by opining that, to him, Aslan need not represent only one faith to be meaningful.

What gets lost in the hurly-burly over meaning and intent in Lewis' writings (which also include the sci fi Space Trilogy and the wickedly satirical Screwtape Letters) is the writer himself; a deeply thoughtful and deeply troubled man whose writings on philosophy and faith were written during, not following, his own personal exploration of the same. The "hidden secret" of Narnia isn't that it's really about Jesus - that part isn't a secret at all. The secret is that it's largely about C.S. Lewis considering, struggling with and (maybe) working out his own beliefs.

Part of the reason why Lewis remains such a polarizing figure is that it's hard to pin down an honest life story of the fellow - his friends joked that a rather lengthy book could be written to contradict his autobiographical Surprised By Joy titled Suppressed By Jack. Biographies of C.S. Lewis tend to fall into the realm of either white-washed canonization or lurid projections aimed at lessening his impact as a religious icon with little room in between.

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