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Author Study: C.S. Lewis Curated by Natasha Sung '23: Dominant Literary Devices


Lewis' Dominant Literary Devices 

1. Authorial Intrusion 

Authorial Intrusion is defined as a literary device wherein the author steps away from the text and speaks directly to the reader by inputting their commentary or opinions on the narrative. It is frequently used by Lewis to aid him in establishing his persona as one who is deeply personable and humble. Lewis’ uses of authorial intrusion in his works are also excellent mediums for discovering his character and personality.

Examples in some of Lewis' works: 

The Magician’s Nephew

“But meals were nicer, and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain.” (Lewis 9)

Lewis uses authorial intrusion in The Magician’s Nephew as a means of establishing a personal connection with his readers, most of whom are children. The frequent intervals of authorial intrusion that are found in this fantasy novel allow Lewis’ benevolence to seep through the narrative, establishing his credentials as an author who can be trusted by his young readers.

Surprised by Joy

“And now that I have opened the gate, all the Boxonians, like the ghosts in Homer, come clamoring for mention. But they must be denied it.” (Lewis 82)

Lewis’ use of authorial intrusion in his autobiography Surprised by Joy peels back the layers of Lewis’ wrestles and struggles during the process of compiling a narrative of his conversion to Christianity. Lewis’ frequent interruptions during Surprised by Joy to insert a humorous comment, a lighthearted remark, or a clarifying sentence not only establish a close author-and-reader relationship, but also help engage readers in a deeper way.

Mere Christianity

“Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book.” (Lewis 153)

In Mere Christianity, Lewis defends his Christian faith emphatically while still allowing his likable personality to shine through. Considering the context of Mere Christianity, which was a compilation Lewis’ speeches on the BBC during World War II, Lewis authorial intrusion, then, stands as a critical stylistic device used to bring encouragement to those under the pressures and anxieties caused by the war, as well as a means of strengthening his arguments for the truthfulness of the Christian faith.

2. Analogies 

Analogies are comparisons that aim to explain an idea by likening it to something else. Analogies can include metaphors and similes. Lewis, whose goal was to present his worldview and beliefs to his readers through all of his works, used analogies frequently to achieve this.

Examples in some of Lewis' works: 

Christianity and Culture

“For you cannot judge any artefact except by using it as it was intended. It is no good judging a butter-knife by seeing whether it will saw logs.” (Lewis 34)

Lewis’ use of analogies in his essay Christianity and Culture are prominent. They mainly serve argumentative purpose, allowing Lewis to substantiate his claims regarding the relationships between Christianity and culture. In making his point, he employs everyday objects and events and compares them to complex theological truths to persuade readers to adopt his position.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast

“It is in some ways more troublesome to track and swat an evasive wasp than to shoot, at close range, a wild elephant. But the elephant is more troublesome if you miss.” (Lewis 10)

Through the sadistic character of Screwtape in his short story Screwtape Proposes a Toast, Lewis divisively warns Christians of spiritual warfare through simpler terms, comparing theological concepts to everyday phenomena.

Surprised by Joy

“They went to the playing fields not as men go to the tennis club but as stagestruck girls go to an Audition; tense and anxious, racked with dazzling hopes and sickening fears, never in peace of mind till they had won some notice which would set their feet on the first rung of the social ladder.” (Lewis 98)

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis uses analogies with the end goal of allowing the reader to more clearly imagine events and significant people and objects in Lewis’ life. These analogies are also effective in revealing Lewis’ sense of humor and personality.

3. Allusions 

Lewis, a man of strong morals and unwavering convictions, sought to incorporate his beliefs into all of his works, regardless of targeted audience, genre, or length. One way he achieved this was through allusions. He often used biblical references in his works, as well as references to other literary works.

Examples in some of Lewis' works: 

Surprised by Joy

“On that holiday at Dumdrum, cycling among the Wicklow mountains, I was always involuntarily looking for scenes that might belong to the Wagnerian world, here a steep hillside covered with firs where Mime might meet Sieglinde, there a sunny glade where Siegfried might listen to the bird, or presently a dry valley of rocks where the lithe scaly body of Fafner might emerge from its cave.” (Lewis 77)

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis frequently alludes to his favorite literary works and authors. This is a way of allowing readers to experience the way in which he sees the world around him. Because this is an autobiography of sorts, I believe that Lewis’ use of allusions also matches the purpose of his book to peel back the layers of his own world and allow readers to experience it.

 Christianity and Culture

“For others it is not; culture is not everyone’s road into Jerusalem, and for some it is a road out.” (Lewis 23)

Lewis alludes both to literary works and biblical concepts in his argumentative essay Christianity and Culture. For instance, Lewis alludes to the biblical concept of heaven by using the term “Jerusalem”. His allusions in this essay mainly serve the purpose to provide depth to his arguments without directly referencing biblical concepts, thus giving the text as a whole more depth.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast

“Frankly, to me who have tasted Messalina and Cassanova, they were nauseating.”    (Lewis 2)

Lewis alludes frequently to historical events in Screwtape Proposes a Toast. These historical references give the text more depth, allow Lewis’ humor to shine through, and also substantiate Lewis’ claims.