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When Rowan Williams sits down to read his favorite books, he sometimes reaches for children's literature.
And the former Archbishop of Canterbury often chooses The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis's best-known work. "Narnia is something that people do revisit," said Williams, who published The Lion's World in the UK last year (it came out in the U.S. earlier this year). "Children's books … are quite powerful tools for grown-ups' imaginations."
Perhaps imagination has been the secret to Lewis's growing popularity in the United Kingdom as the 50th anniversary of his November 22 death approaches. Though American evangelicals were quicker to admire Lewis as a literary hero, more and more UK intellectuals are now embracing him.
"It takes a while in Britain for a great man to be recognized as such," said Michael Ward, a senior research fellow at Oxford University and author of Planet Narnia. "But Lewis has been safely dead now for 50 years, and we can afford to recognize him as the major figure he was."
On the anniverary of his death, Lewis will be commemorated with a memorial plaque in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner, which honors authors and other cultural figures whose work has shaped English society. A two-day conference on Lewis's works will begin the preceding day.
Alister McGrath, the latest to examine Lewis biographically, believes this anniversary year will solidify Lewis's reputation as an apologist and classicist. At Oxford's recent literary conference, McGrath's sold-out talk on Lewis led to requests for him to give three more.
"We've minimized Lewis's importance [in the UK], and we have catching up to do [with U.S. evangelicals]," said the author of C.S. Lewis: A Life. "Lewis is here to stay; that debate is over. Now there is this sense of, 'There is more to learn from Lewis, so let's read him again.' "