Iain Benson assesses a significant influence on our culture.
To understand the influence of Chesterton and Lewis, you need to understand them in the context in which they worked, and particularly for Lewis the friendships there were extremely important and influential. The group that used to meet in the Eagle and Child pub, famously known – which they called the Bird and Baby – for its weekly conversations included Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Now in terms of literature, Lewis’ Narnia stories, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe and that series, is going to be … it’s going to live on and be well known. His other books of fiction, The Great Divorce and so on, the trilogy, The Space Trilogy – those will not be as well known. But Lewis’ friendship with Tolkien, which produces this extraordinary work, Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, those books, those are going to live on, and those are already a massive influence on this generation.
So Lewis and Chesterton’s influence – I would say in some respects waning, certainly Chesterton not as well known, particularly outside of Catholicism, as he was in his day. But their influences – and remember it was Chesterton who was invited by George MacDonald’s son to write the biography of his father George McDonald, and it was George MacDonald who is the platform on which both Lewis and Chesterton developed. But the literary influence through Charles Williams and Owen Barfield … these writers, Dorothy Sayers, all of whom were influential in their day – they have influenced a whole host of contemporary writers, so whether it’s Joseph Pearce, or any number of contemporary thinkers and writers, they’ve been influenced directly by Lewis and Chesterton. So the influence goes out and then the influences continue to go out. That’s the way it is with literature.