HAMDEN – Robert Trexler is no stranger to C.S. Lewis, the brilliant British author of fantasy literature and Christian apologist, whose popularity exploded with the success of the movie, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in 2005.
Not only has Mr. Trexler served as editor of the bi-monthly newsletter for the New York C.S. Lewis Society for the past 15 years, but he owns the publishing company Winged Lion Press, which focuses on the intersection of faith and imagination, and which has published 11 of 42 books on Lewis.
On Sept. 10, he will speak on Lewis’s Mere Christianity, a book that explores the common ground for Christian belief among all denominations, at the Hagaman Memorial Library in East Haven. He also plans to show a documentary on C.S. Lewis’s work during World War II, which includes a legendary series of BBC radio broadcasts that captured the imagination of listeners.
Lewis, who was an Anglican, had written a series of imaginary letters from a senior devil to a junior devil for an Episcopal magazine (later published as The Screwtape Letters) that caught the interest of BBC religious programming producers. Mere Christianity originated from those broadcasts aired during the war years.
“The interest in C.S. Lewis is really quite phenomenal,” said Mr. Trexler, who belongs to St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven. “There are so many books, fan groups, articles and conferences every year.”
And then there’s his posthumous publishing record. The Chronicles of Narnia – a classic of children’s literature and the author’s best-known work – has sold more than 100 million copies in 47 languages. And Mere Christianity has been translated into 35 languages.
“So it’s big business; but it’s also an opportunity for ministry,” said Mr. Trexler.
“His works, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, are classic children’s books,” he said. “They pre-evangelize families and children without needing to understand the theological and Christian truths that are part of the fabric of his writing.
“Subtly, people are drawn to these truths, to the joy of the Christian life without realizing it because it’s portrayed in the imaginative story that he tells,” he said. “People don’t realize that their barriers are down because it’s not churchy. It’s just a story they like.”
Among Lewis’s contributions to Catholic thought, Mr. Trexler observed, are his use of the “sacramental imagination, the sacramental worldview that I think is distinctively Catholic in Lewis.”
“You can see a very eucharistic perspective in his fiction, as well as in his theological apologetics,” said Mr. Trexler.
“There’s someplace where Lewis says that the holiest thing we’ll ever see outside of the blessed host is another human being,” he continued.
“It’s a very sacramental outlook,” he observed. “And because he’s grounded in Aristotle, which is the foundation of ethics for St. Thomas Aquinas, he knows about the seven virtues. So he’s thought about these things. He’s already reflected so much on the Catholic Church.
“He was a layman doing what he thought he could do using his God-given gifts,” he said, reflecting on his own attraction to the writer. His example to each of us is “to do what we can in whatever sphere God has given us,” he said. “That is the gist of the message.”
Mr. Trexler, a former Episcopalian who converted to Catholicism, noted that C.S. Lewis is responsible for conversions.
“Definitely there are a lot of people who have come to the Catholic Church through C.S. Lewis,” he said.
“It’s fair to say that the dialogue between Catholics and non-Catholics is so much more congenial now partly because of C.S. Lewis,” he continued. “He focuses on the essentials of the faith, which are in common with all denominations.”
Ironically, C.S. Lewis never converted to Catholicism. Even his decades-long friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien – the Catholic creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, who had many discussions with his friend about the Catholic faith – never led to Lewis’s conversion.
As for his own fascination with the author who died the day of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Mr. Trexler is still amazed at how editing CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society (www.nycslsociety.com) “dropped into my lap.”
He noted that he and friends began attending some of the society’s meetings at the Episcopalian Church of the Ascension in Greenwich Village. One day, an overextended editor asked him if he would be willing to be the new editor for the bulletin that launched in 1969 with the start of the society.
“I was completely shocked,” Mr. Trexler laughed. “At the time, I was doing marketing for a software firm.” But after thinking it over, he said, “I’ll give it a try.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Mr. Trexler’s talk, “Mere Christian and Mere Christianity – The Work of C.S. Lewis During WW II,” will begin at 7 p.m. at the library located at 227 Main St. The program is free and open to the public. Space is limited. Registration is required and can be arranged by calling 203-468-3890.