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C.S. Lewis & Mere Christianity

[ Picking the Book ]

Religion is touchy. So much so that I contemplated picking up this book at Barnes & Noble several months ago, yet felt compelled enough to revisit it on the shelf multiple times.


I had heard of this C.S Lewis guy. Chronicles of Naria. The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe. But not specific writings on Christianity. 

Especially not Mere Christianity. I thought, "What the hell does that even mean?"

For a book to have been written in 1952, I was certain that I would encounter an interesting perspective, but was still open enough to read it for what it was. Here I am, a 24 year old (at the time) approaching a quarter life crisis, who has a deep sense of spirituality, about to embark on this unexpected journey with a man sharing his philosophy and logic.

So I bought the book. Not because of its cover design but because of the author and it being recognized as one of the most influencial religious books since 1945.

Needless to say...I fell in love with it. His way of writing and thought processes are extremely intriguing. As an intuitive thinker, I was able to connect the dots and have many "aha" moments throughout. Rather than it being an experience with the purpose of taking tabs on what I agreed or disagreed with, I left judgment off the pages.

I don't know much about the history of the design, but found some interesting variations that didn't seem to vary much at all. Well, maybe a little.

I'm excited about diving into this book yet again, but with a different set of eyes, heart and mind. 

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[ Discovering the History + The People Behind It ]


For those who are not familiar with the book or what it is about, here is a synopsis:

"In 1941 England, when all hope was threatened by the inhumanity of war, C.S. Lewis was invited to give a series of radio lectures addressing the central issues of Christianity. More than half a century later, these talks continue to retain their poignancy. First heard as informal rado broadcasts on the BBC, the lectures were published as three books and subsequently combined as Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis proves that "at the center of each denomination there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergencies of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice," rejecting the boundaries that divide Christianity's many denominations. This twentieth-century masterpiece provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear a powerful, rational case for the Christian faith."

Why was Lewis asked to speak during this time? Why did people want to listen to him?

In the forward, Lewis's stepson states,"Britians cities were being pounded into rubble by Germany's Luftwaffe, and at this time of imminent personal and national peril the thoughts of the nation began to look outward from Earth seeking solace — or at least reassurance that somehow there would be some sense made of the horror that surrounded them."

and

"Aristocrats and academics would tune in religiously, as would clubs and pubs. Many years later, one man told me of his own experience in the public bar of a workingman's pub when the crowd shushed as Jack (CS Lewis) was introduced on the bar wireless, and began to speak to a silent and intent group of labourers, farm workers, and other working men."

During my quest to find out more about this particular book cover design, the designer is unknown. However, I was able to share some words with the lovely designer who worked on the interior, Laura Lind. 

We seemed to share a common thought on the cover design itself, expressing that while it is pretty and nice to look at, it lacks something deeper and more meaningful. The history with the radio programs on BBC and WWII appear to be left behind. Instead, it feels very Middle Eastern. While this is where Jerusalem is located, it still doesn't relate to the essence of the contents within the book.

I can only hope that within myself I will be able to find that 'something deeper and more meaningful' and visually translate a design that not only looks good, but shares a connection to the message and purpose of Lewis' talks. 

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[ Rereading the Book + Concepts ]


My notes and book markings proved to be extremely helpful. I was able to go back and review topics that stood out the most, but also reread things that I may not have paid close attention to before. In that, I realized that in order to understand the meaning of this book, I first needed to understand C.S. Lewis and his intention/purpose for writing it.

His tone, countless analogies, wit, humor, and clearly INTJ personality had my full attention as it did before. It made me think about what it must have felt like to hear it for the first time, audibly, with the sound of his voice demanding nothing less. 

There are three key concepts that I found throughout the book that I would like to explore and some found imagery:

  • Listening - creating a community that gathers and shares the same voice despite economical and/or educational differences to hear about Christianity.
  • What were their reactions? What did the act of listening look like? What role did the microphone play? Is the message just as relevant now as it was then?

  • Following: walking through Lewis' analogy of 'a hall of which doors open into several rooms' and 'it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals...above all, you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling.'
  • Where are people located throughout this home? Which rooms are they in? Why did they choose that door?

  • Discovering - finding your bankruptcy and accepting the remarkable offer. This is also a process of surrendering, letting go of self in order to discover self, looking for ourselves and finding hatred,loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay until we look for Him, and being made for another world (Heaven) that is with gold, crowns, and musical instruments in a merely symbolical sense.
  • Was Lewis' voice music to the ears? Is the core of Christianity revealed behind the ruin and decay but falsely seen? When reading now (listening then), is/was everyone on their way to being united to share His splendor and joy?

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[ Process + Mock Ups ]


I wanted to kind of rewind a bit and show some snapshots of the brainstorming, writing, and sketching that played a major role in the concepts and mock ups...

After coming up from the depths of that, I was confident in the direction of focusing on the big idea of discovery as well as symbolism and wordplay used by Lewis throughout the entire book. Going back to Lewis' final chapters, two passages stood out to me the most. This first one led to two cover concepts:

"Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in."


I sat with that for a good while and thought about how I could visually interpret the emotional and physical turmoil that was being experience during the time of the broadcast, but also blend in Hope and Faith...two major sections discussed in the book. Which led me to this first piece.

I knew that gold would play a prominent part in these designs, so I wanted to do C.S. Lewis' signature with a gold leaf pen. 

I scanned it in, made some color adjustments in Photoshop, and I think it turned out great. At first I wasn't sure if I could get the same look it originally held on paper. The scan came in much darker because of the flatness, but I am pleased with the final result.

[ Mock Up No. 1 ]

Representing the turmoil taking place during the 1940s, this photo was taken of the St. Paul's church destruction site during the war. I chose the image of the young boy to play on Lewis' talk on being a child of God, as harmless as a doves, and having a child's heart.

The gold leaf peaking underneath, making it's presence known, showing that Hope and Faith is also a part of the message. It's just enough to let you know that it's there without being completely overpowering.

The gold symbolic to the timelessness of 'Heaven' because gold does not rust.

[ Mock Up No. 2 ]

Also incorporating some aspects of ruin and decay, this concept focuses more on the concept of listening and the history that brought 'Mere Christianity' into existence. Because all of the book content were originally pieces of broadcast talks, people were tuning into their radios. 

The two corners (top left, bottom right) are abstract views of vintage radios, the knobs and the design over the speakers. The other other corners involve a modern day woman turning her ear to listen and two statues with one trying to communicate while the other is listening. This gives acknowledgment to the fact that Lewis' messages are just as relevant now as they were back then.

Surrender. This is what the center photo is about. Letting go, letting God, and accepting His remarkable offer. It also has association with the war. Placing it in the center shows that ultimately, surrending is the 'higher sense' of Faith, discovering personal bankruptcy, and being willing to say 'You must do this. I cant'.

Gold, again, for the timelessness, and the decay overlayed on the background images because of our rage and ruin. The overall layout creates a disjointed cross, suggesting the need for some realignment for unity with God. 

[ Concept 3 ]

 

There is a third concept that I would like to explore. The heart of Lewis' writing is compelling and filled with heavy usage of analogies to explain his deep conversations with the audience. I didn't want to ignore the beauty and greatness that I feel whenthese moments occur, so I would like to dedicate one cover to his passage on symbolism to represent our discovery and journey with Faith.

"There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of 'Heaven' ridiculous by saying they just do not to 'spend eternity playing harps'. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptual imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that whose who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of 'Heaven' (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs."

This latest idea of incorporating gold leaf, an egg, and a white feather is my way of using his imaginative analogy to visually express the inexpressible. I am hoping that it will show that until we truly open ourselves up to understanding what the core of Christianity is (without judgement and no matter if you believe in it or not) we will always see these things as silly literal stories that only foolish children believe. So I want to put these elements on display and offer it to the audience, much like Lewis chose to do with his broadcast talks.

This one is going to take a bit longer because I would like all of it to be real, not found imagery that has been manipulated. This will involve a photoshoot and probably a case full of broken eggs in the process.

But I am looking forward to it :-)

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