Why I Celebrate the Lives of Dead Authors

Yesterday, a friend of mine remarked that I had to be one of the only people she knew who celebrated birthdays of authors. (I had just been whining about how I had to celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday alone and I won’t be able to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakepeare’s death because I’ll be at her wedding.) She said this in a manner that implied (probably unintentionally) that it is weird to celebrate the birthdays of dead people whom you never knew “just because” they penned great works of literature.

I agree that it is not terribly common to celebrate the lives of dead people whom I never knew because they penned great works of literature that inspire my life, move my soul, and draw me into closer relationship with the God who made both me and those writers and inspired their souls to write such works. But just because a thing is uncommon, that does not mean that it should not be done. Every November 22 and 29, I drink a toast to C.S. Lewis because while I never met the man, he has inspired my heart and soul and enriched my life in enormous ways. I would not be the woman that I am today without his writing. I am grateful to him for all that he did as a human being, as a Christian, and as a writer. I owe him so much, and those toasts (for his birthday and deathday) are one way that I can honor him.

The good, the true, and the beautiful are often considered to be the transcendentals. I believe that life is meaningless without those three elements. Culture is not worthwhile unless is carries with it those three things. I am enormously grateful to Evelyn Waugh for his openness to those three elements in his writing. In reading his works, I can see the importance that he placed on these elements. In reading Waugh, I have seen his faith and grown in my own. He has encouraged me to think about new ideas and to look at God in new ways.

Similarly, my beloved J.R.R. Tolkien reflects these ideas in his works. Professor Tolkien was a devout Catholic who fervently believed in the Lord of time. He also believed that literature could be (Lewand often is) inspired by the Divine Creator.

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Lewis, Tolkien, and Waugh are but three examples of writers who reflected their Christian faith in their writings. Other writers did this as well, some in more obvious ways than others. This sort of literature is an important element of high culture. Culture demands truth, beauty, and goodness to survive. Our souls, which eternally crave God, desire this kind of literature, this kind of culture. It is important to celebrate this culture, to embrace it. To me, it is important to take time to celebrate the authors who celebrated and encouraged this sort of culture.

I think that C.S. Lewis might find it odd that I celebrate his birthday. I’m sure that Jane Austen would look a bit askance at the idea that I celebrate her birthday. But they celebrated culture. They embraced the idea of celebrating life. Their characters embraced life. Their characters rejoiced in good things. And while they might not completely understand this, I believe in celebrating them as a way of honoring what they did for literature and as a way of celebrating life, of celebrating the good, the true, and the beautiful.

These authors wrote in part because of a desire for another world. Faith inspired these authors. Hope inspired them. Look at the worlds that they created. Look at the characters that they created. Shakespeare, Austen, and Waugh give us characters who at the very least reflect strong virtue, high virtue. They show us right and wrong, good and evil. They show us morality and the exercise of such a thing. Lewis and Tolkien give us glimpses of eternity, of heaven. These authors must be embraced and celebrated. They point us towards God, and that is a beautiful thing, which must be embraced and celebrated.

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