On November 22, 1963, it would seem no one else died that day but President John F. Kennedy—so well-seared into the American collective psyche is that event. Fifty years after the fact, the assassination of our Golden Boy president is so prevalent one would think it happened just 50 days ago. His death—mostly the controversy of it—has inspired decades worth of media on the subject. There is at least one new movie to be released this year, no doubt hoping to join the ranks of films like Oliver Stone’s JFK. More than a handful of books are penned year after year on the charismatic couple, their Camelot-like time in office, and John’s controversial death. This year is particularly flooded. One publishing company alone is releasing eight new books on the topic and re-releasing over a dozen more.
But Kennedy wasn’t the only juggernaut of modern history to die that day. C.S. Lewis—the Irish author, best known for his Chronicles of Narnia books—died (quietly it seems) the same day as our beloved president. Granted, on the one hand, there’s little use comparing the men. One was a president; the other an author. One was Catholic; the other an atheist-turned-outspoken Christian (who joined the Church of England no less). One was assassinated at his prime; the other died at 65 rather uneventfully. But on the other hand, the coincidence of their untimely deaths 50 years later seems anything but.
The two men share many differences—indeed, even their nationalities keep them from measuring equally on the same scale—but perhaps what brings them to the same focal point is the scope and vigor with which we discuss, exonerate, and analyze them still.
Though some argue Kennedy’s short political career left an impressive mark in terms of economic progress, it seems obvious the Kennedy legacy remains in the twilight zone of some kind of future perfect tense. What could have happened to the endearing, charming love triangle of America’s own Camelot had not death so tragically befallen our ambitious president? Of course, there would be no movies, books, or columns even a few years later had zero controversy accompanied the event.
One could reason the lingering fascination with Kennedy’s assassination is more of a reflection of our pressing need for either a return of Camelot or precise, final answers (a lone Oswald or the Mafia? Three shots or five? A magic bullet or a plant?)—or perhaps big helpings of both. Are we as a nation so insecure that we need a president who can both avert the Bay of Pigs disaster and look like he stepped out of a magazine? Are we so prone to navel-gazing and nitpicking we must tear the Zapruder film apart frame by frame (as Kevin Costner did in JFK: “Back and to the left. Back and to the left.”) one more time? While the curiosity is understandable, the obsession, especially after so much time has passed, seems excessive. (This coming from a woman who did her ninth-grade persuasive speech on the assassination, subjecting her classmates to both portions of the Zapruder film and discussions of the so-called Magic Bullet.)
Turn to the death of C.S. Lewis—which occurred much without recognition, let alone fanfare—and you find a simple and joyful kind of event. The author of hundreds of non-fiction essays on criticism, literature, and God, Lewis is best known for his accomplishments in children’s literature. One might claim the four British siblings who discover the wintry, cursed land of Narnia absent its savior-lion Aslan, then rescue it in an epic battle against good and evil (and this is just the first book) is reminiscent not only of the Christian redemption story but Camelot too. The threads of sin, redemption, and love are woven in some way through the majority of Lewis’s works.
The difference of course is Lewis shows us something even nine-year-olds reading the Narnia books can understand: Camelot isn’t real and, this side of heaven, never will be. Through his works, Lewis encourages readers to find the entity that offers a true fairytale ending—a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—and from that allow to flow life’s interests and obsessions, hopes and dreams, however personal, political, selfish, or selfless they may be.
Fifty years after the assassination of a beloved president, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge and honor the lingering dream and then: Release the grip. If answers are to be had, would they really bring anything back? There’s so much more to this life in another. As C.S. Lewis once said: “Remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.”