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C. S. Lewis and the Craft of Communication

Steven A. Beebe

C. S. Lewis, based on the popularity of his books and essays, is one of the best communicators of the twentieth century. During his lifetime he was hailed for his talents as author, speaker, educator, and broadcaster; he continues to be a best-selling author more than a half-century after his death.

C. S. Lewis and the Craft of Communication analyzes Lewis’s communication skill. A comprehensive review of Lewis’s work reveals five communication principles that explain his success as a communicator. Based on Lewis’s own advice about communication in his books, essays, and letters, as well as his communication practice, being a skilled communicator is to be holistic, intentional, transpositional, evocative, and audience-centered. These five principles are memorably summarized by the acronym HI TEA. Dr. Steven Beebe, past president of the National Communication Association and an internationally-recognized communication author and educator, uses Lewis’s own words to examine these five principles in a most engaging style.

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9 How to Communicate Like C. S. Lewis



“Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.”1

- C. S. Lewis

“Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean ‘More people died’ don’t say ‘Mortality rose.’ ”2

- C. S. Lewis

“When you give up a bit of work don’t (unless it is hopelessly bad) throw it away. Put it in a drawer. It may come in useful later. Much of my best work, or what I think is my best, is the re-writing of things begun and abandoned years earlier.”3

- C. S. Lewis

“In seventh grade, when my English teacher asked us to write to some prominent author asking his advice on writing, I naturally wrote to my favourite author …”4 Warnie thought this letter to his brother Jack from a schoolgirl named Tomasine “a striking example of impudence, not of the charming school child, but of her schoolmistress.”5 Why Warnie thought the question rude is not clear. Perhaps he thought it was just not appropriate for Tomasine’s teacher to encourage her to write to a busy author and ask for advice about his craft. But Lewis felt ←253 | 254→compelled to answer every letter, impudent or not, including Tomasine’s. Lewis opens his response, dated December 14, 1959, by acknowledging the challenge of the task: “It is very hard to give any general advice about writing.”6 But then...

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