The Lewis Legacy-Issue 70, Autumn 1996
C.S. Lewis on Dante
The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing
September 1, 1996
In addition to referring to Dante occasionally in his scholarly books, Lewis published three essays specifically about Dante: "Dante's Similes," "Imagery in the Last Eleven Cantos of Dante's Comedy," and "Dante's Statius" (available in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature).
Readers unacquainted with The Divine Comedy can't realize how much it influenced Lewis. Those well acquainted with it are apt to notice its echoes in some of Lewis's fiction (such as the emergence from a cave to see the stars at the end of The Silver Chair). But who has tallied all the references to Dante in Lewis's fiction and letters? No one.
Shortly before he began to believe in Christianity, on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day of 1929-1930 C .S. Lewis read part of Paradiso and said it had "really opened a new world for me.... Unfortunately, the impression is one so unlike anything else that I can hardly describe it...like a slow dance, or like flying. It is like the stars..."
The poem "God in his mercy made..." in Pilgrim's Regress (1933) comes from words of Beatrice in Canto 2 of the Inferno, and the verses over the gate to hell in Canto 3.
On 28 March 1953 Lewis wrote to William Kinter, an American, " ...there is a science-fiction element in the Commedia e.g. Inferno XXXIV 85-114. "On 30 July 1954 he wrote to Kinter that the bus driver in The Great Divorce is modeled on the angel in the Inferno, Canto IX. (So much for the idea that the bus driver is Christ or the Holy Spirit. As Lewis told his father, that's the trouble with facts. They ruin so many good theories.)
Lewis's series titled "Five Sonnets" in Poems is about bereavement and seems to have been written after Joy's death. "Read Dante," Lewis says there, because before Dante was comforted he had to pass down to the frozen center and up the mountain of pain. Lewis ended A Grief Observed with Dante's words: Por si torno all' eterna fontana.