Friday, November 22, 2013

The day the authors died

Today the world notes the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Yet November 22, 1963, was also the day when three internationally known, prize-winning authors all died within a few hours of each other.

One of them created a fantasy series that has been beloved by four generations of children and many adults. Another wrote one of the most famous novels of the 20th century and inspired the last orchestral work written by Igor Stravinsky. The third won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his volume of biography.

Do you know who they were?

C.S. Lewis, the Oxford University professor who died in that English city at the age of 64, created "The Chronicles of Narnia," the seven-volume series about children who pass through the back of a magical wardrobe and become kings and queens of a new world. He also wrote the most perceptive books about Christianity and the difficulties of daily living that I have read. (I recommend "The Problem of Pain" and "The Great Divorce" as places to start.)

Aldous Huxley, the novelist, poet and essayist who died at 69 in Los Angeles, remains best known for "Brave New World," the novel that showed us a future based on a rigidly intellectualized class system. It became a byword for dystopian societies, yet there was more to him. Among other things, he was a talented screenwriter, collaborating on the 1940 "Pride and Prejudice" and the 1944 "Jane Eyre," still perhaps the best film adaptation of that story.

And the third? John Fitzgerald Kennedy himself. He was a first-term Senator from Massachusetts when he wrote "Profiles in Courage," which paid tribute to eight U.S. Senators who broke ranks with their party or constituents to do things they felt were morally right (if politically inexpedient). His speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen, authored some of it -- reports vary as to how much -- but JFK's name stood alone on the cover and on the Pulitzer Prize.