On this day, 50 years ago, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. This tragedy, rightly yet unfortunately overshadowed the death of two other influential men: Clive Staples Lewis and Aldous Huxley. JFK the politician, Lewis the traditionalist scholar, and Huxley the futurist writer.
There is no point in comparing the legacies of each. Or arguing whom was more influential. All three of these men have enduring legacies for the timeless achievements that they left behind.
Kennedy’s administration was market by the Civil Rights Movement, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the race into space. But “Jack” was known for more than just his politics: his brilliant charm, his all-American family, and his military service were symbolic. The Kennedy’s were America’s poster family, exemplifying the American Dream; but this All-American family always seemed to be the victims of tragedy. And the end to his life – that video of his assassination – we have all seen.
C. S. Lewis was, coincidentally, also called “Jack.” Lewis was a well established academic at Oxford and Cambridge. Early on he was an established atheist but came to faith with the help of his close friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien. His conversion to Christianity hinged his later success as both a scholar and apologist. His most famous and enduring works include the “Space Trilogy” novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, and of course, Mere Christianity. Lewis, on this day in 1963 died of renal failure in his home in Oxford. Today, Lewis will be memorialized in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Aldous Huxley, much like Lewis, was also a famous British writer but of a different strain. He was also a poet and satirist, best known for his prophetic and futuristic dystopian novel, Brave New World. What made Brave New World such an influential work was Huxley’s anticipation of future developments in reproductive technology and psychological manipulation and conditioning. In an age where utopia tempted many imaginations, Huxley countered with the shocking cautions of dystopia. On this day, Huxley died due to laryngeal cancer with his wife by his side, in LA after being given a dose of LSD.
As if the assassination of a U.S. President wasn’t tragic or somber enough, two of the 20th centuries greatest writers also passed away 50 years ago today. These two men died in the shadow of Kennedy’s death, but don’t make the mistake of overlooking their legacies while you remember JFK. Pick up one of their novels, and let your imagination be opened in honor of these men.
What a strange and overwhelming fate it must have been, as these three men passed on together, leaving but their lasting legacies behind.
Derek Draplin | University of Michigan | @DDraps24