WAKE FOREST, N.C. — When Michael Travers first read C.S. Lewis’ writings as a teenager, he “didn’t think much” of Lewis’ legendary “Mere Christianity” and felt his “Screwtape Letters” were “not as impressive to me” as they were to others.

Admittedly, his disinterest had more to do with his spiritual condition at that time than the quality of Lewis’ work, said Travers, an English professor and C.S. Lewis scholar at Southeastern College at Wake Forest, the undergraduate school of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Travers’ interest in Lewis has led him to speak at four C.S. Lewis conferences, and he has been asked to contribute two chapters on Lewis in an upcoming major four-volume scholarly work by Bruce Edwards.

After his conversion in his mid-20s, Travers, then a doctoral student studying John Milton, decided to give Lewis another try while he was in the process of “rethinking my whole discipline from a Christian perspective.” Travers re-read "Mere Christianity" and, among other works, the seven-volume “Chronicles of Narnia” series for the first time. He continued pouring through much of Lewis’ work in the years to come, which he credits as seminal in shaping his thinking on many issues, most notably how to integrate his academic discipline and his faith, as Lewis did so well.

Travers found in Lewis a talented apologist, brilliant fiction writer and courageous academician, willing to stand behind his Christian beliefs even when vilified by colleagues.

Perhaps in no other venture did Lewis receive more criticism from his Oxford peers than when he decided to write the "Chronicles of Narnia," a series of children’s books from a Christian perspective.

However, after reading the "Narnia" series, and re-reading them to his children as they were growing up, Travers takes from the books an altogether different impression.

“I think they are the premier children’s fantasy stories of the 20th century,” Travers said unreservedly.

“Whether you’re Christian or not, I think these are must-reads for kids – and older kids,” he added with a smile, referring to those his age who still enjoy being transported into the world of fantasy that Lewis created.

Travers said Lewis’ days of greatest influence may yet be ahead as many are becoming acquainted with him through the film, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” released in theaters Dec. 9 and which continued to lead in box office receipts over the New Year’s weekend.

The film, based on the 1950 book with the same title, is co-produced by Douglas Gresham, Lewis’ grandson who plans to convert the children’s series into five major motion pictures.

Done correctly, Travers said, the "Narnia" films have a tremendous potential for impacting American culture by acquainting people with a biblical worldview and a story with enough similarities to the Gospel to enable people to more readily comprehend it in the future.

Fiction, he said, can be an extremely effective vehicle for smuggling biblical truth into the minds of a skeptical culture.

“I think that strategy is probably extremely effective,” Travers said, “particularly in our postmodern culture, where people tend to think narratively rather than propositionally, and particularly for the masses and for the non-Christian who doesn’t want to hear a theological discourse on substitutionary atonement.... It has the promise of working very well. It does in the books.”