CS Lewis: the Lives and Loves BBC 4 9pm
Posted by celticman on Thu, 28 Nov 2013
Biographer and fellow Oxford graduate A.N. Wilson looks at the man behind The Narnia Chronicles. He follows Lewis’s path from a public school boy that couldn’t hold a bat or kick a ball and was thus doomed to failure to a brilliant scholar, privately tutored, that got a double first (Greek and Latin and the Greats) and almost as an afterthought English. English being treated not very seriously at Oxford, the kind of subject a second-rate kind of chap excelled in. He was called up at the end of the First World War, received shrapnel wounds and medals, but seemed not to have greatly affected by it. One casualty was, claims Wilson, his war poetry, Dymer, an epic poem he had worked on for ten years, so awful the critic couldn’t bear to read it. Another casualty was a friend he’d met in the trenches. He promised to comfort his mother if he died, but perhaps not in the way both imagined—Mrs Moore, a widow, being twenty-five years his senior and having a daughter to a similar age to him. In order to cover this complicity in Oxford’s hallowed halls she was variously described as his landlady, his aunt and finally passed off as his mother. His own mother having died when he was eight. These were presented as the first of his two great loves. Although to go off at a tangent, Oxford itself were he tutored English with a coven of fellow minded masters such as J.R.R Tolkien, must also be considered one. Oxford, of course, treated him shambolically, routinely passing him over for promotion. Wilson suggests much of this was to do with is great success as a writer and broadcaster during the Second World War. His conversion from atheism to apologist for Christianity is charted in a number of his books. Here Wilson helps pin it down to an ongoing debate between Tolkien and Lewis about creation myths and the idea of god dying only to be born again. Jesus dying and being born again Tolkein argued was a myth that also happened to be true. It was not a simple step of moving from one belief to another, it was a matter of faith and Lewis jumped wholeheartedly. One of the things I liked about Lewis was he answered every letter of what we now call fan mail from his readers. He had some help with this from his elder brother, Warren, an alcoholic, whom Lewis also supported, but it seems he did most of it himself. Books like The Screwtape Letters advice from a senior devil to a junior in his department were enormously popular in the United States. Mrs Moore was by this time dead and he commuted to Cambridge to also teach Medieval History. Surprised by Joy is perhaps one of his more autobiographical and best known books. Joy is a pun on Joy Davidman, an American divorcee with two small boys who wrote to him, and quaintly met him for tea. They married in a civil ceremony because there was a risk she would be deported back to America, but she became his last and perhaps greatest love. The camera panned several times to the oversized cross her middle-aged son was wearing when he was being interview by Wilson and I couldn’t quite work out if he was now a priest or monk or just plain weird. But I did laugh though when Joy’s son explained that although Lewis at that point had read everything in Europe, his mother had read everything in Europe and the United States. This was a meeting of supersized minds and feeble bodies. Joy’s cancer and death added pathos and perhaps a kind of dignity to Lewis’s oeuvre. He had not just written about suffering. He too had suffered.