CS Lewis: the Lives and Loves BBC 4 9pm

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.


He is one of my favorite writers and I find myself reading him again and again. His Mere Christianity should be read by every Christian. In Bible Studies, some people still accuse him of being a closet Catholic. Sometimes I feel like a closet Catholic in Bible Studies. Although I am a Protestant, I find that Catholics and Jews often offer me the best advice and sincerely care about me. Protestants at my church, they still glory in turning a Catholic into a Protestant, but we all believe in the same God. I still find Protestant culture incredibly dull compared to Catholic or Jewish culture. But maybe dullness is a good thing. C.S. Lewis really freed me from my atheistic existential roots. He convinced me that the kind of world the atheistic, secular culture is creating is actually a nihilistic world.


Well Steve, have a look. I'm sure you'll enjoy this programme. My thought were the devil in the screwtape letters, for example, had done such a good job of hiding that nobody believed in him. I think that can apply equally to god.


He says such sensible things. His reasoning is sound and he's very elegant. I wouldn't call his elegance the kind that Winston Churchill exhibited. Winston Churchill could be very vulgar but he had the kind of wit that I really enjoy, the vulgar, cynical and yet elegant somehow... dashing.

He defends Christianity and yet, he also had a strong education in Greek and Roman Studies. This tension between the Pagan and Christian is very common, and many Christians are a byproduct of this tension. But at the same time, we should watch out for Hellenism... which expresses itself as cultural relativity.

People still believe in God in America. I think 90% of Americans believe in a uinversal spirit or God. God could be first consciousness. God could express himself through the processes of logic which may lead back to him.