Cumberland County Arts Council 

Burkesville, Kentucky 

November 6, 1998 

"Two Evenings With C.S. Lewis: 

The Man Who Created Narnia"

Part 1

 

Welcome and Introduction

 

On behalf of the Cumberland County Arts Council and the Burkesville Christian Church, I want to welcome you to this two-evening multimedia centenary celebration of author and literary critic, C.S. Lewis's birth. My names is Richard James and I will be presenting the program.

If you will note from the outline of tonight's program, we will first be discussing Lewis's life, followed by a brief video. Then, we will discuss one of his most well-known series of novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, viewing a portion of a BBC rendition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Tomorrow night we will be dealing more with his works plus the unusual story of his marriage, late in life, to Joy Davidman, with a viewing of the BBC version of Shadowlands, the movie made for television which was the basis for the Hollywood film of 1993, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

Before I go any further I would like to ask if you would interact with me as to your own reading of C.S. Lewis.

Maybe I might ask,

1. "How many of you have never read any of his books? Would you raise your hands?

2. Of those who have, how many first read or had read to you, the books known as the Chronicles of Narnia?

3. How many first read either The Screwtape Letters or Mere Christianity?

4. How many came to read him first through his literary criticism?

5. What are some of the books that others of you may have read upon your first introduction to Lewis?

Thank you. That gives me a better idea of the people with whom I am sharing.

 

My own experience

 

With that settled, let me share a little of my own experience with Lewis and what his writings have meant to me. I had never heard of C.S. Lewis until I went to college; and, as a college student having to deal with questions about my faith, a friend suggested reading Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. I really was impressed by the clarity and logic of the one and the humor and insight of the other. I soon began to read other Lewis books, especially his books that related to Christianity. I did not know for some time that he had died in the same year and on the same day as President Kennedy, which also was my first year at college. Following my graduation from college in Virginia, I married and came out to Kentucky, to Lexington, to attend seminary. It was in 1969, in a Christian coffeehouse that I first heard portions of the Chronicles of Narnia read. The wonder, the joy, the adventure, the awe-filled experience with Aslan, all gave new vision to me of what the Christian life could really be like in our world. So significant was this fresh spiritual experience with the Chronicles of Narnia that three years later, we named our first son David Edmund after Edmund, the child in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for whom the real lion king, Aslan, died. About 1975 further interest in Lewis led me to correspond with a literary society in New York which met monthly and read their own papers on C.S. Lewis to one another and then published them in a newsletter to anyone who wanted to join them. Named The New York C.S. Lewis Society, my association with them opened my horizon to C.S. Lewis's other more literary works. One thing led to another, and over the last 23 years I have collected a copy of and read almost all of the available articles and books that have been written by or about C.S. Lewis and his friends from about the 1930's up until today.

 

My involvement with The C.S. Lewis Reader's Encyclopedia

 

About two and a half years ago I attended a workshop on C.S. Lewis led by Dr. Bruce Edwards, head of the graduate English Department at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Bruce was one of the organizers for an encyclopedic reference work on Lewis which was published this last June by Zondervan. He asked me if I would like to be a contributor to that book which eventually was entitled, The C.S. Lewis Reader's Encyclopedia and, of course, I said, "Yes." It is available on the table closest to the kitchen if you would like to browse or buy one this evening following the program. I'll be sharing more details about my articles tomorrow evening.

 

An Outline of C.S. Lewis's life  

 

 In spite of the fact that in the 1930's and 40's that Lewis was one of the most popular lecturers among students at Oxford; in spite of the fact that millions heard his voice broadcast weekly over the BBC during World War II; in spite of the fact that his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1947, C.S. Lewis and his writings never reached the level of popularity during his lifetime that they are today. Ironically, it was his growing popularity as a lay religious writer and speaker in the 1940's that caused both embarrassment and jealousy among his academic colleagues at Oxford and the political intrigue that followed which hindered him from becoming a full professor there. Oxford dons were just not supposed to be involved in such unprofessional activities. (Green, 280-281) Later, in 1954, a competing sister university, Cambridge, did offer him a full professorship, where he served until just before his death in 1963. Look with me now at the handout titled "A C.S. Lewis Chronology." (This hyperlink opens another window.)

 

His early life

 

You will notice in 1908 that his mother died of cancer. Her early death just before Jack Lewis's tenth birthday brought chaos into his well-ordered Irish family. His father, Albert, never really came to grips with the loss of his wife. In the midst of his grief and overwork, Albert chose to send his two sons away to boarding schools for their education, and, although he financially supported them and saw them on vacations, he never really was aware of their emotional and personal needs. Both Warnie and Jack had been raised in what we would call the Episcopal or Anglican church in Great Britain, but soon after leaving home they both became unbelievers.

In 1914 Jack was sent to be tutored by W.T. Kirkpatrick, one of his father's old teachers. It was Kirkpatrick's responsibility to prepare Lewis for entry into Oxford University, into which Lewis was accepted in 1917. Under Kirkpatrick, who was both a rationalist and an atheist, Lewis studied the great literary authors and philosophical thinkers, both classical and modern, in their original languages; in so doing, developing his own rhetorical and literary skills. In a letter to Lewis's father, Kirkpatrick described Jack as "the most brilliant translator of Greek plays that I have ever met." (Green, 46)

Shortly after his arrival at Oxford, he was commissioned into the army and was later sent into battle in France. In April, 1918 he was wounded in action, returning, after rehabilitation to his studies at Oxford. He received a rare triple-First in his academic studies, but had difficulty finding a permanent teaching position. Finally, in 1925, Lewis was elected a Fellow in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, publishing in 1936, his first major book of literary criticism, The Allegory of Love.

 

Four major changes in his life 

between WW I and The Allegory of Love

 

It was during this formative period between his return to Oxford and the publication of The Allegory of Love that several major changes occurred in his life.

1. His emotional attachment to Janie Moore

First, during his recovery, he developed an emotional attachment, both maternal and probably sexual to Mrs. Janie Moore, the mother of his former roommate, Paddie Moore, who had died in the war. Unbeknownst to his father and to the school authorities and many of his friends, Lewis set up a household in Oxford with Mrs. Moore and her daughter Maureen. Later, in 1932, Lewis's brother, Warnie would also come live with them. Mrs. Moore, an unbeliever, died in a nursing home in 1951. Some felt that his commitment to Mrs. Moore and her domestic demands on his time hindered his literary work, but others felt that it gave him more depth as a writer, than if he had lived only at the university.

2. Two books of poetry published

Second, during this time Lewis had two books of poetry published under the pseudonym, Clive Hamilton. The first, Spirits in Bondage, was published in 1919 and the second, Dymer, was published in 1926. Although he had hoped to make a name for himself as a poet, neither of these books received either critical or popular approval. Facing this fact was difficult, but, in doing so, he then turned to literary criticism, where his talents seemed to be both more fruitful and more appreciated. (Lewis, LCSL, 159, 181, 318, 444)

3. Forming of friendships which eventually became the Inklings

Third, during both his student days and in his early teaching career, Lewis began to develop significant friendships with the men who would eventually be the nucleus of the Inklings. In 1919 he met both Cecil Harwood and Owen Barfield as fellow students at Oxford. All three had an interest in poetry. He met Nevill Coghill in 1923, with whom he had the same tutor at Oxford. It was Coghill who later introduced him to Hugo Dyson in 1930. He met Tolkien in 1926, sharing a common interest in Old English and Norse mythology. Dr. Humphrey Havard met Lewis while making a house call at the Kilns in 1934. Eventually all of these friends, including Lewis's brother and several others, came together informally in the mid-1930's to share and discuss with each other their unpublished writings.

4. His Conversion

A fourth major change occurred shortly before the death of Lewis's father in 1929. In the spring of that year, after many years of doubt, searching, and unfulfilled longing, Lewis had reluctantly come to believe that there was a God. Following his father's death that fall, Jack had written to his friend Arthur Greeves that he was moving closer to a belief in Christianity. In September,1931, with the help of Dyson and Tolkien, he took the final step - accepting the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ as the Son of God. He then wrote again to Arthur saying, "I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ." (TST, 10/1/31) In just a little over a year he wrote an allegorical account of his conversion from atheism to Christianity and it was published in 1933 as The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism. A little over twenty years later he again reviewed the shape of his early life and the events that led to his conversion in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Of course, this particular change, his conversion, also brought additional changes in his relationship with Mrs. Moore.

Having faced these four major changes as a young academic at Oxford, Lewis was now headed into the most fruitful period of his life as an author, the details of which we will look at more tomorrow night. But as you can see there is much more to tell about Lewis's life and now we will view a brief video. [Here we watch the Mere C.S. Lewis video]

Let's look now at the place where Lewis seems most accessible to the greatest number of people. The Chronicles of Narnia are seven children's books, begun by Lewis in 1948 and finished in 1954. They were all being written about the same time that he was also writing his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Instead of being allegories pointing to Christianity, Lewis preferred to think of them as "supposals," answering the question "What might Christ have become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He has actually done in ours?" I have already shared with you how much my family and I have enjoyed the Narnian stories. (CSLRE. 121.122)

Look with me now the chronological order of the seven books in terms of earth years: 

 
Chronological Order of the Narnian Chronicles
1. The Magician's Nephew (1900)
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1940)
3. The Horse and His Boy (1940)
4. Prince Caspian (1941)
5. The Voyage of the "Dawn Trader" (1942)
6. The Silver Chair (1942)
7. The Last Battle (1949)

 

First, we have The Magiican's Nephew (1900), which tells the beginnings of Narnia. It's earthly plot took place in 1900. Then, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1940), actually the first Narnian chronicle to be written, took place during World War II, during the bombing of London, when many children were sent to places in the countryside for their safety. The next four - The Horse and His Boy (1940), Prince Caspian (1941), The Voyage of the "Dawn Trader" (1942), and The Silver Chair (1942) - also take place during World War II. The final volume, The Last Battle (1949), takes place around 1949. All of these stories are a delight to read and can be enjoyed by adults as well as children, beginning probably about the fourth or fifth grade, depending on their maturity, reading ability and interest.

Next, consider below an outline of the plot of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I have already forwarded the video down to number 9 on the list, so that we can complete the video around our planned time. Let's read those first nine plot lines so that we can all enjoy the story from that point on.

Plot Outline of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

About 1940, during World War II, the four Pevensie children - Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy - come to visit Professor Digory Kirk who lives in the English countryside and happens to own a magic wardrobe.

1. Lucy accidently finds herself in Narnia as she walks through the back of the wardrobe into snow.

2. After a visit with Mr. Tumnus the Faun, Lucy returns to England.

3. Edmund accidently find himself in Narnia as he walks through the back of the wardrobe and meets Jadis, the "Queen of Narnia."

4. Edmund becomes addicted to turkish delight candy while in Narnia.

5. Peter and Susan assume that Lucy's experience is unreal and Edmund dishonestly agrees with them.

6. All four children find themselves in Narnia.

7. The four learn about Narnia while visiting Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.

8. Edmund sneaks away to betray the others to the White Witch.

*9. Edmund makes his way to the Witch's castle and becomes a captive there. [Start the video, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.]

10. As the children and the Beavers flee, Father Christmas arrives with gifts for the children.

11. The Witch discovers that her perpetual winter is beginning to thaw.

12. Aslan appears, greets his friends and knights Peter.

13. The Witch demands her right to kill Edmund.

14. Aslan give Himself to the Witch to die in Edmund's place on the Stone Table.

15. Aslan comes back to life.

16. Aslan revives all of the Witch's victims whom she had turned into stone statues.

17. The children rule Narnia for many happy years before returning to England.

(adapted from Kathryn Lindskoog, Journey Into Narnia, pp. 109-110)

 

After the video.

I have included with your handout two pages with questions related to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: first, a short, factual quiz and then, a page of questions to help you think more about its meaning. Finally, there is a page that deals with the possible Christian "supposals" that we talked about earlier. I would like to close our first session with that page.

 

The Miracle at the Great Stone Table

On May 29, 1954 Lewis answered a letter which had been sent to him by a fifth grade class in Maryland that had read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

 

I did not say to myself, "Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia": I said, "Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen."

C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children. pp. 44-45.

 

Possible Biblical allusions in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

 

Isaiah 53:4-12

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. {5} But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. {6} All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. {7} He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. {8} He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. {9} And they made His grave with the wicked; But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. {10} Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. {11} He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. {12} Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

 

2 Corinthians 5:21

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

 

Closing and Question Time

I'm so glad that each of you came tonight. I hope that you can come again tomorrow night at the same time. On Saturday night we will review some more of Lewis's life and works and watch the BBC version of Shadowlands. Please feel free to look around at the displays along the wall. Over here are copies of almost all of C.S. Lewis's books and many about him. On this wall to my right are several newsletters and periodicals dedicated to his life and works. On the end of the table nearest the kitchen I some copies of the book to which I contributed several articles. Does anyone have any comments or questions they would like to make now.

Bibliography

Green, Roger Lancelyn, and Walter Hooper. C.S. Lewis: A Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974.

Lewis, C.S. "It All Began With A Picture." in Of Other Worlds. New York: HBJ, 1966. (OOW)

_______.Letters of C.S. Lewis. ed. with a memoir by W.H. Lewis. revised and enlarged. ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1988. (LCSL)

_______. "On Three Ways of Writing for Children." in Of Other Worlds. New York: HBJ, 1966. (OOW)

_______.They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963). ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Macmillan, 1979. (TST)

Lindskoog, Kathryn. Journey into Narnia. Pasadena, CA: Hope Publishing House, 1998.

Schultz, Jeffrey D. and West, John G. eds. The C.S. Lewis Readers' Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998. (CSLRE)

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Last Updated: Monday, September 03, 2001