The Boy from Belfast - C. S. Lewis
Updated: Jul 28, 2019
It was raining the day we visited Oxford - the home city of C.S. Lewis. Huddled under an umbrella, the cold seeping through my jeans, I could easily imagine the seventeen-year-old Lewis huddled over his desk trying to write his entrance exams for Oxford University with gloves on.
We were on a Tolkien and C. S. Lewis tour – seeing the colleges where they lived and taught, and the pubs where they met to discuss literature and their own writing. What struck me was that these men were amazing academics, immersed in the world of literature both English and foreign.
We passed students in their black gowns with a carnation in their lapel to show at which stage of their exams they were – white for first exam, pink for middle exams and red for final exams. We passed students carting flowers and champagne, shaving foam and confetti to greet their friends after their final exam. We passed bookshop after bookshop filled with literary classics. We ate the classic Devonshire tea with scones, jam and clotted cream – delicious.
What struck me was that these men were amazing academics, immersed in the world of literature both English and foreign, and that they regularly drank, laughed and debated with fellow writers. Both C S Lewis and Tolkien did this – and not just with the famous ‘Inklings’ group at the Eagle and Child pub.
Tolkein set up a group called the ‘Apolistics’ – a play on the word apostolic. Guess how many were in the group? That’s right – 12. Tragically, over half of these bright young men were killed in the war. When you watch ‘Lord of the Rings’ it’s easy to see the images the war seared into Tolkein’s mind. But he returned and continued to meet regularly with fellow writers and literary scholars.
Goal 1: Expand my literary connections – writing groups, book clubs, conferences – to discuss, laugh and debate all things literary.
Did these great writers discuss only their own genre, their own work? No! They covered a mind-blowing diversity of subjects including translating Icelandic!
Goal 2: Read widely – not just in the genre I write, not just fiction, not just recent stuff.
A few days later we arrived in Ireland where C. S. Lewis was born and grew up. Just down the road from his East Belfast house and next to the local library is the C. S. Lewis Park scattered with life-sized Narnian sculptures.
Some commentaries question C. S. Lewis’ intentions with writing the Narnia books, saying that the allusion to things Christian is simply a coincidence. But on a memorial to the great author, engraved in metal, are his own words on the subject. In a response to a letter from 10-year-old Anne Waller in 1961 he says, 'The whole Narnian story is about Christ.’
Here’s what C. S. Lewis says about each book.
The Magician’s Nephew tells the creation and how evil entered Narnia.
The Lion etc. – the crucifixion and resurrection
Prince Caspian – restoration of the true religion after a corruption
The Horse and his Boy – the calling and conversion of a heathen
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep)
The Silver Chair – the continual war against the powers of darkness
The Last Battle – the coming of the Antichrist (the ape). The end of the world and last judgement.
C. S. Lewis had the amazing ability to package spiritual truths in a wonderful story. In his words:
Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it, or you don’t believe it.
Whether it’s faith, nutrition, politics or history, every writer aims to turn complex concepts, ideas and facts into something easy to understand and interesting to read. Even if one is born with an aptitude for words, it still requires study and practice. C. S. Lewis studied, wrote, taught and debated literature at Oxford for almost fifty years.
Goal 3: Keep writing and writing and writing.