You Don't Know Jack (3/4)

11. Lewis addressed the nation during World War Two

After the success of his book, The Problem of Pain, Lewis was invited by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) to speak on the radio to the nation during World War Two. These radio addresses later became the basis for one of Lewis’ best known books, Mere Christianity. As well as arguing for the existence of God, he used these broadcasts to defend the basic tenets of Christianity which are held across all Christian denominations.

12. He wrote many books, across many different genres 

Mere Christianity was just one of the thirty or so books Jack wrote. What is particularly amazing about his vast literary output, even aside from the fact that he wrote every line with a dip pen, is that his works are of many literary styles. Lewis produced apologetics, fairy tales, science fiction, essays, autobiography, poetry and anthologies, as well as his academic work in literary criticism. In fact, you might say that he was a “Jack of all genres”….

All these successful books earned Lewis considerable wealth, but he gave away about two thirds of his income. He did this anonymously through The Agape Fund which he established.

13. There’s more to Narnia than you might think…

Probably Lewis’ most well-known works are The Chronicles of Narnia. Many of these have received TV and movie adaptations. These books were read to me as a child and, while the Narnia stories seemed to me somehow familiar, I didn’t fully grasp the Christian nature of these books until much later. However, Lewis was very quick to argue that Narnia wasn’t simply Christian allegory. Instead, he called it an “imaginative supposal”. He said:

Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of Incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there? - C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters

Lewis understood the power of story-telling and its ability to smuggle ideas past our “watchful dragons” of prejudice. Stories allow us to encounter ideas afresh and with renewed potency. He had been affected by this himself, many years before when he read George MacDonald’s Phantastes, which he described as baptising his imagination.

However, there are even more layers to the Chronicles of Narnia! About ten years ago, Dr. Michael Ward (a convert to Catholicism and the 100th priest of the newly-formed Anglican Ordinariate), published his book Planet Narnia, which argued convincingly that Lewis had based The Chronicles of Narnia upon the medieval cosmos. Each of the books correspond to one of the seven heavens and planets. For example, Prince Caspian is associated with the planet Mars which is, in turn associated with war and trees, motifs which we find interlaced throughout that book.

14. A pen friend to many     

Not only was Lewis a “man of letters”, he was also a prolific letter-writer. For example, he regularly corresponded with his Irish childhood friend, Arthur Greeves, for over half a decade!

With Lewis’ celebrity, came many more letters, sent to him by adults as well as children. Jack took this responsibility very seriously and spent several hours a day writing responses to the avalanche of fan mail.  There’s even an adorable letter from a mother whose child was worried that he loved Aslan more than Jesus.

15. He was snubbed at Oxford, but recognised at Cambridge

Despite his acclaim and popularity as a lecturer, Lewis was many times overlooked for promotion at Oxford University. The commonly accepted reason for this was that he wrote and spoke openly about his Christianity. Many felt it unbecoming of a man in his position, particularly one who didn’t even belong to the Theology Faculty. Fortunately, Cambridge University created a position specifically for him which, after some persistent pestering, he eventually accepted. 

This wasn’t the only prize he was invited to accept. Lewis was offered a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1951, but Lewis declined it, saying that he feared it might politicise his apostolate.