Monday, November 07, 2005

"The Narnian"

It's tough writing about C.S.Lewis. Granted, the guy was a master storyteller. Personally I view any childhood that avoided The Chronicles of Narnia as sadly deprived. He was a decent apoligist, too, and if he lacked the power of a G.K. Chesterton or the breadth of a Frank Sheed, at least he was clearsighted and direct when it came to human nature. Anyone who has read The Screwtape Letters knows that sharp wince that accompanies seeing one's own faults- especially the ones you thought nobody knew about!- right there on the printed page for all the world to read.

But then there's that other thing about Lewis: he was, face it, more than a little strange.

Lewis had a hard start in life. His mother died when he was nine, his relationship with his father was proper but distant, and his years in school were for the most part sheer torutre, first under a sadistic headmaster who was later declared insane and died in an asylum, later under the ruthless "fagging" of powerful schoolboy prefects. In later life he would declare that school was more loathesome to him than the Army, and he was hardly cut out for military life.

Shortly before being sent into the trenches of World War I, Lewis and best friend Paddy Moore made a pact: If Lewis were killed, Paddy would look after Lewis's widowed father in Belfast; if Moore died, Lewis would look after his mother in Bristol. Moore died. Lewis got Janie ("Minto") Moore. For the next thirty years.

If there are any positive accounts of Minto Moore, I have yet to find them. Lewis's biographers, from his brother Warnie to the most recent contributor, Alan Jacobs, ("The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis") describe Moore as petulant and demanding, and her declining health only exacerbated her faults. And she was. of course, old enough to be Lewis's mother. But Lewis seems to have loved her, at least for a while. He sacrificed most of his scarce spare time to attending to Moore's needs until the day of her death in 1951.

Biographers are divided on what role Lewis and Moore played in each other's lives. Some insist it was strictly a mother/son relationship, while others say it must have been sexual. I can believe the latter theory much more easily than I can the former. At any rate Lewis was silent on the particulars of their relationship.

A year after Minto's death, Joy Davidman Gresham showed up. The American's marriage was on the rocks when she insinuated herself into Lewis's life, first through overseas fan mail, then face to face when she travelled to England to meet Lewis. Later she brought her two sons to england, It was around that time that she discovered that she couldnt legally remain in Englad much longer, unless of course she happened to get married to a British subject. Before Lewis knew what hit him he was a married man, with another needy female to support.

The marriage of Joy and Jack Lewis has been much romaticized, on stage, on screen, and but the Lewises themselves. But come on- Joy was a schemer. Even at the time of her arrival Lewis's friends knew, because he had told them, that if Lewis weren't a confirmed bachelor he would marry an old friend named Ruth Pittman. But Joy elbowed her aside, as she did anyone who objected to her union with her favorite author. She had her heart set on the altar, and Lewis- ignorant of women as he was- didn't stand a chance.

Scarecely four years later Joy died of cancer. Along the way Lewis came to love and cherish her. But he could never say he chose her.

i dont' know, there's just something not quite right about Lewis, something kept too long in the dark and nevera llowed to bloom; too many pieces missing. I love his books, but I find the man a tough sell.

4 comments:

Frank said...

Lewis may, or may not, be a tough sell.

But the thing that is compelling is that what he was trying to sell was not his self at all, but Christ.

And, like all good salesmen, he believed in his product.

The Apologist said...

Everyone's got faults. Can you honestly say that you yourself are not a little strange? And honestly, who are we to say that our sins are any better or worse than his?

Rather than being ruthless to the poor man, we ought to delight in the truths he told in life. Even Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi were immoral by the only standard that matters.

Sue said...

Geez. Apologist, if what I said about Lewis is your idea of "ruthless," I'd hate to hear what you thought of the rest of this blog.

And as I said in the post, I think a childhood without Lewis's books is a childhood deprived. Does that count for "delight[ing] in the turhts he told"? I certainly hope so.

None of this means he's not a tough sell. Evelyn Waugh was a literary genius IMHO, but no one' s ever going to nominate him for "Nice Guy of the 20th Century."

Christopher McLaughlin said...

P.G. Wodehouse is still the best. You don't even have to be in childhood to feel him bringing you back there... by the way Sue, you have a great blog site and you have a hilarious sense of humor. Please keep it up. You are such a respite from the mundane and dreary