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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 80, Spring 1999

Is the London Telegraph Down on C. S. Lewis? Original Article

Two Autumn 1998 Attacks
CHARLOTTE CORY SAYS SHE LOVED the Narnian Chronicles as a child, until she
learned she had been “conned” by a Christian allegory. On Saturday, 19
September 1998 the Telegraph published her full-page article titled “The
woman who drew Narnia” celebrating Pauline Baynes. Cory obviously has
little respect for Lewis (“hypocritical”), but immense respect for Baynes.

The article is illustrated with a superb photo of Baynes, one of her
drawings of Jadis (strangely titled “which craft”), and a standard photo of
Lewis. But according to Cory, Lewis cared nothing about illustrations and
only pretended to like those by Baynes. Baynes’s only vivid memory of Lewis
is that when no one wanted more brussels sprouts at a luncheon he hosted,
he gleefully picked the walnuts out of the dish and ate them. Tolkien comes
off far better in this article, because to Corey his Christianity seemed
‘more rooted and unobtrusive”.

On November 14, two months after the full-page Baynes article, one by A. N.
Wilson appeared, titled “The problem of C S Lewis.” Wilson begins, “The C S
lewis Centenary — he was born on November 29, 1898 — is a high festival
for evengelical Christians of a certain temper, for American right-wingers
of a particular, numerous and vociferous variety, and for children, or
ex-children, who have been enchanted by his cycle of stories about Narnia,
that imagined land beyond the wardrobe. Understandably, given the partisan
colouring of the Lewisites, he has received a measure of abuse.”

Wilson explains, “I used to be the sort of wishy-washy, half-believing
churchgoer that Lewis so much despised. Writing his biography 10 years ago
turned me into a very definite non-believer. Of Lewis’s immediate circle,
his life-companion for 30 years, Janie Moore, was an atheist; his oldest
schoolfriend and correspondent turned from being a believer to being a
sceptic; even those who shared his beliefs, such as J R R Tolkien,
complained of ’embarrassment’ when the subject of religion arose.” (Wilson
implies that close acquaintance with Lewis reveals the bankruptcy of his
religion. Greeves was never a schoolfriend, but that’s the least of the
faults in this misrepresentation. )

Wilson’s point is that the C. S. Lewis worth celebrating, the literary
scholar, “has been largely forgotten by the Holy Rollers, the children’s
literature addicts and the slighty creepy Americans who seem to have made
up some virginal or non-smoking Lewis in their own image….

“Most, if not all, of these fantasy projections would have horrified the
real C S Lewis, just as much as they embarrass (or amuse) his pupils,
friends and those who know anything about him.”

After a graceful overview of some of Lewis’s scholarly concerns, Wilson
concludes with more bombast and portrayal himself as Lewis’s defender and
the reader’s friend. “It is one of the strange paradoxes that Lewis himself
should have been Disneyfied by the Americans or those European Protestants
who follow the purely American Evangelical Creed…. By all means love
Narnia. Ignore the Holy Roller books — they are an embarrassment. Re-read
and savour English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama and
revere a man who, whatever his faults, held a flickering lantern against
the coming dark.”

As part of his entertaining fantasy projections about American readers of
Lewis, Wilson accuses them of having fantasy projections. He claims that
these American fantasy projections embarrass or amuse people who know
anything about Lewis, when in fact his own fantasy projections embarrass or
amuse people who know anything about Wilson.

In his grandiose concluding flourish, Wilson is obviously thumbing his nose
at gullible newspaper readers. “Re-read and savour” a daunting 696-page
tome? I can almost hear Screwtape whispering this strategem into Wilson’s
ear: “Advise the general public to start with the OHEL volume. That will
simultaneously impress them with your intelligence and good will toward
Lewis and discourage them from reading Lewis.”

Lewis’s unnamed “Holy Roller books” must be an embarrassment, all right. An
embarrassment to A. N. Wilson and to Screwtape.