Missing Lewis

narnia2In a preemptive strike against Aslan and his fans, The New York Times has launched an attack today against the mind behind the Land of Narnia. While I enjoyed Charles McGrath's article for its freshness and willingness to depart from the standard C.S. Lewis script, he doesn't provide any new information and simply repeats some of the speculation presented by A.N. Wilson, author of C.S. Lewis: A Biography (Norton, 1990).

McGrath devotes six paragraphs of his article to speculation surrounding Lewis's relationship with a Mrs. Moore, also known as Minto. McGrath goes as far to call Wilson "the best and most persuasive of Lewis's biographers," and states that "there's no reason at all to think they didn't [sleep together], leaving us with the baffling and disquieting psychological picture of C.S. Lewis, the great scholar and writer and Christian apologist-to-be, pedaling off on his bicycle, his academic gown flapping in the wind, to have a nooner with Mum." Here's the crux of the subject:

For more than 40 years, he lived with the mother of a friend named Edward Moore, with whom he had made one of those earnest World War I pacts: if anything happened to either of them, the other would take care of his friend's family. In the event, it was Moore who died, while Lewis came down with trench fever and was later wounded, not severely but badly enough that he was sent home.

Lewis, then 20, went to Oxford in January 1919, but he kept his word and moved Mrs. Moore and her daughter, Maureen, to lodgings nearby. In those days, for an Oxford undergraduate to spend the night away from his college, let alone spend it with a woman, was a serious offense, and so Lewis embarked upon a double life, spending the week in college and weekends and vacations with Maureen and Mrs. Moore, or Minto, as she was known. The arrangement persisted for the rest of Minto's life, long after Lewis earned his degree and became a don.

In 1930, he and Minto bought a house together, and Lewis's brother, Warnie, a career army officer whose excessive drinking had forced him into early retirement, moved in. But during the term, Lewis still slept in his rooms at Magdalen College. Many of his friends didn't even know about Minto; others had the vague impression that she was his stepmother.

The exact nature of their relationship is something that many of Lewis's biographers would prefer to tiptoe around. But Lewis was far from a sexual innocent, and the evidence strongly suggests that, at least until he got religion, there was an erotic component to his life with Minto. Did they actually sleep together, this earnest, scholarly young man, conventional in almost every other way, and a woman 26 years his senior? Walter Hooper, the editor of Lewis's "Collected Letters," thinks it "not improbable." A.N. Wilson, the best and most persuasive of Lewis's biographers, argues that there's no reason at all to think they didn't, leaving us with the baffling and disquieting psychological picture of C.S. Lewis, the great scholar and writer and Christian apologist-to-be, pedaling off on his bicycle, his academic gown flapping in the wind, to have a nooner with Mum.

The true authoritative Lewis biographer, George Sayer, in his Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis (Crossway, 1994), deals with the psychobabble presented by Wilson. Since he knew Lewis closely through this years and talked to others who lived at the house at the time, he is fairly certain that the relationship was innocent.

The NYT piece also fails to even mention when Lewis converted to Christianity. Such a significant event in a person's life surely deserves at least a mention.

This then leads to a disturbing speculation by McGrath, that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was motivated by some Freudian, drunken, crazy man whose wardrobe symbolizes something a little more disturbing than a place where you put your coats and scarves. Fortunately, McGrath rejects that speculation:

But if in fact there is a psychological explanation for how the books came to be, it is probably a good deal simpler. Lewis was at the time so despondent and worn down, so weary of the world of grown-ups, with their bedpans and whiskey bottles, that he must have longed for a holiday in a land of make-believe.

Lewis later claimed that in writing the Narnia books, he "put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my 50's." Children's literature -- the notion of books written specifically to be read to or by young people -- was a Victorian invention, and Lewis as a child was shaped by a typically Victorian reading list. With the indiscrimination that so troubled Tolkien, he cannibalized much of it for "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Here's the NYT elevating speculation on a man's life that belongs in the gutter. Can't it find a more serious angle on the man who is still considered the most prominent Christian writer in the last 100 years? How about the discussion that we could have regarding why Lewis has not been replaced and passed up by another?

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