I don't know about you, but for years now I have grown increasingly skeptical about a lot of the books and other products that continue to roll out from the publishing industry that surrounds the life and work of the great Oxford don and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.
Don't get me wrong. I have an entire room of my house that, basically, is dedicated to Eastern Orthodox icons, my family and C.S. Lewis. My son's middle name is "Lewis" and we almost used "Jack" as his first name. I read "The Great Divorce" every year during Lent.
But, honestly, it's almost like we've reached the point where people would publish an annotated edition of this man's grocery lists, should they become available. There are still fine books being published about the Narnian, but I've grown more skeptical about some of work produced by the C.S. Lewis industrial complex.
And then someone comes up with an interesting twist in the life of Lewis. In this case, Christianity Today has just published an online essay -- by scholar Harry Lee Poe of Union University here in Tennessee -- that is a bit of a news scoop. It argues that, while no one is claiming Lewis ever ran around with a gun and a decoder ring, the young Oxford don appears to have done some work for MI6, as in Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Yes, you read that right. This kind of adds a new layer of meaning to discussions of an "Inner Ring" and talk about devilish high-ranking agents working with case officers to snare souls. Here is how it starts:
As I browsed eBay not long ago, I came across a 78 rpm recording of a lecture by C. S. Lewis. I assumed that it was a mistake or that the seller was trying to defraud an unwitting public. I knew Lewis well enough to know that he had never made a 78 rpm recording for general distribution, much less one produced by something called the Joint Broadcasting Committee. I also knew that Lewis never delivered a lecture on the subject “The Norse Spirit in English Literature.” At least, I knew we had no evidence of such a lecture. Fortunately, curiosity got the better of me, and I bought the record from the dealer in Iceland. ...
And what an unusual find it turned out to be. I discovered some things about a secret episode in Lewis’s life that few, if any, people knew about.
So what did Lewis do for M16?
The famous orator -- his BBC broadcasts turned into "Mere Christianity" -- prepared lectures for a broadcast audience in Iceland. This was, it appears, strategic stuff.
Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended upon the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.
This was the strategic situation in which C. S. Lewis was recruited. And his mission was simple: To help win the hearts of the Icelandic people.
The Joint Broadcasting Committee recruited C. S. Lewis to record a message to the people of Iceland to be broadcast by radio within Iceland. Lewis made no record of his assignment, nor does he appear to have mentioned it to anyone. Without disclosing his involvement with military intelligence, however, Lewis did make an indiscreet disclosure to his friend Arthur Greeves in a letter dated May 25, 1941. Lewis remarked that three weeks earlier he had made a gramophone record which he heard played afterwards. He wrote that it had been a shock to hear his own voice for the first time. It did not sound at all the way his voice sounded to himself, and he realized that people who imitated him had actually gotten it right!
Until now, Lewis scholars have assumed that this gramophone recording by Lewis in early May 1941, which they had only read about in this letter, must have been a recorded voice test for his BBC broadcasts. It was the only logical explanation.
Read it all. And join me, if you wish, in joyfully awaiting the headlines that the British tabs will be able to pin on coverage of this.