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Calvin Academy of Life Long Learning


He thought that magic only existed in books.... then he met her.' Oh dear. ... The screen gives us 'You have to let go, Jack. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Calvin Academy of Life Long Learning

Calvin Academy of Life Long Learning The Real
C.S. Lewis His Life and Writings Compiled by
Paulo F. Ribeiro, MBA, PhD, PE, IEEE Fellow
Session VI
Spring 2003, AD SB 101
The Real C.S. Lewis His Life and
Writings Schedule 3/13/ - Surprised by Joy The
Chronology and Development of a Tough And
Holistic Christian Mind 3/20 - Mere Christianity
Orthodoxy and Basic Christian Doctrines (Other
books Reflections on the Psalms and
Miracles) 3/27 - Screwtape Letters Hell and
Heaven 4/3 - God in the Dock Common Sense
Christian Practice 4/10 Narnia Imagination For
Kingdoms Service 4/24- The Last Ten Years
Shawdowlands (BBC Movie)
Shawdowlands - Themes Pain and God's Power "Lay
down this book and reflect for five minutes on
the fact that all of the great religions were
first preached, and long practiced, in a world
without chloroform." (The Problem of Pain) Pain
and God's Goodness "A man can no more diminish
God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a
lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling
'darkness' on the walls of his cell." (The
Problem of Pain) Grief and Faith "No one ever
told me that grief felt so like fear." (A Grief
Observed) The Shadowlands "The world is like a
picture with a golden background, and we the
figures in the picture. Until you step off the
plane of the picture into the large dimensions of
death you cannot see the gold." (The Problem of
"For a good wife contains so many persons in
herself. What was H. not to me? She was my
daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher,
my subject and my sovereign and always, holding
all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend,
shipmate fellow-soldier. My mistress but at the
same time all that any man friend (and I have
good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more. If
we had never fallen in love we should have none
the less been always together, and created a
scandal. CS Lewis
How Hollywood Reinvented C. S. Lewis in the film
"Shadowlands." by John G. West, Jr. It is
understandable why the film Shadowlands (now
available on videotape) won rave reviews from
almost everybody. The acting is splendid, the
script is literate, and the production design is
first-rate. All things considered, the film is a
wonderful piece of cinema and well worth seeing.
For those of us who never had the rare privilege
of meeting C. S. Lewis in person, Shadowlands
brings Lewis and his world to life in a new
way. Nevertheless, despite its beauty and its
pathos, Shadowlands is not without major failings
in the realm of accuracy. Unfortunately, many
people seem to take at face value the film's
opening claim that "this is a true story." The
reviewer for Christianity Today, for instance,
wrote that although "the filmmakers have taken
some liberties with factsand simplified some of
Lewis's complex musings the film is generally
true to Lewis's life." As a matter of fact, it
isn't. The names of the principal characters are
the same, but much of the plot has been contrived
to fit the point of view of scriptwriter William
Nicholson. I'm not complaining about the numerous
small inaccuracies. I expected those. After all,
it doesn't really matter that Joy had two sons
instead of one (though it might matter if you
were the son who was left out). Nor does it
really matter that the marriage between Joy and
Jack went on a lot longer than the film indicates
(more than three years in reality). Such errors
are minor and certainly fall within the domain of
legitimate dramatic license. What is more
difficult to accept are the two huge errors on
which the whole plot seems to hinge. The first of
these errors is the depiction of Lewis's life
before he met Joy. The film portrays Lewis as
leading a cloistered existence in which he
avoided women, children, and --above all--
commitments to any relationship or situation that
offered him the potential for risk or pain. This
depiction of Lewis is a convenient way to set up
him up for the film's subsequent love story. But
the portrayal invents a C. S. Lewis who never
Contrary to the storyline of the film, Lewis had
lived a life that was anything but cloistered or
free from pain or commitment. During World War I,
the supposedly cloistered Lewis served in the
trenches in France, where he was wounded in
action. After the war, the supposedly sexless
Lewis apparently became infatuated with Mrs.
Moore, a widow old enough to be his mother. When
the affair ended and Lewis became a Christian,
Lewis the uncommitted somehow felt obliged to
support Mrs. Moore for the rest of her life, and
she lived with Lewis and his brother until she
had to be moved to a rest home (where he visited
her every day). Meanwhile, the Lewis who did not
associate with children had three children come
and stay with him during World War II (they had
been sent out of London because of the air raids
(just like Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy in the
Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). Similarly,
the Lewis who supposedly avoided women also
developed a close friendship with English poetess
Ruth Pitter he even told a friend that were he
the kind of man to get married, he would marry
her! And the Lewis who walked through life
without painful experiences had to deal with his
rejection by Oxford's academic community, which
never saw fit to select this brilliant scholar
for a professorship (Cambridge finally did in the
1950s). The second huge error of the film is its
suggestion that Lewis's faith in God was
undermined by Joy's death. While the film shows
grief-torn Lewis saying (quite tentatively) to
his stepson that he still believes in heaven,
there is little indication in the film that Lewis
still believes in a loving God. Indeed, in an
outburst before his friends, Lewis is shown
railing at the brutality of a God who acts as
cosmic vivisectionist. Although this scene is
invented (Lewisís grief was intensely private),
the speech against God that William Nicholson
puts in Lewis's mouth is actually inspired from a
passage in Lewis's A Grief Observed. The problem
is that Nicholson is slipshod in the thoughts he
chooses to lift from Lewis He appropriates
Lewis's struggles from A Grief Observed but
doesn't bother to give any sense of the
reaffirmation of faith found in the rest of that
book -- or in the many other letters, interviews,
and articles by Lewis during the rest of his
life. It seems that Mr. Nicholson wasn't
interested in portraying an orthodox Christian
who experienced intense grief and yet maintained
both his faith and his intellect. Here is where
the pernicious aspect of Shadowlands becomes
evident. Lewis's writings -- including his
intimate confessions in A Grief Observed --were
largely efforts to vindicate God's often
unfathomable ways to man. Lewis sought to remove
the obstacles that separate us from a living
relationship with the One who truly loves us.
Shadowlands does precisely the opposite by
setting up Lewis's faith as a straw man and then
proceeding to knock it down.
The film repeatedly shows Lewis delivering a
simplistic speech about how God uses painful
experiences to make us listen to Him. The facile
confidence with which Lewis delivers the speech
is gradually contrasted with personal hell he
goes through during Joy's sickness and eventual
death. By the end of the film, Lewis has
presumably recognized that his simplistic
theological dogmas won't wash. He doesn't find
God in suffering he finds a silent void. Thus is
the most cogent defender of Christian orthodoxy
of the twentieth century transformed into a
modern champion of anguished doubt. I tend to
think that most people who view Shadowlands will
overlook the underlying contempt the film
displays for Lewis's faith because Lewis is
portrayed so sympathetically. And make no
mistake Despite the biographical inaccuracies
mentioned above, Lewis is portrayed
sympathetically. This film is not anti-Lewis. But
perhaps that is because the villain in this story
is not Lewis, but God. The great irony of
Shadowlands is that it even as it draws people
closer to Lewis, it may drive them further away
from the One in whom Lewis found the meaning of
life. What a tragedy it would be if those who see
the film come away thinking that Lewis's earlier
faith was somehow refuted by reality. Mind you, I
am not claiming that this will be the result of
Shadowlands. One can only speculate about the
effect of the film on individual viewers, and
this sort of speculation is rather dubious
anyway. I can only suggest that given the film's
script that some viewers may conclude that
Lewis's defense of Christianity could not stand
the scrutiny of real life. There is another
possibility, of course The film may inspire
those who see it to read Lewis's writings for
themselves and discover the reality of the faith
to which he pointed. I hope that this second
possibility will turn out to be the reality.
Review Shadowlands - by Andrew Rilstone I
forget how much of my news you and your mother
know. It is wonderful. Last year I married, at
her bedside in hospital, a woman who seemed to be
dying so you can imagine it was a sad wedding.
But Aslan has done great things for us, and she
is now walking about again, showing the doctors
how wrong they were and making us very
happy.... C.S Lewis Letters to Children I'd
been building up to Shadowlands with some
trepidation. Richard Attenborough has made a
career out of sentimentalising the lives of well
known historical figures. (Don't you think that
Ghandi would have been improved if we'd been
allowed to hear about what he liked to do with
naked women...?) The thought of him getting to
work on one of my personal heroes was not an
inspiring prospect. The Hollywoodized publicity
campaign didn't make me very hopeful. 'He thought
that magic only existed in books.... then he met
her.' Oh dear. So I was relieved to find that
what we had was a pretty good movie, with Hopkins
almost managing to be convincing as Lewis
although he looked nothing like him, and Deborah
Winger pulling off a very nearly perfect Joy
Gresham. When you've read practically every
that's been written about a pair of people, you
get a very fixed idea of what they were like, and
its impressive when actors manage to personify
that idea. And the visuals, full of mists and
sunrises and scenery and churches and crowds of
undergraduates could hardly have been better. In
fact if Mr Attenborough hadn't removed the point
of the story and twisted its meaning, I would be
in a position to recommend it. Shadowlands, in
its three versionsTV, stage and now screenis
unashamedly a work of a hagiography rather than
biography. It is selective about what it tells us
about Lewis. The TV version didn't mention that
C.S Lewis's brother, Warren, was an alcoholic, or
that Joy Gresham's American abrasiveness made her
very unpopular with Lewis's friends. Both of
these were incorporated into the stage play,
improving it enormously. Other awkward themes
were ignored. We learned nothing of Lewis's
alleged sado-masochism, nothing of his quarrel
with Tolkien, and nothing of the mysterious Mrs
Moore, who may or may not have been the lover of
this 'confirmed bachelor'.. Nevertheless, it
seemed to me to be a valid account of this part
of Lewis's life partial, yes, somewhat
idealised, yes, but capturing some of the spirit
of the man (or at any rate, that part of it which
we know from his books.) Douglas Gresham (Lewis's
stepson) told Lewis's biographer A.N Wilson 'how
authentic it all felt, apart from the fact that
so many of the details were untrue.'
Bill Nicholson, playwright of all three versions,
said that in some biographies you have to work
quite hard to find the patterns, the connections
that can make the facts of someone's life into a
story. In C.S Lewis's case, he found the work
done already. Certainly, it seems as if Lewis was
forced, at the end of his life, to live out a
parable of everything that he had ever
writtenabout Christianity, about children, about
love, about death, about suffering. Doubtless
over-simplistic biographies have made it all seem
more clear cut than it actually was, but the bare
bones of the story seem to be entirely true. A
crusty old bachelor has a purely platonic
friendship with an outrageous American he enters
into a marriage of convenience so she can stay in
the country she turns out to be suffering from
cancer their friendship turns into sexual love
there is a death-bed marriage, a three year
remission they are happy, she dies. Alone again,
the Christian scholar has to re-assess everything
he ever believed. Is there a more painful book
in the English language than A Grief Observed,
Lewis's diary of the month's following Joy's
death? It has been said that in those months he
lost his faith what actually happened seems to
have been rather worse. In the TV version of
Shadowlands, Nicholson has him say 'I still
believe in God, but what kind of God?'. His
beliefs still seemed intellectually valid to him
but he doubted that God was good, or feared that
a truly good God might be more dreadful, more
terrifying than a malevolent deity. He rebuilt
his faith, and his final books (Prayer Letters
to Malcolm and The Great Divorce) are probably
his best less smug, more considered, more pious,
more concerned with searching for the truth, less
with winning the argument. The BBC's play
concentrated on what might be termed this
theological plot. Despite its omissions, it was
full of convincing, pointed scenes. We are shown
that David and Douglas Gresham were the same ages
that Lewis and his brother were when their mother
died. We see Douglas reading the passage from the
Magicians Nephew about Aslan bringing the magic
apple back from Narnia to save a mother's life
and Lewis realising the absurd naiveté of the
stories he had been feeding children. The play
shows us Lewis's loss of faithoverstates it,
according to some who knew Lewisbut culminates
with his mystical experience, quoted directly
from A Grief Observedin which he realises that
God is still there, unchanged. The stage version
improved the characterisation of Joy Greshamwe
could finally see why Lewis's friends at Oxford
might have disliked her. It incorporated a series
of long monologues from Lewis, derived from the
Problem of Pain, about the nature of suffering in
the world. It removed David Gresham from the
story altogether (ostensibly for reasons of
dramatic economy, but one wonders if this was at
the request of the adult David, who seems not to
have shared his brother's hero-worship of Lewis.)
It foolishly spends a lot of the second act on a
series of rather inept tableaux of Joy and Jack
being happily married, and incorporates their
'honeymoon' in Greece. Not good theatrical
material, I'm afraid. It also made a lot more of
the psychological element, arguing that Lewis was
a screwed up kid, who never got over the death of
his mother, and had been emotionally frozen by
the experience.
The film manages to cut much of what was
interesting in the two plays. Warren Lewis's
alcoholism is touched on, but to nothing like the
extent that it was in the stage play. Strangely,
the off-stage character of Bill Gresham (Joy's
first husband) is whitewashed. In both plays, we
are told that he used to fire loaded guns to work
off his anger, and once broke a bottle over
Douglas head. On the screen, Douglas briefly
complains that his dad shouts too much. Viewers
who are not very familiar with Lewis's life and
work are likely to miss entirely the symbolism of
the attic, so nicely brought out on the TV.
Lewis's emotional coldness since his mother's
death is reduced to a single conversation between
him and Joy. His antipathy to women vanishes
altogether the common room bore who explains
that men have the intellect where women have
souls (and is demolished by Joy) is expressing a
view that Lewis himself might well have put
forward. 'Why on earth marry a woman' he was
supposed to have said 'All the topics of
conversation would be used up in a fortnight.'
But Lewis the (very chivalrous) misogynist
wouldn't fit Shadowlands according to
Attenborough, so out it goes. But the films
greatest sin is the way in which Attenborough
marginalises all the specifically Christian ideas
in the story. We lose a conversation between
Lewis and his friends about the meaning of
Christmas, and gain an explanation of the
symbolism of the Wardrobe. (Is The Lion, the
Witch, and the Wardrobe really the only Lewis
book that anyone has heard of?) Later, he asks
another bachelor friend if he feels a sense of
waste. 'Of course.' replies the friend, and the
scene ends. In the play, he was allowed to add 'I
don't have your faith in divine recycling.' To be
fare, we keep the Problem of Pain monologue from
the stage play, which presents something not a
million miles from what Lewis's beliefs actually
were. 'I'm not sure God particularly wants us to
be happy . . .Pain is God's megaphone for
shouting at a callous world.' He says that we all
long to take each others pain on ourselves but
does not add, as the real Lewis undoubtedly would
have done, that we can't do so, whereas God can,
and did. These are fairly trivial points. The
loss of Joy's account of her conversion from
communism to Christianity, and Lewis's account of
his own conversion from paganism seems more
serious. A longish talk drawn directly from the
couple's correspondence becomes a single gag
about them both being 'lapsed atheists'. A very
nice scene, created specially for the film, in
which the embarrassed Lewis shares a bed with Joy
for the first time, has him commenting that each
night he kneels at the end of the bed and says
his prayers. 'Like a little boy' comments Joy.
Lewis might have said that as a little boy he was
a humanistic atheist with leanings towards
paganism and the occult. He doesn't. The film
makes his Christianity something childlike and
Anglican, which it wasn't. Most seriously of all,
the meaning of Joy's remission is changed beyond
all recognition. In the two plays, the clergyman,
having pronounced them man and wife and stumbled
touchingly over expressions like 'in sickness and
in health' and ''till death do you part' says 'I
thought I might say a brief prayer of healing.
Would you object if I laid hands on you?' This
happened in real life Lewis wrote in 1959
I have stood by the beside of a woman whose thigh
bone was eaten through with cancer and who had
thriving colonies of the disease in many other
bones as well...The doctors predicted a few
months of life the nurses, who often know
better, a few weeks. A good man laid hands on her
and prayed. A year later the patient was walking
(uphill, too, though rough woodland) and the man
who took the last X-ray photos was saying 'These
bones are as solid as rock. It's
miraculous.' Lewis believed that Joy's remission
was a miraculous act of God. In stage and TV, as
in life, this was the point of the story. In the
movie, no prayer-of-healing is given by the
clergyman, and we jump straight from the wedding
to scenes of Joy undergoing chemotherapy. The
chemotherapy replaces the prayer. Attenborough
could hardly have put it more strongly than that.
True, we hear Lewis's own parish priest saying
that he knows how hard he has been praying.
However the film has Lewis say that he does not
pray to change God, but for the effect it has on
him. This would not have been the real Lewis's
view. I don't say that Attenborough, who is not,
I think, a Christian, should have turned the
movie into a piece of religious evangelism. You
may not believe that Joy's remission was
miraculous. Peter Bide, the clergyman in
question, doubted that it was. What is important
is that Lewis thought so. If Attenborough was
worried about the film turning into a piece of
polemic, he could have introduce a sensible
atheist for Lewis to talk to. He could have had
Lewis meet Bertrand Russel or A.J Ayer, who were
both around at the right time. He could have
re-staged the famous debate about miracles in
which G.E.M Anscombe ripped holes in Lewis's
argument, to the extent that he never wrote
another book of theological argument. But
instead, he simply shunts any specifically
Christian,or LewisianGod off to the sidelines.
I didn't see Chaplin. Maybe they played down the
fact that he was a comedian. I could go on, and
on. TV left Joy's final moments to our
imagination screen shows it to us. In real life,
Lewis reports Joy's last words were 'I am at
peace with God'. The screen gives us 'You have to
let go, Jack.' TV let us hear the dreadful,
poignant conversation that Lewis reports in A
Grief Observed ('If it is allowed, will you come
to me when I too am on my deathbed?' 'Allowed?
Heaven would have a job to stop me, and as for
Hell, I'd smash it to pieces.') Film cuts it. As
in all previous versions of the story, we end
with Lewis talking to Douglas Gresham, and the
old man and the little boy crying together.
Lewis, on this view, was emotionally frozen, and,
in particular, couldn't bare to show emotion in
front of other men. Hence, in the play, being
able to embrace his stepson and weep was the
culmination of a process which started when he
met Joy. Douglas is represented as being in the
same position that Lewis was in at his age not
believing in heaven, but wanting his mother back.
It is an extraordinarily affecting scene. In the
play, it pulled the two themes of the
storyLewis's childhood, Lewis's faithtogether.
In the film, it loses its point (though not its
emotional punch) since the themes of motherhood
and Christianity have been so played down. It is
no big thing for Lewis to hug Douglas when we
have already seen him kissing him goodnight no
big thing for him to cry when we have already
seen him do so. And no big thing for him to say
'I believe in heaven' when we haven't been shown
any significant loss of faith.
So what are we left with? A film about a man who
wrote children's books (and little else,
apparently) and gave lectures to old ladies who
married late and lost but was pleased he had done
so. It has genuinely moving moments the death
bed marriage Jack and Douglas crying in the
attic Jack haranguing the priest. Genuinely
moving moments but do they carry their power
because of my memories of other, better version
and of my reading of the works of the man
himself? I don't know. I wouldn't want to
dissuade anyone from seeing what is in the final
analysis a good movie Hopkins really is
phenomenal, particularly given some of the lines
he has to work with. But I do hope that the BBC
take the opportunity to repeat the original and
that when audiences have put their hankies away
they read A Grief Observed, maybe the best
Christian book written this century. Here the
whole world (stars, water, air, And field, and
forest, as they were Reflected in a single
mind) Like cast off clothes was left behind In
ashes, yet with hope that she, Re-born from holy
poverty, In lenten lands, hereafter may Resume
them on her Easter Day. C.S Lewis, 'Epitaph for
Helen Joy Davidman'
He took in more, he felt more, he remember more,
he invented more His writings record an intense
awareness, a vigorous reaction, a taking of the
world into his heart His blacks and whites of
good and evil and his ecstasies and miseries were
the tokens of a capacity for experience beyond
our scope. Austin Farrer on C.S. Lewis
There was one candle on the coffin as it was
carried out into the churchyard. It seemed not
only appropriate but also a symbol of the man and
his integrity and absoluteness and his faith that
the flame burned so steadily, even in an open
air, and seemed so bright, even in the bright
sun. Peter Bayley at Lewiss funeral