With all the current discussion of the efficacy and availability of masks, I found myself remembering something I shared years ago in a Sunday morning sermon. I remember asking,

“Did you know that in some ways, Narnia and Middle Earth were birthed in the midst of the horrors of trench warfare in WWI… including the horrific gas attacks?”

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien had a lot in common.

  • They were both scholars
  • They shared and critiqued each other’s manuscripts
  • They were both veterans of WWI
  • They both were made casualties 5 months into their time in the trenches (Tolkien suffered Trench Fever. Lewis was wounded by an artillery blast.)
wwii soldiers

 Some scholars feel that the imagery found in both Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was birthed in the trenches. No pictures of the soldiers in the trenches fail to show someone carrying or donning a gas mask.

Joseph Loconte,  in his April 15th, 2018 article in National Review, C.S. Lewis and The Great War, describes how Lewis was wounded

Lewis was a long way from the religion of the Bible. His battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry, had come under German bombardment at the French village of Riez Du Vinage. After 5 months in the trenches, he had had enough of war: “the frights, the cold, the smell of high explosive, the horribly smashed men still moving like crushed beetles…”
“A shell exploded nearby, obliterating his sergeant, and wounding him with shrapnel. Lewis was dragged from the battlefield and taken to a hospital near ‘Etables.”

Loconte observed that the effects of The Great War on England were staggering

“On average, 6000 men were killed every day of the war. About half of the British soldiers fighting in France became a casualty of some sort. Lewis lost most of his closest friends in the final year of the conflict.
The intimate experience of combat helped Lewis to imagine the mythical Narnia, a kingdom that bears the wounds—the consolations—of a world at war. Its noble King, Aslan the Great Lion, is both a warrior and a peacemaker. “This is my real country!” Lewis wrote in The Last Battle. “This is the land that I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it until now.”

Those who endured the bombing of London in WWII speak in reverential tones when they refer to the radio broadcasts of Winston Churchill. Not as celebrated, but every bit as effective as Churchill’s addresses to the nation were broadcasts from a humble academic named C.S. Lewis.

His broadcasts and sermons helped sustain the British people during their finest hour. In my next post I will discuss a sermon Lewis gave in the Autumn of 1939, at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin (Oxford) titled Learning in War Time.

Numerous times today, I heard national leaders and health authorities refer to the present pandemic as a War. I think Lewis has some important things to tell us about masks and priorities in a time of war.

Just as the humble Oxford Don was in Churchill’s shadow and drew little attention to himself, so even in death, he was not the focus of attention. C.S. Lewis’ passing was hardly reported. He died the same day John Kennedy was assassinated.

I look forward to delving into his sermon and being challenged to rise to the tasks we face in our time of war.

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