C.S. Lewis At War, an audio drama by Focus On The Family
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
It should be noted precisely what the contents of this audiobook are. When I first requested this item from my local library system, I thought it was a book, but it turned out to be an audiobook on eight cds. The first two cds contain a radio drama produced by Focus On The Family, narrated by C.S. Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham, that show the origins of C.S. Lewis’ popular writings about Christianity at the beginning of World War II. The remaining 6 cds consist of a thoughtful and measured reading of Lewis’ classic book Mere Christianity , which demonstrate the intellect as well as the graciousness and even the poetry of Lewis’ religious thought, which make it a deserved classic. I did not expect these contents when I placed this book on hold, but they were certainly pleasing and thought provoking and helped make my lengthy commute to and from work more enjoyable and also a great deal more edifying. I am still getting used to the slow pace of audiobooks, but they are a productive use of one’s time, to be sure.
I would first like to comment on the two-hour audio drama C.S. Lewis at War. There is a lot to like about this drama, including the way it places Lewis’ efforts at apologetics in a larger context, including the bureaucratic rivalries of different branches of the BBC, and the desire for the religious programming of that august radio station to find broader appeal amidst complaints on boredom as well as a lack of patriotism during the war. Lewis is portrayed as kindly and eccentric, with a home life that includes nervous evacuees, an ambiguous relationship with a nervous and high-strung woman with whom he had previously had an adulterous relationship with, a matter not discussed in the audiobook for somewhat obvious reasons, and an alcoholic brother. His efforts in writing popular works on Christianity, including The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters, are shown as leading to difficulties in his academic career at Oxford, as Lewis’ colleagues were unwilling to support the advancement of such a popular and notable Christian apologist given their own hostility to Christianity. The drama also shows Lewis’ friendship with others and even his diffidence in his own popularity and skills on the radio. The drama also shows a reading of excerpts of what became Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity on the radio program during the Summer Term. There are two minor quibbles about the drama that I have, which must be praised for its humor and human interest and has a first-rate cast of British actors: for one, many of the voices and accents are very similar and it is not always easy to distinguish between the various speakers in a scene, and for another, the script is simply too convenient in some aspects, including the praise and flattery provided by the people at the BBC. These are minor flaws in what is, on the whole, a very enjoyable show that provides a human perspective on Lewis’ life at the beginning of World War I.
The majority of the contents for the audio book are six cds that include a measured reading of Lewis’ Mere Christianity that take between ten and twenty minutes per chapter over thirty-four tracks. There are a few things that become evident when one hears the book read aloud. For one, Lewis was undoubtedly a very cerebral and intellectual man, and one can catch his characteristic metaphors and expressions here that are also to be found in Lewis’ other writings , such as references to a man claiming to be a poached egg, in the reading here. Yet Lewis, even at his most learned, was a man who modestly admitted aspects of his life, like his then bachelorhood, which made it harder for him to understand certain aspects of the Christian walk, as well as being a layman, and commented on the advice he received (even if he did not take it) from friends and the critiques of others concerning various aspects of his religious thought. He is careful to comment on the difference between God’s word and his own speculations and guesses as well. While Lewis’ own approach was likely too intellectual for contemporary audiences whose familiarity with Christianity and the Bible and even general intellectual culture is far less than was the case even in Lewis’ day, and while Lewis was certainly a very British man whose characteristic tone and expressions would likely have seemed, even at the time, to be fairly pretentious for an ordinary American audience, his efforts at proclaiming the Christian faith from the point of view of an educated and intellectual layman with no careerist ambitions in the Church of England are notable and memorable even now.
I find personally that Lewis makes for an appealing example for my own life and writing for a variety of reasons. For one, Lewis was an intellectual who nevertheless managed to be both modest as well as painfully and bluntly honest, including about the failings of the clergy of his church as well as his own personal background, which is a refreshing attitude that I have always sought to emulate in the interests of edification and Christian transparency, while remaining loyal as well as generous-minded towards others in different organizations, a rare balance of qualities. Lewis was definitely eccentric, in a kind but somewhat distant way, and as an eccentric fellow myself I can certainly relate both to his recognition of the distance with others that results from being a cerebral and intellectual sort of person and the desire of a passionate and kind heart to reduce that distance where possible without denying the essential aspects of one’s nature and temperament. Perhaps the biggest drawback to listening to this book is that after hearing about ten hours or so of thoughtful British accents that it is easy for me at least to pick up the accent on the audiobook, which has the tendency to make me sound even more pretentious than I would already, which is alarming and definitely a very bad thing. One can hardly blame the audiobook for that, though.
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