RONALD W BRESLAND
When C S Lewis’ grandfather, Richard Lewis, hand-carved a wardrobe out of black oak to adorn his family home, he had little idea that it would provide his grandson with the inspiration for one of the world’s best-loved children’s stories. The wardrobe stood for a time in the family home in Belfast, exerting a curious attraction for the children in the house. Two girls (both cousins of Lewis) remember sitting inside it, the door ajar, while the young C S Lewis held them spellbound with his stories. This young storyteller would become the author of one of the most famous books in the history of children’s literature, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. How God turned the atheistic C S Lewis into the most widely-quoted Christian writer of the twentieth century is as fascinating a story as any of the tales he told at that wardrobe door over a century ago.
Dr Ronald W Bresland is one of the leading authorities on C S Lewis’ Irish life and background. He was formerly a Cultural Traditions Fellow of the Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen’s University of Belfast (19971998). His book The Backward Glance: C S Lewis and Ireland (1999) explored the many connections between C S Lewis and Ireland. He has lectured and contributed to documentaries on C S Lewis in the UK and US and has written the Northern Ireland Tourist Board brochure ‘Northern Ireland: The C S Lewis Story’ (2005). He is currently working on an illustrated book C S Lewis: An Irish Companion. For further information visit his website: www.cslewisinireland.com
The general reader, attracted to this beautiful book by the release of Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia may not have been aware that the inspiration for that magical land was the hilly Irish landscapes of County Down above Rostrevor. Nor will most who have read Lewis’s science fiction trilogy have known how he regarded the Cooley Mountains in County Louth as being ‘as near heaven as you can get in Thulcandra’ (the trilogy’s earth). Lewis’s close friendship with J R R Tolkien is familiar to many, but fewer know of his private encounterw with the Irish poet W B Yeats at his strangely-furnished house in the same city, or of the lasting influence Yeats had on the atheist Lewis’s views of the supernatural adn the occult. Bresland notes that Yeats’ influence would ironically lead Lewis, not into Yeats’ own arcane theosophy, but into Christianity. Bresland’s tour affords the traveller a brief audience at Lewis’s conversatons with John Betjeman (one of his first pupils and an ‘idle prig’), G K Chesterton, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and others, as well as Lewis’s conversations of mind and soul with earlier luminaries – Swift, Arnold, Milton, Guerber (Myths of the Norsemen), George MacDonald, and the composer Richard Wagner’s operas of Norse sagas. The author brings the traveller on the bumpy road from Oxford to Cambridge, following the former establishment’s concern that his ‘hot gospelling’ would interfere with a possible appointment to professorship. The ‘nest of crooks’ at Magdalen, fumed Lewis, was ‘leftist, atheist and cynical’. The last part of Bresland’s journey takes the traveller through the ‘Shadowlands’, the joy of Lewis’s marriage to an Americal poet, joy Davidman, and the grief of her death of cancer. The book ends with a favourable evaluation of Lewis’s Christian legacy.