The British literary scholar, Christian ap0logist, and children’s-book author C.S. Lewis is one of sixteen figures — Churchill is one, Gibbon is another, and there are fourteen more that I will leave you to find within the bulk of this silly essay — whose reputation in Britain is so different from their reputation in America that we might as well be talking about twenty-eight (or is that fifty-six?) different men. When one factors in red states and blue states, coastal towns and inland cities, naked people and clothed people, women and men, liberals and conservatives, the number of potential different men we are talking about quickly spills over into the hundreds. In this way, Lewis and Churchill may represent a literary mitosis that is sui generis. Both men were writers. Both men were British. Both men had the letter C in their names. In America, Churchill was a god for those who loved the letter C, in part because the Americans are taken with referring to authors by last names. In England, the C’s importance is emphasized with the Christian name. And Lewis (or C.S. as he preferred to be called on his book spines) was, of course, an ardent Christian.
The British, of course, are no strangers to authors with fancy initials. There is E.M. Forester and, more daringly, W. Somerset Maugham. Whereas in America, there is T.S. Eliot, who might easily be mistaken for an Englishman and the considerably more eccentric figure of H.P. Lovecraft, who is the hero of the horror fan. In fact, the general trend against initials has begun to pervade the British Isles, save the iconoclastic writer A.L. Kennedy, who, unlike Paul Simon, would never want you to call her Al.
It is generally believed that, like most married adults, Lewis had sexual relations with his wife. The Americans certainly believe this, but the British couldn’t reconcile the image of a children’s writer engaging in copulation. We can blame William Nicholson for all this, since he has pushed through endless adaptations of the same play for multiple formats. Our fact checker here at the New Yorker had to watch them all.
None of this would matter so much if there wasn’t a tie-in with a movie that seems to think it’s as big as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.
The six hundred and forty-two Lewises — too many to list here, really — we are left with could very well be a fictitious army inside our head. We were encouraged to set the number at 1,042, but David Remnick thought we were going too far. So we’ll just start slinging rhetoric. Is Narnia a name that sounds like a type of English marmalade? Unquestionably. As one reads through the copious press releases, skipping breakfast, lunch and dinner, one begins to hunger for the bowls of Turkish delight that are offered to the children. The simple truth is that Lewis was likely a man (or perhaps six hundred and forty-two men) who was too intricate to keep track of. Now, if you’ll excuse us, our evening repast awaits.
© 2005, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.