Saturday, December 12, 2015

C.S. Lewis: Great Scholar and Secret Government Agent

Professor Harry Lee Poe, at Union University in Tennessee, writing for Christianity Today (December 10, 2015 ), reports that "C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent" whose vivid lecture style and choice of subject matter won Iceland's people over to the British side in WWII:
As I browsed eBay not long ago, I came across a 78 rpm recording of a lecture by C. S. Lewis. I assumed that it was a mistake or that the seller was trying to defraud an unwitting public. I knew Lewis well enough to know that he had never made a 78 rpm recording for general distribution, much less one produced by something called the Joint Broadcasting Committee. I also knew that Lewis never delivered a lecture on the subject "The Norse Spirit in English Literature." At least, I knew we had no evidence of such a lecture. Fortunately, curiosity got the better of me, and I bought the record from the dealer in Iceland . . . . And what an unusual find it turned out to be. I discovered some things about a secret episode in Lewis's life that few, if any, people knew about . . . . It was an unusual mission for which few people were suited . . . . The first thing I discovered was that the Joint Broadcasting Committee was an arm of British secret intelligence that served a propaganda purpose by broadcasting to people in occupied enemy territory during World War II. Until now, the general public and the world of scholarship had no idea that C. S. Lewis began his wartime service by undertaking a mission for . . . . the Secret Intelligence Service . . . . When Lewis came on board at the beginning of World War II, it was still a fledgling group of amateurs desperately working to save their [British] island home from disaster . . . . [The Secret Intelligence Service] needed Lewis in the wake of the German invasion of Norway and Denmark on April 9, 1940. Though the British sent troops to Norway to counter the German invasion, it was too late to intervene in Denmark, whose subjugation was accomplished in only one day. One month later on May 10, 1940, German forces invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, and by June 22 the French government had capitulated . . . . On that same morning in May, however, the British did the next best thing they could do to help Denmark and the rest of Europe: They launched a surprise invasion of Iceland, which was part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Iceland's strategic significance in the North Atlantic had been known since the Viking voyages a thousand years earlier . . . . Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended upon the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces . . . . [Such] was the strategic situation in which C. S. Lewis was recruited. And his mission was simple: To help win the hearts of the Icelandic people . . . . And what did an Oxford don have to say that might help turn the tide of war in Britain's darkest hour? He spoke on the subject "The Norse Spirit in English Literature." Lewis provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English, which Lewis made clear in his first recorded statement. He said that he did not know why he had been asked to address the people of Iceland, but that he agreed to do it in order to repay a great debt. He explained that his imaginative life had been awakened by Norse mythology when he was 14. He went on to explain how his love of Norse mythology only deepened when he began to learn the Icelandic language at Oxford . . . . After this introduction, Lewis proceeded to praise the Icelandic tongue as one of the most poetic on earth. Rather than a private view of his own, Lewis argued that successive generations of English writers have felt this affinity with the old Norse tales and that this influence has found its way into the greatest of English literature . . . . The literature of England, inspired by the Norse, views self-important office holders as knaves and fools. By implication, the English had come to Iceland to repay a great debt and help fend off the knave and fool who ran Germany.
There's more in the article, but this is already an inspiration to keep blogging. Perhaps I can persuade some few readers of the importance of free speech. I'm not as articulate as Lewis, though. His ability to communicate well on a level accessible to anyone fitted him for the job he undertook in Iceland:
How Lewis came to be recruited and by whom remains a secret . . . . Perhaps one of his former pupils at Oxford recommended him for his mission . . . . Perhaps someone had heard Lewis lecture on his favorite subject in one of the two great lecture halls in the Examination Schools building of Oxford University. At a time when Oxford fellows were notorious for the poor quality of their public lectures, Lewis packed the hall with an audience of students who were not required to attend lectures. In the 1930s, Lewis was the best show in town. Somehow Lewis had developed the skill to speak to an audience and hold them in rapt attention, in spite of his academic training rather than because of it.
How great a gift that must be . . .



At 2:50 PM, Blogger Dario Rivarossa said...

Cool! -- well, since it's all about Iceland . . .

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Chill out, man.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff, you perhaps have David Duff's email address in your contacts? I think he'd get a kick out of this post. I'd send it but I'm pressed for time just now and wouldn't like to forget this gem - all you'd need do is put ol' JK in the subject line or maybe ... well you know. Or, drop me an email and I'll forward.


At 10:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Done, JK.

Jeffery Hodges

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