Spoiler warning--read at your own discretion.
Ahh, another successful quarter.
And the end of one of my favorite units to do with my students; developing perspective through the literary study of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.
As an educator in language arts, choosing literary sets is one of my favorite things. The opportunity to share the love of a story with a new generation is rewarding in more ways than one. And the novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has become favored by both my students and me.
I shared my excitement with my younger sister currently residing in Oxford, England. She was kind enough to take the photos I posted in this review, of the lamppost that inspired Lewis, and of lion carvings and white stage Oxford has in honor of Lewis.
What drew me to teach language skills through this novel? Other than the obvious educational value the novel contains with its prose, there is something else about it. I cannot help but think of my middle school days when I had the opportunity to study the novel.
The year I entered sixth grade was the year my middle school effectively stopped using this beloved children’s novel in the curriculum. I didn’t understand why at the time the educators abruptly stopped using the novel. After all, my older brother got to read it in school, why couldn’t I? None of the students understood why. My mother tried to explain it to me and my memory fails at what she said exactly. But I do remember her mentioning the symbolism of the book, and that there are people out there who are highly offended by it.
Of course, my twelve-year-old self had other things to worry about, so it became nothing more than a distant memory.
So when the time came for me to develop a curriculum and pick my lit set, I decided to research the novel’s educational value before deciding to teach it.
Oh my, what a rabbit hole I fell into.
The more I learned about school districts banning and censuring this novel because it is “too Christian,” the more the rebel side of me wanted to use this novel (really, the logic behind these book bans basically state that teaching someone to be kind, respectful, and forgiving is a horrible and damaging lifestyle, but I digress). I always encourage my students to not allow book bans and censorship limit their exploration of ideas. I want to set an example and let them know their potential is limitless.
And after teaching this novel for two years, I’ve become increasingly interested in not only the story, but the author who created a novel that has spawned such dialogue among educators.
I’ve known the basics of Clive Staples Lewis’s life since childhood--an educator himself, he is the once atheist turned beloved Christian apologist and children’s author and taught at Oxford University. He is a veteran of World War I and befriended my other favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien.
And after spending two years using his material in my unit, I realized that was all I knew about him.
And how convenient that a movie about his life premiered while I was in the midst of teaching his novel.
The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis, directed by Norman Stone, is the life story of the famous author, and an adaptation of a one-man stage play to a multi-cast cinema production. Told in memoir style, it gathers a collection of his memories while focusing on an influential aspect of his life. For this film, it's the story of Lewis’s conversion from atheism to Christianity.
The most refreshing and delightful part of the screenplay is that it is his own words. His memories are told exactly how he recalls they happened. Although he did not write this screenplay, the writer pieced together sequences of his essays, lectures, and sermons to create a coherent story of Lewis’s conversion.
Whether you’re religious or not, there are many takeaways from this film and Lewis’s life that are beneficial and inspiring. For me, there are two big takeaways that are important for people to learn.
First, that change is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once.
As the film opens, an aged C.S. Lewis portrayed by Max McLean gives commentary on his initial thoughts of God, the universe, and overall the state of existence. He begins by telling the audience “If you asked me what I thought of God when I was an atheist. . . ” and goes on to give a nihilistic philosophical approach to life, pulling from schools of thought that reject all notions of truth beyond what our five senses can perceive.
I’m not going to lie, hearing a very believable C.S. Lewis speaking this way made my heart stop. These ideas of life being meaningless, that all things are just waiting to come to an end, and humans are just unfortunate to have enough reason to understand our own deaths are coming was horrifying. It’s scary how persuasive his initial argument as an atheist was. Studying rhetoric and spending time writing academic papers myself, I could not see how anyone could refute his arguments. This wasn’t the C.S. Lewis I knew.
I began to think, “How did this pessimistic man change to such a beloved children’s author and Christian writer?” Christian or not, there is no doubt his writings about hope, love, and endurance can be of benefit to anyone. How did such a negative person come to change his worldview to the positive? Such a change is surely impossible, right?
Well, this film proved me wrong, and I’m glad it did. Many of us like to think that people cannot change, we are who we are. In contrast to this idea, the truth is that humans are among the most adaptable, changeable beings known. It just doesn’t happen in a sudden 180-degree turn.
The narrative of Lewis’s life ties together the points of his childhood and young adulthood, and how all those things led to his eventual change. His pessimism didn’t suddenly end--it took time.
Even after reconciling his logic with the belief in God, his worldview was still quite negative. He had to research, consult close friends, and most importantly, perform a series of self-reflections before he became the positive and inspiring man we know him for.
When anyone is looking for a change, we must understand that it takes work. Sometimes we’ll backslide, and other times we’ll plateau. Sometimes we’ll give up when it doesn’t happen fast enough. But when we understand that change is gradual, it goes from impossible to possible. Lewis is a prime example of this.
The second takeaway is that every person, every life, has worth.
Near the end of the film, when we see Lewis’s complete paradigm shift, narrator Lewis states he no longer saw people as mortals, but as immortals. He began to see people as beings of potential, that every person, anyone he passed on the street could one day become something more. All people contain the potential to do the greatest good or promote evil.
In other words, his own life became meaningful, and with this change, he saw himself as having worth. He decides he wants to be one of the ones who promote the greatest good and spent the rest of his life showing people that they are of worth too. When we realize our worth, it makes our job of helping others see their own much easier. It becomes our duty.
And now for some takeaways unrelated to big life lessons:
The humor in this film is clever and much needed for the heavy ideologies it deals with. One of my favorite spots of humor was when narrator Lewis describes his childhood dance lessons, and his first crush on his dance teacher. I laughed aloud when he told the audience that this wasn’t beautiful or romantic in the least, but that he was a turd. Never thought I'd see the great Lewis referring to himself as a turd.
There is also the comedic scene when he meets his most influential tutor, William T. Kirkpatrick, or the Great Knock, for the first time. When trying to make senseless smalltalk, Lewis learns quickly why Kirkpatrick earned his nickname as he figuratively knocks Lewis off his high horse and knocks him into place. You’ll need to watch it to truly appreciate the exchange between these two.
And of course, all the actors' deliveries were spot on. Especially the performance by McLean. It felt as though one were present with Mr. Lewis himself. I can see that such a performance is worthy of a one-man show, but I’m glad I got to enjoy the performances of all actors, who were phenomenal in their respective roles. In addition, everything was filmed on location, contributing to the immersion and quality of the film.
A quick note to those who are religious and/or spiritual: if you ever find yourself struggling to reconcile logic, science, and faith, it is possible. C.S. Lewis was a genius--he found a way to logically and scientifically explain the existence of God, Jesus Christ, and their influence on our mortal probation. There is always hope.
Overall, this film touched me very deeply, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that has done so. I recommend this film to everyone, both religious and non-religious for the positivity and beauty it brings the audience.
Thanks for reading. As always--enjoy life!