Lewis and the World Wars

C. S. Lewis, his worlds, and his faith.

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Lewis and the World Wars

Postby Lady Arwen » Jun 10, 2014 3:04 pm

As most of us know, Lewis set LWW in World War II and wrote for the children of that time. A friend of mine posted this link to a series of pictures of an apartment that was abandoned during that time period, and it struck me as a strange reminder of what those children were going through. Like the woman with this apartment, most of the children probably left most of their things at home, taking only what they could carry to go to strange places far away. This is, of course, the premise of LWW, but at the same time, it is also what his audience was familiar with. I suppose the war affected the series in more ways than one, and I think it would be interesting to discuss the historical context of the series, as well as how it might have affected Lewis and his intended audience.

Another thing is, in one of these pictures, you can see a Mickey Mouse doll. Mickey Mouse was 11 years old when World War II started. So, when Disney worked with the CoN Franchise, they were actually working with a series that is only slightly younger than their iconic figure--Lucy and the other children might have known about Disney's character. It would also make Lewis and Disney contemporaries, which seems a bit surprising to me. Lewis seems so much older.
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Re: Lewis and World War II

Postby Princess Frances » Jun 12, 2014 1:14 am

By the fifties when Lewis was writing Narnia, the Blitz evacuations were safely in the past. Notice that Enid Blyton - who was writing during WWII, goes out of her way to barely mention the war - and certainly doesn't hurt her child readers by reminding them of their house in London being bombed out and their being sent to live with strangers.
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Re: Lewis and World War II

Postby coracle » Jun 12, 2014 4:06 am

My parents were teenagers in northern England (about Susan and Peter's ages) at the start of the war. We grew up on stories of what Mum had seen in the wartime, bombed houses, streets with no lights, etc. She was not evacuated from her city home, possibly because she was the youngest and was about to leave school to go to work. She mentioned seeing a house missing from a row of houses (terraced housing) - and knowing of people who lost their home.
The war was a different thing in USA. It was an event that soldiers went away to, leaving their families safely at home (maybe in some fear of possible invasion?).
Can anyone suggest a US story written for children in the 50s, and whether there was mention of the war? It would be very interesting to add to these comparisons.
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Re: Lewis and World War II

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Jul 07, 2014 12:21 am

Princess Frances wrote:By the fifties when Lewis was writing Narnia, the Blitz evacuations were safely in the past. Notice that Enid Blyton - who was writing during WWII, goes out of her way to barely mention the war - and certainly doesn't hurt her child readers by reminding them of their house in London being bombed out and their being sent to live with strangers.


Quite so, but other writers have had somewhat less reserve about WW2. Tolkien's depiction of the siege of Minas Tirith just had to be based on what it was like for cities under siege, such as Warsaw, or even London. Horrible stuff. And London wasn't the only UK city that was bombed. Coventry was famously bombed, and Edinburgh was also. My husband, a lad of 10 when the war finished, could see it from high points near his home midway between Edinburgh & Glasgow, which like Liverpool and Manchester would of course be bombed, all being industrial cities.

And WW2 has engendered so many children's novels, not only the later Narnia stories, as people came to grips with what happened then. Michelle Magorian's novel, Goodnight Mr Tom, is one example. So was the WW2 novel, The Silver Sword, written by Ian Serraillier. And there were others. Unlike Enid Blyton, C.S.Lewis took part, himself, in both World Wars. In the first he served in the trenches at the age of 19. In the second he made broadcasts to help with the War effort, and to encourage his listeners to take heart.

I don't know about hurting child readers by showing so graphically what happened in the Blitz, but reading Goodnight Mr Tom is a tragic but useful way of showing a different view of evacuating children, and the horrors of the Blitz. As in the Narnia stories, this story is ultimately about how being sent to live with a stranger, in those evacuations, could work out well. I grew up in the 1950's where the stories of WW2 had not all been written, but earlier children's authors made no bones about some of the hardships WW1 caused some thirty years earlier. Such as Mary Grant Bruce, Kate Seredy (wrote about WW2 as well), even a whole series on children across the world. The one I read was The Belgian Twins.

I wouldn't be too sure there weren't USA novels about WW2. But I think most of them were for adults, such as Winds of War, War & Rembrance. Plus James Michener's South Pacific which made it into a well-loved musical.
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Re: Lewis and World War II

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Jul 08, 2014 12:22 pm

Princess Frances wrote:By the fifties when Lewis was writing Narnia, the Blitz evacuations were safely in the past. Notice that Enid Blyton - who was writing during WWII, goes out of her way to barely mention the war - and certainly doesn't hurt her child readers by reminding them of their house in London being bombed out and their being sent to live with strangers.


Wow, that's a really interesting observation, Princess Frances. Even so, I have a feeling that some of the older British children who came into contact with the Chronicles when they were first released may very well have still been dealing with emotional (and maybe even physical) wounds from the Blitz. It's strange thinking that some of the British children who read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe after its publication in 1949 might have initially been overwhelmed with feelings of painful memories instead of the wonder that most readers experience today. On the flipside, they were probably able to relate to the Pevensie children more than any other group of children.

Of course, it's possible that most of the children who were old enough to have memories of the Blitz weren't very likely to read a "kids" book like LWW, though I know that I certainly loved CoN as a teenager. ;)
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Re: Lewis and World War II

Postby Lady Arwen » Jul 08, 2014 2:03 pm

Rosie wrote:It's strange thinking that some of the British children who read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe after its publication in 1949 might have initially been overwhelmed with feelings of painful memories instead of the wonder that most readers experience today.


I do wonder, though, if perhaps Lewis' handling of the topic was done in such a way that it provided both a somewhat familiar setting and, oddly enough, and encouraging setting, to the readers. I mean encouraging in that, when children are in extended dangerous/scary circumstances, they will often build little "escapes" for themselves from those places. By allowing the Pevensies to not only have an escape world, but have it be a real world that even some grown-ups believed in, lets the readers know that it is ok to have those safe places, even if they are imaginary.

Anyway, in CoN, Lewis only lightly touches on the war. I realize now that I probably should have titled this topic to be inclusive of both WWI and WWII, since I think both greatly affected Lewis and quite possibly his views on life and on God. There are no scenes that spring directly to mind that feel like parallels between either war (meaning, like how Tolkien seems to references the trenches in the Dead Marshes), but the events of both wars must have shaped him--how could they not?
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Re: Lewis and World War II

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Jul 08, 2014 2:12 pm

Lady Arwen wrote: By allowing the Pevensies to not only have an escape world, but have it be a real world that even some grown-ups believed in, lets the readers know that it is ok to have those safe places, even if they are imaginary.


I agree! In some ways, that's the beautiful part of it. Even if some child who had been traumatized by the Blitz picked up LWW and felt uncomfortable when they realized that the Pevensies had been sent away from their home as part of the Blitz evacuations, they're swept away into an entirely new and wonderful world just a moment later.

That may have been part of why Lewis, after he briefly referenced the fact that the kids had been sent away from home because of the air-raids, was quick to have Lucy find the wardrobe and be enchanted by the discovery of a new world. If he had spent as much time on their backstory as 2005 film adaptation had, I have a feeling that a lot of kids who had experienced the Blitz would have found the beginning of the book a lot more unpleasant.

Lady A wrote:There are no scenes that spring directly to mind that feel like parallels between either war (meaning, like how Tolkien seems to references the trenches in the Dead Marshes), but the events of both wars must have shaped him--how could they not?


I wonder if any memories from the Great War came back to him as he was writing the more hopeless parts of The Last Battle? It's hard to imagine that it wouldn't; in many ways, I wouldn't be surprised if C.S. Lewis's personal experience with war contributed to the fact that those chapters evoke such palpable despair for the reader.
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Re: Lewis and the World Wars

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Jul 10, 2014 4:33 am

Rose-tree Dryad wrote:It's strange thinking that some of the British children who read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe after its publication in 1949 might have initially been overwhelmed with feelings of painful memories instead of the wonder that most readers experience today.


Not necessarily. Even after WW2, when there were still many displaced people, many of whom went to USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to live, I doubt that any painful war memories would interfere unduly with the wonder of Narnia. Far from it. What about Prince Caspian and other Narnia books talking about boarding school life? Going to boarding school for the first time can be just as traumatic as being evacuated, especially for children who are too young for such a change. As Lewis, himself, had good reason to know.

That was far more common in the immediate post-war era. Not only did that sort of school arrangement cater for orphans, poor children, displaced children and family breakdown. It also assisted the functioning of families where during the war, Dad was in the Military and Mum might be in War Production. That sort of thing persisted well after the war when people had overseas postings, where troops were posted in Germany and elsewhere during the Cold War, and when even Royalty sent their children to boarding school, it could become a very stylish answer to child care.

The likes of Enid Blyton even glamorised what she thought boarding school life might be like, though her daughters would have said otherwise, as would Lewis, himself. But all of Enid Blyton's books were pure escapism, and finally she died of dementia. Lewis' escapism into Narnia, I think, was into something a bit more healthy, since there was a mentor to help them grow up and face the sorts of life they would return to. As in VDT and SC. Personally I found these stories wonderful and comforting.

Rose-tree Dryad wrote:I wonder if any memories from the Great War came back to him as he was writing the more hopeless parts of The Last Battle? It's hard to imagine that it wouldn't; in many ways, I wouldn't be surprised if C.S. Lewis's personal experience with war contributed to the fact that those chapters evoke such palpable despair for the reader.


I would imagine so. WW1 was hard fought and Gallipoli, where British and Commonwealth troops fought Turkish troops, only to be defeated, is commemorated each year on Anzac Day on 25th April in Australia. Flanders fields where C.S.Lewis fought, and where the poppies grow, was just as terrible, or worse, but in 1956 was less well-known in school teachings. They've only recently discovered the identities of those many Australians who fell at Fromelles, one of the most bloody battles. And at that particular battle, a German survivor, one Adolf Hitler, went on to lead the German nation in WW2.
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Re: Lewis and the World Wars

Postby aileth » Jul 11, 2014 10:28 am

I wonder how much authors wrote about the war during the war. At least for children. As others have pointed out, Lewis didn't actually mention the war that much; it was simply the device that took them to the Professor's house. Since then there are plenty of stories with a war setting, but were they mostly written afterward?

Another factor that makes it difficult to know exactly what was written, is the fact that many times the publisher wanted to erase any dated references when they republished a popular book. I know that happened with Elsie Oxenham. She was another one who ignored at least WWII. Except for a few references to WWI war work, that were later removed to "update" the books, she didn't allow the Second war to influence her characters.

I have to agree with you, Wagga, that most of Enid Blyton's books are escapism, though there are a couple of exceptions, Six Bad Boys being the first to come to mind, dealing with juvenile delinquency. The Children of Kidillin has London cousins evacuated to stay with Scottish cousins and describes how miserable and homesick they were. Of course, everything works out in the end and together they foil the traitors who are sinking ships with a submarine. Typical Blyton, I must say (I do like her books, in spite of the faults) /:)

As to boarding school, many writers had an idealized vision of what it was like--sports, pranks, midnight feasts, and stern but wise and kindly heads. Oh yes, and the bullies and cheaters were always found out and dealt with. Then you read Lewis's opinion of schools, or Kipling's Stalky & Co and get a slightly different picture! However, the genre was very popular: everyone and their dog wrote those kinds of stories since they sold well--sort of like fantasy these days.

And back on topic, Adamson fleshed out the danger and tension in the LWW movie, that Lewis only touched on. There is, as well, the irony of the kids being sent to safety in the country, and then falling into a far more threatening situation, a fresh war in an unknown world.
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Re: Lewis and the World Wars

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Jul 18, 2014 5:55 am

Aileth wrote:I wonder how much authors wrote about the war during the war. At least for children. As others have pointed out, Lewis didn't actually mention the war that much; it was simply the device that took them to the Professor's house. Since then there are plenty of stories with a war setting, but were they mostly written afterward?


I think that where the war was mentioned it was mostly afterwards, and probably on a need to know basis where children were concerned. To attempt to answer your very good question thoroughly I'd need lots of time and energy - it would almost require a university dissertation to do it justice. To answer it fully I'd have to compare publication dates for everything some authors wrote that had a war reference in it. For instance Lucy Maud Montgomery, who died in 1942, did write about WW1 in at least one of her books in the Anne of Green Gables series. This was Rilla of Ingleside, in which one of Anne of Green Gables' sons - Walter - is killed during WW1. And such a heart-rending chapter it was. But this story wasn't published until 1921, one of her later books. Anne of Green Gables, itself, was published in 1908.

I suspect that there were good reasons why authors might not really want to write about the war, especially for children, whilst the war was in progress. Either they were doing things for the war effort, like C.S. Lewis, himself, who did radio broadcasts. Or, in some cases they were actually on the war front. Some later writers were children during WW2, just like C.S.Lewis was a teenager in WW1. Like everyone else in UK and elsewhere, authors of the time had to deal with loss, grief and hardship. There were also restrictions on what could be written at such times. "Loose lips sink ships" was a popular poster. In many cases people don't really absorb what happens until a year or two later when the dust has settled a bit and they are in a better position to evaluate what happened.

For instance, Kate Seredy, an author I enjoyed, and who lived from 1899 to 1975, did write the Singing Tree about WW1, and the terrible effects war had on families, including her own. But this book was not published until 1939, well after Kate Seredy had already migrated in 1922 to USA.

You did mention Enid Blyton who wrote continuously throughout her writing career, and right through the war. But even she could not avoid mentioning war conditions at the time of writing as has been observed. Of the very famous Famous Five, George Kirrin's father was a scientist doing something important for the war, and some of the baddies were spies, counterfeiters etc. And I remember one particular Enid Blyton story where there was a problem with packets of powdered eggs, something like custard powder, meant to make eggs go further during rationing.

There were other writers such as Mary Grant Bruce, an Australian who wrote the ongoing Billabong series, originally published from 1910 to 1942, which clearly does mention fighting in France and the looming menace of WW2. Mary Grant Bruce, who died in 1958, could write such books in the relative safety of Australia. But Anne Frank, a sixteen year old girl, who kept a diary about her wartime experiences, which has become a classic for teenagers upwards, did not survive WW2, perishing at Belsen.

When you compare all these authors to C.S.Lewis it becomes understandable that the Narnian series would be written after the war, and not during it. Thus I consider that any reference to WW2 in the Narnia series isn't really unusual or over the top.
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Re: Lewis and the World Wars

Postby coracle » Jul 18, 2014 7:57 pm

Wagga you mentioned CS Lewis being a teenager in WW1.
He was still old enough to go off to fight.

As for "packets of powdered eggs, something like custard powder, meant to make eggs go further during rationing" - rationing went well into the 1950s in England.
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Re: Lewis and the World Wars

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Jul 19, 2014 2:45 am

Yes, C.S.Lewis was only 19 when he went to fight in France where he lost a comrade, Patrick Moore. Subsequent to the war he sort of adopted Patrick Moore's mother, having lost his own mother some years previously.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the age of adulthood was at least 21 until comparatively recently, when it was switched to 18 in Australia after 1972. I don't know when they changed this age of majority to 18 in UK, let alone NZ. But in 1914-1918, even when boys as young as 17 were considered old enough to fight and die for their country, they weren't considered as legal adults. Nor were their sisters who could be sent to work as young as 12 years of age. Many boys, sometimes as young as 14, did go off to War, in all countries involved in WW1, especially as the money they were paid by the defence forces was better. However, I doubt that was a consideration for C.S.Lewis, as his father was a doctor, wasn't he?

Thank you for reminding me of why I disliked custard for so long. ;)) Yes, probably the rationing lasted longer in UK than it did here, especially as it was produce from Oz and NZ & probably Canada which helped to alleviate the rationing before UK joined the Common Market.
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Re: Lewis and the World Wars

Postby coracle » Jul 19, 2014 2:25 pm

His dad was a solicitor, a legal man. Yes, I think he was comfortably off.
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