The Most Reluctant Convert Star Max McLean Shares Five Things Everyone Should Know About C.S. Lewis
April 19th, 2017
by Max McLean
After sold-out performances in Chicago and Washington, D.C., awarding-winning actor and Fellowship for Performing Arts artistic director Max McLean presents his acclaimed one-man-show about C.S. Lewis, The Most Reluctant Convert, off-Broadway. The show is adapted from Lewis’ writings and chronicles his famous journey from atheist to one of the most influential Christian intellectuals of the 20th Century.
Chances are you know the name C.S. Lewis because of his beloved and often adapted The Chronicles of Narnia series, but scroll on as Max McLean shares five things about Lewis you may not know but should.
C.S. Lewis is well-known as the author of the beloved Chronicles of Narnia children’s stories and for the humorous, yet incisive The Screwtape Letters. (That book’s popularity landed him on the cover of Time Magazine.) But Lewis was also widely considered a brilliant academic. Educated at Oxford, he was a Fellow of English Literature at Magdalen College and later was unanimously elected as Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge’s Magdalene College.
C.S. Lewis rose to public prominence with a series of BBC radio talks that eventually became the book Mere Christianity. Lewis’ gentle humor and unparalleled ability for making complex concepts understandable earned him a reputation as a sort of a national kindly old uncle. In truth, Lewis faced and overcame terrific challenges in life. His mother died of cancer when he was a boy, devastating him and causing him to become an atheist. His bereft father, a former prosecutor, took his grief out on Lewis and his brother. He not only witnessed the horror and atrocity of World War I—he was wounded.
C.S. Lewis’ journey from atheism to Christian faith was forcefully influenced by several fellow Oxford scholars—notably the novelist and poet Owen Barfield and J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings. Along with several other men, they formed an informal literary group called the Inklings that met in Lewis’ rooms or at a local pub where they would read new works aloud and critique each other. It was there Tolkien first read The Lord of the Rings. Barfield’s daughter, Lucy, was Lewis’ goddaughter for whom The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was written.
As a boy, C.S. Lewis lived in the home of William Kirkpatrick, who would be his teacher and prepare him to enter Oxford. “The Great Knock,” as Lewis called him, taught him to rigorously examine every thought and admit nothing a place in his mind that he had not thoroughly considered. Of course, Lewis did so with trademark wit, saying the promises of religion, such as the afterlife, “felt like a bribe.” But it was that very academic rigor that led Lewis to examine—and discredit—his own atheism, leading him to a deistic belief. After more relentlessly-honest intellectual examination, deism gave way to theism and, eventually, to Christianity. So honest was Lewis’ self-evaluation, he came to theism desperately not wanting to believe it and described himself as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”
His Christian faith became a source of deep joy for C.S. Lewis, but it hardly shielded him from the hardships of life. A confirmed bachelor, late in life Lewis fell deeply in love with American poet, divorcee and mother, Joy Davidman. Like Lewis, she had journeyed from atheism to Christian faith. Married in 1956, they would enjoy just four years together as she died from cancer in 1960. Their love and that loss inspired Lewis’ classic A Grief Observed, which in turn served as the source of the Tony-nominated play Shadowlands.
Don't miss Max McLean as C.S. Lewis in 'The Most Reluctant Convert' at off-Broadway's Acorn Theatre through May 21.