Narnia's Lost Poet: The Secret Lives and Loves of C S Lewis: TV review - behind closed doors with a man as magical as his classic Chronicles


Poor Clive Lewis. The past month has seen newspapers, televisions and books stuffed like foie gras geese with retrospectives about the killing of Kennedy. The spectacular of JFK's death naturally overshadowed the deaths of two sexagenarian writers, but it's a shame that Lewis and Aldous Huxley's deaths became part of a trivia question (all three died within the same couple of hours), rather than events in themselves.

While Washington DC's streets filled for the day, Lewis's funeral was attended by almost nobody. His alcoholic brother forgot to tell people when it was and the notices in the newspaper were drowned by news from Dallas. Thankfully, amid the 50th anniversary noise, Lewis hasn't passed unnoticed again. Last week he was honoured with a memorial in Poets' Corner on the 50th anniversary of his death from prostate cancer.

That, we learned last night, was an irony of sorts given that Lewis's poetry – especially his first big attempt, the narrative poem "Dymer" – isn't quite worthy of the pantheon. A N Wilson, a Lewis biographer and the presenter of Narnia's Lost Poet: The Secret Lives and Loves of C S Lewis (BBC4), certainly thinks so. His prose, said Wilson, is "electrifyingly readable, but his poetry? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear..."

Wilson was a thoroughly good host, actually. A man who – as you'd hope I suppose – knows his subject inside out and used what was a comparatively short hour to tell Lewis's story. We saw him on an old Routemaster, driving through Oxford on the route Lewis took home from Magdalene College to his surrogate mother/possible lover Jane Moore (the mother of a dead friend from the First World War).

We saw him pootling around town on a basketed bicycle and aboard a South West Trains carriage talking about Lewis's dicky thumb (which is why he was bad at sports and thus hated boarding school). We even saw him being given a tour of Oxford in a VW people carrier. When the vehicle stopped outside Anstey Villa, where Lewis lived with Moore and her children, an exterior shot of the car as the rear window wound down made Wilson look like a mafia don. Albeit one who looked like Eddie Marsan playing his own stiff uncle.

Wilson, once an occupier of the Independent television reviewers' golden chaise longue, was in motion a lot. But so was Lewis's story. Lewis was a genius, by all accounts, and his story is worthy of his brains. Most know him for The Chronicles of Narnia, but we also learnt that he was reading classics at 17 thanks to his mentor W T Kirkpatrick (the inspiration for Narnia's Digory Kirke); that a chat with J R R Tolkien about Plato inspired the world of Narnia; and that he failed his driving test a whopping 17 times.

My favourite story was one told by the actress Jill Raymond. Raymond was sent as an evacuee to stay with Moore and a kindly man she was introduced to as "Jack" (as Lewis was known). Only after spotting shelves full of works by C S Lewis did she twig. As a fan, Raymond (later Freud, wife of Clement) spent the next few days in awe, unable to speak to him. Lewis later paid her fees at the Royal Academy, allowing her to become an actress.

As an Oxford and Cambridge don and the writer of the most famous of Christian allegories, I'd incorrectly assumed Lewis to be stern and didactical. This portrait showed him as a caring, religiously nuanced soul. A man who cared for his brother, a family he inherited from a wartime pact, and a wife who died of cancer. In fact, Wilson barely had to mention the joy brought into the childhoods of millions by the adventures in Narnia. One suspects we'll still be reading them on 22 November 2063.

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album