C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Conversion on Stage and at the Cineplex

Iconic British writer and theologian Clive Staples Lewis, a.k.a. C.S. Lewis, is best known for his literary works of fiction, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” which have been adapted for radio, television, stage, and cinema. However, he is also greatly revered in the academic world, having taught at Oxford and Cambridge.

For Christians and other faith-filled people, though, he is highly regarded as being one of the most influential Christian thinkers and writers on record, particularly for his non-fiction masterpieces “Mere Christianity” and “The Problem of Pain.”

Remarkably, in his early days, and for a sizable segment of his adult life, he was a committed atheist, a belittler of religion in general, and a denigrator of Christianity in particular.

His personal story of how he went from atheist to skeptic to believer is so compelling that a new film, “The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis,” has made its debut, and the movie has been so successful that both the number of screens and showings have been expanded to meet the demand.

The new C.S. Lewis movie is produced by the Fellowship for Performing Arts and distributed by Trafalgar Releasing, a specialist in event-oriented films. In what was originally scheduled to be a one-night only showing, the biopic brought in $2,863 per-screen, which quickly prompted the expansion.

The film is based upon the one-person play “C.S. Lewis on Stage: The Most Reluctant Convert,” which stars Max McLean. The brilliant stage presence has been honing his portrayal of Lewis’s persona for years with performances in 64 cities, on numerous college campuses, and in an extended run in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

McLean is the lead character and narrator of the movie version of Lewis’s story, a film project in which the skillfully written screen adaptation penned by McLean transforms the play into a fully cast cinematic production.

The real life Lewis was no doubt a strong willed individual. When he was four-years-old, his dog Jacksie was hit by a car and killed. In his grief, Lewis took his dog’s name as his own and refused to answer to any other name, including his given one, Clive. The Jacksie nickname eventually contracted to Jack, and it stuck with Lewis for the rest of his life.

After the untimely loss of his mother at the age of nine, he had to endure a strained relationship with his father. Lewis went on to attend a prep school during adolescence, where he fell away from his faith, became an atheist, and developed a fascination with European mythology and, most unfortunately, the occult.

At the impressionable age of 19, he, like many of his peers, would find himself thrust into the brutal trenches of World War I. He served in France, where atheism would sadly be firmly planted in his susceptible mind.

He himself was wounded during the war, and two of his colleagues were killed by a British shell that fell short of its target.

As he later wrote, and as his character gives testimony to in the film, he came to believe that there was either “no god behind the universe, a god who is indifferent to good and evil, or worse, an evil god.”

He nevertheless continued to be haunted by deficiencies within the philosophical reasoning of pure materialism since, within this ideological framework, free will, rational thought, and/or intelligibility must be merely haphazard processes of “random atoms bouncing together in a skull.”

He also vividly recalled a book that he had read at age 16, penned by the Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister George MacDonald. MacDonald’s “Phantastes” is a work that Lewis mystically characterized as having “baptized my imagination.”

He developed a providential friendship with fellow Oxford faculty member and novelist J. R. R. Tolkien of “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” fame. They were both part of the informal Oxford literary group known as the “Inklings.”

Inklings founder, philosopher, author, poet, and critic Owen Barfield also had a profound influence on Lewis, so much so that Lewis dedicated his book, “Allegory of Love,” to his friend. He also dedicated his first “Narnia” chronicle to Barfield’s adopted daughter Lucy, and additionally dedicated “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” to Barfield’s son Geoffrey.

It was Barfield, Tolkien, and fellow Inkling Hugo Dyson who slowly nudged Lewis toward a theistic belief system, despite Lewis’s “kicking, struggling, … darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape.”

After a fateful late night walk and conversation with Tolkien and Dyson, Lewis finally surrendered, humbling himself before the Creator.

As Lewis wrote in his book “Surprised by Joy,” “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Three years later Lewis moved beyond mere theism, rediscovered the Christianity of his childhood, and completely committed himself to Christ. This took place while he and his brother were on their way to the zoo, Lewis seated in the sidecar of his brother’s motorbike.

“When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did.” Lewis says in the play and the film.

The extraordinary and inspiring story of this powerful pilgrimage to God is tenderly told in “The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis.”

Tickets to the big-screen release are available at cslewismovie.com, and the play can be streamed on the Internet.

Well worth the investment of mind, heart, and soul.

Television Goes to the Movies

The lines between television and movies continue to become more and more blurred.

Even though today’s streaming programs are still called television, they have nothing in common with traditional broadcast or cable TV programming.

The made-for-streaming variety of entertainment fare is generally commercial free and able to avoid the strict timing with which traditional TV has had to contend.

Feature films almost always have a formulaic rhythm to their plotlines that locks them into fixed time slots with which the story must mesh.

With viewers binge-watching entire seasons, series that stream are able to feature similar production values as those of feature films. This allows for them to be financed with larger budgets similar to the ones that studio motion pictures enjoy, while also permitting more flexibility in the pacing of plots.

A case in point is Amazon Studios upcoming “The Lord of the Rings,” a so-called television series that is currently in production. In 2017 Amazon was able to obtain the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Middle Earth tale with the goal of creating a streaming series along the lines of the very successful “Game of Thrones.”

It is expected that the “Rings” fantasy streaming series will end up expending the kind of cash layout typically associated with big league studio movie projects.

As money soaked Silicon Valley companies descend on Hollywood, budgets to release long-form streaming of what used to be called television are actually expanding.

There has been a record-breaking first season production cost for “Rings” of an astonishing $465 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter. This is not a number that anyone in the industry would previously have associated with a TV production.

The project is being filmed in New Zealand, and the budget numbers were released as part of the New Zealand government’s Official Information Act, confirming that it is the highest amount spent on a so-called television series.

By comparison, HBO’s “Thrones,” with a budget that was considered groundbreaking for its time, had a tab of about $100 million per season.

Despite the massiveness of the “Rings” budget, this sum does not include the $250 million that Amazon reportedly paid to acquire the rights to the Tolkien material.

With more than 150 million copies sold, the epic fantasy novel from which the series is derived is one of the best-selling books ever written.

The Middle Earth historical saga is of particular interest to Christians in that the work features multiple Christian themes, such as the struggles between good and evil, death and immortality, and fate and free will, as well as the addictive nature of power, the virtue of hope, and the value of redemptive suffering.

Tolkien himself wrote that his book “is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

Tolkien’s Catholic Christianity also had a profound influence on his close friend, another beloved Christian author, C. S. Lewis. Both had taught at Oxford and were members of the same literary group, and both became known for writing fictional narratives that featured Christian themes and principles.

In his autobiography “Surprised by Joy,” Lewis described himself as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”

In September of 1931, Tolkien and Lewis, while walking together with fellow professor Hugo Dyson, were discussing the subject of mythology. It was one of those discussions between intellectuals that can go on for hours. It actually did.

Chatting into the wee hours of the morning, Tolkien posed the proposition during the conversation that the story of Christianity is a myth, which happens to be true.

A few days later Lewis wrote to a friend, stating, “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ, in Christianity… My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.”

Hopefully, the streaming series will stay true to the Christian themes that Tolkien painstakingly placed in his works. After all, if Amazon is spending $465 million to produce the “Rings” series, keeping the Christian audience would not only be a sound business strategy but a necessary one.

The official description of the new series gives an indication that “The Lord of the Rings” streaming series will continue in the tradition that Peter Jackson established in the film versions.

It will reportedly have a story line in which “…kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness.”

Look for Amazon to debut the series later this year.