Lewis Phenomenon Continues in The Most Reluctant Convert

Shortly before his death in 1963, C. S. Lewis told his secretary Walter Hooper that five years after he (Lewis) was dead he would be forgotten.1 As a prescient and prophetic twentieth-century Christian thinker and writer, that seems to be one of the few things that Lewis got wrong.

A potent Lewis phenomenon has been taking place a generation after his death and shows no sign of waning. His books sell better now than they did during his lifetime. Lewis’s children’s fantasy novels The Chronicles of Narnia are some of the best-selling books of all time—having sold one hundred million copies in 47 languages. The Narnia series has also been adapted for radio, television, the stage, film, and computer games.2 Lewis’s most popular theological and apologetics book Mere Christianity was chosen by Christianity Today magazine as the most important Christian book of the twentieth century. And in 2013, on the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death, he was honored in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, alongside some of the greatest writers in English literature.

New Movie about Lewis
A new movie released just before the holidays is a C. S. Lewis biopic entitled, The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C. S. Lewis. It’s directed by Norman Stone who also directed the 1985 television movie Shadowlands, a film about C. S. Lewis and his wife, Joy Davidman. The movie features theater actor Max McLean as the middle-aged Lewis who narrates some of the key events in C. S. Lewis’s life, including his acceptance of atheism as a young man, his time as a soldier in World War I, and specifically the events that led to his rediscovery of belief in God and his conversion to Christianity. The movie is based on the McLean play C. S. Lewis on Stage: The Most Reluctant Convert and reflects some of the content from Lewis’s famous autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955).

One of the most appealing features of the film includes three actors’ portrayal of Lewis at various stages of his life: young boy, young man, older man. For me, the best part of the movie is McLean’s engaging narration of Lewis as the Oxford Don looks back at various stages and events of his extraordinary life with serious reflection.

Another captivating element of the movie is that it was filmed in and around Oxford, and includes scenes from Oxford University’s Magdalen College where Lewis taught, The Kilns where Lewis lived, the Eagle and Child pub where Lewis met with his fellow Inklings, and Holy Trinity Church where Lewis attended church and where he is buried. I also appreciated that the role of the Anglican priest at Lewis’s church was played by Michael Ward, who biblical scholar N. T. Wright has called “the foremost living Lewis scholar.”

A seemingly confusing feature of the film, at least for me on my first viewing, is the beginning of the movie. It starts out as an apparent documentary as to how the movie was made and then shifts to McLean’s stage play as Lewis and then finally to the narrated movie events of Lewis’s life. The transition and sequence seemed somewhat awkward. The movie also covers a lot of ground in Lewis’s life in a very short time, which may be confusing to people who don’t have extensive knowledge of Lewis.

Yet whether one likes the film or not (I certainly enjoyed it), there are two larger points to be appreciated. First, like the 2019 biopic film Tolkien about J. R. R. Tolkien, the fact that the life of a prominent Christian thinker and writer is depicted on the big screen is extraordinary. This is especially true in that the film catalogs Lewis’s journey from atheism back to belief in God and then to the acceptance of the truth of Christianity.

Second, the film illustrates that the Lewis phenomenon continues. The film was first scheduled for select, and therefore, limited showings in theaters. But the robust attendance at the film’s initial release has led to extended showings of the movie. People remain interested in C. S. Lewis and the books, plays, television programs, and big-screen movies that tell us more about this extraordinary man.

C. S. Lewis’s words and ideas carry a special persuasiveness concerning the truth of historic Christianity. And by their movie ticket purchases, a lot of people are interested in seeing that message receive a wide public showing.

Reflections: Your Turn
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  1. Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013), 363.
  2. Wikipedia, s. v. The Chronicles of Narnia, last edited November 11, 2021.