At the beginning of Acts 1 & 2 in its stage presentation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LWW), 9th Hour features snippets of iconic BBC radio broadcasts by Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain during WWII. He was the most popular and notable voice on the BBC at that time, while the author of the LWW, C.S. Lewis, was the 2nd most popular—two strong voices uplifting a nation under physical and spiritual attack.
Lewis fought in the trenches of WWI and was seriously wounded; he knew first-hand the tragedies of war. He returned to Britain an avowed atheist but by the time he appeared regularly on BBC radio broadcasts, he was considered one of the most original exponents of the Christian faith in the 20th century.
In short, this is what war is good for: it forces us to answer the question, “Is there life after death?”
WWI & WWII were the central events of his lifetime, so it is no surprise that war figures prominently in the LWW (published in 1950). It is helpful to remember that Lewis was an observer of the most murderous 100 years of warfare in human history. About 35-40 million soldiers died plus several hundred million civilians in the 20 biggest conflicts of the 20th century. These weren’t religious wars unless you count atheism as a religion. Rather, these wars were fought over material concerns like retribution, land, economics, political or ethnic power. While all sane people prefer peace over war, love over hatred, happiness over misery, and justice over injustice, we have free will as individuals and nations and often use what is wrong, evil, or unjust to get what we want. In the 21st century, we still live in a world of such wars. While Lewis grants that war is awful and that it can spawn evil, the main question for him is whether war is the greatest evil?
Lewis argues that war is indeed the greatest evil when it validates a materialist worldview. Materialism, at its core, asserts that the fundamental nature of reality is material and everything can be understood only through what we can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. We are born, we live, we die, end of story. We are trapped in this circle of life, victims of our fate, with no escape except through violence or death. If that’s all there is to life then war is indeed the greatest evil based on the assumption that pain and death are the end of the line, a terminus for life.
In dark times, the future is shrouded in risk, impending ruin and loss, pain and death are almost certain. Our base instinct is to fear, fear for our lives, for our families, for our future. This is the human condition that goes with living in a hostile universe.
Lewis argued against this materialist perspective in his BBC radio broadcasts. The sheer horrors of war, he asserts, direct the attention of most people to the spiritual and eternal concerns of immortality. In short, this is what war is good for: it forces us to answer the question, “Is there life after death?”
In the LWW, this question is answered with a resounding “Yes!” when Aslan returns to the land of Narnia where it is always winter and never Christmas, a land of no hope…until the four Pevensie children—Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy—appear as prelude to a prophesy that claims the evil time will be over and done when two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sit on the four thrones at Cair Paravel. But Edmund has betrayed his siblings and joined the evil White Witch who is bent on killing the children to stop the fulfillment of the prophecy.
Aslan arrives to help the Pevensies claim the four thrones, “But it may be harder than you think,” he tells them. In dark times, the future is shrouded in risk, impending ruin and loss, pain and death are almost certain. Our base instinct is to fear, fear for our lives, for our families, for our future. This is the human condition that goes with living in a hostile universe.
But Lewis urges his audiences to keep death in perspective. War serves as a perpetual reminder of a marred and broken world because of our separation from God. In his essay, Learning in Wartime, he writes:
“The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself…”
GEORGE DUTCH is Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturge for 9th Hour Theatre Company
Read Part 2 of "WAR! What is it Good For?"
Listen to George discuss the story's themes on the Telling The Story podcast.