C.S. Lewis & the Olympics

One honor that eluded C.S. Lewis during his distinguished life was the opportunity to represent the United Kingdom at the Olympics.

This would have been particularly satisfying during the XI Olympiad in Nuremberg. Fortunately, despite Lewis’ absence, America’s Jesse Owens was present to derail Hitler’s myth about so-called master races.

Actually, Lewis was a scholar, not an athlete. (Although the two can occasionally be combined.) The Olympics were not at the forefront of his concerns, a self-described dinosaur, immersed in the classics.

Nevertheless, a few interesting tidbits about the Olympics can be gleaned from Lewis’ published correspondence, which we shall consider forthwith.

Both of the following citations come from Volume 3 (1950-1963) of C.S. Lewis’ collected correspondence. In October 1955, Lewis responded to correspondence from I.O. Evans.

I return the article which interested me very much, for I have lately written a paper [“On Science Fiction”] on the same subject for an undergraduate society. I can’t send it, for it exists only in my own, almost illegible, MS. You seem to have dealt with the subject very well, and corrected some current errors.

I will certainly let you have a word about Olympic Runner when I have got round to reading it. You have no idea how little space for recreational reading there is in my life, and how long books have to stand in the queue.

Idrisyn Oliver Evans (1894-1977) book, Olympic Runner: a Story of the Great Days of Ancient Greece, was published in 1955. I have seen no evidence it made it to the front of C.S. Lewis’ queue.

On 16 November 1955, Lewis wrote to an acquaintance, Delmar Banner. Banner had created a likeness of Christopher John Chataway (1931-2014), who competed in the 1952 Olympics, and at one time held the world record in the 5,000 meters. Chataway had studied politics at Magdalen College in 1950.

Banner sought Lewis’ opinion on its accuracy. Lewis has to disappoint him, but does so in a friendly and encouraging manner.

Many thanks for your kind and encouraging card of the 15th; it is a great pleasure to me to know that anything I have written should be of help to the School [Pelham House]. Please give them all my best wishes.

I have never seen Chataway in the flesh, or even a profile photo of him, so can express no opinion of your portrait qua likeness; but even I, ignorant though I am on the subject, can admire the beauty and vigour of your drawing. I too hope that we may meet again.

Since I have uncovered so little information about Lewis’ thoughts on the Olympics, allow me to refer those who are interested to an article from Practical Theology.

C.S. Lewis at the 2012 London Olympics: Reflections on Pride and Humility” is available for free download from the University of York St. John.

This paper provides a theological analysis of modern professional sport, in particular the modern Olympic Games, in light of some of C.S. Lewis’s writings on pride and humility. This is prefaced with an analysis of the nature and character of ‘human competition’ in the sporting context and its potential positive and negative consequences.

We conclude by suggesting that the modern professional sports institution and the Olympic movement, while possessing many positive and enriching attributes, requires “wholesale spiritual rehabilitation” due in-part to both individual and national pride. However, we also believe that the modern Olympic Games that are characterized by passionate international sports competition, has many positive and life-affirming attributes and that there is hope of a lasting “legacy”, the prayer of Lord Coe [chair of the London 2012 Olympics Organising Committee]!

The essay is well worth a read, particularly as the latest Olympiad is matching global champions. The authors include a timely caution, lest we over-idealize the winners and add them to a pantheon of “modern sporting demi-gods.”

3 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis & the Olympics

  1. I do think that we have a problem of idealizing celebrities (including athletes and performers) as demi-gods of sorts. Talent, art, achievements, intellect – all of this should be celebrated, sure. But I think the current version of celebrity worship culture is unhealthy for celebrities and for society.

    1. I concur with you and would like to add to your points by quoting myself from my lengthy post entitled The Quotation Fallacy “💬” as follows:

      The cult of celebrity, the pursuit of fortune, and the allure of fame, have all played major roles in the rise of the age of adulation, which is also accompanied by, and correlated to, the age of reputation, to the extent that we often judge the quality of information, be it a quotation or statement, according to the reputation of the informer, so much so that our adulation with the informer and their reputation can trump the importance of the information. The cause of such a shift of emphasis can be attributed to not just the rise of social media and mass communication that ushers in the age of information, but also the specialization of knowledge resulting from the stronger gravitation towards advanced differentiation of skills in the workforce, thus dramatically increasing the gaps of knowledge between experts and laypersons, and by extension, between the authority and the public.

      Yours sincerely,

    2. I have always found celebrity worship culture distasteful.

      The only exception would be truly humble prophets or teachers who never sought acclaim but were/are pursued by people seeking to hear their wisdom.

      Lest my affirmation of some be misconstrued, I am referring to prophets like Jeremiah or some of the early Christian hermits like Saint Simeon Stylites. In other words, none of the current “televangelists” would be included in my personal exemption. Of course, God alone knows people’s hearts.

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