Maybe he ought to have been knighted. Lovingly known as “Jack,” Professor Clive Staples Lewis certainly taught, both in word and in action, the very necessity of chivalry in modern culture. From the time he listened to his first fairy tales in his nursery in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to the battlefield of Arras, France, in World War I, to the printed page and the halls of Oxford and Cambridge, Lewis admired and emulated knighthood. Many years after his death in 1963 he was even portrayed on the silver screen (in the 1993 motion picture Shadowlands) by a knight: Sir Anthony Hopkins. Yes, perhaps he ought to have been knighted.
In his youth, Lewis loved the same medieval tales of chivalry that the Renaissance knights themselves enjoyed reading. In his first semester of his academic career in Oxford, he was called to France to serve in battle in World War I, where, as a Lieutenant in the English army, he fought valiantly. While recuperating from his severe wounds in the Battle of Arras, he wrote and published poetry – much as his medieval and Renaissance predecessors did. He returned to Oxford and became a professor of literature, always placing a strong emphasis on the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Later, a special position in Cambridge: Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature was created especially for him.
Yet he did far more than teach chivalry to his students within the cloistered walls; he brought chivalry out into the world through his books and radio broadcasts, thus setting an example for anyone who seeks to apply the knightly virtues to modern life. Hence, we can consider Lewis a pioneer of the concept of Chivalry Today. Lewis called chivalry a necessity. He believed that we are either, by nature, stern or meek. A knight must be fierce and kind at the same time. Time and time again we see this ideal of chivalry in his work, as his heroes kill their enemies quickly, but do not take any pleasure in doing so.
Lewis believed that without the knight, we have two types of people: those who are fierce in battle but cannot be gentle elsewhere, and those who are gentle in their real lives, but completely useless. The knight is the person who can be both fierce and gentle, but such behavior is learned.
In his own words:
“The man who combines both characters – the knight – is a work not of nature but of art; of that art which has human beings, instead of canvas or marble, for its medium.”
Lewis himself was a fierce fighter on the battlefield, both as a soldier in France and as a philosopher in England, yet he was a kind gentleman and an inspiration to all. C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest historical figures to ever set foot on the stage of chivalry, and his work should be admired by all of today’s knights in shining armor.
© 2002 Katrelya Angus
Details and quotes taken from: C.S. Lewis: The Necessity of Chivalry in Present Concerns. Edited by Walter Hooper; London, Fount Paperbacks, 1986.