The Sinking of Atlantis: Flora Lewis

Week One of the C.S. Lewis and Women Series

Please note: In the following post, I will refer to C.S. Lewis as “Jack” to simply distinguish him from other members of his family.   I typically refer to him as “Lewis”, but to avoid confusion for this installment of the series, I will use “Jack” (since he detested the name “Clive”).

Photo courtesy of

The Sinking of Atlantis: Flora Lewis

A Post on Her Birthday 

“With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.  There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security.  It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis”

Surprised by Joy

 February 15, 1908 – Three doctors walked through the stately iron gate surrounding a modest home on the outskirts of Belfast, Northern Ireland.  The medical team (assisted by two nurses who had arrived the night before) came equipped with various instruments used to perform surgery which would hopefully prolong the life of a woman plagued with abdominal cancer.  Their patient was a 45-year-old mother of two and wife of a court solictor, Flora Lewis.  In the past, Flora wrestled with headaches, fatigue, and a loss of appetite.  Once the diagnosis was made, doctors and nurses worked exhaustively to restore her health.  As was the custom,  her surgery was performed in the home, on a table on the first floor.


Little Lea, taken by Crystal Hurd in May 2011

It is difficult to comprehend such an ominous sight.  Her youngest son, Clive Staples or “Jack”, must have endured unimaginable apprehension.  According to his correspondence with Nurse Davison (the “senior nurse” over Flora’s care), the young Lewis seemed determined to bear his mother’s illness with feigned fortitude, an armor of apathy that would surely tarnish as the years passed:

“Do you remember the first night before my poor mother’s operation when you both sat and talked about operations and I said

‘Well you are gloomy people'”  – letter dated September 29, 1929

After his older brother Warren was sent to an English preparatory school, Jack had grown close to his mother.  Although the Lewis boys had a nurse who read to them and taught them nursery rhymes (Lizzy Endicott) and a governess (Miss Harper), Flora attempted to educate her sons when she could.  Despite her nagging headaches and frequent episodes of bedrest, she instructed her youngest son in Latin, French, and math (which as many know, was a weak subject for Jack).  She was a woman of substantial intellect, earning a degree in math from Queen’s College in an age where most women settled into the conventional expectation as homemaker. This caused her to be teased a great deal. Her father, Thomas Hamilton, was vicar at Saint Mark’s Dundela.  She was descended from a long line of “clergyman, lawyers, sailors, and the like” (Sayer 4).

Photos of St. Mark’s, the vicarage, and the famous “Lion Head” doorknob

Photos taken by Crystal Hurd in May 2011

Flora met her future husband at her father’s church.  George Sayer writes that Flora first courted Albert’s brother William.  After deciding that she simply “could never love [William]”, she swapped him for his younger brother.  Albert was a eloquent speaker, which, as Jack claims in Surprised by Joy, illustrated his great promise as a politician.  The Lewis boys experienced a bit of ying and yang in their parents, with a passionate, argumentative father and a cool, tranquil mother: “My father’s people were true Welshmen, sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical, easily moved both to anger and to tenderness; men who laughed and cried a great deal and who had not much of the talent for happiness” (3).  This was in great contrast to his mother, whose family was a “cooler race” in which their “minds were critical and ironic and they had the talent for happiness in a high degree – went straight for it as experienced travelers go for the best seat in a train” (3).  Sayer disagrees with this statement, as he remarks that Thomas Hamilton often  railed against Roman Catholicism in the pulpit while her mother incessantly argued politics, namely the restoration of Irish nationalism and Home Rule.

 Nonetheless, the marriage endured.  Albert worked tirelessly, leaving his children with his wife and the house staff.  Flora wrote short stories and articles that her husband critiqued but which, unfortunately, were never published.  In her better days, she travelled often with her sons while her husband was preoccupied with work.  Jack remembered these holidays with much fondness.

After that fateful February morning, Flora experienced a brief period of convalescence.  In May, Flora felt well enough to take her two sons to a house in Castlerock, located in County Derry.  Due to the damp Irish climate and the consistent fear that Jack suffered from a “weak chest”, Flora often took her sons to this northern resort for warmer temperatures and relaxation.

Photo courtesy of

But the season of hope and healing would not last.  In June, Flora was ordered to remain on bedrest. Her symptons continued to worsen and on the morning of August 23 (Albert’s birthday), Flora passed away.  The night before, Albert spoke to her about the goodness of God, to which she poignantly inquired, “What have we done for Him?”  Albert later reflected in his notebook that Flora was, “As good a woman, wife and mother as God has ever given a man”.

 A stiff, uncomfortable nine-year-old Jack was brought in to view the body of his recently deceased mother.  He recounts this episode with great horror in Surprised by Joy:

“Grief in childhood is complicated with many other mysteries. I was taken into the bedroom where my mother lay dead; as they said, ‘to see her,’ in reality, as I at once knew, ‘to see it.’ There was nothing that a grown-up would call disfigurement – except for that total disfigurement which is death itself.  Grief was overwhelmed in terror.  To this day I do not know what they mean when they call dead bodies beautiful. The ugliest man alive is an angel compared with the loveliest of the dead. Against all the subsequent paraphernalia of coffin, flowers, hearse, and funeral I reacted with horror…To my hatred for what I already felt to be all the fuss and flummery of the funeral I may perhaps trace something in me which I now recognize as a defect but which I have never fully overcome – a distaste for all that is public, all that belongs to the collective; a boorish inaptitude for formality.”  (19-20)

Jack would come to face a stark truth – it would take years, perhaps the rest of his life, to recover from Flora’s death.  In fact, the feeling would revisit him many years later, as his wife Joy was dying of cancer. Surely Jack felt empathy for her sons David and Douglas.  There is a remnant of this sensation found in The Magician’s Nephew when Digory Kirke asks Aslan for a Narnian apple to restore his mother’s health.  In his fictional tale, Jack could control the outcome; in the conclusion of The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan gives Digory an apple to heal his mother.

But life seldom imitates art. There is little doubt that Jack was haunted by Flora’s death for the rest of his life. He admits to Phyllis Elinor Sandeman on December 31, 1953:

“I can well understand how in addition to, and mingling with, the void and loneliness, there is a great feeling of unprotectedness and a horror of coping with all the things – the harsh, outer world – from which you have hitherto been shielded.  I first met this ‘cold blast on the naked heath’ at about 9, when my Mother died, and there has never really been any sense of security and snugness since.  That is, I’ve not quite succeeded in growing up on that point: there is still too much of ‘Mammy’s little lost boy’ about me.”

Flora’s absence left Jack and Warnie alone with their workaholic father. Jack wrote at length about his father’s lack of interest in his sons, mainly because Albert preferred to work. Did the young sons remind Albert of the painful loss of his wife?  Did he retreat further into his career as a coping mechanism? As Jack entered early adulthood, he nurtured a growing resentment for his father. This is evidenced in his correspondence, but is also mentioned in Surprised by Joy.  Jack mentions that Albert was less like a father, and more like a much older brother. Perhaps Lewis displaced some of his anger on his father. Jack and Warnie relied on each other for support, and struggled with their father’s ostensible lack of emotion.  Jack would later relinquish much of his pain and become more understanding of his father long after Albert’s death.

It is imperative to note that Jack was surrounded almost exclusively by males at Little Lea (not counting Aunt Annie); in other words, women were present in Jack’s early life, but mainly absent during his late childhood and early adolescence (a crucial period during which many males form opinions about the opposite sex).  After Flora’s death,  Jack found himself wisked off to school and away from his former sanctuary. He was placed in all-male boarding schools, where boys were mercilessly judged by their displays of aggression and athleticism.  Surely he missed his mother and felt that her passing had drastically altered the trajectory of his life (at minimum, it interrupted his childhood). Between the horrible bullying he endured to the emotional bankruptcy demonstrated by his father, Jack struggled to find footing in this unfamiliar new life.  Flora left a vacuum, a deep, unrelenting wound.  Jack would find himself utterly alone and seeking answers from God, from teachers, from schoolmates and colleagues. Her death would catalyze a long, labyrithine journey from God and a returning to God, truly proving that “the longest way round is the shortest way home”.

But in the meantime, young Jack would find refuge in one woman, a woman who became a surrogate mother to the “orphaned” boy and paid a heavy price for her affection.

Next week, I will share her story, the story of Ms. Cowie.



Book Review: Heaven Hears by Lindy Boone Michaelis

Photo courtesy of Barnes and Noble

“To all those who have received that terrible phone call about a loved one – injured, in the hospital, or in a crisis – and filled the waiting rooms, in pain and in prayer.  I wrote this book for you.  May you discover the faithfulness of the Father as I have”

 As long as I live, I will never forget that 5 A.M. phone call.  My father had just endured a quadruple bypass operation and wanted to retain his dizzy, pre-surgery schedule.  But his body, and his newly-altered heart, could not maintain the pace.  One morning, as he was preparing to leave for work, he passed out in the kitchen.  My Mom heard him drop to the floor, rushed in to assist him, and picked up the phone to call me.  Stirred from slumber, I looked at my phone and the alarm clock.

And then I panicked.

Her words were barely audible as she choked back tears to tell me that her worst nightmare was finding my Dad in the floor.  In that brief moment before Dad regained consciousness, she envisioned a life stretched out in bitter, stinging loneliness – of endless days in an empty house, of his workshirts hanging undisturbed in their closet, of his dusty motorcycle in the shed, of the irreparable damage to her broken heart that accompanies the loss of a soulmate.  But that was not the end of the story. Thankfully, Dad recovered quickly. He learned how to establish a new pace.  But anytime my phone rings in the middle of the night (which isn’t very often), my mind races and my adrenaline rushes.  Circumstances can change quickly.  The soft jingle of a cell phone can usher in drastic change.

 Lindy Boone Michaelis experienced that noctournal phone call in 2001.  While asleep in Spain, her son Ryan Corbin accidently stepped through a fiberglass skylight and plummeted three stories to a concrete floor.  Ryan was an energetic, aspiring playwright and actor in Hollywood.  He had recently finished a script which retells the story of Jesus in modern times.  He had a bright future ahead of him.

Ryan before his accident, courtesy of

That afternoon changed everything. Ryan sustained major injuries (requiring 36 pints of blood when he arrived in the ER), including significant trauma to his brain.  Lindy was unaware that her beloved son was fighting for his life in a Los Angeles hospital.  When friends and family finally reached her, Lindy immediately scheduled flights back to the States to be at her son’s bedside.  She began the long odyssey back to Ryan’s side, rehearsing various scenarios in her head, worried that she would lose her firstborn.  She pleaded with God to spare Ryan and repeated this mantra which would give her strength through the proceeding years:

Ryan will live and not die and declare the glory of God

 Meanwhile, Lindy’s parents kept vigil on Ryan’s progress.  Readers may recognize her father as the pop singer turned evangelical artist Pat Boone.  Boone was well-known in the 50s and 60s for covering R & B hits and for later hosting The Pat Boone Chevy Hour with his family (including Lindy).

 Photo courtesy of

In fact, the first portion of the book outlines Lindy’s childhood and religious rearing.  This is the backdrop for the hope she expresses after Ryan’s accident.  Even in the darkest valleys of Ryan’s recovery, Lindy clings to an indomitable faith in Christ.  The Boone family uses their fame as a platform, urging people to pray for Ryan.  The book actually begins with Lindy’s appearance on The Larry King Show, asking for worldwide support.  The Boones appear on the show several times (Pat Boone and Larry King are longtime friends), and every show yields thousands of letters originating from all over the globe:

“I was deeply touched by your will to survive.  Though you have not recovered fully physcially, what is important is YOU, who [are more than] his body…We have a song in our language which says, even if the gold has a defect, the glory of the gold is not dulled.  If a lion’s leg is injured, his bravery doesn’t diminish.”

Ryan made slow, but steady progress in his recovery.  Lindy admits that it seemed that Ryan would take “one step forward and two steps back”.  Lindy was transformed from the mother of a boisterous, ambitious twenty-four-year-old adult son, to his full-time caretaker.  She rejoiced when he would move his head, wiggle his toes, or prove that he can hear and understand his family.  The family incurred a steep financial obligation financing Ryan care, sparing no expense on new and innovative therapies that would increase Ryan’s chance of recovery. Ryan experienced a hyperbaric oxygen chamber as well as new medications to repair his body while minimizing the side effects of brain damage.

What I admire most about Lindy’s narrative is her honesty.  Despite her “fairy tale” upbringing with a famous family tucked away comfortably in Beverly Hills, Lindy’s journey is rife with struggle.  To begin, becoming a 24-hour caregiver is extremely difficult.  Lindy must always ensure that Ryan receives loving care from his nurses.  He is completely dependent upon her and her family. The role of caretaker also takes a toll of the personal life of a caretaker.  Lindy carefully yet comprehensively outlines the stress to her marraige and on her daughter and young son.  All of them had to endure Lindy’s absence for the years she remained by Ryan’s side throughout various hospitals and therapy clinics. She is also very candid about the support (or in some instances, the lack of support) she received from others.  For instance, Lindy tells of the aggrivation she felt when people appeared to become apathetic of Ryan’s suffering. She admits that she was unkind to Ryan’s former fiancee, who eventually broke off the relationship after the accident. These changes are very difficult to tolerate, but Lindy embraces them with the strength and assurance she receives from God.

Secondly, brain injury can significantly alter an individual’s personality.  Lindy admits that after the accident, Ryan, who was known as a passive, loving person, became distrustful of adult males, aggressively lashing out and using profanity.  In fact, Lindy had to become comfortable with Ryan’s colorful language, peppered with expletives due to his lasting trauma. She equates this to someone who suffers from Tourettes Syndrome.  Lindy unfailingly continues to love her son through these changes.

Throughout her trials, Lindy remains sure of one thing: Ryan will live and not die and declare the glory of God. His story has already touched many lives around the world.  Now, with this publication, she shares the full story of the turmoil and the triumph of her son’s accident and recovery.  Lindy and her father have established a non-profit organization, Ryan’s Reach, which assists with the financial costs associated with treating patients with traumatic brain injury.  Today, Ryan lives with his parents in California and uses his story to “reach” new generations and inspire hope and faith. His story, like Lindy’s, continues.  They serve to remind me of a God who still performs miracles and transforms our life stories with every page.  I recommend this book to enrich your understanding of human perseverance, strengthen your faith, and to appreciate the daily miracle of life.


Photo courtesy of

Many thanks to Tyndale publishers and the Tyndale Blog Network for providing an advance copy of the book.  I was not asked to write a positive review in exchange for this work.

C.S. Lewis and Women: A New Blog Series

“Who said I disliked women?  I never liked or disliked any generalisation.”

Letter to Margaret Fuller, April 8, 1948

Last March, I stood before a committee of academics, my husband, and a few strangers and defended my dissertation on C.S. Lewis as Transformational Leader.  As I discussed how Lewis’s beliefs inspired his leadership, a member of the faculty who was there to ensure “protocol was followed” listened intently while scribbling furiously on a notepad.  This individual had never read my manuscript, nor was he informed about leadership principles.  He was a member of the science faculty with no prior knowledge of my research. During my presentation, I explained how Lewis concurred with John Milton’s Hierarchical Conception, that God created a necessary hierarchy to establish order.  I utilized this quote from his essay “Membership” (located in The Weight of Glory):

I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world.  I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple to have been as much of a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast.  

After my presentation, I answered all questions from my committee and felt a surge of relief.  I was ready to indulge in a congratulatory burrito. And then, the quiet, contemplative scientist spoke.  What followed was a 15-minute diatribe on how Lewis condoned domestic violence because he was a spokesman for “Western Christian tradition” which encouraged misogyny and the oppression of women.  Furthermore, he refuted my claim that Lewis served as a leader (although he was uninformed of leader scholarship).  In retrospect, he reminded me of many passages from That Hideous Strength.  My committee and I both rose to the challenge and finally, the man relented after several minutes (that’s why they call it a “defense” right?).  I emerged victorious, but slightly wounded.  How could anyone portray Lewis that way?  It was evident that the man had never read Lewis, based upon his assessment and assumptions.  How could anyone deduce that Lewis hated all women from two measly sentences? It had never surfaced during months of research and composition. In fact, the new chair of Women’s Studies was a critical member of my committee.

If he had asked for the rest of the quote, he would have found that his absurd assumption that Lewis “condoned domestic violence” was flawed logic.  Just because one suggests order, does not mean he/she supports tyranny (or a corruption of order).  Lewis continues:

I believe that if we had not fallen, Filmer would be right, and patriarchical monarchy would be the sole lawful government.  But since we have learned sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that “all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The only remedy has been to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of equality.  The authority of father and husband has been rightly abolished on the legal plane, not because this authority is in itself bad (on the contrary, it is, I hold, divine in origin), but because fathers and husbands are bad.  Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us. Even the authority of man over beast has had to be interfered with because it is constantly abused.

Long after that afternoon had passed, I searched for more information on Lewis’s view of women.  What I found was, for the most part, harsh criticism from many females in the academic community.  This partially orginates from Lewis’s strong opposition to feminism (which will be explored later).  The more I searched, the more I discovered that some women harbored resentments toward Lewis and his “misogynistic tendancies”.  As a female Lewis scholar, I wish to explore Lewis comprehensively and illustrate that Lewis did not “hate women”.  On the contrary, Lewis perceives women as multi-faceted beings.  He presents very different, yet realistic (if somewhat exaggerated) portrayals of women in his various works of fiction. For example, many readers are livid that Susan does not cross into Aslan’s Country in The Last Battle because she is preoccupied with “nylons and lipstick and invitations”.  However, these same individuals fail to mention that Lucy, the youngest female, is the most faithful of the Narnian monarchs; she is the one who first believed in Narnia and whose faith help lead the others through the wardrobe (and the painting in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).  Her indomitable faith in Aslan helps lead them through the forest (as she insists on following Aslan) in Prince Caspian. Here, we see an exclusivist technique of critiquing Lewis, a “picking and choosing” of specific passages while blatantly ignoring others.  What I hope to illuminate is that Lewis’s female characters represent a wide spectrum of women, just as his male characters represent a wide spectrum of males.

Over the next twelve weeks, I will examine Lewis’s encounters and literary portrayals of women.  The first six weeks will explore biographical aspects of Lewis, from his mother (whom he lost at a young age) and his female correspondents, to his budding friendships with Ruth Pitter and Joy Davidman.  The latter, of course, would become his wife in 1956.   The second six weeks will discuss Lewis’s literary treatment of women, along with some commentary on the roles of women.  Every weekend, I will post a new installment of the series.

Week One –  The Sinking of Atlantis: Flora Lewis

Week Two – Light in the Darkness: Miss C., the Matron

Week Three – Furlough and Fascination: Mrs. Moore

Week Four  – Ladies and the Letters: Lewis and His Female Correspondents

Week Five  –   Iron Sharpens Iron: Elizabeth Anscombe

Week Six –  Hunting the Unicorn: Lewis and Ruth Pitter

Week Seven – “My Mistress”: Joy Davidman


Week Eight- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in The Pilgrim’s Regress

Week Nine- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in The Chronicles of Narnia

Week Ten- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in The Science Fiction (or Ransom) Trilogy

Week Eleven- Lewis and Women: Portrayals in Til We Have Faces

Week Twelve- Commentary in various works of nonfiction

Conclusion and Discussion

I promise that it will be an enlightening (and perhaps for some, redeeming) account of the beloved Lewis.  Will you join me?  Please spread the word!