C.S. Lewis, the world’s most famed Christian storyteller and apologist, completed a mission for the British Secret Intelligence Service popularly known as MI6, wrote Union University professor Harry Lee Poe this week for Christianity Today.
Poe began unraveling the secret when he chanced upon a 78 rpm recording, supposedly of a Lewis lecture, for sale on eBay. Although he suspected it was fake, his curiosity bested him, and he bought the record from its seller in Iceland.
Poe gradually realized this was the gramophone recording Lewis wrote about to friend Arthur Greeves on May 25, 1941. Scholars previously thought Lewis was referring to a random BBC recording preceding Lewis’s radio talks in August–but “Lewis delivered his broadcasts live, so why would the BBC have bothered to record a voice test?” The recording actually was made by the Joint Broadcasting Committee, an arm of the Secret Intelligent Service, as part of a propaganda campaign in Iceland.
Poe explains that Iceland was technically Danish when Germany took control of Denmark on April 9, 1940. The British took Iceland a month later on May 10, the same day the Netherlands fell to Germany. Iceland “provided the ideal base for seaplanes to search for the German naval vessels that prowled the Atlantic sinking the merchant fleet with its crucial supplies.”
Evidently, SIS recruited Lewis to help win over the people of Iceland when the British could no longer afford to maintain its military presence there. At that point,
holding Iceland depended upon the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.
This was the strategic situation in which C. S. Lewis was recruited. And his mission was simple: To help win the hearts of the Icelandic people. …
And what did an Oxford don have to say that might help turn the tide of war in Britain’s darkest hour? He spoke on the subject “The Norse Spirit in English Literature.” Lewis provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English, which Lewis made clear in his first recorded statement. He said that he did not know why he had been asked to address the people of Iceland, but that he agreed to do it in order to repay a great debt. He explained that his imaginative life had been awakened by Norse mythology when he was 14. He went on to explain how his love of Norse mythology only deepened when he began to learn the Icelandic language at Oxford.
Poe goes on to describe Lewis’s surprisingly personal address to the Icelandic people. He plans to host the first public hearing of the record in July 2016 at the Inklings Week in Oxford.