“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
― C.S. Lewis
In July I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the delightful Sarah Mackenzie for her Read-Aloud Revival podcast. It was more like a friendly chat over coffee as Sarah and I shared thoughts about life, literature, reading-aloud, children’s book publishing, history studies and our mutual love for good books. The podcast is now up and you can access it here.
Sarah has recently published a book about home schooling entitled Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace. As a young mom of six little ones, Sarah knows how hectic and demanding the homeschooling lifestyle can be and offers great advice for letting go of striving and finding a deep peace in your heart and home.
One of the topics we discussed briefly was the current educational trend of teaching history by “beginning at the beginning.” Those who are interested in a little more in-depth look at this topic might enjoy reading, “When Should I Teach Ancient History, which you can access here. Memoria Press has also written a brief intro on this topic entitled “History is Not Chronological, which you can access here.
In closing, one of the questions Sarah asked was what book I had read as a child that most impacted me. I always come back to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time for the book that I believe truly, as C. S. Lewis coined, “baptized my imagination.” I read it as a teen or young adult, but it opened the eyes of my imagination in a way no other book ever had. We never know which book will do that for us or our children–thus the reason to read, read, read! But read the best books first, because you never know if you’ll have time to read them all!
On Saturday, my husband and I had the unique experience of attending a two-man play–Freud’s Last Session, based upon a hypothetical meeting between Sigmund Freud–considered the father of psychoanalysis, and C. S. Lewis–the twentieth century atheist turned Christian apologist and theologian. While it is unlikely these two great intellectuals ever actually met, their writings and philosophies continue to have a profound impact upon modern thought and culture. Having an opportunity to see them interact in an amiable battle of divergent philosophies was fascinating and thought-provoking.
The playwright Mark St. Germain, was inspired to write the play after hearing Dr. Armand M. Nicoli, Jr.–the author of The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, speak at a Socrates in the City event in New York City. That talk inspired the playwright to imagine what an actual dialogue between these two great minds might have looked like, especially set against the world-changing events that provide the backdrop of the play.
St. Germain has set the play in London just on the cusp of World War II, where Hitler’s madness has driven the ailing Freud–now exiled from his beloved Vienna. The historical record states that during his sojourn there and just three weeks before his death, Freud invited an Oxford don to visit him at his home in London. The identity of that don is unknown, but the serendipitous nature of these confluences (Freud being in London, Lewis in Oxford, and the impending declaration of war), make for great literary (albeit fictional) possibility. And St. Germain uses the possibilities fully. Lewis and Freud debate the great questions of life and death in a way that reveals the intellectual prowess, penetrating wit, and hard-won positions of these men. In the Santa Monica performance, which just premiered on January 11, 2013, Tom Cavanagh plays C.S. Lewis. Cavanagh doesn’t seem to have quite settled into his role as the Oxford professor, and his assumed British accent was at times too affected to project clearly to the audience. Judd Hirsch did a brilliant job portraying Freud, and despite his cantankerous, cynical and curmudgeonly nature, his character is endearing and unforgettable.
Throughout the play Freud is regularly turning the radio on and off for updates on Hitler’s invasion of Poland, which occurred on September 1, 1939. One disturbing tidbit of broadcast informs BBC listeners that 20,000 Poles have died since the start of the Fuhrer’s invasion, and for a moment both Lewis and Freud sit silently pondering this staggering news. Details like this, woven into the fabric of a debate on the meaning of life and death, make for a fitting backdrop.
Freud is ill when Lewis visits him, and is in the terminal stages of oral cancer–an extremely painful, debilitating condition. As the audience, we don’t learn until later how close Freud is to his death, but he candidly shares with Lewis that he has arranged with his physician to end his life soon. He will not tolerate much longer his intolerable condition. He has suffered countless operations, the removal of his palate, most of his jaw and is forced to wear an ill-fitting oral prosthesis that he calls “the monster.” These details make Freud’s sharp and cynical spars against the existence of God, more wrenching, more poignant. Later, Lewis helps Freud remove his oral prosthesis which is giving him excruciating pain. In the pathos of that moment, pain becomes the great equalizer. The men are humbled and both are silenced by pain. Freud’s pain, alienation, and impending death becomes a metaphor for the pain, alienation, and impending death of a world about to enter the tragedy of World War II.
After the play, Eric Metaxes, the author of the brilliant Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and founder of Socrates in the City, moderated a lively discussion between the playwright, the actors and the producer. It was wonderful to see Eric again after a number of years, (we had met at a C.S. Lewis event in Oxford) and he helped introduce us to a bit of the background story of the play. I would encourage anyone in the Los Angeles area to make a point to see this work while it is on the West Coast! This would definitely be something to take your high school students to as well! You can find ticket information here.
Rea Berg is passionate about children's books and has been republishing classic and historical children's literature for the last 30 years through her company Beautiful Feet Books. She also designs guides for teaching elementary and secondary students history using award-winning classic and historic literature. She holds both an undergraduate degree in English from Simmons College, Boston as well as a graduate degree in children's literature.