Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The turning point of history

Joel D. Heck gives us "C.S. Lewis and The Man Born to be King," about a series of radio plays by Dorothy L. Sayers about the life of Jesus Christ. I first read them in my college years. As valuable as the plays themselves are Sayers' introduction and notes explaining her dramatic choices. Excerpts from Heck's account:
In 1943, Dorothy L. Sayers’ script of twelve radio broadcasts was published by Harper & Brothers as The Man Born to Be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. She had written these dramatic episodes for the radio at a time when there was no precedent for such writing. Many deemed these broadcasts sacrilegious and some even considered them wicked. Far better, it was thought, to quote the Bible than to interpret it, especially on stage. ....

She wrote one Nativity story, six stories from the period of Jesus’ ministry, and five Passion plays beginning with Palm Sunday. Some characters had to be invented, such as Elihu, who was the captain of the guard at the tomb of Jesus, but Baruch the Zealot was the only main character of importance that she invented. Judas could not be a worthless villain lest Sayers cast a slur upon either the intelligence or the character of Jesus for choosing him as a disciple.

Sayers uses many direct quotations from the Gospels, then adds detail to the story for the flow of the narrative. Those details certainly could have happened, but they are invented for the sake of the story. ....

.... Finally, in addition to being the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, her episodes comprise “first and foremost, a story—a true story, the turning-point of history, ‘the only thing that has ever really happened’” (Sayers, 22). Especially in the post-resurrection conversations between Jesus and His disciples the message and implications of the Gospel are thoroughly explained. For Dorothy L. Sayers, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). ....
Sayers and C.S. Lewis were friends. Heck quotes CSL about their relationship: "She was the first person of importance who ever wrote me a fan letter. I liked her, originally, because she liked me; later, for the extraordinary zest and edge of her conversation—as I like a high wind. She was a friend, not an ally." Lewis approved of The Man Born to be King:
Lewis enjoyed her play cycle so much that he read the plays in the year when her book was released and then every Holy Week thereafter. In fact, his first letter to her, on May 30, 1943, contained high praise:
Dear Miss Sayers—

I’ve finished The Man Born to be King and think it a complete success. (Christie the H.M. of Westminster told me that the actual performances over the air left his 2 small daughters with “open and silent mouths” for several minutes).

I shed real tears (hot ones) in places: since Mauriac’s Vie de Jesus nothing has moved me so much. I’m not absolutely sure whether Judas for me “comes off”—i.e. whether I shd. have got him without your off-stage analysis. But this may be due to merely reading what was meant to be heard. He’s quite a possible conception, no doubt: I’m only uncertain of the execution. But that is the only point I’m doubtful on. I expect to read it times without number again….

Yours sincerely
C.S. Lewis (Collected Letters, II, 577f)
.... The Man Born To Be King became one of the books he would recommend, along with the works of Chesterton, Charles Williams, George MacDonald, St. Augustine, George Herbert, and others, which is high praise indeed!  .... [more]
The Man Born to Be King is available in paperback at Amazon for about $14.

[The image is of my copy.]

C. S. Lewis Blog: C.S. Lewis and The Man Born to be King