Listen to C. S. Lewis’ BBC Broadcast: ‘Beyond Personality’

A good friend sent me a link last night to an archived recording of C. S. Lewis’ BBC broadcast of ‘Beyond Personality’ during WWII, a talk that was published as a book in its own right and then became the fourth and last part of Mere Christianity. It turns out, as is almost always the case with CSL matters, that this isn’t a new discovery but is only new to me. For easier access to the talk and a short introduction, for example, please see this CSL fan’s weBlog.

Still, I confess to being fascinated, even thrilled, to hear ‘the Master’s Voice.’ I imagined the man almost stepping out of the Wardrobe to talk to my family after dinner around the fireplace  — as I think listeners in the UK might have done next to their radios in late March, 1944, if it was a damp, cold night.

I recommend it to you, even if you’ve listened to it before, to ask yourself how much the timbre, pace, and pitch, the musical quality of this voice, matches the one of your imagination as you read, say, The Silver Chair, Perelandra, or Mere Christianity. I confess, this is much more a patrician voive, with the inflection of gentility, than I expected, embarrassed as I am to admit it. He had the common touch, perhaps, but the man was an Oxbridge don, after all.

Still, however avuncular and whatever note there is of condescension in the pacing, the voice is friendly and engaging. Lewis draws you in without making you feel you’re being ‘taken in.’ And that is no small achievement, given the weightiness of the subject and the audience most likely having been immunized against catching the apologist’s drift.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the broadcast along with any of your memories you care to share of being surprised, delighted, or dismayed on hearing an author’s voice after reading his or her works.


  1. I remember the first time I heard “the Master’s Voice” when I began listening to an archived BBC recording of The Four Loves (available in a CD set). I, too, was very surprised at how Jack actually sounded; a “patrician voive” is an excellent description! I had imagined that he would have a more “Liam-Neeson-as-Aslan” or even Douglas Gresham sort of voice, to be painfully honest. To my untrained American ear, Lewis’ particular English cadences sounded extremely heavy and rather pretentious, stuffy, and as you said, condescending. I was appalled. But as I continued to listen to his voice and readjust my preconceived notions, I tried to think outside of my American voice box 😉 and remember that he was indeed an “Oxbridge Don.” I started to imagine how this voice would sound if I were his student, listening to his lectures in his classroom (the thought gives me chills 🙂 ). And as he continued to talk and I became more accustomed to that supposed heaviness, I began to really hear the incredible resonance, the overwhelmingly rich and deep timbre of his voice; I fell into the rhythm of it, and began to journey with him through his intonations. I could then hear how deliberately and how passionately he spoke. Everything he wrote was purposeful, dynamic, and effective, and this verbal communication of his work is no different. It is indeed warm and engaging, and as you so aptly stated, Lewis “draws you in without making you feel you’re being ‘taken in.'” I now take immense pleasure in listening to Jack’s voice, and honestly can’t imagine it sounding any other way. Once one transports oneself across the pond and back in time to haunt the halls of Oxford and Cambridge, his voice not only makes more sense, but heightens one’s reading and enjoyment of all of his writings.

  2. Bruce Charlton says

    Marvelous! The precision of the speaking matches the precision of the writing: in which each word seems to have been weighed and considered.

    Since I am English it may be necessary to point-out that nowadays nobody at all speaks with the accent Lewis used here – it has utterly disappeared.

    This accent was called Received Pronunciation/ RP or BBC English – and was the mark of the upper middle (professional) and upper (aristocratic) classes.

    Interestingly, Lewis shows no trace whatsoever of the Ulster/ Northern Irish accent which he almost certainly had as a youth. This obliteration of regional accent was one undoubtedly of the main reasons why their father sent the Lewis brothers to English boarding (‘Prep’ – or preparatory – and ‘Public’) schools. Clearly it worked.

    The Lewis-type RP accent disappeared very rapidly around the middle 1960s (like so much else!) after which (about a decade later! – leading to much satire and parody at the time) even the Queen changed her mode of speaking.

    What replaced it was a more casual type of RP which contains elements of Cockney/ South East English – indeed this trend is still continuing (for an example could could listed to ex UK Prime Minister ‘Tony’ Blair

    Indeed, the use of Tony, instead of Anthony, is part of this – in another decade or two it will probably be the broad Cockney nickname ‘Tone’.

    Lewis’s single most striking features for the modern English speaker are the vowel sounds – Lewis would use ‘het’ for ‘hat’, ‘cep’ for ‘cap’ etc.

    This particular vowel is still found in some English colonial dialects – New Zealand or English-descended South Africans – but of course most of the rest of these colonial dialects are quite different from Lewis’s RP.

  3. @Bruce – Thanks for that fascinating break-down of the accent! I find dialect/accents very interesting, and it’s great to hear the history and culture behind it.

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