CS Lewis expert Professor Alister McGrath shares some of Lewis’ thoughts on sadomasochism, homosexuality and friendship 

The CS Lewis podcast recently featured a series focussing on Professor Alister McGrath’s book C.S Lewis: A Life. In one of the episodes, we explored Lewis’ experience of the First World War and the significant relationships he formed during this time. Here, McGrath shares some of the surprising things Lewis revealed to his childhood friend Arthur Greeves.

This article is adapted from The CS Lewis Podcast, Episode 89, Alister McGrath: CS Lewis and the Great War. To listen to the whole episode, click here or to check out other episodes, click here.

Ruth Jackson: During the First World War, CS Lewis seems to have started expressing an interest in sadomasochism. That might be a bit of a shocking revelation to those who have come to know Lewis perhaps through his later Christian writings, so what was going on here?

Alister McGrath: Lewis does talk about certain things in his letters with his friend Arthur Greeves and I think it’s fair to say that Lewis was working through a number of things in his life at this time. He is slightly opaque about what some of these things are. But certainly, Lewis is a young man who is going through a phase where he is not able to really express himself sexually and he does seem to be working through some form of sadomasochism.  

This is not a criticism of Lewis whatsoever, it’s just what he was going through as a man, which may have been brought on by a very bad experience at school. It is quite possible that Lewis was more than bullied there - he may have been sexually molested. 

Lewis was messed up, he was struggling to cope with various things. And this is something he mentions in his writings at the time.


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RJ: Lewis’ flagellant fantasies weren’t necessarily just limited to women were they? 

AM: No, he seems to engage in some minor flagellation with other students or officer cadets at the time, and actually paid them to do so. So, clearly, this is part of who Lewis was at this time. 

This is something, of course, Lewis never mentions to his father, as you can understand, but he is going through a very traumatic phase in his life. He has no mother, he’s not being mothered very well. His brother is away in the war. Lewis has no real friends in Oxford apart from Paddy Moore and Mrs Moore, and he is struggling as someone who is going through all sorts of phases and he’s got nobody he can really talk to about these things. So, it is really quite a difficult time for Lewis. 

As I read Lewis, I sometimes feel that he’s aware he’s getting out of control and is wondering what can be done about it. But there’s really nothing that can be done because he is going off to fight in France.


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RJ: Around this time, Arthur Greeves revealed in a letter to CS Lewis that he was a homosexual. How did Lewis respond to his friend coming out? 

AM: Lewis had very great respect for Arthur Greeves and was very fond of him. But, while Lewis is very supportive of Arthur Greeves, he does drop the hint that he doesn’t share these inclinations. 

It’s quite clear that Lewis does not see this as a problem for their friendship. But he wants Greeves to understand that while the friendship continues, it won’t be perhaps the kind of friendship that Arthur Greeves might have hoped for. 

So, I think, if you like, it’s a recalibration of that relationship from a distance. Because, of course, Lewis was not going to be able to see Arthur Greeves for some time because of the war.

Arthur Greeves and CS Lewis kept in touch, they visited each other for the rest of Lewis’ life. This is a really important relationship. I think Lewis realises it is an important relationship, because he does not want anything to mess it up.


Professor Alister McGrath is one of the world’s leading experts on CS Lewis. Both men were raised in Northern Ireland, studied at Oxford University and went on to become professors there. They also both came to faith from atheism slightly later in life. McGrath has written numerous books on Lewis, including a seminal biography C.S Lewis: A Life. 


This article is adapted from The CS Lewis Podcast, Episode 89, Alister McGrath: CS Lewis and the Great War. To listen to the whole episode, click here or to check out other episodes, click here.