Ben: Why do you suppose it is that so little attention has been paid in the past to Lewis’ Irish background and upbringing, especially when it comes to his religious background, growing up in an environment where the Lewis’ and the Tolkien’s of this world were unlikely to fraternize or be friends?
Alister: It’s partly because previous biographers weren’t really familiar with it. Nor had Lewis’s full correspondence – which makes clear the importance of his Irish identity, especially in his later period – been published. I had the advantage over previous biographers of both knowing – not just knowing about – Ireland, and having access to his full correspondence. Both helped me to see the importance of his Irish roots.
That Irish background helps us understand two things about Lewis. First, his sense of being an “outsider” at Oxford in the late 1910s and early 1920s, in that he didn’t fit into the networks and social structures that were really developed with the needs of English public schoolboys in mind. And second, it helps grasp why Lewis was instinctively drawn to those with backgrounds similar to his own (such as Neville Coghill, who was a Protestant Irishman, like Lewis – even though Lewis was an atheist Protestant Irishman at that time!), and suspicious of those with significantly different backgrounds (such as Tolkien, who was a devout Catholic).