In His Majesty’s Secret Service
Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like: Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.
In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.
WWII Turning Point
The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.
- Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
- Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
- With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.
Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.
- April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
- May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.
- May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.
The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.
“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)
Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.
Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.
“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)
Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.
The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is one of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.
Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities he gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.
Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.