Clive Staples Lewis was a celebrated Anglo-Irish novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, lay theologian and Christian apologist whose impact and influence lives on.

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C. S. Lewis and the “300″

March 11th, 2007 | Skip to comments

“They propound mathematical theorems in beleagured cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.” —C. S. Lewis, “Learning in War Time.”

Thermopylae is the famous battle between Sparta and Persia, between King Leonidas and the god-king, Xerxes. The Bible alludes to Darius and his evil son Xerxes, and, in fact, Xerxes is likely the “Ahaseuerus” of the story of Queen Esther. Lewis’s mention of Thermopylae serves as an example (he loved the Greek and Roman histories and myths) of how normal life must go on even in the midst of war, tragedy, and hopelessness. That men even comb their hair facing death. This essay is actually one of his famous sermons, preaching while bombs were falling every night in London. He had been a soldier, like Tolkien, and knew how evil and barbarous war could be–but that alone should not take away the hope of civilization and culture, and, most importantly, faith.

The connection is that last night I saw the movie, 300, which deserves to be seen on its own merits, not as a cultural parable or for its new digital wonders, but as a movie about freedom, courage, and, to this viewer, vivid illustration of what is meant by “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. . . . I have called you friends . . . (John 15:13, 15).

I was teary-eyed through much of this violent, ultra-“muscular” movie, but when we get to the last third of the movie and valiant Leonidas confronts the scowling, prissy Xerxes, I got choked up.

Xerxes: “There’s not one in my army I wouldn’t sacrifice to achieve victory.”
Leonidas: “There’s not a man in my company for whom I wouldn’t lay down my life.”

Xerxes is Screwtape, and Leonidas is Christ. Xerxes is slimy and perverse. Leonidas is faithful, valorous, and true. As King, Xerxes forces others to do his fighting; As true king, Leonidas fights for his people.

“If we had foolish unChristian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to Divine realiy and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.”

–C. S. Lewis, last lines of “Learning in War-Time.”

As i said of 2005’s Serenity, I think Lewis would have enjoyed 300 immensely, both its visual storytelling, and its narrative structure and voice.  I don’t know if I could see it again, but urge you to do so at least once. Evil is depicted as what it is, and there are lots of battle grotesqueries, but true love, true hope, and real valor are on display in every scene. What more can you ask from an “entertainment”?


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