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Rock on, CS Lewis

CS Lewis wasn't really a rock and roll sort of a guy. His idea of a good night was a smoke of his pipe, a glass of beer at the Eagle And Child pub, and perhaps a couple of chapters of Beowulf before bedtime.

CS Lewis wasn't really a rock and roll sort of a guy. His idea of a good night was a smoke of his pipe, a glass of beer at the Eagle And Child pub, and perhaps a couple of chapters of Beowulf before bedtime.

Even so, his stories are constantly referred to in stadium rock sets, in the middle of billowing concept albums and in roaring choruses throughout the western world.

His Narnia books are, naturally, the most popular sources. There's a Dublin band called Aslan, as well as the Australian grunge act Silverchair. American rockers Phish have recorded a track called Prince Caspian, and apparently there's a band of the same name out there somewhere. Meanwhile, Liam Gallagher from Oasis claims that he's only ever read one book in his life, The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe.

Before they settled on the name Queen, Freddie Mercury and his mates wanted to call themselves either The Grand Dance or The Great Dance. They were all big CS Lewis readers and the name was adapted from his science fiction books, Perelandra and Voyage To Venus.

But U2 are probably the most famous admirers of the Belfast writer. During a concert at Cardiff Arms Park in 1993, Bono pulled a girl out from the audience for a dance. She was rather confused by the singer's stage behaviour, with his devil's horns and his irony and all those cynical pronouncements on the world. She wanted to know where the God-fearing young Bono had gone.

"Have you read The Screwtape Letters?" he asked, name-checking another Lewis favourite. "They are letters from the Devil. That's where I got my whole philosophy of mock-the-devil-and-he-will-flee-from-you."

And just to drive the point home, the book appears in the U2 video for Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me. In this animated story, Bono appears in his devilish, MacPhisto persona. But he gets knocked by a car, and out of the folds of his coat drops a copy of The Screwtape Letters.

Screwtape is a senior devil who coaches his young protégées in the skills of temptation. Written as a series of letters, it's an amusing read (there's a hilarious spoken word version by John Cleese) and you can see how Bono saw the value in this. He had bored some of his listeners with the sincerity and the zeal of the Rattle And Hum era, so now he was having fun again, literally playing the Devil's advocate.

Back in 1986, Bono was living in the Martello tower in Bray. He was visited by another artist, Mike Scott from the Waterboys, who was astounded to notice a lamppost at the back of the building. It only had one bar underneath the light, just like the one that Lucy spies when she first reaches Narnia through the wardrobe.

"It was a Narnian lamppost in his garden," Mike remembers. "I don't think he noticed it, but I was most impressed."

Mike Scott has welcomed CS Lewis into many of his songs. The track Church Not Made With Hands starts with a quote from Aslan the lion, bidding his farewells to Shadowlands and Further Up Further In is inspired by the final volume of the Narnia series, The Last Battle.

The last is a particular Scott favourite. "I love the ending - it was gripping as things go from bad to worse in the first half of the book." He also recognises that his most famous song, The Whole of the Moon, has a lot of images (scimitars, stars and unicorns) which feature in the Narnia stories. "It was an influence, definitely," he admits.

Mike supposes that CS Lewis was shaped by his rather sad and lonely childhood in Belfast. "He lived in a land of his imagination and he invented countries because he had so much time on his own.

"I think that must have strengthened his imagination. If you're a kid and you're always surrounded by other people, you don't have so much mental space."

The Lewis influence is also registered in music by the likes of XTC, who recorded Always Winter But Never Christmas with the mythical White Witch in mind.

There's also a tune called Narnia by Steve Hackett, sometime member of Genesis, and at the time of writing, I'm desperately trying to track down an album by the 2nd Chapter Of Acts called The Roar Of Love. The tracks include Lucy's Long Gone, Son Of Adam Daughter Of Eve and, yum, Turkish Delight.

Yes, I could really do with a taste of that.



r Stuart Bailie will play music inspired by CS Lewis on BBC Radio Ulster tonight at 10pm.





r Also on BBC Radio Ulster: tonight Arts Extra takes a look at the artistic legacy of CS Lewis; tomorrow at 9am Cherrie McIlwaine visits the garden of CS Lewis's former Belfast home, Little Lea, in Gardeners' Corner; and at 10am, The Saturday Magazine's John Toal visits the Northern Ireland Cancer Foundation's log cabin, entitled Narnia, in the Mournes. On Sunday at 8.30am, William Crawley will be exploring the religious and moral messages in the new Disney movie, and at 3pm on Love 40, Walter Love will interview the Rt Hon David Bleakley who penned the biography CS Lewis: At Home In Ireland.


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