home > Pastor’s Desk > 2024 > March 22ndr > He was a kind and charitable man.

WHO WAS KENNETH TYNAN?

You’ve probably never heard of Kenneth Tynan. I hadn’t. I was introduced to him while conducting some research for my current PhD program on C.S. Lewis. In Prof. Alan Jacob’s 2005 book, The Narnian – the life and imagination of C.S. Lewis, he tells the little known story of Kenneth Tynan’s interactions with C.S. Lewis during his days at Oxford University as a student of Lewis. Prof. Jacob wrote, “One of the most extraordinary figures of the British theater in the last century was Kenneth Tynan, a flamboyant, irrepressibly gifted man who electrified almost everything he touched” (p. 309, HarperCollins. Kindle Edition). Tynan had risen to prominence in 1950 when, as a twenty-three-year-old, he begin writing about the state of the British theatrical landscape which led to him being offered a position with the Spectator Magazine as their ‘drama critic’. By 1963, Tynan was appointed as England’s National Theatre Company’s Literary manager. Alan Jacob described the young Tynan as someone who, “From adolescence onward, [he] was both flamboyant and delicate” (p. 310). Although Tynan was married twice, Prof. Jacob goes on to describe him as “all his life he was sexually adventurous and promiscuous.” Previously at Oxford he had been known as one the great “characters”. Despite his fame and prominence in Britain, then later Los Angeles where he moved to, it was his life-changing interactions with C.S. Lewis which was largely unknown, until his funeral in 1980 after he had died at the age of fifty-three.

In the same way, let your light shine before others,
so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:16

 

KENNETH WAS A LONELY,
CONFUSED, TRAUMATISED, YOUNG MAN.

Kenneth Peacock Tynan was born in Birmingham, April 2nd, 1927. In 1940 during an air-raid by German bombers where “parachute” landmines were dropped in which the eight-year old Kenneth was “within inches” of being killed. The bomb which landed in his street destroyed six houses and the Tynan family had to remove pieces of the bomb’s parachute from their own chimney. This traumatic experience combined with all of the uncertainties of the war-years left an indelible mark on the young Kenneth. He was always a delicate, sensitive, somewhat sickly, young man. He entered Oxford to study English literature. Many years later during an interview in 1974 in which he was quizzed about his interactions with C.S. Lewis. The interviewer was hoping to write a new biography about Lewis. Kenneth later wrote in his journal about this interview: “If I were ever to stray into the Christian camp, it would be because of Lewis’s arguments as expressed in books like Miracles.” (C.S. Lewis’s book, Miracles, is a profoundly difficult book to understand in which the first half is about how to think and how to test any truth claim.)

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Second Corinthians 4:4, 6

A few years after Tynan had commenced his Oxford studies, in 1948, Tynan says:

“Once in the summer of 1948 I came to him in despair: Jill Rowe-Dutton had jilted me on the eve of what was to have been our marriage, and I had spent most of the term in and out of bed with bronchial diseases that I was sure would soon culminate in TB [tuberculosis]. I brought my troubles to Lewis, asking him whether I could postpone my final examinations until Christmas. To this he at once agreed: after which he got on with the Christian business of consolation. [In an interview Tynan added that he had told Lewis that he saw no reason to go on living.] He reminded me how I had once told him about the parachuted landmine…But for that hair’s-breadth—a matter of inches only—I would already (Lewis gently pointed out) have been dead for eight years. Every moment of life since then had been a bonus, a tremendous free gift, a present that only the blackest ingratitude could refuse. As I listened to him, my problems began to dwindle to their proper proportions; I had entered the room suicidal, and I left it exhilarated” (Jacob, p. 311).

What is remarkable about this journal entry from Kenneth Tynan is that he goes on to say that he met with C.S. Lewis who patiently assisted him with his course work without any comment about his lifestyle, or any judgment. Not any point did Lewis try to convert him to Christianity. After Tynan sat for his final exams, he did not attain the first-class honours degree that he was striving for. C.S. Lewis then wrote to him and told him not to be disheartened by this. “Don’t let it become a trauma! It signifies comparatively little” Lewis wrote to him. With this encouragement he wrote the book about England’s theatrical scene which ultimately led to him rising to such prominence in Britain. 

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,
‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Matthew 11:19

THE SEEDS OF DEEP KINDNESS
WERE DEEPLY PLANTED IN KENNETH TYNAN

It was only after the years had passed and Kenneth had been reading much of what C.S. Lewis had written about Christianity that he became aware that in his darkest hour in 1948 that C.S. Lewis himself was going through a much darker hour. Doctors had become increasingly concerned with the deteriorating condition of Lewis’s heart (which would eventually fatally fail him in 1963). Added to this, Lewis was being heavily emotionally and financially taxed. His war-time vow to Paddy Moore to look after the late Paddy’s mother, Jane, if Paddy should die (which he did) was made all the more difficult because she had become an invalid needing of Lewis’s full-time care. As if this wasn’t enough, C.S. Lewis’s live-in brother, Warnie, had become an alcoholic. The revelation of this dark season in Lewis’s life must have had a powerful impact on Kenneth Tynan as his health began to fail through the 1970s and eventually lead to his death in 1980. This is evident from that journal entry in 1975 where he wrote of C.S. Lewis, “He was a deeply kind and charitable man.”

Interestingly, although Tynan read most of what Lewis wrote – including all of his apologetic arguments God and Christianity – it wasn’t these arguments that particularly impacted him. It was, as Tynan wrote, that “C.S.L. works as potently as ever on my imagination.” We also get a clue as to what was going through Kenneth Tynan’s mind when we read his diary entry, “As ever, I respond to his powerful suggestion that feelings of guilt and shame are not conditioned by the world in which we live but are real apprehensions of the standards obtaining in an eternal world.” It was thoughts like this from the writings of C.S.L. that Tynan didn’t always understand — but what he did understand was the vision of goodness and beauty that C.S.L. gave his imagination.

On July 26th, 1980 Kenneth Tynan died at the age of fifty-three. It was his last request for his body to be buried in the grounds adjacent to the College building where C.S. Lewis was his tutor. In a note he left for his wife Kathleen he also included a sentence in French: Âme étonneée, et receuvez-vous dansle sein de votre miséricorde (“At the hour of my death, may You be the Refuge of my astonished soul, and receive it into Your merciful breast”). At his funeral at Holy Cross Anglican church, Oxford, the rector, Austin Farrer remarked about the impact that C.S. Lewis had had on Kenneth. He said in his sermon that Lewis had an ability not merely to give proofs for God and His Kingdom, but Lewis had an ability to describe God and His Kingdom in a way that it felt like home and made his readers feel like it was their true home as well. At the graveside where Kenneth Peacock Tynan was buried his thirteen-year-old daughter, Roxana, read three sentences from C.S. Lewis’s last sermon, The Weight of Glory:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
Jacobs, Alan. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis (p. 314). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Did Tynan respond to C.S. Lewis’s invitation to turn to Christ as his Lord? We may never know. But one thing we can be sure of is that the life, the character, and the devotion to Christ exhibited by C.S. Lewis who faithfully attended his local Anglican church every Sunday made a deep and lasting impression on the confused, lonely, and traumatised Kenneth Tynan. And, who knows? Every Sunday when your next-door neighbours see you leave to go to join your church family, what impact does it eventually have on them? Perhaps it might actually be having a deep impact? We can only wonder and imagine

Your Pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

1 Comment

  1. Stuart Piggin

    There is a sedimentary reality about this relationship between one who found God in all the trials of life and another who, by ’straying’ into his orbit, found solace and the courage to go on in his own trials. Is it a good second best, if one finds it hard to have a relationship with God, to have a relationship with someone who does have a relationship with God? Who knows where it will lead, just as one wonders where being seen going to church each Sunday by one’s neighbours leads. That last point of yours, Andrew, is as encouraging as the story of Kenneth Tynan is fascinating.

    Reply

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