C. S. Lewis on “putting the clock back” (or: A Plague on Daylight Savings Time)

Lewis g'father clock
Lewis and his grandfather clock, having been either “put back” (Joy!) or “pushed forward” (Plague!).

C. S. Lewis had strong opinions about modern advancements that wiped out traditional truths. In the final chapter of Right and Wrong As a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe (which later became Book 1 of Mere Christianity), “putting the clock back” is what many modern skeptics assume religion does, with regressive and costly results.

Not so, writes Lewis, who quite thrived on argumentative disputes, both gentle and stern, both kind and curmudgeonly.

You may have felt you were ready to listen to me as long as you thought I had anything new to say; but if it turns out to be only religion well, ‘the world has tried that and you cannot put the clock back.’ If anyone is feeling that way I should like to say three things to him.

First, as to putting the clock back. Would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? But I would rather get away from that whole idea of clocks. We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

Per Lewis, if metaphorically putting the clock forward proved to be a critical error, then putting the clock back would be the logical and right thing to do.

This was not just a metaphorical issue for Lewis. Turns out he had similarly strong opinions about tinkering with time by changing actual clocks.

In a letter from autumn 1939, he wrote:

We had an hour extra in bed thanks to putting back the clocks.

Just days later he wrote in another letter:

Thank heaven the clocks have gone back!

Six months later, in the spring of 1940, he wrote to his brother:

Plague on this nonsense of putting [forward]* the clock which has docked me of an hour’s sleep and which for the next few weeks will give me darkness at shaving and dressing time when I want light, and light after tea when it is an impertinence.

For those who find it empowering to bolster their position with a Lewis quote, these three real quotes are gems: down-to-earth joy on one hand, grumbly snark on the other.

On November 3rd at 2 a.m. – (or more likely at 6 a.m. which used to be 7 a.m.) – when Daylight Savings Time ends and we** “put the clock” back to its rightful place, with fellow Lewisians I will declare:

Thank heaven the clocks have gone back!

*[Lewis actually wrote “back” instead of “forward” – perhaps because the notion of “putting clocks forward” was entirely anathema to him, or because they’d not yet embraced the annoyingly trite (yet necessarily helpful) remind to “fall back / spring forward.”]

**Most, but not all Americans, fall back/leap forward. Only a minority of the world’s population observes DST, and even then, it begins on different dates and has varying durations.

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