I’ve written on the struggles C.S. Lewis had growing up with bullies–it really was a lifelong struggle–and we see from time to time how Lewis captures the victim’s feelings in fiction, like when “Jill Pole was crying behind the gym” in The Silver Chair. As I was going through Surprised by Joy, Lewis’ only full-length memoir, I came across a passage that is almost terrifying when considered that it comes from the experience of a little boy.
The bullying had this negative merit that it was honest bullying; not bullying conscience-salved and authorized in the maison tolérée of the prefectorial system. It was done mainly by gangs; parties of eight or ten boys each who scoured those interminable corridors for prey. Their sorties, though like a whirlwind, were not perceived by the victim till too late; the general, endless confusion and clamor, I suppose, masked them. Sometimes capture involved serious consequences; two boys whom I knew were carried off and flogged in some backwater—flogged in the most disinterested fashion, for their captors had no personal acquaintance with them; art for art’s sake. But on the only occasion when I was caught myself my fate was much milder and perhaps odd enough to be worth recording. When I had come to myself after being dragged at headlong speed through a labyrinth of passages which took me beyond all usual landmarks, I found that I was one of several prisoners in a low, bare room, half-lit (I think) by a single gas jet. After a pause to recover their breath two of the brigands led out the first captive. I now noticed that a horizontal row of pipes ran along the opposite wall, about three feet from the floor. I was alarmed but not surprised when the prisoner was forced into a bending position under the lowest pipe, in the very posture for execution. But I was very much surprised a moment later. You will remember that the room was half dark. The two gangsters gave their victim a shove; and instantly no victim was there. He vanished; without trace, without sound. It appeared to be sheer black magic Another victim was led out; again the posture for a flogging was assumed; again, instead of flogging—dissolution, atomization, annihilation. At last my own turn came. I too received the shove from behind, and found myself falling through a hole or hatch in the wall into what turned out to be a coal cellar. Another small boy came hurtling in after me, the door was slammed and bolted behind us, and our captors with a joyous whoop rushed away for more booty.
This little anecdote, which Lewis relates in an almost jovial way, shows us two things, I think. First, bullying is not a new phenomenon. Bullying has been standard fare in modern education, and has been often more brutal than a mere “boys will be boys” experience. Second, we can see how radically different the form of bullying is today. The elements of fear, intimidation, and violence remains the same, but the real physical brutality took on other forms and structures in Lewis’ day. Chapter 6, “Bloodery,” is a systematic description of school-sanctioned bullying that included public humiliation, physical beatings, constant terrorizing, and what was most likely the rape of younger boys by their elders.
Yet I think one aspect is similar. For private school boys, like Lewis, bullying touched every moment of every day. It dominated his student life, and kept him in constant terror. I think that social network technology has allowed relatively uncreative bullies today to have the same reign of terror. I could go home, leaving a bully behind at school or sports. But bullied kids today go home to a two-dimensional world of terror that defines their three-dimensional lives.