Retro: May 22nd – 28th

The following is part of a weekly series reflecting on the life of C.S. Lewis. This is accomplished by summarizing various events or happenings during his lifetime for the noted week and may include significant events related to him after his death.

Highlights for this week over the life of Lewis include a prize winning essay, his first Christian book that was his only true allegory and a Pentecost sermon.

Pilgrims RegressBy the time Lewis celebrated his thirty-third birthday he had two published books to his credit. He also had finished another book that would be released less than a year later. It occurred this week on the 25th in 1933. The book, The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism was different in several ways from the other titles. This wasn’t a book of poetry, as his initial books were, and it was also his first book after returning to the Christian faith. This debut prose effort was his only pure allegory, but it was also somewhat of a difficult read. Lewis himself even admitted it and ten years after its release wrote a preface to explain the material.

At a much earlier age, however, Lewis attempted to tell stories. He was not yet ten years old when he started and his brother, Warnie was also writing stories. They were about Lewis’s Animal Land and Warnie’s creation called India. They combined them to create a placed called “Boxen.” These stories were never published during their lifetime. However, on Boxenthe 28th in 1985 they were first published in hardback as Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young C.S. Lewis. It was later republished as Boxen: Childhood Chronicles Before Narnia  in 2008. This later title lists Warnie as the co-author while the initial release does not. It’s impossible to summarize them in this brief essay, but one important point to note is that the writing style is not at all like the Narnia stories.

Speaking of a young Lewis, on the 24th in 1921 it was announced that by the University of Oxford that he had won the Chancellor’s English Essay Prize on “Optimism.” The topic wasn’t selected by Lewis, but it was set by the contest, which was an annual event for undergraduates. Winning it was very important to Lewis at the time, for he was four years away from his permanent full-time position at Oxford. He saw the honor as something that would gain him must needed recognition. No copy of it has survived, but we know from a letter that Lewis wrote to his father in late March that year that it was almost 11,000 words. We also know from a letter he wrote to his brother, Warnie, that he “dealt with the difficulty of ‘God or no God'” and that it didn’t really matter to him at this time if there was a God. He won £20 for this piece.

Transposition“Transposition” was first the title of a sermon Lewis preached on the Feast of Pentecost on the 28th in 1944 at the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford. The text was later included in Transposition and other Addresses in 1949 (as published in the U.K.; the title in the U.S. was The Weight of Glory). When first preached Lewis almost didn’t complete it. During it he stopped and was reported to say “I’m sorry” and then he stepped away from the pulpit. A brief time later he returned and completed it. Current editions of The Weight of Glory contained a slightly revised version of the message that Lewis first added before the text was included in the 1962 book They Asked for a Paper.

Two other shorter works were published during this week. On the 23rd in 1941 the fourth Screwtape Letter was published in The Guardian. The opening paragraph from the “affectionate uncle” sets the topic, “the painful subject of prayer.” The letter details various methods demons can use to make prayers less effective, including “a subtler misdirection” by trying to get Wormword’s patient to try to produce the feelings he is trying to pray for. Interestingly prayer is the topic for an essay, “Work and Prayer,” published in The Coventry Evening Telegraph on the 28th in 1945. It is best found in God in the Dock. While a short essay (taking less than five minutes to read), Lewis manages (not surprisingly) to tackle complex aspects of prayer and bring great clarity. Printed in a mainstream publication, the article has an apologetic sound to it though Lewis obviously is trying to help believers who struggle with the subject.

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READ LAST WEEK’S RETRO / Read Next’s Week (May 29th – June 4th)

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