Retro: May 29th – June 4th

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 in Lewis’s life for the week are: Advice from Screwtape on the danger war is to contented worldliness, a letter about figuring out “Aslan’s other name” and the acceptance of a new position late in his professional career.

One major event stands above all else for this time period in the life of Lewis. Most who know his life fairly well are aware that he spent his final years at Cambridge University. However, the landmark decision to make this move that occurred on June 4, 1954 was something that didn’t come easy for Lewis. This is despite the fact that he had been overlooked for advancement at Oxford on more than one occasion and Cambridge even created the position of Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English with him in mind. In fact Lewis didn’t even apply for the position. McGrath Book CoverHowever, the committee overseeing the selection decided unanimously to extend an offer to Lewis. He then declined their offer, not once, but twice! Alister McGrath’s recently released biography C.S. Lewis: A Life provides further interesting details on how he finally accepted it and why he initially declined it.

Lewis responded to many questions from adults and children about Narnia. One such letter he wrote was to Hila Newman on June 3, 1953. She was an eleven-year-old girl who had sent him pictures she had drawn along with a major question. She wondered about “Aslan’s other name.” Lewis didn’t give her a straight answer. Instead he gave her five clues to help her figure it out, including “Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb” as the final hint. He even encouraged her to write back to let him know what her answer was.

Screwtape Letters (1)For the fifth letter from Screwtape in The Guardian on May 30, 1941 we learn further how ill equipped Wormwood is. He mistakenly believes that a war means he has an easy road ahead because it creates fear into most humans. Screwtape advises him to consider “how to use, than how to enjoy” a time of war. A key reason is because people serving in a war go there knowing they may be killed…thus “contended worldliness,” which is among the “best weapons” the devils have is made ineffective.

Two shorter works by Lewis were published around this week, plus another was printed in a monthly periodical called Lysistrata. Their May, 1935 issue contained “A Metrical Suggestion,” which was retitled “The Alliterative Metre” when republished later in Rehabilitations. It is also available in Selected Literary Essays. “Different Tastes in Literature” was originally a “Notes on the Way” column in Time and Tide that was first in two parts. While combined when reprinted in On Stories, it was initially in their May 25 and June 1, 1946 issues. Finally, “Is History Bunk?” debut in the June 1, 1957 issue of The Cambridge Review. While reprinted in the more general audience collection, Present Concerns, Lewis dealt with the question from the standpoint of the history of literature while arguing that the study of history in general is useful.

Roger Lancelyn GreenThe final standout event from this week is something that happened on May 31, 1951. Lewis was having dinner with Roger Lancelyn Green and it was on this occasion that he asked him to be his biographer. While Green did produce a monograph that released the same year Lewis died in 1963 (and Lewis read an advance copy of that work), it was not until 1974 that Green completed a biography on Lewis. C.S. Lewis: A Biography was co-authored by Walter Hooper. A revised edition of the book was released in 1994.

Read Last Week’s Retro Column (May 22th-28th)

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