RETRO: October 11th – 21st

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

Highlights for the middle third of October (11th – 21st) include: Premier of the first and second Narnia books, debut apologetic work, plus three other books published!

TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd)This period over the years for Lewis likely ranks as the most significant. Aslan was introduced and Lewis began to be recognized as a spokesperson for the Christian faith from the book that came out during this time in 1940 (more about that later). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW), released on the 16th in 1950, while the longest title in The Chronicles of Narnia series, was also how people used to initially met the beloved characters from Lewis’s fairy tale land. While much can be said about the original first book, I want to highlight a few aspects from a special podcast mini-series I created about the Narnia books. All the shows can be found at NarniaCast.com and the first show had Dr. Bruce Edwards discussing LWW. In a segment called “the story behind the story,” he noted that Lewis had been carrying around an idea since about the time he was 16 years old that became a key part of LWW. When he finally completely wrote the first story it opened a new chapter in his life where he focused more on narrative and less on being known for defending the Christian faith.

Prince Caspian came out just a day short of a year later, on the 15th in 1951. Pulling again from the podcast mini-series, here are some thoughts Dr. Devin Brown share in a segment considering the unique aspects of the story itself: “Aslan is not necessarily the lion he seemed to be in the first book…we get a sense that he is something more than just that lion…” and only in Prince Caspian is it explained “that we will perceive Aslan in different ways as we grow ourselves.”

The Problem of PainOn the 18th in 1940 Lewis debut in his role as “Apostle to the Skeptics.” The Problem of Pain showed how well he could take complex subjects and make them understandable to the average person. Focusing just on solving “the intellectual problem raised by suffering” he admitted he wasn’t qualified to teach “fortitude and patience” in the face of pain. While he covers just about every possible aspect that he limited himself to in a relatively short book, most readers find themselves understanding Lewis’s explanations better upon repeated readings.

The three other books rolling off the presses during this time were: Arthurian Torso on the 21st in 1948, Dymer on the 19th in 1950 and An Experiment in Criticism on the 13th in 1961. The first was mainly a tribute to Charles Williams, who had died three years earlier in 1945. Lewis enjoyed his Arthurian poems and believed others would like them as well if they knew about them and understood them. This book contained commentary by Lewis on Williams’s poetry along with an unfinished prose piece called “The Figure of Arthur” that was written by Williams. Later, this book was included in the Taliessin through Logres and is best obtained in that volume. The second book, Dymer, was merely a reprinting of a work released in 1926; but this copy contained a new preface by Lewis. This work is now more economically found in Narrative Poems.

The final book for this period, An Experiment in Criticism is a title that the casual Lewis reader has likely missed and shouldn’t. It’s a small book dealing with literary criticism, but even those not especially drawn to this genre can enjoy it. Colin Duriez does a great job summarizing the title in his forthcoming The A-Z of C.S. Lewis, by stating Lewis argues “instead of judging whether a book is good or bad, it is better to reverse the process and consider good and bad readers.”

Interestingly, not many shorter pieces were published during this period. Lewis wrote a letter on the 16th in 1942 to reply to questions raised by a reply someone named Mr. May had raised in response to “Miracles,” an article by Lewis in The Guardian from May 2nd. Both pieces by Lewis are found in God in the Dock. Then on the 17th in 1941 the twenty-fifth letter from Screwtape was published in the same publication. It could have been titled “Mere Christianity” because this expression finds Screwtape Annotatedits way into this piece. However, when first printed it did contain a title, one of the few that did. This one was called “The Enemy Loves Platitudes” and features advice to Wormwood about how to use the “horror of the Same Old Thing” as a means to unbalance “the love of change” and “the love of permanence” we humans have. This letter is, of course, found in The Screwtape Letters, which recently had an Annotated Edition released.

Finally, a few more key events happened over the years in the middle of October: two more talks over the BBC from Christian Behaviour and one of those talks were illegally published. On the 11th in 1942 the fourth broadcast dealing with sex was given. When included in Christian Behaviour it was called “Sexual Morality” and two days later the Daily Mirror printed it as “This Was a Very Frank Talk – Which We Think Everyone Should Read.” In it Lewis admitted that “chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues” but that “the centre of Christian morality is not here.” Then a week later on the 18th he returned to the microphone for the fifth time in that series. “Forgiveness” was actually, however, the seventh chapter in the book version because Lewis added material on “Christian Marriage” so he could discuss the positive aspects of sex. In “Forgiveness,” he starts out by noting this concept (forgiving others) is actually even more unpopular than chastity. Among other things he suggests that just like starting out with calculus would be foolish, one should practice more basic forgiveness towards others before attempting to forgive the really hard actions of others.

 

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