RETROSPECTIVE: November 11th – 20th

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 second third of November (11th – 20th) include: The American debut of Mere Christianity, an explanation of why “Fairy Stories,” and the publication of a landmark sermon.

Mere Christianity pt.1This series has already noted at various times (including the last installment) why the material making up Mere Christianity is such a great book. While I’d used any excuse to say more, this time it is easily justified as those in the US first had the opportunity to purchase the combined book that consisted of all four BBC broadcast talks on the 11th in 1952. This is only four months later than the release in the UK. The main new material for this edition was Lewis’s preface, but the convenience of having all three short books together in one volume was invaluable. While many are aware that the book was adapted from material on the radio, fewer are familiar with any of the details behind this fact. I mentioned last time that Focus on the Family had a new radio drama, C. S. Lewis at War: The Dramatic Story Behind Mere Christianity that included a complete reading of the book, but I failed to emphasize (as the title notes) that you are given a “behind the curtain” look at what led up to its creation.

Another item previously discussed merits mentioning again. Lewis’s best known sermon. While “The Weight of Glory” today is the lead title of one of the better recognized collection of essays by Lewis, it was merely another published shorter work when it came out in the November, 1941 issue of Theology. Early this year the owners of that publication created a special virtual issue collecting all that they printed by Lewis.

As I noted previously, of the many landmark events in Lewis’s life from 1941, in hindsight this message by him stands as probably the greatest. While many of his talks came out in print, the appearance of “The Weight of Glory” meant Lewis’s first two sermons were published. Reading the piece you find a near perfect balance of a reasoned talked and having very memorable stand-alone quotes. While he did use some illustrations that many people today can’t relate to, anyone can follow the principle behind what Lewis was saying. Back on the plus side, his humor comes through in this piece, especially with the line that says “who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?”

On StoriesJust eight months after the final Narnia book was published “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said” came out on the 18th in The New York Times Book Review. You can find it now in a collection of essays called On Stories. In this shorter work Lewis reveals how he did NOT create The Chronicles of Narnia. Some had thought (and still do today) that he asked himself how he could transmit his faith to children and then he came up with a list of ideas and created allegories to communicate them. Instead Lewis took images that had come to his mind and developed them into a story and the “fairy tale” fit as the best style for what came. Only after this did he consider what moral might result: “I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood.”

Two fictional pieces by Lewis came out during this period in November. On the 14th in 1941 the twenty-ninth letter to Wormwood was published in The Guardian. It is one of the few that had a title (“Cowardice”) that was also not used when released in The Screwtape Letters. Among the many points made to Wormwood is that “hatred is best combined with Fear.” Then on the 17th in 1944 the second piece in what eventually became The Great Divorce appeared in The Guardian. This part was actually combined with the next to make up chapter two in the book.

Another item that was mentioned previously worth highlighting again is Letters of C.S. Lewis. While initially published less than three years after Lewis’s death, a revised and enlarged edition came out on the 17th in 1988. This revision was done by Walter Hooper. When it was first released in 1966 it was edited by Warnie Lewis and was the only collection of letters available at the time. While a three volume set of Collected Letters gathers this and other volumes of letters, the original and revised edition is the only place to get the memoir that Lewis’s brother did. As noted in The C.S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia, Hooper made only minor changes in the original work that included adding missing dates and naming previously anonymous recipients, but he also included eighty-nine additional letters (but, again all are found in Collected Letters).

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  1. Evelyn Chuter /

    I read a book by CS Lewis a long time ago. I don’t remember the name of the book but it was about his life ,his friends, his religion and most his beloved wife. About how they knew she was dying and about the love he had for her. I just remember that he explained that he would go though the painful death of his wife all over again to have her back. I could relate because I lost my young daughter and felt the same way. I would go though the pain of losing her a again just to have her back for the 11 years she lived before I lost her.

    • William OFlaherty /

      Based on what you mention it seems you could be thinking of a book from the 1990’s called “C.S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands” by Brian Sibley. It was republished as “Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman.”
      Lewis himself spoke of the death of wife in a book called “A Grief Observed.”


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