RETROSPECTIVE: December 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 December (11th – 20th) include: A follow-up piece to The Screwtape Letters, a warning about seeking to be a part of “the inner ring” and the printed version of Lewis’s final radio broadcast.

Screwtape Proposes a ToastLewis received many requests to write more material found in The Screwtape Letters but he always refused. It was almost twenty years between the time he wrote his first letter to Wormwood and something new from Screwtape would appear. However, on the 19th in 1959 readers of The Saturday Evening Post discovered the senior demon had more to say. “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” has the esteemed devil giving a speech “at the annual dinner of the Tempters’ Training College for young Devils.” After commenting on the poor quality of damned souls they had feasted upon he notes that the quantity of humans destined for Hell was not lacking. However the greater part of the talk focuses on how democracy (it’s mentioned a dozen times) can be used in a “diabolical sense” to advance the efforts of “our Father Below.”

Years earlier, on the 14th in 1944 Lewis gave an actual address that Screwtape would have been totally against. He gave a commemoration oration at King’s College that expresses a truth he showcased as a flaw in a major character in one of his novels. “The Inner Ring” warns of an unhealthy desire to be a part of the secret group of people in an organization that really make the decisions. Lewis contents there are actually two different hierarchies in any institute: one who is the formal structure, the other is more informal where the actual power exists. Mark Studdock in That Hideous Strength desperately sought to be on the inside of such a group, That HSonly to find that there was yet another inner ring and to finally discover emptiness awaiting him inside the innermost ring. Lewis does state that not all informal groups are “inner rings” in a negative sense. That is, it is okay to be a part of smaller groups of individuals who share common interests as long as they are centered on friendship and not a desire to have power over others. The essay is best available in The Weight of Glory.

Those who have read this series are very aware of Lewis being on the radio many times in the 1940’s. Few know that he stood before the microphone less than fourteen months before his death in 1962. He recorded a talk about John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress on October 16, 1962 and it aired less than a month later on November 11th. Then on the 13th of December it was published in The Listener (where his last radio talks for what became a part of Mere Christianity had been printed). It is now found in the recently reprinted Selected Literary Essays book (or eBook) as “The Vision of John Bunyan.” The actual recording is also available as part of a larger collection of recordings that includes his series that became The Four Loves.

If you were of the book reading age in the 1960’s and a fan of Lewis then you were treated to a wide variety of books by him (though most were edited by others). One that came out this month was a collection of letters written to a single person. Letters to an American Lady was released on the 19th in 1967 and at that time it was not public knowledge that they were Letters to an American Ladyaddressed to Mrs. Mary Willis Shelburne. While that book (edited by Clyde S. Kilby) is still in print, all the letters can be found in the third volume of Collected Letters (which is out of print in book form, but obtainable as an eBook). At the time it was released it was only the second collection of letters; the first was Letters of C.S. Lewis from Lewis’s brother, Warren (“Warnie”) that included a memoir.

Finally, the sixth installment from “Who Goes Home? or The Grand Divorce” appeared in The Guardian on the 15th in 1944. It became the first half of the fifth chapter in The Great Divorce. A conversation is begun between Dick, one of the “Bright People” (Spirit) and a clerical Ghost. The Spirit tried to help the minister understand that he didn’t really do anything brave by sharing his misguided opinions that “were not honestly come by.” This section ends with a plea to repent that is meet with “I’m not sure that I’ve got the exact point you are trying to make.”

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