RETROSPECT: January 22nd – 31st

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 final third of January (22nd – 31st) include: The publication of one of the last books Lewis wrote, the first meeting of a special Oxford club and the last sermon Lewis ever preached.

Letters to MalcolmLewis was working on several books before he died in 1963. The first one published posthumously was Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. It came out on the 27th in 1964. While Lewis is known for writing in a variety of styles, this book is somewhat unique in that though they are present as letters to someone, they were really letters to an imaginary person. Today we have a large collection of actual letters Lewis wrote, so those new to his writings should be careful to note this fact. This leads to the obvious question as to why he would deal with such a serious subject to a fictional person. While Lewis had written directly on the issue of prayer in several places, he never believed he understood it enough to offer himself as an authority on it. Thus, by presenting the book as if they were merely letters to a friend he felt he could reveal his imperfect perception.

Another work published posthumously, but not prepared by Lewis, was also released during this period. Christian Reflections is one of several volumes containing essays that had not previously been available in book form. In fact, nearly half of the fourteen pieces had never been published before the 23rd in 1967. They are:

  1. On Ethics

  2. De Futilitate

  3. The Funeral of a Great Myth

  4. The Psalms

  5. The Language of Religion

  6. Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism

That final essay is now known as “Fern-seed and Elephants” when it was later published as the lead essay in a collection published in September, 1975 (but that book is now out of print). Both names are titles that Walter Hooper (the editor of the book) devised. For the 1975 book he decided to change it as the result of being encouraged by a friend to have an “eye-catching” name to the new collection.

Christian ReflectionsSpeaking of changing titles, another essay in Christian Reflections is infamous for having a different name. When the essay was first published during Lewis’s lifetime the publisher gave it a title he disliked. The new title (created by Hooper) is “The Seeing Eye.” You’ll have to wait until sometime next month when the piece was originally published to learn of the old title.

A couple of debuts occurred this final third of January. While Lewis had been selected to be a Fellow of Magdalen College in 1925, it wasn’t until the 23rd in 1926 that he gave his first lecture in that position. His topic was “Some Eighteenth Century Precursors of the Romantic Movement.” The other “first” was the initial meeting of the Oxford University Socratic Club on the 26th in 1942. This was a student-led group founded by Stella Aldwinckle. She asked Lewis to be the club’s first president and he accepted. The purpose of the group was to give an open forum to discuss issues related to questions of faith. Typically there were two speakers, one would read a paper and the other reply (sometimes either of these would be a non-Christian), followed by audience participation. The topic of the first meeting was “Won’t mankind outgrow Christianity in the face of the advance of science and of modern ideologies?” The group released several digests that has been out of print until recently when Joel Heck had all of them collected in a single volume. You can now get it on Lulu.com.

When Lewis stood before the congregation at Evensong at Magdalene College on the 29th in 1956 it had been almost a decade since he had preached. This occasion also happened to be his last. Years later, in January 1963, a condensed version of what he said was published in The Lion under the title of “Thoughts of a Cambridge Don.” The complete text is now found in The Weight of Glory with the title “A Slip of the Tongue.” Lewis kicked off his message by commenting that he felt under less pressure as a layman when preaching because he was “comparing notes” and “not so much presuming to instruct.” He then shared an experience where he had recently prayed as if the temporal world was more important than the eternal. Having caught his own “slip of the tongue” he reflected on how easy it is to reverse one’s priorities and live as though the temporary aspects of life is of greater value than those that are everlasting.

The twelfth installment of what we now know as The Great Divorce was printed on the 26th in 1945 in The Guardian. It is the second of four segments from chapter nine in the book. Here the fictional Lewis continues to learn more about Heaven from George MacDonald including what “the subtlest of all the snares” is.

Image and ImaginationA couple of book reviews by Lewis were published this month. He reviewed The Oxford Book of Christian Verse by Lord David Cecil (Editor) in 1941 in The Review of English Studies and The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus came out in 1943 in The Review of English Studies. Until late last year these two and nearly all of his other book reviews had never been republished. Image and Imagination, a title edited by Walter Hooper and released in November, 2013 collects these and other reviews that had not been previously available. Cambridge University Press is the publisher and another book they released was Selected Literary Essays. I note this because the subject matter is similar and because a selection from that book first came out in this month in 1960. “Metre” was printed in the January issue of A Review of English Literature.

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