RETROSPECT: February 10th – 18th

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 February (10th – 18th) include: The concluding talk from the “What Christians Believe” BBC series, an explanation of the word “membership” in a talk to a group and the publication of a selection of Christian-themed essays.

In 1945 on the 10th Lewis gave a talk, simply called “Membership,” to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius in Oxford. It was also published later in the year and is now best found in The Weight of Glory. Lewis explained in his presentation that the word “membership” in the New Testament differs from the way it is used today. Instead of speaking of it in the sense of a group containing like items, the Christian meaning is close to “what we should call organs, things essentially different from, and complementary to, one another.” He also pointed out that believers are called not to individualism, but to membership in the mystical body of Christ.

Worlds Last NightAlso on the 10th, but in 1960, a book containing previously released shorter works was published. The World’s Last Night and Other Essays made available seven articles from the 1950’s collected from an assortment of sources. It actually includes “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” that had only been released at the end of 1959. The headline piece was an essay that had the title of “Christian Hope – It’s Meaning for Today” when printed in Religion in Life for their Winter 1952-53 issue. The other essays in this book are:

  1. “The Efficacy of Prayer”
  2. “On Obstinacy in Belief”
  3. “Lilies that Fester”
  4. “Good Work and Good Works”
  5. “Religion and Rocketry”


The concluding part of the second radio series on the BBC was broadcast live on the 15th in 1942. It was also the last chapter of the book Broadcast Talks (The Case for Christianity in the U.S.) before it became better known as part of Mere Christianity. In fact, the title of it, “The Practical Conclusion” was only given when it appeared in the latter book. Being the closing talk of the “What Christians Believe” series it is not surprising that Lewis makes an appeal to those not already believers to become one. But, he covers other ground before doing this, including an explanation of “three things that spread the Christ life to us.” In the midst of this he addressed the issue of believing something on “authority.” He notes that “a man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”

Screwtape Letters (1)Two more items related to Lewis’s writings both happen on the 16th a couple of years apart. In 1943, just barely over a year after being released in the U.K., The Screwtape Letters was published by Macmillan in the United States. The other event was the fifteenth installment of “Who Goes Home? or The Grand Divorce.” This part is now available as the tenth chapter of The Great Divorce. In it a conversation is overheard of a female Ghost recounting her life with Robert, her husband, who is already in Heaven. She complains to a Spirit, named Hilda, about how she “had to drive him every step of the way” but that she “was doing it all for his sake” even if he constantly didn’t like what she did for/to him. Before fading away she pleads for a chance to be put in charge of Robert again so she can alter him more.

A few more individual pieces by Lewis came out this month, most were not tied to a particular date. The first was “Is English Doomed?” and it came out on the 11th in The Spectator in 1944. It is a more specialized piece dealing with educational practices and the politics involved in it that Lewis disliked. The essay is best found in Present Concerns.

Next, “The Pains of Animals: A Problem in Theology” from 1950 was in the February issue of a publication called The Month. It began with an article by Dr. C.E.M. Joad where he questioned Lewis’s material from The Problem of Pain dealing with animals. After it was Lewis’s reply. Both are reprinted in God in the Dock.

Another piece, “The Shoddy Lands,” was a short story from 1956 that was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Only after his death was it available again, in the collection The Dark Tower. In the story an Oxford tutor is surprised when a former student stops by with his fiancée, named Peggy. What follows seems almost like an episode of The Twilight Zone (which of course didn’t debut until three years later). The tutor, who is also the one telling the story, is suddenly taken away to another land where nearly everything is nondescript. The main exception is Peggy, who is actually the size of a giant.

Christian ReflectionsThe final selection was an essay published in a magazine simply called Show. Their February, 1963 edition had Lewis’s “Onward Christian Spacemen.” He wrote it in response to reports that Russian cosmonauts hadn’t found God in space. Lewis questioned the assumption that this meant God didn’t exist. He stated that one needed “the seeing eye” to find God in outer space or even here on earth. That phrase is now the title you will get when looking for the essay in Christian Reflections. Walter Hooper edited that volume and in it he states Lewis is known to have disliked the title given the piece and so Hooper felt justified in making the change.  I did an essay chat podcast about this work with Will Vaus.

Several books by Lewis were initially released in the US during this period. Letters to Malcolm came out on the 12th in 1964 and was discussed in a previous Retro column. A Grief Observed was published in the States on the 14th in 1963 and discussed in last year’s Retro column. A few other titles came out in paperback in the UK during this middle third of February: The Screwtape Letters on the 14th in 1955, along with Mere Christianity on the exact same date, and then finally, The Allegory of Love was released in paperback on the 18th in 1960.

Lewis was before the microphone again in 1949 to record a talk over the BBC on the 11th. “The Novels of Charles Williams” was aired the same day, but never published until after Lewis’s death. The best source is On Stories. The talk was essentially a defense of Williams’s novels in answer to various criticisms Lewis was familiar with and more than happy to address.

Additionally, a noteworthy, but sad event took place early in Lewis’s life around this period. In 1908 a chain of events began that eventual led to a trauma that had a long-term impact. On the 15th Flora Lewis (his mother) had an operation at home to remove a cancerous growth. Lewis was not yet ten and before his next birthday he would be without his mother to whom he had been very close.

Finally, it’s no secret that Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were friends. While Lewis was a big help in encouraging Tolkien to write The Hobbit, something that happen in 1938 could be seen as him returning the favor. But, in reality it was just what friends naturally do for each other…they try to help them out when they can. It was on the 18th that Tolkien wrote to the company that published his book (Allen & Unwin) recommending they consider Lewis’s fictional work, Out of the Silent Planet. In the letter he told in addition to reading the book that it was shared in “our local club’ (The Inklings) and that the group enjoyed it. Sadly, despite the personal recommendation it was turned down by this publisher.

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