RETROSPECT: March 1st – 11th

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 first third of March (1st – 11th) include: First book collecting quotations and shorter passages, how Charles Williams became a friend and a former student previews The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

A Mind AwakeLess than five years after C.S. Lewis died a collection containing brief excerpts from a wide range of his writings came out on the 4th of March in 1968. A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C.S. Lewis would be the first of many books featuring quotations or shorter selections. This debut work was edited by Clyde S. Kilby, the person who began what we know today as The Marion E. Wade Center. The book is arranged into ten major sections and nearly all of those divisions are further divided into sub-themes. For example, the first is on “The Nature of Man” and it has five parts that include “Man in God’s Image” and “The Free Self.” It’s a very useful book if you understand the arrangement and don’t attempt to locate content alphabetically. ­

Several years earlier, on the 2nd in 1945 the seventeenth part of Who Goes Home? or The Grand Divorce was published in The Guardian. This material is from the middle third of chapter eleven in The Great Divorce.  Before concluding the events from the previous week where he notes “Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried,” he introduces a situation involving a small red lizard on the shoulder of a Ghost. This creature won’t keep quiet and an offer by a Spirit to silence him is resisted. The Ghost wants to wait but is told, “There is no other day. All days are present now.”

The final third of the 11th chapter from The Great Divorce was published as the eighteenth episode in The Guardian on the 9th. It contains the conclusion of what happen with the red lizard and Lewis draws a contrasting point with it and the mother mentioned in the sixteenth installment. We are told that it wasn’t excessive love that the mother had, but defective and that the change in the lizard came only after it was killed (which was only done after permission was given).

Beyond PersonalityMaterial from Mere Christianity has been mentioned in many of the recent posts. There are two events related to the famous book that occurred in the same year. First, on the 7th in 1944 the third broadcast was made. This talk was called “Good Infection” and has Lewis encouraging listeners to be infected with something good, God! He also foreshadows some thoughts later developed in The Four Loves by noting “the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons.” It’s worth noting that even though this was the third broadcast, it became the fourth chapter when first published in book form in Beyond Personality a year later (and the landmark book nearly ten years after). That’s because Lewis added more material in this series, as he had done in the previous one. The third chapter is “Time and Beyond Time.”

Then on the 9th in 1944 The Listener printed a replied Lewis wrote to answer issues raised by W.R. Childe the previous week. Childe had read the transcript from Lewis’s first broadcast from the fourth series that was printed in The Listener two days after it was on the air. Childe disagreed with Lewis’s assertion that one cannot gain eternal life simply by feeling the presence of God in flowers or music and accused Lewis of being in favor of religious compulsion. In his reply Lewis defended his earlier statement and vehemently denied the charge of religious compulsion. His letter is available in God in the Dock, listed as “Mr C.S. Lewis on Christianity.”

Writing in Time and Tide on the 11th in 1944, Lewis presented an essay related to the theme of educational reform; it is available in On Stories under the title “The Parthenon and the Optative”. In the essay, Lewis uses these terms to symbolize two types of education; Lewis explores which type of education can achieve greater appreciation of literature. One type of education begins with appreciation but fails disastrously; the other type commences “with hard, dry things like grammar, and dates, and prosody” but still has the possibility of achieving the ultimate goal of literary appreciation.

There are two talks Lewis gave over the year in early March that are noteworthy. On the 2nd in 1956 he spoke at The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club. His speech was called “Memory of Sir Walter Scott,” but when published (in They Asked for a Paper) it was shortened to just “Sir Walter Scott” (it is now best found in Selected Literary Essays). Then back in 1930 on the 3rd he read a paper to the Martlets entitled “The Personal Heresy in Poetics.” This eventually led to a debate and a book previously mentioned.

Christian ReflectionsHappening in March, but not tied to a certain week is the publication of “Christianity and Culture” in 1940 in Theology. It was the first of three pieces Lewis wrote about the topic that year. All of them are collected in Christian Reflections. Lewis only intended to write a single essay, but the initial one brought a reply that he responded to; but this item resulted in another reply that Lewis also answered. As Walter Hooper notes in his preface in Christian Reflections, it is important to remember the relatively early date of both replies when considering the views Lewis presents about the relationship between culture and the Christian faith.

By the mid 1940’s Lewis’s fame just kept on growing. As a result of this he had been asked many times to speak in America. One such occasion happened around this time, as on the 7th in 1945 he wrote to Mr. McClain to turn down an offer to “tour in America.” He stated it was “out of the question at present” due to having “a very old invalid mother” he was taking care of. Lewis also asked the gentleman to share this fact with others so his repeated rejections wouldn’t have “sinister interpretations.”

A variety of personal experiences stand out in Lewis’s life over the years for this period. While still only nine years old, on the 5th in 1908, Lewis recorded in his diary that he had read Milton’s Paradise Lost. Of course, later in his life he gave a series of lectures on the epic poem that became the foundation for his book A Preface to Paradise Lost. On the 10th in 1949 Lewis met with his former student Roger Green, who is also known for his own writings. They dined together and Lewis read to him two chapters form the forthcoming The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Green enjoyed what he heard and gave Lewis much encouragement. By the end of this month the complete manuscript was finished! On the 11th in 1936 Lewis first wrote to Charles Williams. The occasion was Lewis expressing to him how much he liked one of Williams’s books. This led to them becoming friends and Williams getting involved in The Inklings before his untimely death in 1945. Next is something that isn’t necessarily tied to a particular date. In 1948, sometime this month (likely several days throughout March) Lewis started writing what eventually became his autobiography Surprised by Joy that was finally published in 1955.

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