RETROSPECT: March 12th – 21st

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 March (12th – 21st) include: First ever published book, final Narnia book and a second marriage to Joy Davidman!

Spirits in BondageTwo books by Lewis were released for the first time during this period. His debut as an author came on the 20th in 1919 with Spirits in Bondage. This was a very small volume of poems published while he was only 20 years old, but many were written when he was just sixteen or seventeen. When initially released it was under the pseudonym of Clive Hamilton. They were composed in a period of Lewis’s life when his primary goal was to be known as a poet. It is also a time when he wasn’t a Christian. Under present copyright law in the U.S. the text is now in public domain and can be freely obtained online here.

Many excited readers were sad to learn that on the 19th in 1956 the last Narnia tale became available. They weren’t disappointed by the story, they were sorry to learn there would be no more adventures with Aslan. Interestingly, The Last Battle was published just ten months after The Magician’s Nephew had been released. The Last Battle is the only book in Last Battle (double)the series that wasn’t dedicated to anyone and on the cover of the first edition it also had the phrase “A Story for Children” on it. Many readers of this final story have commented on how Lewis’s depiction of heaven is most fully developed here. The book won the Carnegie Medal in Literature.

The next top event for Lewis comes from his personal life. On the 21st in 1957 he got married to Joy Davidman for the second time! The first wedding occurred during the month of April and will be discussed at that time, but you can likely guess a key difference by my underscoring the fact that one this one was an ecclesiastical ceremony. When it occurred Joy was in the hospital near death, thus the service was done there. Father Peter Bide married them, but prior to this he prayed for her recovery from cancer (and she lived many more years).

There were actually two BBC broadcasts during the middle third of March. The first, “The Obstinate Toy Soldiers” was heard on the 14th in 1944 and was originally the fourth broadcast in the concluding BBC series. It was also published as an article two days later in The Listener, but you will note it is actually the fifth chapter when included in Beyond Personality and Mere Christianity. In the talk Lewis continued on thoughts shared from the previous broadcast about becoming like Christ and how this is difficult by sharing an illustration about “obstinate toy soldiers” to help understand our struggle with being self-centered.

The other talk, “Let’s Pretend,” was given on the 21st. That same day two more broadcasts were recorded. The ones recorded were “Is Christianity Hard or Easy” and “The New Man” (the latter being the only surviving program.) In “Let’s Pretend” Lewis spoke of each of us continually putting forth an effort to be like Christ before finally noting that we don’t really do it in our own strength. This section also contains a quote that has one of my early favorites, “Surely what a man does when his is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is?”

A couple of years later, on the 18th in 1946 Lewis edited George MacDonald: An Anthology. While many readers recognize MacDonald’s name as a character in Lewis’s The Great Divorce, some are not aware of how much the elder writer had on Lewis. The Anthology contains 365 short selections, much of them from MacDonald’s three series of Unspoken Sermons.

AThe Busines of Heavennother book containing collections of excerpts was released just over 20 years after Lewis’s death. This tribute was edited by Walter Hooper and is called The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings from C.S. Lewis. It debut on the 15th in 1984. While it does not contain and excerpts from Narnia, it includes a very good variety from nearly all his other works. One feature I remember enjoy when I first picked it up the year it came out was that sometimes the readings continue for several days from the same source to give you a better context for what Lewis was expressing.

There are also smaller events that are interesting which occurred this week. In 1919, a paper by Lewis was read (but not by him) on the 12th at the Martlets, an Oxford University literary society. Nearly twenty years after this another paper by him was read before the group on the same topic. That talk was published in a book to be mentioned later. On the 14th in1921 Lewis met Nobel Prize winning poet William Butler Yeats.

“Dangers of National Repentance” is an essay Lewis wrote that was published in The Guardian on the 15th in 1940. In this article, Lewis is concerned with the fact that some young Christians in his day were ready to believe that England was partly to blame for WWII, and those same Christians were also ready to admit their own share in England’s guilt. While noting that a repentant attitude is much better than a self-righteous one, Lewis believed that some Christians in his day were too ready to admit guilt regarding actions in which they were not directly involved. Lewis asserts that the danger of national repentance is the encouragement it gives us to turn from the hard task of repenting our own sins to the more pleasing task of bewailing and denouncing the conduct of others. You can read it in God in the Dock.

Selected Literary Essays“The Literary Impact of the Authorized Version” is a piece that was actually first given as a talk on the 20th in 1950. It is best found in Selected Literary Essays. Lewis spoke at the University of London on that date and later that year a booklet of the talk was published. Within his talk Lewis notes one should be careful to distinguish five (increasingly direct) ways the Bible has impacted or influenced literature. They are: 1.) Source, 2.) Quotation, 3.) Allusion, 4.) Vocabulary and 5.) Literary influence.

On the 21st in 1943 “Three Kinds of Men” came out in The Sunday Times. It is a very short piece (less than 500 words) that avoids a dichotomist view of people by suggesting “good and bad” is a “disastrous” way of dividing people. Instead there are those who try to live as if their life was their own and others who are aware that there is something higher than the Self. This second type often ends there because of being unwilling to accept the way to die to the Self is by becoming a beggar so “Mercy will receive us.” This essay is now found in Present Concerns

Finally, the nineteenth part in the series “Who Goes Home? or The Grand Divorce” that became the first half of the twelfth chapter of The Great Divorce was released on the 16th in 1945. The visitor (who is Lewis, himself) learns further that “fame in this country (heaven) and fame on Earth are two quite different things.” Someone is honored whose “motherhood was of a different kind” that becomes an interesting contrast to the lady in the sixteenth installment.

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