RETROSPECT: April 20th – 30th

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 April (20th – 30th) include: Publication of Perelandra, a talk “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” and Lewis’s first marriage to Joy Davidman.  

PerelandraBefore Lewis gain fame from a series of books about a place called Narnia, he had written a trilogy that had a science fiction theme. The second of those books, Perelandra, came out on the 20th in 1943. In it we take a trip to Venus with the main character, Ransom and follow his quest to save that world from impending corruption. In the U.S. it wasn’t released until a year later on the 11th. In 1953 a paperback version came out under the title Voyage to Venus. On some occasions in his life Lewis considered this novel to be his best (this was also said of Till We Have Faces). Perelandra was dedicated “To Some Ladies at Wantage,” as in Wantage, Berkshire where his friend Sister Penelope was a nun at the Community of St. Mary the Virgin.  Recently all three stories from the series became available in one volume as an eBook under the title The Space Trilogy. While the stories have been collectively called that before, some fans like to call it the “Ransom Trilogy” or even the “Science Fiction Trilogy,” however neither have been used for publication. But it has been published previously as “The Cosmic Trilogy.”

Another book from Lewis was released during this final third of April. The Personal Heresy: A Controversy came out on the 27th in 1939 and is the only title released during his life that was co-authored.  Cambridge Professor E.M.W. Tillyard shared authorship with Lewis on it. This professional work is a collection of six essays between both of them on the topic of whether or not “all poetry is about the poet’s state of mind.” Lewis believed it wasn’t. Before The Personal Heresy came out Lewis and Tillyard had debated the issue as discussed in a previous Retrospective post in February.

There were several occasions that Lewis spoke before a group this month. In 1942 on the 22nd he gave the annual Shakespeare Lecture before the British Academy in London. This talk, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?” was published that same year in The Proceedings of the British Academy and later in Lewis’s They Asked for a Paper and also in Selected Literary Essays (both are out of print). However, late last year an eBook version of Selected Literary Essays became available.  As you can tell from the setting and the title, this was an academic speech where Lewis shared his thoughts on one of Shakespeare’s well known plays.

Another talk, two years later, on the 18th (some sources suggest it was the 19th and it should have been mention last time) is a questions and answers session that was part of a “One Man Brains Trust” held at the Electric and Musical Industries Christian Fellowship in Hayes, Middlesex. “Answers to Questions on Christianity” was first published by the organization in 1944 and after his death in God in the Dock. While the talk was given before a lay audience, they were individuals working in Industry and so Lewis opened with comments noting “Christianity does not replace the technical.” In reply to a question of obtaining happiness Lewis humorously replies “the religion of worshipping oneself is the best” (though it is short-lived).

On Three Ways of Writing for ChildrenThen, on the 29th in 1952, Lewis spoke before another audience. This time it was part of the meeting of the Library Association at Bournemouth. “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” is best found in On Stories and it’s curious to note that it was given before all seven Narnia stories had been published. Since that time, Lewis’s fame in children’s literature has risen to greater heights. We find Lewis suggesting two good, of three possible ways, to write for children. The bad way is to give kids what you think they want. One of the better motivations is to write “a children’s story because a children’s story is the best art-form for something you have to say.” Also within the talk Lewis defends the use of fantasy in stories for kids. Learn more about what Lewis said from an essay chat I did with Brenton Dickieson.

Finally, on the 30th in 1953 Lewis read his final paper to the Socratic Club. At the time it was called “Faith and Evidence,” but is known today as “On Obstinacy in Belief” and found in The World’s Last Night. It had also been published in the Autumn 1955 issue of The Sewanee Review. The piece showcases Lewis in his role as apologist and proves he didn’t abandon that aspect of his writing after the infamous debate from 1948 against Elizabeth Anscombe (see post from February 1st – 9th).

A very significant event in Lewis’s personal life occurred this week. On the 23rd in 1956 he was married to Joy Davidman in a civil ceremony (less than a year later he married her again, but in an ecclesiastical ceremony).  This first time Lewis essentially considered Joy to be a friend who, as not a British citizen, but wanting to stay in England, needed a way to legally stay in the U.K. Few individuals were even aware they became married. The biography by Dr. Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis – A Life, provides some controversial thoughts on the topic.

There were several shorter works published by Lewis during the final third of April. The first two were actually in monthly publications. “On Church Music” is an essay published in 1949 in English Church Music. While confessing his lack of expertise in music, Lewis nevertheless offers useful insight in this piece now found in Christian Reflections. Among them is this observation and suggestion: “Where both the choir and the congregation are spiritually on the right road no insurmountable difficulties will occur. Discrepancies of taste and capacity will, indeed, provide matter for mutual charity and humility.” “Will We Lose God in Outer Space” came out in the April, 1958 issue of Christian Herald before being retitled “Religion and Rocketry” in The World’s Last Night. Lewis first observes how two opposing arguments have been used to disprove a Creator and then he examines the possible implications of space travel and finding life on other worlds.

Present ConcernsIn 1944 on the 29th Lewis wrote again for the “Notes of the Way” column in Time and Tide. When it was reprinted in Present Concerns the essay was called “Democratic Education.” Among the points Lewis makes is that while democracy is useful in the political and economic realms it has shortcomings when applied to education. Even if you don’t agree with his points regarding this, his predictions on the negative results from educational decisions being based on the likability of courses adds to his credibility of predicting some trends.

The next item that came out almost a year later on the 27th had first been a sermon given less than two week earlier (see last Retrospective). “The Grand Miracle” was first preached at St. Jude on the Hill Church on April 15, 1945. It was published the same year in The Guardian. You can read the essay in God in the Dock. There is an interesting YouTube video featuring an audio version with live animation that helps you understand the material. Finally, The Cambridge Review printed “Interim Report” in their April 21, 1956 issue. It wasn’t reprinted until the mid-1980’s when Present Concerns came out. The essay compares the two universities that Lewis taught at, Oxford and Cambridge.

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