RETROSPECT: May 1st – 10th

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 May (1st – 10th) include: Publication of a book about how Narnia started, the debut of Wormwood’s uncle and the release of a revised Miracles.

Magicians NephewOver a decade apart on the exact same day two major events occurred in Lewis’s life during the first third of May. The origins of Narnia finally became known and the first of thirty-one soon to be famous letters were released. If you are even vaguely familiar with Lewis, then you are aware that I’m speaking of The Magician’s Nephew and the start of The Screwtape Letters.


The Magician’s Nephew
came out on the 2nd in 1955, just eight months after the previous Narnia story (The Horse and His Boy). This was the shortest time span between releases. Current editions of the book list The Magician’s Nephew as the first to read, however, it was published sixth. Most experts suggest those new to the series read it in the publication order because a good deal is revealed that would not be a mystery if you read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe after this beginnings story. It’s interesting to note that he actually finished The Magician’s Nephew last and he also completed his autobiography Surprised by Joy around the same time.

On the 2nd in 1941 the character of Screwtape debuted in The Guardian. Eventually the book came out in 1942, but if you lived in England you could first experience the story unfold weekly. Readers were suddenly presented with a role reversal in this masterpiece of satire. The “Enemy” was God and Satan became “Our Father Below.” Wormwood was the recipient of the wiser Screwtape’s advice about his new patient, a nameless male. In the first letter he’s told “jargon” is better than “argument” because the latter risks having a person thinking about truth and “attending to universal issues.” The “affectionate” uncle spells it out in the end by stating “you are there to fuddle him” and not teach.

Screwtape Letters (1)The second letter from Screwtape was published on the 9th in The Guardian. Just like the first letter, the material was initially given without any explanation of the reverse perspective. Here Lewis has Wormwood’s uncle provide some interesting thoughts about the Church and how it can be “one of our great allies” (recall that good is bad for the demons, so calling the Church an ally to Hell is a real slap in the face to the contemporary Church). Additionally, this letter introduces the idea (mentioned several other places) that our enemy’s goal is just as much to keep our mind off of things as they are to suggest ideas.

Almost a year earlier (on the 3rd in 1940) and in a more straightforward style, Lewis had “Two Ways with the Self” published in the same periodical (The Guardian). This short essay begins with noting that renouncing the self is, rightly so, central to Christian ethics. However, what are we to do with self-love when Scripture commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and also that one should “hate his own life?” Lewis offers (in part) this advice: “The Christian must wage endless war against the clamour of the ego as ego: but he loves and approves selves as such, though not their sins.” The article is now best available in God in the Dock.

Twenty years later (on the 9th in 1960), a rare occurrence happen related a book by Lewis. It was on that date that a revised version of Miracles came out. Previously released in 1947, this new edition found changes to the third chapter that had been called “The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist,” but it was retitled as “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism.”

Discarded ImageThe Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature is one of the books Lewis was preparing before he died. It was released on the 7th in 1964. Material for the book came out of lectures he had given on the image of the medieval world over the years both at Oxford and Cambridge. While informing his contemporaries of the model and why it is helpful to know, he underscores the fact that he is not suggesting going back to that model of the universe.

Lewis had a temporary turning point in his life when on the 5th in 1924 he accepted a position to teach philosophy at Oxford. It wasn’t a long-term assignment because he was only filling in for his former tutor, E.F. Carritt, who went on leave to teach in the United States. Besides giving lectures at University College, he also conducted tutorials as well. A year later he received a more permanent position at Oxford, but many people are unaware that he first taught philosophy.

Another interesting happening is the fact that on the 9th in 1948 listeners to the BBC heard Lewis’s voice again! It was a very short recording done a few months earlier of an adaptation of the preface to The Great Divorce. From my understanding it was aired just before a dramatic version of the book was presented, but no recording of that radio drama was made.

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