RETROSPECT: May 22th – 31st

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 May (22nd – 31st) include: A prize-winning essay, his first Christian book that was his only true allegory and a Pentecost sermon.

Pilgrims RegressLewis’s first book after becoming a Christian was very different in several ways than his two previous works. Those initial titles were poetry, while The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism, publishedon the 25th in 1933 was his debut prose effort. Additionally, the story was pure allegory. Interestingly, it was such a difficult read that Lewis himself even admitted it and ten years after its release he wrote a preface to explain his approach to the story.

At a much earlier age, however, Lewis attempted to tell stories. He was not yet ten years old when he started and his brother, Warnie was also writing them. They were about Lewis’s Animal Land and Warnie’s creation called India. They combined them to create a placed called “Boxen.” These creative writings were never published during their lifetime. However, on the 28th in 1985 they were first published in hardback as Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young C.S. Lewis. It was later republished as Boxen: Childhood Chronicles Before Narnia in 2008. This later title lists Warnie as the co-author while the initial release does not. It’s impossible to summarize them in this brief essay, but one important point to note is that the writing style is not at all like the Narnia stories.

Speaking of a young Lewis, on the 24th in 1921 it was announced by the University of Oxford that he had won the Chancellor’s English Essay Prize on “Optimism.” The topic wasn’t selected by Lewis, but it was set by the contest, which was an annual event for undergraduates. Winning it was very important to Lewis at the time, for he was four years away from his permanent full-time position at Oxford. He saw the honor as something that would gain him much needed recognition. No copy of it has survived, but we know from a letter that Lewis wrote to his father in late March that year that it was almost 11,000 words. We also know from a letter he wrote to his brother, Warnie, that he “dealt with the difficulty of ‘God or no God'” and that it didn’t really matter to him at this time if there was a God. He won £20 for this piece.

Transposition“Transposition” was first the title of a sermon Lewis preached on the Feast of Pentecost on the 28th in 1944 at the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford. The text was later included in Transposition and other Addresses in 1949 (as published in the U.K.; the title in the U.S. was The Weight of Glory). When first preached Lewis almost didn’t complete it. During it he stopped and was reported to say “I’m sorry” and then he stepped away from the pulpit. A brief time later he returned and completed it. Current editions of The Weight of Glory contained a slightly revised version of the message that Lewis first added before the text was included in the 1962 book They Asked for a Paper.

There are several shorter works either published during this final third, or happen during the month of May.On the 23rd in 1941 the fourth Screwtape Letter was published in The Guardian. The opening paragraph from the “affectionate uncle” sets the topic, “the painful subject of prayer.” The letter details various methods demons can use to make prayers less effective, including “a subtler misdirection” by trying to get Wormword’s patient to try to produce the feelings he is trying to pray for. Interestingly prayer is the topic for an essay, “Work and Prayer,” published in The Coventry Evening Telegraph on the 28th in 1945. It is best found in God in the Dock. While a short essay (taking less than five minutes to read), Lewis manages (not surprisingly) to tackle complex aspects of prayer and bring great clarity. Printed in a mainstream publication, the article has an apologetic sound to it, though Lewis obviously is trying to help believers who struggle with the subject.

For the fifth letter from Screwtape released in The Guardian on the 30th in 1941 we learn further how ill equipped Wormwood is. He mistakenly believes that a war means he has an easy road ahead because it creates fear into most humans. Screwtape advises him to consider “how to use, than how to enjoy” a time of war. A key reason is because people serving in a war go there knowing they may be killed…thus “contended worldliness,” which is among the “best weapons” the devils have is made ineffective.

CSLewis A Bio (Green and Hooper)“Different Tastes in Literature” was originally a “Notes on the Way” column in Time and Tide that was first in two parts. While combined when reprinted in On Stories, it was initially in their May 25 and June 1, 1946 issues. The May, 1935 issue of a monthly periodical called Lysistrata. contained “A Metrical Suggestion,” which was retitled “The Alliterative Metre” when republished later in Rehabilitations. It is also available in Selected Literary Essays.

The final standout event happened on the 31st in 1951. Lewis was having dinner with Roger Lancelyn Green and it was on this occasion that he asked him to be his biographer. While Green did produce a monograph that released the same year Lewis died in 1963 (and Lewis read an advance copy of that work), it was not until 1974 that Green completed a biography on Lewis. C.S. Lewis: A Biography was co-authored by Walter Hooper. A revised edition of the book was released in 1994.

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