RETROSPECT: July 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 July (1st – 10th) are: the release of his landmark nonfiction book, the publication of a new collection of shorter works and the preface to his first claim to fame was written.

Mere Christianity 1952 1st UKIn the early 1950’s Lewis saw continual success from his writing. By the middle of 1952 he had experienced significant praise from his venture into children’s literature with two Narnia stories released and a third due out in a few months. But it was on the 7th of July in 1952 that a new book came out that was actually a re-release of previous material that secured Lewis as an author of practical information about the Christian faith. Mere Christianity is the best known non-fiction book by Lewis. Various individuals from many walks of life give credit to this book as either strengthening their faith, or as a tool that God used to lead them to Christianity.

As noted, Mere Christianity didn’t actually contain any new material. It was a collection of three previously released books from the 40’s (that were actually four sets of broadcasts). While Lewis did do some revising of the text, the major difference is the excellent preface to the book. In the preface Lewis provides the reader with a greater understanding of his aim. He quickly states that he will not provide an answer to the question what denomination a person should choose. He even cautions against thinking that his summary of common Christian beliefs should be taken as a new denomination. A final part of the preface worth underscoring is the way Lewis answers those who criticizes his use of the word “Christian.” He compares it with the word “gentleman” that has become more of a compliment than a word that states an objective fact.

While I’ve always personally enjoyed reading Mere Christianity I find that a major strength of the book (combining the three books in one volume) is also a potential weakness. Several years ago I started to teach the book in Sunday School and a surprising number of people had difficulty getting into it. The conclusion I came to was that for the group I was teaching (individuals already believing the Christian faith) a wiser approach would be to start with the third book. Then after finishing it and the fourth section allow the class to decide if they wanted to read the first half on their own or as a group.

If you’ve read any of my previous columns in this series about Lewis you’ve realized that many collections of his essays and other shorter works were published after his death. Present Concerns is one of those collections. It was edited by Walter Hooper and came out on the 10th in 1986. At the time it was released none of the material from it was previously collected in a book. The works in this volume are unique because they do not usually address the two main themes Lewis was known for discussing, namely Theology and Literature. Instead of addressing these timeless subjects, the material from Present Concerns focus on topics from more recent times or issues from the past that needed new defense. Such is the case for the first of the nineteen essays. It is entitled “The Necessity of Chivalry.” In it Lewis speaks of chivalry as word that is seen as outdated in our time, but is really “the one hope of the world” and that without it “all talk of any lasting happiness or dignity in human society is pure moonshine.”

The Busines of HeavenAnother collection of writings from Lewis was released posthumously this month. The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings from C.S. Lewis was published on the 5th in 1984 in the U.S. and it was also edited by Walter Hooper (it had been released in the UK four months earlier). Nothing new is presented in this volume, but as the subtitle suggests, it contains material for each day of the year. Typically the selections are only a paragraph or two and sometimes the next day or so is also from the same work. While a few other similar titles have been published in recent years, The Business of Heaven remains a favorite of mine because when I bought it the same year it came out I wasn’t too familiar with Lewis’s works and it provided an interesting sample from a variety of Christian-themed books.

Finally, two shorter works were published for the first time and the introduction to the book version of one of those works. The Screwtape Letters wasn’t release as a book until 1942. But with the success of the weekly printings of the individual “letters” in The Guardian Lewis was working on a preface and finished it on the 5th in 1941. In it he cautions against a total disbelief in devils as well as an all out obsession with them. On the previous day that same year (the 4th), the tenth letter came out. It introduces another demon, this one called Triptweeze. He provided information to Screwtape about some new people Wormwood’s patient had met that should have just the impact the devils want.

The other shorter work by Lewis during this time period was a selection in the British weekly magazine of humour and satire called Punch. You have to consider this when reading “Revival or Decay?” which came out on the 9th in 1956. I underscore this fact because Lewis wrote along the lines of the style that publication is know for. Thus you are left without a clear answer to the question suggested by the title.  It is now best found in God in the Dock.

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