RETROSPECT: September 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 September 12th -21st include: Another Narnia book published, a landmark professional title, a final poetry book and the start of his third broadcast series.

Surprised By JoyIf you thought the previous ten day span over the years was a productive period for Lewis, then you will be no less amazed at what occurred during this time. In the above highlights I didn’t even mentioned the autobiography that came out on the 19th in 1955. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life is not a typical life story “as told by the author.” The subtitle tries to suggest the different approach of the book and in the preface Lewis elaborates further about this point. He notes that the main goal is to “tell how I passed from Atheism to Christianity,” but he actually expresses skepticism that anyone would want to read about him. He further comments that his approach may not be for everyone’s tastes and that if you find that you don’t enjoy the first chapter that you might as well stop reading the book.

Just a year before, on the 16th in 1954 a long awaited title from Lewis was published. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama is the crowning achievement of his professional career. It was a book he was asked to write nearly twenty years before when he was just starting his eleventh year as Fellow at Magdalen College. The book is part of The Oxford History of English Language. Some of the material came from a series of lectures Lewis gave at Cambridge in April and May of 1944 as part of the Clark Lectures. The long process for completing the book was somewhat of a challenge for Lewis; in fact he would sometimes refer to it by the initials of the series: “OHEL.”

Voyage of Dawn TreaderAn adventure out on the high seas is what is found when the third published Narnia story, The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’ (VDT) came out on the 15th in 1952.  This was the same year that Mere Christianity debuted. VDT is the middle story in the trilogy dealing with Prince Caspian, who is now King Caspian X in this book. Our main character sets out to find each of the seven lords who were sent away by the evil Uncle Miraz.

Many fans of Lewis are unaware that his first great passion in life was to be a poet. Only two unique poetry books were published in his lifetime. The second and final one, Dymer, came out on the 20th in 1926, several years before his return to the faith. Interestingly, it was later reprinted with a new Preface in 1950. When first available it was credited to “Clive Hamilton,” only the 1950 edition lists Lewis as the author. The book is a long narrative poem that was actually begun as a prose work in late 1916.  There were other failed attempts at composing the work before it was eventually finished, but to Lewis’s surprise, the publisher of his first poetry book turned it down! This title is now best available in a collection called Narrative Poems.

By the late 1940’s Lewis was enjoying greater success in the publishing world. The Weight of Glory is a collection of addresses that became available for the first time in the U.S. on the 13th in 1949. It was published as Transposition and Other Addresses in Great Britain that same year. Both namesake titles were sermons Lewis preached and only three other shorter works were included in this edition. In 1980 a revised and expanded edition (the only one in print now) included four more selections.

Lewis and BBCRadio again began to play an important role in Lewis’s life starting on the 20th in 1942. That’s when he returned to the microphone to present the third series of broadcasts on the BBC. This set was called “Christian Behaviour.” The first talk later became known as “The Three Parts of Morality.” In addition to revealing those components, the broadcast had Lewis express that everyone doesn’t mind focusing on the first, “fair play and harmony between individuals.” It’s when one moves beyond this and considers “things inside each individual” and “the general purpose of human life” that the disagreements truly begin.

Finally, the U.S. edition of Miracles was released on the 16th in 1947, just four months after the U.K. printing came out (see Retro column for May 11th – 21st for details). The only essay from Lewis during this timeframe is one called “The Sermon and the Lunch.” It was first published on the 21st in 1945 in Church of England Newspaper. In it Lewis reflects on the reaction that arose in him near the end of a sermon where the minister spoke of family life in a way that differed greatly from what the preacher’s home was like. Lewis had frequently been at this man’s home and knew how different it was. This essay is now found in God in the Dock.  Finally, two more letters (the 20th and 21st) from Screwtape came out on the 12th and 19th in 1941, respectively. The first deals most with sexual temptation and the latter with a distorted view of ownership, especially as it relates to having control over what one does with their time.

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