RETROSPECT: November 11th – 20th

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 second third of November (11th – 20th) include: The American debut of Mere Christianity, an explanation of why “Fairy Stories,” and the publication of a landmark sermon.

mere-christianity-alt-cover.jpgThis series has already noted at various times (including the last installment) why the material making up Mere Christianity is such a great book. While I’d used any excuse to say more, this time it is easily justified as those in the US first had the opportunity to purchase the combined book that consisted of all four BBC broadcast talks on the 11th in 1952. This is only four months later than the release in the UK. The main new material for this edition was Lewis’s preface, but the convenience of having all three short books together in one volume was invaluable. While many are aware that the book was adapted from material on the radio, fewer are familiar with any of the details behind this fact. Just last year Focus on the Family released a radio drama about this. C. S. Lewis at War: The Dramatic Story Behind Mere Christianity gives a “behind the curtain” look at what led up to Lewis’s debut on the BBC. It also includes a complete dramatic reading of the book.

Lewis’s best known sermon is another item previously discussed that merits mentioning again. While “The Weight of Glory” today is the lead title of one of the better recognized collection of essays by Lewis, it was merely another published shorter work when it came out in the November, 1941 issue of Theology. In 2013 the owners of that publication created a special virtual issue collecting all that they printed by Lewis.

As I noted previously, of the many landmark events in Lewis’s life from 1941, in hindsight this message by him stands as probably the greatest. While many of his talks came out in print, the appearance of “The Weight of Glory” meant Lewis’s first two sermons were published. Reading the piece you find a near perfect balance of a reasoned talked and having very memorable stand-alone quotes. While he did use some illustrations that many people today can’t relate to, anyone can follow the principle behind what Lewis was saying. Back on the plus side, his humor comes through in this piece, especially with the line that says “who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?”Theology-Virtual-Lewis-Issue-300x109.jpg

Just eight months after the final Narnia book was published in 1956 “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said” came out on the 18th in The New York Times Book Review. You can find it now in a collection of essays called On Stories. In this shorter work Lewis reveals how he did NOT create The Chronicles of Narnia. Some had thought (and still do today) that he asked himself how he could transmit his faith to children and then he came up with a list of ideas and created allegories to communicate them. Instead Lewis took images that had come to his mind and developed them into a story and the “fairy tale” fit as the best style for what came. Only after this did he consider what moral might result: “I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood.”  A few years ago I did my debut essay chat with Dr. Holly Ordway on this article that can be found directly here in my podcast archives.

Two fictional pieces by Lewis came out during this period in November. On the 14th in 1941 the twenty-ninth letter to Wormwood was published in The Guardian. It is one of the few that had a title (“Cowardice”) that was also not used when released in The Screwtape Letters. Among the many points made to Wormwood is that “hatred is best combined with Fear.” Then on the 17th in 1944 the second piece in what eventually became The Great Divorce appeared in The Guardian. This part was actually combined with the next to make up chapter two in the book.

CSL Readers EncyclopediaAnother item that was mentioned previously worth highlighting again is Letters of C.S. Lewis. While initially published less than three years after Lewis’s death, a revised and enlarged edition came out on the 17th in 1988. This revision was done by Walter Hooper. When it was first released in 1966 it was edited by Warnie Lewis and was the only collection of letters available at the time. While a three volume set of Collected Letters gathers this and other volumes of letters, the original and revised edition is the only place to get the memoir that Lewis’s brother did. As noted in The C.S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia, Hooper made only minor changes in the original work that included adding missing dates and naming previously anonymous recipients, but he also included eighty-nine additional letters (but, again all are found in Collected Letters).

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One comment

  1. Not in reference to a particular column. Not yet familiar with these Lewis sites so, disregard placement of following:
    Lost entire library in hurricane Katrina. Trying to replace book (can’t remember title, author) containing Lewis quote from his personal opinion on value of BCP. Theme of quote (not verbatim, of course) attributed to Lewis read something like this: Outside of New Testament, Book of Common Prayer would be second most inspired work of The Holy Spirit.? Only light from N.T. shines brighter (from Holy Spirit’s inspiration) than BCP.?


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