RETROSPECT: November 21st – 30th

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 November (21st – 30th) include: Inaugural lecture at Cambridge, final letters from Screwtape and the publishing of a book containing the largest collection of essays that is still in print today.

De-Descriptione-Temporum2-190x300.jpgAs you are likely aware, this period of time marks not only the birth of C.S. Lewis (29th in 1898), but also his death (22nd in 1963). Interestingly it was on Lewis’s fifty-sixth birthday (in 1954) that he gave what hard-core enthusiasts of his works often consider one of his best talks to a non-religious audience. “De Descriptione Temporum” are not words you hear every day, but they were fitting as a title for his inaugural lecture as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at Cambridge University. The translation for this Latin title is “a description of the times.” The Internet Archive has a copy of the complete text. Later it was recorded (4/1/1955) as a radio broadcast for the BBC where the title was “The Great Divide” and aired on April 6, 1955. You can get a copy of this recording, along with other audio featuring his voice from Episcopal Marketplace.

As you might imagine, there are differences between the radio version and the actual address. If you have both you will want to listen to it and follow along the printed version to see Lewis’s ability to adapt a text to different audiences. In both versions he presented a different view of history as he emphasized “all lines of demarcation between what we call ‘periods’ should be subject to constant revision.” He went on to share (among other points) that “the Great Divide” is not between the Medieval world and the Renaissance.

God-In-The-Dock.jpgSince Lewis’s death there have been many collections of essay books. Many smaller collections duplicate what had been previously released and came out in their respective title because earlier versions went out of print (although this was not always the case). Thus, the casual Lewis reader (and even some serious admirers) find it difficult to decide which titles to purchase when selecting from the numerous essay collections. One that I always recommend, God in the Dock was released on the 30th in 1970 in the US (it came out as Undeceptions in the UK in 1971). This is the largest collection of essays by Lewis in print (at the time of this writing). However, if you live in the UK be aware that there was a shorter version of this work published there as God in the Dock. The US version has forty-eight essays, plus twelve letters that had been printed in various magazines. If you are into audio readings of Lewis’s works then you will be pleased to know it is available in this format. In either version you are treated to a wide range of shorter works from subjects related to direct Christian-themes. The selections were edited by Walter Hooper, whom Lewis first wrote to on the 30th in 1954 (in reply to a letter Hooper wrote to Lewis expressing how much clearer it made him understand his faith).

The-Great-Divorce.jpgThe final two weekly Screwtape letters were released in The Guardian on the 21st and 28th in 1941 before becoming available in The Screwtape Letters. These concluding pieces to Wormwood finds him in deep trouble as Screwtape warns, “you will soon find that the justice of Hell is purely realistic, and concerned only with results. Bring us back food, or be food yourself.” The third installment of “Who Goes Home? or The Grand Divorce” came out in The Guardian on the 24th in 1944. A few more aspects of the so-called “grey town” are provided during the bus trip, including how quarrelsome the residents are and the unusual structure of the things they can get by just imagining them. This selection makes up the last half of chapter two from The Great Divorce and ends with the bus arriving at an undisclosed destination.

Three shorter pieces where published during this final third of November, plus he gave a talk that wasn’t available until after his death. This latter item was “On Science Fiction,” an address he gave to the Cambridge University English Club on the 24th in 1955. It is available in On Stories and gives a few details about the interest Lewis had in reading science fiction and the types of stories within that genre he enjoyed most. Those works published in Lewis’s lifetime were: 1.) “The Decline of Religion” on the 29th in 1946 in The Cherwell. Now found easiest in God in the Dock, it examined the view held at the time that there was a deterioration of religious belief; 2.) “Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger” came out on the 26th in 1958 in The Christian Century and is also found in God in the Dock. This reply was to an article directed to Lewis about his book Miracles; 3.) “On Juvenile Tastes,” now available in On Stories, was a letter in Church Times, Children’s Book Supplement on the 28th in 1958, which found Lewis critical of the idea that children’s tastes in reading are different than adults.

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