Retrospective: August

The following is part of a revised shorter series reflecting on the life of C.S. Lewis. This is accomplished by summarizing various events or happenings during his lifetime for the month and may include significant events related to him after his death. Each column will remind those already familiar with Lewis why he is so well respected and perhaps increase the admiration of others who are unaware of his wide range of achievements and various landmarks in his life. 

Happenings in C.S. Lewis’s life during the month of August over the years include: the death of his mother, his radio debut, publication of the final science fiction work and the last radio series five years before his own death.

In the previous column it was noted that Lewis’s wife lost her struggle with cancer. This wasn’t the only person close to him that died from that dreaded disease. On August 23, 1908, when he was just three months shy of his tenth birthday his mother, Florence Augusta Hamilton Lewis died. This event impacted the young Lewis greatly, but maybe not in just a negative way. As Devin Brown writes in A Life Observed, it’s interesting to note that Lewis, along with two other “of the greatest fantasy writers in the English language all suffered childhood loss of mothers.” They were J.R.R. Tolkien and George MacDonald. Thus, these great losses “may have helped spur their interest in imaginative realms of their own creation.”

As mentioned last month the book Broadcast Talks from 1942 contained the initial two radio series on the BBC by Lewis. It was on Wednesday, August 6, 1941 that Lewis made his debut on the air. During this month he completed four talks that were scheduled for the first series on the remaining Wednesdays (each were in the evenings from 7:45-8). However, they were so popular and generated so many questions that Lewis gave an unplanned fifth broadcast (which was actually on Saturday, September 6th). When given on the radio each broadcast had a title, however they are different than what appears in Mere Christianity and the earlier Broadcast Talks didn’t even have any chapter titles. A final interesting fact about the series is that they had a major hurdle to being popular: the program just before Lewis each night was a fifteen minute newscast in the Norwegian language!

Also radio related, but not affiliated with the BBC, Lewis recorded a series of ten talks on “The Four Loves” over the span of two days, August 19 and 20, 1958 in London. These were done at the request of the Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation (ERTF) in the United States. Lewis picked the topic and later expanded on what he said, to produce the familiar book The Four Loves. The original recordings have survived and are still available, however, some packaging imply that they are Lewis reading the book itself, which is untrue. The talks are less than two hours together, but the book, if it were recorded, would be about twice that length. A year after the recordings were made the ERTF released the transcripts of the broadcasts under the title “A Series of Radio Talks on Love” in ten pamphlets.

The only book that was published for the first time ever this month was That Hideous Strength. Released on August 16, 1945, it is the third and final tale featuring Edwin Ransom. The events in the story all occur on Earth and introduce us to an unhappily married couple named Mark and Jane Studdock. Their worlds continue to drift apart as the plot unfolds. Each end up on the opposing side of a conflict that involved scientists who want to take control of nature featuring a mixture of what Lewis called “the realistic and the supernatural.” The story is much longer than each of the previous two books in the series (in fact, it’s more than twice as long as Out of the Silent Planet). Less known about this final chapter in the series of three books is that an abridged version (prepared by Lewis) came out in paperback in 1946 entitled The Tortured Planet.

“Christian Reunion: An Anglican Speaks to Roman Catholics,” an essay by Lewis that was never published during his life was first released on August 15, 1990 in Christian Reunion and Other Essays. Edited by Walter Hooper, the book contains eleven other selections that are available in God in the Dock (Undeceptions in the U.K.) except for one (“Lilies that Fester”). According to Hooper, “Christian Reunion,” which focuses on the differences between Anglican and Roman Catholics is “the only sustained piece of writing” by Lewis we have on the topic. Interestingly the existence of this shorter work was known since the 1960′s, but was not made public then because it was feared it would distract people from the volumes of material Lewis wrote about the core common beliefs of all Christians. Hooper believes it was written in the 1940′s.

In 1941, the fourteenth through the eighteenth letters from Screwtape came out weekly in The Guardian this month. On August 1, the fourteenth shared the remedy for dealing with a person who has become humble: convince the person to become proud of their humility! Wormwood is also told that God “really loves the hairless bipeds.” On August 8, the fifteenth letter reveals how man’s concept of Time can be used against him to produce anxieties to keep one from living in light of eternity. The sixteenth letter came out the following week and spoke of encouraging what is more known today as “church hopping.” A revealing portrait of the ministers in two churches is painted to show how even they can be use as a tool for evil. On the August 22, the seventeenth letter shows an unconventional picture of gluttony. Then finally on August 29, the eighteenth letter showed how Screwtape wishes Wormwood to twist “being in love” to marry as an excuse for wishing to divorce (not “being in love” any longer).

Shorter works (all are essays, except the final one is a short story) by Lewis this month are:

  • “Notes on the Way” on August 17, 1940 inTime and Tide. Reprinted as “The Necessity of Chivalry” in Present Concerns.
  • “Equality” on August 27, 1943 inThe Spectator. Reprinted in Present Concerns.
  • “The Trouble with ‘X’” in August, 1948 issue ofBristol Diocesan Gazette. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
  • “Notes on the Way” on August 14, 1948 inTime and Tide. Reprinted as “Priestesses in the Church?” in God in the Dock.
  • “On Punishment: A Reply” in August, 1954 issue ofRes Judicatae. Included in God in the Dock after the essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.”
  • “Forms of Things Unknown” in August, 1966 issue ofFifty-Two: A Journal of Books & Authors. This was an abridgment of the complete version that was published the following month in Of Other Worlds; it is also in The Dark Tower.

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