Retrospective: November

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. 

This month marks the 52th anniversary date of Lewis’s death. He died the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, November 22, 1963. It was also this month that Lewis was born in 1898. On November 29, 1954, his fifty-sixth birthday, he gave his inaugural lecture at Cambridge. Two more landmark events this month were fictional works dealing with a bus trip to heaven and a final letter from a devil.

It’s difficult to say which month in Lewis’s life was the most important over the years. Obviously creating such a comparison is artificial in many ways. Despite this, if it were worth comparing them, November would easily be a top candidate. In addition to the above mentioned, it was also in November that Lewis embarked on his first on the ground service in WWI; he was sent to France on November 17, 1917.  Also this month Lewis gave his final two talks (detailed below) from his third series of BBC talks where he examined “faith” in both of them. Those in the U.S. first had the opportunity to get a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (November 7, 1950) and Mere Christianity (November 11, 1952) this month. Additionally, the article version of “The Weight of Glory,” appeared for the first time this month in 1941 (it was a sermon he had given five months earlier). These are just a few of the bigger reasons to consider November one of the most significant for Lewis. The following detail some of them and also include significant writings that were released after his death.

Of all the events for this month, the most significant is easily his inaugural lecture given at Cambridge University where he was appointed Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English. As noted above it was given on his birthday. The title of the lecture was “De Descriptione Temporum,” which is Latin for “a description of the times.” It was adapted for the radio and recorded the following year for the BBC as “The Great Divide.” This recording still exist and shows how Lewis was skilled at providing a great message for both a learned audience and the average person who listens to the radio. Both focused on the difficulty of dividing history into various periods. The original speech was published by Cambridge University Press in 1955 and it was reprinted in Selected Literary Essays in 1969.

In 1944, Lewis provided more reasons why he would become known for his ability to convey Christian truths. The first was a talk he gave on November 6 that year at the Oxford University Socratic Club. “Is Theology Poetry?” would get published the following year in The Socratic Digest, No 3, but today it is more easily found in the revised (1980) edition of The Weight of Glory book. Before admitting that in terms of belief systems Christianity wasn’t the most appealing, he closes with something that now stands as many people’s favorite quote from Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”

A few days after this talk The Guardian began publishing in weekly installments what would be better known as The Great Divorce. On November 10, 1944 “Who Goes Home? Or The Grand Divorce I” was printed. While it is logically the first chapter of the book version, the next two episodes on November 17th and 24th were combined to make the second chapter. From the first segment the reader is left not quite knowing what’s going on except that the narrator is waiting at a bus stop and most of the people are in a bad mood. We learn more about the so-called “grey town” that the people are leaving in the second piece, but nothing about where they are headed on the bus. The third installment details more (unusual) background about the place they left as they just arrive at their unrevealed destination that we later learn could be Heaven.

The biggest collection of shorter writings first came out on November 30, 1970 in the US. The material from God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics was also publish in 1971 in the UK, but under the title Undeceptions. In 1979 a shorter version of this work was release in the UK as God in the Dock. The original (and still in print) volume contains a small collection of public letters in addition to the forty-eight essays and an audio version is also available. As Walter Hooper notes in the preface, the writings “differ both in length and in emphasis” and while having a “seriousness” to them they are not gloomy. While the subtitle notes the themes of these shorter works, Hooper did divide the book in a way that one section contains works that he considered to be “semi-theological.”

Two books containing letters from Lewis were released this month. The original version of Letters of C.S. Lewis edited by his brother Warnie Lewis (also containing a memoir) came out in the US on November 16, 1966 (but had been published seven months earlier in the UK). A revised and enlarged edition edited by Walter Hooper hit the bookstores on November 17, 1988. The other book was released on November 1, 1988 in the US and first titled Letters: C.S. Lewis, Don Giovanni Calabria: A Study in Friendship. Later it was published on November 15, 1999 as The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis. Either edition contains an English translation of the twenty-eight letters from Lewis. All of these are now within the three volumes of The Collected Letters.

Another posthumous book is something Lewis had intended to write himself. Spenser’s Images of Life, edited by Alastair Fowler came out initially on November 2, 1967. Fowler was a graduate student of Lewis at Oxford and took Lewis’s lecture notes from when he taught at Cambridge and amplified them for this book of literary criticism. An additional professional work, which was Lewis’s debut scholarly book, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition came out in paperback for the first time on November 10, 1977 (initially it was published in 1936).

Finally, the following is a list of shorter works by Lewis that came out in a variety of publications during his life for this month:

  • “The Expedition to Holly Bush Hill” in November, 1912 of Cherbourg School Magazine. This was Lewis’s first article according to Warnie, his brother.
  • “The Weight of Glory” in November, 1941 of Theology. Reprinted in The Weight of Glory.
  • “The Screwtape Letters XXVIII – XXXI” in The Guardian on successive weeks beginning November 7, 1941. These were the final four letters for The Screwtape Letters.
  • “Who Goes Home? or The Grand Divorce I-III” in The Guardian on successive weeks beginning November 10, 1941. They make of the first two chapters of The Great Divorce.
  • “Period Criticism” on November 9, 1946 in Time and Tide as “Notes on the Way.” Reprinted in On Stories.
  • “The Decline of Religion” on November 29, 1946 in The Cherwell. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
  • “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said” on November 18, 1956 in The New York Times Book Review, Children’s Book Section. Reprinted in On Stories.
  • “Rejoinder to Dr Pittenger” on November 26, 1958 in The Christian Century. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
  • “On Juvenile Tastes” on November 28, 1956 in Church Times, Children’s Supplement. Reprinted in On Stories.

 

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