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 is the twelfth and final article in a series of reflections on C.S. Lewis by examining a variety of personal and public events that occurred over the years during his life and significant happenings (usually books published) since his death in 1963. None of Lewis’s books were released for the first time during his life this month. However, among the highlights for the end of the year are a small hardcover book made available on December 25, 1963 to a few select individuals; the last article he wrote was printed posthumously in The Saturday Evening Post and an encore piece by Screwtape was first available in the same periodical in 1959.
One of the last books that Lewis prepared for publication was Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer. It came out two months after Lewis died. Yet, a few fortunate people received a month earlier a limited edition title called Beyond the Bright Blur which was three chapters (15, 16 and 17) from that forthcoming book. It was given as a “New Year’s greeting” to close friends of Lewis and the publisher.
As noted the next major occurrence for this month was the final essay Lewis wrote for publication. “We Have No ‘Right to Happiness’” came out a month after his death. It was in the December 21-28, 1963 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. In it Lewis shares his reflections on a real conversation where someone excused another’s behavior because she had “a right to happiness.” It was actually a certain type of happiness the person was speaking about and Lewis explains his disagreement in the article.
Four years earlier fans of The Screwtape Letters were pleasantly surprised to finally have something more from the infamous senior demon. The December 19, 1959 issue of The Saturday Evening Post included “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.” Lewis had previously resolved to never write more from the tempter’s perspective. However, he explains in the new preface to the 1961 edition of The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast that “the idea of something like a lecture or ‘address’ hovered vaguely in my mind.” It was when he received an invitation to write a piece for the Post “that pressed the trigger.”
Speaking of shorter works, “The Inner Ring” is a selection published in Lewis’s lifetime that was first given as the annual Commemoration Oration at King’s College on December 14, 1944. The concept he dealt with was an unhealthy desire to be a part of those on the inside who call the shots in some powerful, but essentially secret, group. It is somewhat similar to wanting to be in an exclusive or “members only” club in high school. Such an unhealthy thirst to be on the inside will lead a person to do more and more compromising actions. The essay is in The Weigh of Glory.
After Lewis’s death many collections of previously published and unpublished writings became available. The first for this month came out on December 19, 1967 with a book edited by Clyde Kilby called Letters to an American Lady. At the time it was released permission had not been granted to reveal the name of the person to whom these previously unreleased letters were addressed. Now they are contained in the Collected Letters and we know the person is Mrs. Mary Willis Shelburne.
The other book for this month, Selected Literary Essays, contained previously published work. It was edited by Walter Hooper and was issued on December 4, 1969. As you might guess, the focus of the articles are from material closer to his profession as a teacher. However, his inaugural lecture mentioned last month, along with at least two other titles from the twenty-two essays would be of interest to those who enjoy his religious writings. Until very recently getting a copy of Selected Literary Essays was somewhat costly. However, it was reprinted in late 2013 and also made available as an eBook, along with other literary criticism books by Lewis.
Finally, the following lists) shorter works not already mentioned above that were articles or talks given in December (arranged from earliest date to latest:
- “Peace Proposals for Brother Every and Mr Bethell” in December, 1940 issue ofTheology. Reprinted as Part III of “Christianity and Culture” in Christian Reflections.
- “Who Goes Home? or The Grand Divorce IV-VIII” inThe Guardian on successive weeks beginning December 1, 1944. They make up chapters three to five of The Great Divorce.
- “Private Bates” on December 29, 1944 inThe Spectator. Reprinted in Present Concerns.
- “Scraps” in December, 1945 issue ofSt James’ Magazine. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
- “After Priggery – What?” on December 7, 1945 inThe Spectator. Reprinted in Present Concerns.
- “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus” on December 4, 1954 inTime and Tide. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
- “Behind the Scenes” on December 1, 1956 inTime and Tide. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
- “What Christmas Means to Me” in December, 1957 issue ofTwentieth Century. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
- “Delinquents in the Snow” on December 7, 1957 inTime and Tide. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
- “Good Work and Good Works” in the Christmas 1959 issue ofGood Work (formerly Catholic Art Quarterly). Reprinted in The World’s Last Night.
- On December 4, 1962 an informal conversation between Lewis, Kingsley Amis and Brian Aldiss was recorded that was first published as “The Establishment must die and rot…” and was reprinted inOn Stories as “Unreal Estates.”
- “The Vision of John Bunyan” on December 13, 1962 in The Listener. It was an article version of a BBC talk recorded on October 16 that aired on November 11. Reprinted in Selected Literary Essays.