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Jack in Retrospect: January 22nd-28th

January 22, 2013

Retro Weekly 1-22C.S. Lewis was working on several books before he died in 1963. The first one published posthumously was Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. It came out on the 27th this week in 1964. This was somewhat of an unusual book (although Lewis wrote in a variety of styles, so this statement may actually be unnecessary), in that, while Lewis composed many, many letters during his life, these letters were to an imaginary person. Why address such a serious subject to someone that doesn’t exist? While he had written directly on the issue of prayer in several places, he never believed he understood it enough to present himself as an authority on it. Thus, by presenting the book as if they were merely letters to a friend he felt he could reveal his imperfect perception.

Another work published posthumously, but not prepared by Lewis, was also released during this week’s dates. Christian Reflections is one of several volumes containing collections of essays that had not previously been available in book form. In fact, nearly half of the fourteen pieces had never been published before the 23rd in 1967. They are:

  1. On Ethics

  2. De Futilitate

  3. The Funeral of a Great Myth

  4. The Psalms

  5. The Language of Religion

  6. Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism

That final essay is now known by a different title. It became part of the cover title for a collection the following decade, Fern-seed and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity. This book is now out of print, but all the essays from that work are available in other collections. The latter title was given by Walter Hooper (who also created the first, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”) because he was encourage by a friend to come up with an “eye-catching” name to the book. Speaking of changing titles, another essay in Christian Reflections is infamous for having a different name. When the essay was first published during Lewis’s lifetime it was given a title that he disliked. The new title (given by Hooper) is “The Seeing Eye.” You’ll have to wait until sometime next month when the piece was originally published to learn of the old title.

There were two other works published during this timeframe. In 1955, on the 22nd, “Prudery and Philology” appeared in The Spectator. It’s a piece where Lewis shares his view on the use of words in literature when describing “those parts of the body which are not usually mentioned.” Of course, today standards are very different. That article can be found in Present Concerns.  The twelfth installment of what we now know as The Great Divorce was printed on the 26th in 1945 in The Guardian. It is the second of four segments from chapter nine in the book (see January 8th – 14th for more information on the book).

A couple of debuts occurred this week. Lewis had been selected to be a Fellow of Magdalen College in 1925. But it wasn’t until this week on the 23rd in 1926 that he gave his first lecture in that position. His topic was “Some Eighteenth Century Precursors of the Romantic Movement.” Finally, the first meeting of the Oxford University Socratic Club was held on the 26th in 1942. This was a student-led group founded by Stella Aldwinckle. She asked Lewis to be the club’s first president and he accepted. The purpose of the group was to give an open forum to discuss issues related to questions of faith. Typically there were two speakers, one would read a paper and the other reply (sometimes either of these would be a non-Christian), followed by audience participation. The topic of the first meeting was “Won’t mankind outgrow Christianity in the face of the advance of science and of modern ideologies?” The group released a digest that has been out of print until late last year. You can now get it on

Next week’s highlights include Lewis’s last sermon, an infamous debate at the Socratic Club and a landmark radio address on the BBC.

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