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Jack in Retrospect: February 5th-11th

February 5, 2013

Retro Weekly 2-5Last week had several noteworthy events in Lewis’s life, yet the present week was even more monumental. However, before getting to the first major breakthrough that made Lewis a household name, there are several other significant happenings. In fact one date, the 7th this week, had quite a few notables over the years. In 1939 there was a lesser known debate between Lewis and Professor E. M. W. Tillyard. It was held at Magdalen College in Oxford, but, it did not begin just that year. Lewis and Tillyard had exchanged their opposing views in Essay and Studies starting in 1934. Specifically the issue dealt with whether or not a person could only understand someone’s poetry by knowing the poet’s biography. Lewis didn’t believed this and argued the meaning of a work is to be gain from what was written without needing to focus on the life of the author. The debate eventually led to a book co-author by both of them, The Personal Heresy (to be discussed in late April).

In 1941 Lewis’s replied to another issue close to his heart was published on the 7th. In the previous weekly edition of The Spectator, Dr. C. E. M. Joad expressed that God and evil were opposites. In “Evil and God,” Lewis underscored that Christian theology views the two as opposing, but not equal forces. Evil is a distortion of good and has a parasitic existence. Finally, on the 7th in 1944, Lewis was the only speaker before the Socratic Club talking on “‘Bulverism’ or The Foundation of 20th Century Thought.” This was an expanded version of an article first published March 29, 1941 in Time and Tide without a title in the section called “Notes on the Way.” The expression Lewis coins here means assuming someone is wrong and explaining why before proving the person is wrong. The essay is now found in God in the Dock.

On the 8th in 1942 Lewis was before the microphone to share what is now known as “The Perfect Penitent.” This is the fourth chapter in book II of Mere Christianity. In this talk Lewis conveys his view of the Atonement while acknowledging one should not “mistake it for the thing itself.” In fact he shares that any theory falls short and are “quite secondary” to the reality of what Christ did. They are like pictures used to describe the atom in place of what they are. A basic understanding can be expressed through the pictures, but they shouldn’t be confused with what atoms (and now, even smaller subatomic materials) are actually like.

Two events occurred on the 9th that especially stand out in Lewis’s life. The one that Lewis was more proud of occurred in 1945, but something that happen a few years before had the biggest impact in his life. In 1945 the fourteenth installment of what is now the last fourth of chapter nine from The Great Divorce was published. In this segment we meet an unidentified “famous artist.” He is ready to continue painting, but is told he must focus on seeing before taking up the brush again. We learn that on earth he had helped others catch “glimpses of Heaven” before he lost his love for “light itself.” Just when it seems the Ghost will decide to stay he learns that there are no other famous painters there. That’s because no one is more famous than any other. The Ghost can’t stand it and decides he “must be off at once.”

It was on the 9th in 1942 that things were set in motion that made Lewis gain international fame. Although The Screwtape Letters had been released weekly in 1941, it was this week that all thirty-one letters could be found in one place. The first edition of 2,000 copies sold out even before the date of publication! In fact it was reprinted eight times before the end of 1942. Despite being so popular, it is well known that Lewis actually didn’t enjoy writing it. He said it was because the process of thinking in the mindset of a devil was very draining on him. Lewis liked his other fictional work, The Great Divorce much more and felt it was not as appreciated as it should have been.

Readers of my C.S. Lewis Minute blog are likely aware that The Screwtape Letters is a personal favorite of mine and last year when it was the 70th anniversary I add to the long list of tributes to it by releasing a special Screwtape Speaks at Demon-Chapel. So much more could be said about this book, but because it appeared initially between May and November in 1941 in The Guardian I will wait to share more details during those corresponding weeks.

In 1945 on the 10th Lewis gave a talk, simply called “Membership,” to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius in Oxford. It was also published later in the year and is now best found in The Weight of Glory. Lewis explained in his presentation that the word “membership” in the New Testament differs from the way it is used today. Instead of speaking of it in the sense of a group containing like items, the Christian meaning is close to “what we should call organs, things essentially different from, and complementary to, one another.” He also pointed out that believers are called not to individualism, but to membership in the mystical body of Christ.

Also on the 10th, but in 1960, a book containing previously released shorter works was published. The World’s Last Night and Other Essays made available seven articles from the 1950’s collected from an assortment of sources. It actually includes “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” that had only been released at the end of 1959. The headline piece was an essay that had the title of “Christian Hope – It’s Meaning for Today” when printed in Religion in Life for their Winter 1952-53 issue. The other essays in this book are:

  • “The Efficacy of Prayer”

  • “On Obstinacy in Belief”

  • “Lilies that Fester”

  • “Good Work and Good Works”

  • “Religion and Rocketry”

Finally, on the 11th in 1949 Lewis gave a talk over the BBC about “The Novels of Charles Williams.” Only after Lewis’s death was it ever published. The best source is On Stories. The talk was essentially a defense of Williams’s novels in answer to various criticisms Lewis was familiar with and more than happy to address.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2013 2:27 pm

    I don’t think you have yet mentioned the new sequel to Screwtape Letters, this one by Richard Platt, As One Devil to Another, which Walter Hooper himself says reads “as if C.S. Lewis himself had written it.” I quote from the book on my blog


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