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Jack in Retrospect: May 1st – 7th

May 1, 2013

The following is part of a weekly series reflecting on the life of C.S. Lewis. This is done by summarizing various events or happenings during his lifetime for the noted week and may include significant events related to him after his death.

Retro Weekly 5-1Over a decade apart on the exact same day two major events occurred in Lewis’s life this week. The origins of Narnia finally became known and the first of thirty-one soon to be famous letters were released. If you are even vaguely familiar with Lewis, then you are aware I’m speaking of The Magician’s Nephew and the start of The Screwtape Letters.

The Magician’s Nephew came out on the 2nd in 1955, just eight months after the previous Narnia story (The Horse and His Boy). This was the shortest time span between releases. Current editions of the book list The Magician’s Nephew as the first to read, however, it was published sixth. Most experts suggest those new to the series read it in the publication order because a good deal is revealed that would not be a mystery if you read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe after this beginnings story. Many are surprised that he finished this book last and he also completed his autobiography Surprised by Joy around the same time.

On the 2nd in 1941 the character of Screwtape debut in The Guardian. Eventually the book came out in 1942, but if you lived in England you could first experience the story unfold weekly. Readers were suddenly presented with a role reversal in this masterpiece of satire. The “Enemy” was God and “Our Father” became “Our Father Below,” a reference to the great deceiver. Wormwood was the recipient of the wiser Screwtape’s advice about his new patient, a nameless male. In the first letter he’s told “jargon” is better than “argument” because the latter risks having a person thinking about truth and “attending to universal issues.” The “affectionate” uncle spells it out in the end by stating “you are there to fuddle him” and not teach.

Almost a year earlier (May 3, 1940) and more straightforward, Lewis had “Two Ways with the Self” published in the same periodical (The Guardian). This short essay begins with noting that renouncing the self is, rightly so, central to Christian ethics. However, what are we to do with self-love when Scripture commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and also that one should “hate his own life?” Lewis offers (in part) this advice: “The Christian must wage endless war against the clamour of the ego as ego: but he loves and approves selves as such, though not their sins.” The article is now best available in God in the Dock.

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature is one of the books Lewis was preparing before he died. It was released on the 7th in 1964. The material for the book came out of lectures he had given on the image of the medieval world over the years both at Oxford and Cambridge. While informing his contemporaries of the model and why it is helpful to know, he underscores the fact that he is not suggesting going back to that model of the universe.

Finally, Lewis had a temporary turning point in his life when on the 5th in 1924 he accepted a position to teach philosophy at Oxford. It wasn’t a long-term assignment because he was only filling in for his former tutor, E.F. Carritt, who went on leave to teach in the U.S.. Besides giving lectures at University College, he also conducted tutorials as well. A year later (but in another week) he received a more permanent position at Oxford, but many people are unaware that he first taught philosophy.

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