Jack in Retrospect Monthly – February

Last month we began a series that gave highlights of various events and experiences in C.S. Lewis’s life as a way to celebrate his impact in light of this year being the 50th anniversary of his death. It wasn’t possible to even list everything in that column and this month offers even more landmark occurrences. There are so many that I do little more than mention what happen with few particulars for most this time around. However you can get more details by reading a weekly look at Lewis at EssentialCSLewis.com.

In the month of February, throughout Lewis’s life,  he gave talks on six different days and was also on the radio six times. He had four books published during his lifetime this month (plus one more posthumously), four pieces from a fictional series were released, three non-fiction articles published, and then he also had two debates. (Poetry would add even more.)

February 2, 1948 brought The Socratic Club’s frequently misunderstood debate between Elizabeth Anscombe and Lewis. Those less familiar with Lewis believe it was after this night that he gave up trying to rationally defend the Christian faith. After all, none of his published books since this time contained any new material dealing with apologetics. This overlooks the fact that he had many published articles related to a rational defense of the faith during the 50’s. While it’s true that Lewis shifted his main focus away from apologetics directly, it wasn’t because he felt it couldn’t be done, but because he believed he had said all on the subject he wanted to in that format. The other debate was almost a decade earlier and was actually the conclusion of one that went on for several previous years.

On February 7, 1939,  Lewis exchanged opinions with Professor E.M.W. Tillyard at Magdalen College in Oxford on “The Personal Heresy.” Previously they had published their views in Essays and Studies, a literary journal. Lewis held the view that one shouldn’t focus on the life of the author when trying to understood what he/she had written (a book co-authored by them was eventually released).

As mentioned, Lewis gave several talks this month during his life. Over a four year span he gave many a chance to see him speak. On February 7, 1942, at The Socratic Club, he replied to William Stevenson’s views on “Is God a Wish Fulfillment.” In 1943 he gave the Riddell Memorial Lectures over the course of three nights, starting February 24. They were later published as the book The Abolition of Man. “Bulverism” is the title of a talk he gave at the Socratic Club on February 7, 1944. It was an expanded version of a piece published three years previously. It is now available in God in the Dock. Another paper that Lewis read also made its way to a book. “Membership” is now found in The Weight of Glory. On February 10, 1945, it was a talk given at the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius in Oxford.

Radio was also a popular medium for Lewis in the 1940’s during the month of February. Listeners to the BBC had the opportunity to hear him on February 1, 1942, speak on what later became known as “The Shocking Alternative.” This is from the series entitled “What Christians Believe” that was first published as Broadcast Talks in the U.K. (The Case for Christianity in the U.S.) and later became the second book in Mere Christianity. Lewis concluded the series with the fourth and fifth talks on the February 8 and 15. They now make up the chapters “The Perfect Penitent” and “The Practical Conclusion” in the classic book from 1952.  February 22, 1944, was the date of the first of his final series of radio talks. In the initial book that came out (Beyond Personality) this broadcast was called “Making and Begetting.” The second broadcast was heard on February 29, and was entitled “The Three-Personal God.” If you are keeping count you realize that is only five radio appearances. The other one was not from any famed series, but a stand-alone effort. On February 11, 1949, he was on the air speaking about “The Novels of Charles Williams.”

This month was also when the first book was published that led to much fame for Lewis. The Screwtape Letters published as a book on February 9, 1942. The previous year it had been serialized in The Guardian. The American edition was out February 16, 1943. (At the risk of confusion, on February 27, 1961, The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast were published and this edition has a second preface to the landmark book that is worth reading.)

The World’s Last Night and Other Essays is one of the few collections that Lewis selected himself. It included seven previously published essays and landed in bookstores February 10, 1960. Besides the well known title essay, it included “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” for the first time since being in The Saturday Evening Post just a few months prior. Two years later on February 26, 1960, They Asked for a Paper was released, containing twelve items that were either a paper or address Lewis had given. This book is now out of print, but half of the selections are available in either The World’s Last Night or The Weight of Glory (1980 version). The remaining six pieces are still obtainable, but in the more expensive Selected Literary Essays collection. The final book, The Dark Tower and Other Stories,  was published years after Lewis’s death, on February 28, 1977.While containing only six selections, the longest is an unfinished novel called “The Dark Tower.” Another selection, “The Man Born Blind,” has since been discovered to be an earlier draft of a short story called “Light” and is the topic of a full length book by Dr. Charlie Starr.

Lewis did manage to have a few shorter works published during this month.

  • February 7, 1941: “Evil and God” was printed in The Spectator. It was a response to something he had read the previous week in that magazine. A key point by Lewis was that in Christian theology good and evil are not equal and opposite forces.
  • February 19, 1944: “On the Reading of Old Books” is the title now given to what was the introduction to a book translated by Sister Penelope
  • February 21, 1945: “Who was Right – Dream Lecturer or Real Lecturer” was found on page four of The Coventry Evening Telegraph.

All three of these essays are now found in God in the Dock, though the last work is under a different title. According to Walter Hooper (the editor), Lewis called the piece “Two Lectures” and he thus published it that way. Speaking of name changes, in the February 1963 edition of Show “Onward Christian Spacemen” was printed. Lewis is said to have disliked that title and it is now known as, “The Seeing Eye.” Finally four more installments to what eventually became The Great Divorce were published in The Guardian during the month of February.

I warned you that Lewis had so many activities over the years this month. As noted at the start you get more details in my weekly look at his life at EssentialCSLewis.com. The next column here will show March to be a month that was often much less busy for Lewis.

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