Jack in Retrospect Monthly – May

The first Christian book, first academic title, last apologetic work and a Narnian prequel top the list of books published during Lewis’s lifetime in the month of May. Two more books were also released after his death this month and his first claim to fame in the U.S. had its beginning in 1941 during this period.

Lewis’s second book ever came seven years after his debut effort. His third title, The Pilgrim’s Regress, was six years later on May 25, 1933. However a lot of changes occurred in his life by this time. Lewis had returned to the Christian faith and this was his first attempt of putting his beliefs in a book. He also had completely left behind his dream of being a poet. Yet, this first prose effort didn’t hold out much promise for his eventual fame. The Pilgrim’s Regress was semiautobiographical and his only allegory, yet many of the references in it were obscure. Ten years later Lewis wrote a preface to aid the reader in understanding the material better, but most still find it difficult.

A mere three years later The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition came out on May 21, 1936. A work of literary criticism and history, this was Lewis’s first scholarly effort and something he had begun almost ten years before its release. However, before being published Lewis received a letter from Charles Williams, who was a proofreader at the eventual publisher of the book. Lewis had, without knowing who he was, read a book by Williams and sent him a letter praising it. This lead to their friendship. The Allegory of Love was viewed as a success by its target audience and sold well.

It was May 12, 1947, when Lewis had the final book of any totally new apologetic material published. The writing of Miracles: A Preliminary Study had begun almost exactly four years previously as the result of a letter he received from his friend Dorothy Sayers. Lewis was aware that many people didn’t believe in miracles and as a result rejected the Gospels. He set out to help those individuals by explaining the difference between naturalism and supernaturalism. As a firm believer in the supernatural Lewis had the goal of making it a rational option for thinkers.

The beginnings of Narnia was finally revealed on May 2, 1955, with the release of The Magician’s Nephew. The sixth book published, it answers questions like why the lamppost is in the middle of nowhere and more importantly, how Narnia was created. Although a book about origins it was actually the last book he finished and the one that took the longest to compose. It is also the only title that doesn’t have any of the previous children in it. Interestingly, The Magician’s Nephew was being written around the same time as The Last Battle and Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy.

Posthumously two titles came out this month. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature was published on May 7, 1964, and Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young C.S. Lewis came out on May 28, 1985. The Discarded Image (obviously an academic title) was a book Lewis had worked on before his death and was based on lectures he taught many times. It attempted to help provide a “map” of how the universe was seen in medieval times and explain why it was useful to know. Boxen, however, was not a title Lewis had prepared for publication. It actually contains the combined effort of Lewis’s animal-land stories he wrote as a kid and also material from his brother, Warnie’s imaginary world he called India.

Lewis first became well-known in the U.S. because of The Screwtape Letters that were published in the states in 1943. But the book, while released in the U.K. in 1942, actually debuted on May 2, 1941, when the first letter was printed in The Guardian. Four more letters came out in May and the remainder were printed weekly before the end of the year. Readers were introduced to Lewis’s satire by him presenting Screwtape’s views on argument, church, family relations, prayer and the usefulness of extremes.

Four of Lewis’s shorter works were first published in May:

  • “A Metrical Suggestion” in May 1935 issue of Lysistrata. Reprinted as “The Alliterative Metre” in Rehabilitations.
  • “Two Ways with the Self” on May 3, 1940 in The Guardian. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
  • “Work and Prayer” on May 28, 1945 in The Coventry Evening Telegraph. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
  • “Different Tastes in Literature” was a “Notes on the Way” column in two parts in Time and Tide (May 25, 1946 and June 1, 1946). Reprinted in On Stories.

Lewis also gave two talks and a sermon this month over the years:

  • “Transposition” was preached on the Feast of Pentecost at the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford on May 28, 1944. It was later published in The Weight of Glory (a.k.a Transposition in the U.K.).
  • “Religion without Dogma” was a talk given at the Socratic Club on May 20, 1946. It was initially published as “A Christian Reply to Professor Price” in The Socratic Digest in 1948. The version found in God in the Dock contains some follow-up material given at a later Socratic meeting.
  • “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” was a lecture delivered on May 11, 1959, to students at Wescott House, Cambridge. It was first published in Christian Reflections under that title, but later retitled as “Fern-Seed and Elephants” in a book (now out of print) by that name.

Finally, there are several items of a more personal nature that occurred in May. First, his mother, Florence “Flora” Hamilton Lewis was born on May 18, 1862. Lewis accepted a temporary (one-year) position at University College, Oxford on May 5, 1924, teaching philosophy. A year later, on May 20, 1925, he was elected a fellow in English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he taught for the next 30 years. Around a year after this (May 11, 1926) he first met J.R.R. Tolkien at an Oxford English faculty tea. Tolkien’s friendship was a key factor in Lewis becoming a Christian. As mentioned earlier, Charles Williams was a friend of Lewis; sadly he unexpectedly died on May 15, 1945.

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Part of a monthly series reflecting on the life of C.S. Lewis. It summarizes various events or happenings during his lifetime for the month or significant occurrences related to him after his death. A more detailed account is given each week at EssentialCSLewis.com.

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