Jack in Retrospect Monthly – July

Key events in the life of C.S. Lewis over the years for the month of July include: his most famous non-fiction work, a meditation from an unlikely place, inspiration for a devilish series of letters and the death of his wife.

To call Mere Christianity a ground breaking book that has made a tremendous cultural impact seems inadequate praise. First published July 7, 1952, in the U.K. and four months later in the U.S., it is a book that succeeds because of being able to speak to two diverse audiences. It begins by explaining how a clue to the meaning of the universe is understood by the fact all believe in right and wrong.  He then helps those in or outside the faith comprehend what Christians believe.

The next section explains how Christians should behave while offering a practical understanding of morals. Then the final part opens with this statement: “Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book.” Lewis gives this disclaimer because he plans to talk theology. Specifically he wants to offer “first steps in the doctrine of the Trinity.” As it turns out, he was able to provide the everyday person with a better understanding of God’s personality and how one becomes redeemed.

It was ten years earlier, on July 13, 1942 that Broadcast Talks came out. If you know your Lewis
history well, you are aware that this book contains the first two books that are in Mere Christianity. These are the text of the initial two radio broadcast series aired on the BBC in mid-1941 and early 1942. In the U.S. the book was released under the title The Case for Christianity in the fall of 1943. An interesting fact about this book is that they don’t contain any extra material beyond what was shared on the radio. The subsequent books include more content when released initially and in the more well-known Mere Christianity book.

Several books edited by Walter Hooper were published this month during the 1980s. The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings from C.S. Lewis came out on July 5, 1984, but was available in the U.K. four months earlier. Containing short readings for each day from a variety of Lewis’s works this was a personal favorite of mine when it was released. I was only familiar at the time with a half-dozen non-fiction books and the Narnia stories, so this title sealed my love for his writings.

The three remaining books are all collections of essays. Only one, Present Concerns, published July 10, 1986, contained shorter works that had not been previously collected at that time. Most of the nineteen writings are from the 1940s and published in some manner while Lewis was alive. “Modern Man and his Categories of Thought” is the only selection never printed during his lifetime. The final two books are First and Second Things, published July 11, 1985, and Timeless at Heart, released July 16, 1987. Both contains essays that can be found in God in the Dock (1970, U.S. edition that was published as Undeceptions in the U.K. in 1971). There is, however, one exception to this, Timeless at Heart has “Why I am not a Pacifist” which is best found in The Weight of Glory.

Near the end of his own life Lewis experience profound grief when his wife Joy died on July 13, 1960. While already a fulfilled man when they met, Lewis experience life at a whole new level when she entered it. Likewise, the bereavement he felt was almost beyond words. Some of his earlier works were a major factor in her becoming a Christian and she assisted him in several writings in the last part of his career. Now his most personal book would result after her death, A Grief Observed. Three years later, on July 15, 1963, only four months before his own death, Lewis suffered a heart attack and nearly died. He was admitted to a nursing home and was even in a coma for a period of time. On  a happier note, years earlier, on  July 16, 1923 Lewis earned his third and final first from Oxford University. This one was in English language and literature. Finally, this month in 1940 Lewis wrote to his brother on the 20th,  in part of that letter he shared that he got the idea for the eventual
The Screwtape Letters during a church service the pervious week.

Speaking of the fiendish letters, a year later, in 1941 the tenth through the thirteenth of Screwtape’s correspondence was published in The Guardian. It includes a personal favorite of mine where Wormwood is told about the four causes of laughter in letter eleven.  Other themes in the remaining ones are vanity, keeping the patient ignorant of the change of direction his choices are making because “small sins” provide the “safest road to Hell,” and Wormwood learns about an “asphyxiating cloud” that is God’s “most barbarous weapon.”

Finally, a variety of essays were published this month, as well as a talk and radio broadcast:

  • ‘The Anvil’ on July 22, 1943, as a BBC broadcast where Lewis was one of several guests. Although recorded a few days earlier on the 19th this recording didn’t survive.
  • “A Dream” on July 28, 1944, in The Spectator. Reprinted in Present Concerns.
  • “Meditation in a Toolshed” on July 17, 1945 in The Coventry Evening Telegraph. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
  • “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages” as a talk given in two parts on July 17 & 18, 1956 to a group of Cambridge Zoologists. Reprinted in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature.
  • “Revival or Decay?” on July 9, 1956 in Punch. Reprinted in God in the Dock.
  • “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State” on July 20, 1958 in The Observer. Lewis’s piece was the second article of a series addressing the question, ‘Is Progress Possible?’ Reprinted in God in the Dock.
  • “It all began with a picture…” on July 15, 1960 in Radio Times. Reprinted in On Stories.

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 at EssentialCSLewis.com.

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