New Old Things from C. S. Lewis

[Note: When a writer steps away from writing, for whatever reason (and there are usually several, and at least some of the several are usually very real and true), it is hard to step back into it for the simple reason that writing is work. Hard work. Fly-in-the-ointment work. Day-in-day-out-nose-to-the-grindstone work. No matter how much it is embedded in one’s blood, bones, heart and breath. But: it is good work. Glorious work. Real work. Meaningful work. True work. And so writers – if they step away, when they step back – must always step back into the work again. Because they can’t not. Because they must. It’s just a matter of when. Today, for example…]

It’s a big year for Lewisians across the world.

Today a new-found old letter hits the auction block. I read about it here first, on a delightful blog I discovered during my stepped-away-from-writing season.

The letter is delightful for several reasons.

  • It’s addressed to “My Dear Grittletonians.” We should all live in a world of such places and people.
  • You can see where Lewis’s fountain pen ran low on ink.
  • He capitalizes Sea Serpent and Dragon, indicating their true is-ness.
  • He specifically refers to three completed and four upcoming books as a unified series, The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • He writes about some of his favorite books, all of which would be found in the children’s section of a library, but which for him were never categorized by age.
  • He adds a P.S about more favorite books, because that kind of list has no end.
  • He talks about what he did when he was a boy, as though it were a vivid and recent memory.
  • He writes to children as though they are full-fledged human beings, i.e. he takes them seriously.
  • He crosses out a mistake in his writing.
  • And – perhaps most wondrously gratifying of all to those of us Lewisians who are book-order purists – he makes it unequivocally clear that the sixth book that “will go right back to the beginning and explain how there came to be that magic wardrobe in the Professor’s house” – i.e. The Magician’s Nephew is absolutely and intentionally and authoritatively the sixth, not the first, book in the series.

You can imagine how satisfying this is to people who’ve known it all along – known it not just in their own bones, but known it based on all the internal evidence of the books themselves (a critical literary practice that Lewis himself holds in high esteem).

CS Lewis letter 1

CS Lewis letter 2

But this new-found old letter is not the only Big Lewis News of the year. There are also two new-found old articles that have heretofore never been collected or anthologized. I don’t remember where I first got wind of these, but there were hints in the Lewis-sphere that The Strand Magazine might contain articles by Lewis that were not yet indexed in Lewis collections.

Happily, my research institution maintains copies of Strand Magazine in its expansively mysterious repository. And after much dusty digging, sorting, and page-flipping, I found these:

CSLewis Christmas Sermon

CSLewis Cricket

“A Christmas Sermon for Pagans” will sound familiar to anyone who has read Mere Christianity and De Descriptione Temporum. The language, phrases, and ideas are recognizably Lewis. “Cricket’s Progress” is another thing altogether. Did Lewis – who wrote other things under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton – care about cricket? Did he hanker to be a sports writer? I haven’t pored over this article enough to make any sense of what’s going on, but I do find vague hints of Puddleglum in this narrated Cricketer’s quote:

“It’s a great game, but fast bowling takes too much out of a fellow,” he told me. “You want to be a nice, steady all-rounder, good for thirty years’ service…Keep one eye on the ball and the other on the future, and you’ll be all right. And above all, never let them get you down.”

It does rather sound like our favorite wiggle, doesn’t it?

“I’m not going to lose an opportunity like this. It will do me good. They all say – I mean, the other wiggles all say – that I’m too flighty; don’t take life seriously enough. If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie. You want something to sober you down a bit. We’re only saying it for your own good, Puddleglum.’ That’s what they say. Now a job like this – a journey up north just as winter’s beginning, looking for a Prince that probably isn’t there, by way of a ruined city that no one has even seen – will be just the thing. If that doesn’t steady a chap, I don’t know what will.”

In a fascinating twist of literary nuance, the final page of “Cricket” features a footer quote by G. K. Chesterton. Curious indeed.

All of that to say – a new-found old letter and two new-found old articles are no small thing in the world of Lewis. And though there have been many, many reasons and moments and means to step back into the world of writing, these have proven to be the golden ticket.

In Lewis’s own words to the Dear Grittletonians:

“Do you write stories yourselves? I did at your age. It is the greatest fun.”

Or, modified for this specific juncture of life:

“Do you write? I do. It is the hardest work. And the greatest fun.”

 

C.S. Lewis, Lore, and Love

Photo: CKirgiss

It seems presumptuous to join all the other Lewisians today in celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Perhaps not brilliantly, but oh well – we can’t all be Lewis.

Set aside for the moment that Lewis and Tolkien had a serious falling out, in part because of Lewis’s decision to join the Church of England after his conversion.

And that his writing sometimes echoes faintly of British snobbery.

And that he occasionally leaves you guessing as to what he really thinks and believes about specific doctrinal points (purgatory, for example).

And that Robin McKinley, one of my favorite young adult authors, who recently converted to Christianity, is quite thoroughly allergic to him (as stated here).

And that Hollywood has made a flozzergnashing priddlyshnotz of Narnia (there are no words for it, really).

And that HarperCollins has ignored all textual evidence, literary logic, and scholarly output by INCORRECTLY renumbering the Chronicles of Narnia (which many of us have ranted about in the past for all the reasons outlined here).

And that Tolkien pooh-poohed his Chronicles in part because they included Father Christmas.

And that many of his colleagues felt he’d sold out to the world of commoners via the BBC and popular publishers (or maybe it was just jealousy).

And that sometimes you have to read his sentences several times over to really digest all of the truth and logic and brilliance packed into them.

And that his literary scholarship can sometimes make current literary scholars feel incompetent.

And that he often leaves readers hanging with, “In a book I read one time – I can’t remember which one…” (the price of possessing a searchable-PDF-high-quality-flatscanner-like memory).

And that he smoked (this one really gets some people).

And drank (now I’ve really done it).

Set it all aside because it doesn’t matter; the fact remains – C. S. Lewis was a brilliant writer. Since his writings are all I personally have of him, they are all I can speak to.

And they are indeed brilliant. Delightful. Unexpected. Rich. Deep. Profound. Playful. Reflective. And so many other things.

The Lewis Society to which I belong does, on occasion, genuflect a bit more than necessary. And a friend of mine sometimes jokes that I adhere to the doctrine of the Quadrinity. But I recognize my sometimes excessive adoration of Lewis for what it really is – sincere admiration (with a dash of awe) for a man who wielded language like a warrior’s sword, waved words like a magician’s wand, and rang truth like a chorister’s bell.

He did this as an expert of literary scholarship.

He did this as a devout believer of Jesus Christ.

I am glad to know him, even if just through his books. Those are more than enough.

________________

[Lewis is so very much more than his Chronicles; even so, many readers only know him as the man who created Narnia. And so here are some of the best lines from that land where we all want to be.]

“Then he isn’t safe” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  –The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”  –Prince Caspian

“If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie.”  –The Silver Chair

“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”  –The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Was it all a dream?” wondered Shasta. But it couldn’t have been a dream for there in the grass before him he saw the deep, large print of the Lion’s front right paw. It took one’s breath away to think of the weight that could make a footprint like that.  –The Horse and His Boy

Then there came a swift flash like fire either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”  –The Magician’s Nephew

“Come further up, come further in!”  –The Last Battle

______

Okay, just one more, from Out of the Silent Planet, basically summing up the entire doctrine of the fall and our subsequent need for Christ’s redemptive work on the cross:

They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history – …

“It is because they have no Oyarsa,” said one of the pupils.

“It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,” said Augray.

Lewis at The Kilns