Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Click to enlargeJon Kennedy's
'C. S. Lewis Overflow
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

Where we are now

After several unsuccessful attempts I have finally been able to order Volume 3 of the Complete Letters of C. S. Lewis online, and hope to have it in hand this week or next. If it as rich in material as Volume 2 proved to be, it will take several weeks to accumulate the first set of notes, and then another five or more weeks to finish reading the book and compile the rest of the notes. So I'll be looking for topics to keep these "postcards" coming week by week.

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig MurrayFirst, some observations drawn from the notes from Volume 2, which have made for a series of very long entries here over the past six weeks. Looking over Lewis's life, work, and legacy, we find several ironies that seem to illustrate God's sense of humor. One of the early ironies was the fact that Lewis's first book after converting to Christianity, The Pilgrim's Regress, was a publishing failure in its first printing, and only after being reprinted by a Catholic publishing house and marketed to Catholic readers did it begin having impressive sales.

But Lewis was embarrassed to have a "Papist" publisher handling his book. Yet that's not the only interlocking irony surrounding this experience: it may well have been his success with his Catholic publisher that opened Lewis to closer relationships with Catholics and which, in turn, he transformed into the "Mere Christian" hypothesis that is in the Introduction to Mere Christianity. That, second only to the lasting popularity of the Chronicles of Narnia, is the main source of Lewis's enduring and unparalleled popularity as a spokesperson for Christianity, in my opinion.

The second multi-layered irony that came from Volume 2 was Lewis's being featured on the cover of Time magazine, as recorded in this note from last week's entry: "Lewis was pictured on the cover of Time magazine (8 September 1947), which contained an article entitled 'Oxford's C.S. Lewis, His heresy: Christianity.'" I have no idea how Time was perceived in England in that era, but in our American experience (I admit, while also confessing that I have never been a fan of the magazine), making the cover of Time, with a positive accompanying write-up, has been for decades only a few notches lower than winning a Nobel Prize in terms of elevating a person's fame and marking his having "arrived."

But, ironically, Lewis wrote to Margaret Fuller the following April, "Yes, the Time article was ghastly: but I suppose no one of sense believes such things. I wouldn't hang a dog on a journalist's evidence myself. Who said I disliked women? I never liked or disliked any generalisations."

There is no doubt that the Time story made Lewis a sensation to American Christians and has continued influencing the sales of his books in the American market, if not throughout the world. It probably led directly to the first book written about him, and indirectly to his eventual coming to meet Joy Davidman, whom he later married and shared the happiest years of his life with.

I looked online to see if that 1947 cover story about him is available, and it is, here. Though the cover illustration uses the wording cited in the footnote above (Oxford's C.S. Lewis, His heresy: Christianity) the actual title of the article is Don v. Devil, a clever play on Lewis's vocation as university "don" and his best-known book up to that time (Mere Christianity and the Chronicles of Narnia both still in the future then), The Screwtape Letters, which is a collection of fictional letters between a senior and a junior devil.

I searched in vain for any reference in the article about Lewis disliking women, or even the article mentioning women (but perhaps a follow-up letter to the magazine made such an allegation). Several things in the article I would consider inaccuracies (it refers to the Inklings, without mentioning their name, as "a small circle of Christian Oxonians who met informally each week or so to drink and talk," which gives a false impression, I think, of how the Inklings worked. It also reports some interpretations of his lifestyle that no doubt embarrassed him and gave him some grief and exacerbated some opposition he already felt from some Oxford colleagues. Most hurtful are its allusions to Mrs. Moore, who shared the house they lived in near campus and whom he occasionally referred to as his mother (as he had "adopted" her at the death of his friend and her son in the First World War).

But on the whole, the article would have to be called priceless free advertising for Lewis's literary output, up to that time and for even decades thereafter.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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I am attracted by Pascal's saying that 'God has instituted prayer to lend to his creatures the dignity of Causality.'

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