Throughout their entire lives, C.S. (Jack) Lewis and his good friend Arthur Greeves carry on a conversation about books. But they also had a conversation about writing with one another. Jack sent Arthur his early work–a chapter in each letter, when he was writing–and coaxed Arthur to write out his own story. Jack played with fairy tales and an opera on Loki, while Arthur worked on a Alice in Wonderland kind of piece. We only have Jack’s side of the conversation, but he relished in the exchange, even though he never finished most of those teen projects. One of them, though–a mythic story called Dymer–would become an epic narrative poem that Jack Lewis published as an Oxford Don in 1926.
As time went on, Jack wrote poetry regularly. Although he is very casual about his war training in 1917, the inevitable march to the front lines sharpened his focus some. In June he began talking to Arthur about his desire to seek a publisher for his work. The 19-year-old language and literature prodigy is self-deprecating, typically. Around June 10th, he wrote:
“I am in a strangely productive mood at present and spend my few moments of spare time in scribbling verse. When my 4 months course in the cadet battalion is at an end, I shall, supposing I get a commission all-right, have a 4 weeks leave before joining my regiment. During it I propose to get together all the stuff I have perpetrated and see if any kind of publisher would like to take it. After that, if the fates decide to kill me at the front, I shall enjoy a 9 days immortality while friends who know nothing about poetry imagine that I must have been a genius — what usually happens in such cases” (c. June 10, 1917)
I don’t know what Arthur’s response was, but about a month later Jack risked to share his dream again with his good friend:
“If I do ever send my stuff to a publisher, I think I shall try Maunsel, those Dublin people, and so tack myself definitely onto the Irish school. What castles in the air — but still better have a cloud castle than no castle at all…” (July 17, 1917)
Jack Lewis, of course, had no idea what he was marching toward–either his experience in the trenches as Officer Lewis, or his writing career as C.S. Lewis. Not long after he returned for war, though, his teenage poetry was worked into a book, Spirits in Bondage (1919), which he published pseudonymously under the name Clive Hamilton. It sold modestly, but was his modest step toward building literary castles far more substantial than he could have imagined even as a seventeen year old dreamy-eyed writer-in-waiting.
*This book of poetry is still available. See Lewis, C.S. Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics. London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1984. The 1919 edition is now in the public domain, and available here (thanks to Mere Inkling blogger Rob Stroud for the tip).