Here I sit, on the edge of 1937.
Not literally, of course. This is not a blog from the 30s, waiting until now to see digital light. But in my reading of C.S. Lewis’ work, this is where I am, just about to jump into 1937. It is the time when he takes a key shift in his work, and a good time to describe my project.
I had already read many of Lewis’ fiction and Christian books, but when I decided to settle in on a 5-year project in Lewis’ writing, I decided to read through his work chronologically. It isn’t a perfectly coordinated project. There are chronological lists by Joel Heck and Arend Smilde, but a lot of material is in archives and not published. I read his childhood fiction (Boxen) in fits and starts, and I did not get all of his early poetry at the exact right times. But, for the most part, I have done pretty well in reading along with Lewis’ life, going through his letters and reading his written works at about the same time. And I think that has paid off in key ways, as I talk about when considering the date of his conversion here.
However, part of my success is that Lewis has not written all that much up to the end of 1936. Relatively speaking, that is. By 1936 we have about 1200 pages of letters that have survived. He published two books of poetry, Spirits in Bondage (1919) and Dymer (1926), wrote three other narrative poems (one a fragment) in the early 1930s, and perhaps 40 or 50 other poems. He published eight or nine essays that survive, his allegorical conversion narrative, The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933), and an academic book, The Allegory of Love (1936).
That’s about it.
Well, I suppose that is even a lot, and it has taken me a year and a half to wade through this much, though I moved from 1929-1936 just this spring.
The water is about to get deeper, though.
In 1937 Lewis begins writing Out of the Silent Planet, which will become a trilogy by the end of WWII and the beginning of his work as popular fiction author. During that period he will also write The Screwtape Letters (1941) and The Great Divorce (1944-45), both as serials in a magazine. He will publish dozens of essays, prefaces, lectures, articles, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and sermons in this same period. He speaks on the BBC throughout the war, which becomes Mere Christianity (1952), and publishes other apologetic books: The Problem of Pain (1940), The Abolition of Man (1943), and Miracles (1947). And then there are his academic works of the period, and his anthologies, and his letters….
He was truly a busy guy.
And all of this is in the 1940s, before he ever puts Narnian pen to paper.
So I sit at the edge of this great pool that is Lewis’ WWII-era work. I am excited to jump in. Even though I’ve read much of that period of work already, the experience as a whole is one of swimming in new waters. And so, with feet dangling tentatively over the edge, I dive in.
I’d love to hear other experiences of reading Lewis or trying to grab the whole life of another author. Upcoming posts include: “In My World, Everyone’s a Pony,” thoughts about Lewis’ The Personal Heresy, a review of Wildwood, and a reconsideration of Out of the Silent Planet.