Taking a Breath before a Second Dive

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.

collected-letters-c-s-lewis-box-set-c-s-paperback-cover-artHowever, 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 CS Lewis Apologetics Books Mere Christianity Miracles Screwtapethe 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.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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21 Responses to Taking a Breath before a Second Dive

  1. I admire your courage to dive into a huge project and I am very interested to keep reading about how it is going. I wonder how this project will change you?

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    • Thanks Reno. My blog over the last year and a half has gone in waves (I read the Ransom books last summer, Hobbit in the fall, Narnia through 2012, etc.). But my Letter posts have been roughly chronological.
      I wonder about change too! But why would we read if we weren’t going to be changed by it?

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  2. I remember stumbling on “Surprised By Joy” in a second hand bookshop in my teens – this was truly the first I knew of Lewis’ non-fiction. Over the next few years his other theological works followed. Fittingly, I only recently concluded with “A Grief Observed” – a truly “put this book down and take a deep breath” kind of experience. For a long time the Ransom trilogy was my favourite book(s) of all time (apart from Jane Eyre, of course!).
    Lewis links truth and fantasy so perfectly because in his works fantasy is a simplified version of the truth. For me that’s how it works anyway. In Tolkien, I want to get into Middle Earth. In Lewis’ fantasy, I’m there already – the real world is Narnia/Perelandra/Screwtape’s office.

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    • Wow, what a brilliant phrase: “For me that’s how it works anyway. In Tolkien, I want to get into Middle Earth. In Lewis’ fantasy, I’m there already – the real world is Narnia/Perelandra/Screwtape’s office.”
      Would you consider writing a guest post that plays out that idea? I think it is a tremendous one.

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  3. Brenton,

    I applaud your efforts to read Lewis chronologically. It’s something I’ve considered doing many times. Maybe when I’m no longer a full-time student I can begin working on this myself. My Lewis reading, while generally broad isn’t very systematic. I have a few kew favourites that I revisit anywhere from once a year to once every 2-5 years. I’ve recently done my annual re-reading of the Cosmic Trilogy for paper I gave at Oxford a few weeks ago and the Chronicles, just for fun. Anyway, enjoy your chronological reading of Lewis. I look forward to future posts on how this helps you understand Lewis better.

    Yours,
    David

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    • Thanks for your story David. I just got McGrath’s bio of Lewis in the mail, and he did a total chronological read–including the archive work! I’ll have to do the best I can.
      Next time you go through the Trilogy, read them like this:
      1. Out of the Silent Planet
      2. Dark Tower
      3. Screwtape Letters
      4. Perelandra
      5. That Hideous Strength
      I’m writing a paper on why that order makes a difference.

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  4. I have some more thoughts on this topic, if you’re interested. Where would you like me to post/send them?

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  9. Tricia says:

    I did the same with Agatha Christie. Read her novels in order alongside her biography. Enlightening and fun. (About 20 years ago.)
    Have fun!

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