A Manuscript List and Timeline of The Screwtape Letters

Ransom_CycleA couple of weeks ago I had announced the publication of a surprising draft of a preface to The Screwtape Letters. This “Handwritten Preface” is a “Cosmic Find,” since it shows us that Lewis thought about including Screwtape in the same fictional world as the Ransom Cycle, C.S. Lewis’ WWII-era science fiction project. I am working out some of the intriguing possibilities of rereading Ransom-Screwtape for a paper that will be submitted next year. You can read about it here and here.

For those that are interested in manuscript and publication history, as well as C.S. Lewis’ biography, it is also intriguing in that we now have new complications in the manuscript history of Screwtape. The Handwritten Preface is different in key ways from the Published Preface (see here) in the first edition. And we are missing the typescript and galley proofs of the Handwritten Preface: we do not know the process of publishing the preface and why Dr. Ransom was left out of the story. Was it the publisher or Lewis who made the change?

We may never know.

List of Manscripts

At this point, though, we can list the various manuscripts of The Screwtape Letters:

  1. The Berg MS: C.S. Lewis’s handwritten 31 letters on 93 leaves, sent to Sr. Penelope on Oct 9, 1941 and sold to the Berg Collection at the New York City Public Library. There are no additional copies of this manuscript elsewhere.
  2. The Neylan MS: a typed manuscript on 82 leaves with publisher’s notes, sent to Mary Neylan on Oct 20, 1941 and housed at the Wade Center in Wheaton, IL. You can read more about Neylan here.
  3. The Handwritten Preface MS: the handwritten preface on small pieces of paper, included in the Neylan MS and published in Notes & Queries in 2013.
  4. Bles Galley Proofs: Lewis’s letter to Mary Neylan (proofs of the enclosed) and standard publication protocol suggests that there was also a typeset proof. We no longer have the Galley Proofs (which may or may not have had the preface included), and the correspondence with Bles was destroyed.[1]
  5. The Guardian Original Print Run: This was based off the handwritten Berg MS and available in several libraries. I read it at the General Theological Seminary in New York City.

screwtape letters cs lewis creepyA Proposed Timeline of The Screwtape Letters Manuscript History

Although there are gaps, and we do not know yet when the handwritten Berg MS was typed, we have enough now to offer a tentative timeline.

WWII-era Context

  • Sep 2, 1937, Lewis completes Out of the Silent Planet. Published Sep 23, 1938.
  • Out Of The Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis 19 60sSep 1, 1939, Hitler invades Poland, beginning WWII.
  • Nov, 1939, Lewis was reading chapters of The Problem of Pain to the Inklings. Published Oct 18, 1940.
  • Jul 19, 1940, Lewis listens to the Hitler speech to the Reichstag translated on the BBC at 6:00pm.
  • Jul 21, 1940, Lewis receives inspiration for Screwtape at church. After church he finishes a letter to Warren describing the idea. You The Problem Of Pain 1st edcan read about that in detail here.
  • Jul 1940-Apr 1941, Lewis wrote Screwtape by hand, perhaps writing a letter a week.[2] In this period he submitted them to The Guardian, possibly with “Meditation on the Third Commandment.”
  • Aug, 1940, Warren retires from the military to the Kilns and is available for typing,though our first typed letter we have is not until Nov 30, 1942.
  • Apr 25, 1941, announcement in The Guardian about Screwtape.Apr 25 ad close2
  • May 2 to Nov 28, 1941, The Screwtape Letters published serially in The Guardian.
  • May-Jun 1941, editor Ashley Sampson reads the Letters and convinces Geoffrey Bles to publish them.
  • Weight of Glory by CS Lewis signatureJun 8, Lewis delivers “The Weight of Glory” sermon at Oxford’s St. Mary the Virgin Church.
  • Jul 5, 1941, Lewis writes the preface, which was edited in an unknown process (see below) and published in the Bles first edition.
  • Aug 6, Lewis gives his first BBC talk in London. These talks later become Mere Christianity.
  • Oct 9, 1941, Lewis sent a handwritten MS of 93 leaves to Sr. Penelope with a personal letter. Indicates that there is also a MS at the publisher (Bles).
  • Perelandra by CS LewisOct 20, 1941, typed MS of 82 leaves with handwritten preface of 5 leaves sent to Mary Neylan with a personal letter. Indicates that the proofs are at the publisher (Bles).
  • Nov 9, 1941, Lewis has gotten Ransom to Venus as the first few chapters of Perelandra are complete in draft form. He finishes Perelandra in Spring 1942; it was published Apr 20, 1943.
  • Jul 1941-Feb 1942, Unknown preface proof correspondence and Galley Proof approval with Bles (see below).
  • The screwtape letters by CS Lewis 1st edFeb 9, 1942, The Screwtape Letters was published by Geoffrey Bles of London with the edited preface. There are seventeen printings in total in Britain through WWII.
  • Feb 16, 1943, American edition of The Screwtape Letters published
  • Dec 1943, Lewis completes the final Ransom book, That Hideous Strength. It is not published until Aug 16, 1945, near the close of WWII.

Post-Publication History

  • 1947, The Italian translation, Le Lettere di Berlicche; Screwtape and Wormwood were renamed Berlicche and Malacoda in Italian.[3] cs lewis-le-lettere-di-berliccheTranslations followed in Spanish (1953), French (1956), Chinese (1958), Russian (1981), Afrikaans (1993), Korean (2000), and Indonesian (2006).[4]
  • Sep 8, 1947, C.S. Lewis appears on the cover of Time magazine with the title, “Don v. Devil.”
  • Jun 18, 1956, Lewis gave Sr. Penelope permission to sell the MS; the Berg collection purchased it at some later date.[5]
  • Dec 15, 1959, Lewis has finished writing the “new preface” to what will become The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast; suggested he would send the manuscript to publisher Jocelyn Gibb when it was typed, Saturday Evening Post screwtape cover-december-19-1959and included suggestions for titles for the collection.[6]
  • Dec 19, 1959, Lewis publishes “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” in The Saturday Evening Post.
  • Dec 20, 1959, Lewis sends the typescript of the Screwtape “new preface” to the publisher.[7]
  • Feb 27, 1961, Geoffrey Bles publishes The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast with the “new preface.”
  • screwtape proposes a toast cs lewis1961-1963, Lewis writes a preface to a book called A Slip of the Tongue and Other Pieces that explains “Screwtape Proposes A Toast.” The book is released in 1965 as Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces, but the preface, now at the Wade Center, is not included until 1982 revised edition.
  • 1965, publication of Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces.
  • 1976, Lord & King edition of The Screwtape Letters published in the United States with a new foreword written by Walter Hooper and illustrations by Wayland Moore.
  • The Screwtape Letters Special Illustrated Editionc. 1979, the Wade Center acquires the Neylan MS with accompanying Handwritten Preface and personal letter.
  • 1982, The Screwtape Letters: Revised Edition published with “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” and the early 1960s preface intended for A Slip of the Tongue.
  • 1994, Marvel Comics adaptation.
  • 1999, an audio edition with John Cleese as Screwtape is released on screwtape_letters marvel comiccassette; received a Grammy nomination.
  • Jan 2006, first stage production of Screwtape opens in New York, written by Max McLean and Jeffrey Fiske.
  • 2009, release of feature length audio dramatization of The Screwtape Letters by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, staring Andy Serkis.
  • 2009, The Screwtape Letters: Special Illustrated Edition released, followed by an enhanced edition in 2011.
  • 2013, The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition, with annotations by Paul McCusker, who adapted Screwtape for audio drama in 2009.

screwtape letters posterThis Timeline focusses on two periods: the conception and original publication of Screwtape, and then its explosion in popularity over the next 75 years. Perhaps you see something that should be included in the Timeline or an error. If so, let me know in the comments below.

Options for the Preface Editing Stage

Somewhere between July 1941 and February 1942, Lewis had correspondence and Galley Proof approval with the publisher, Bles. We have an end date of October, 1941, when Lewis sent a manuscript to Sr. Penelope and a typescript with Handwritten Preface to Mary Neylan. There are a couple of main options for the correspondence:

  1. Lewis may have sent Bles the Neylan MS with the Handwritten Preface in the period of July-October, 1941, in which case Lewis would have approved the Galley Proofs of the Handwritten Preface.
  2. It is possible that Lewis sent a now lost typed version of the Handwritten Preface before Oct 20, 1941 after the original Neylan MS was submitted, and either:
    1. Did not approve Galley Proofs of the MS; or
    2. Approved the preface Galley Proofs separately.

Nowhere that we know of does Lewis ever complain that Bles unjustly edit the Preface.

What is more interesting is this question: What happened to the Ransom feature in the Screwtape preface? With regards to the preface changes, we are left with four possibilities:

  1. Lewis changed the preface himself before submitting it to Bles. This means that the Handwritten Preface that Lewis sent to Mary Neylan was a first draft.
  2. Bles suggested changes to the preface in the Galley Proofs, and Lewis approved the changes (either by correspondence or in the Galley Proof stage).
  3. Bles changed the manuscript without Galley Proofs. Lewis approved of the changes through correspondence.
  4. Bles changed the manuscript without Galley Proofs, and Lewis did not formally approve of the changes.

Given the substantive nature of the changes and Lewis’s complete silence on the matter, “d” does not seem to be a strong option.

[1] Email from Walter Hooper, June 20, 2012.

[2] Sayer, Jack, 273. “Dangers of National Repentance” was published on p. 127 of The Guardian on Mar 29, 1940. Several weeks later Lewis published “Two Ways With The Self,” The Guardian (May 3, 1940), 215. It is possible that “The Screwtape Letters” were submitted with his January 1941 article, “Meditation on the Third Commandment,” The Guardian (Jan 10, 1941), 18. See the Mar 11, 1939 letter to Alec Vidler, editor of Theology, where Lewis provides a corrected proof for an article, but also includes a second piece for Vidler’s consideration, Hooper, Letters 2, 253.

[3] McGrath, C.S. Lewis, 420, n. 28.

[4] Source: Worldcat, http://www.worldcat.org/title/screwtape-letters/oclc/17453746/editions?cookie=&start_edition=1&sd=asc&se=yr&referer=di&qt=show_more_ln%3A&editionsView=true&fq=&fc=ln%3A_25.

[5] There is not date of acquisition on the Berg file.

[6] Dec 15, 1959 letter to publisher Jocelyn Gibb. See Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Vol. 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963 (New York: HarperSanFransisco, 2007), 1110-1111.

[7] Dec 20, 1959 letter to publisher Jocelyn Gibb. See Hooper, Letters 3, 1112.

Note: I have not referenced all of the more popularly known dates. I have gleaned them form Walter Hooper’s invaluable Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis in three volumes. You can also find them in Joel Heck’s excellent chronologies at http://www.JoelHeck.com. 

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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40 Responses to A Manuscript List and Timeline of The Screwtape Letters

  1. Charles Huttar says:

    Thank you, Brenton, for this valuable compilation. Obviously it represents a lot of work, and we are grateful. Your timeline has so many post-publication items, I wonder if you might consider adding the Time magazine cover that helped establish (in America) the identity in some people’s minds, which Lewis came wryly to lament, between him and the Master Lowerarch.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this brilliant post, Brenton! It’s super good.

    Would you consider adding Tony Lawton’s production of Screwtape? http://www.anthonylawtonactor.com/The_Screwtape_Letters.html. His came first, and the MacLean production is at least in part based on/inspired by Lawton’s.


  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you very much – this is so useful!
    I love the sorts of tables that show what different things were going on in different places (etc.) at the same time, facilitating easy comparison.
    If any one gets around to making any such things with an accent of works by Inklings, this will clearly be a great help!
    (And thanks for getting me to have a look at Joel Heck’s chronologies – excellent, indeed – with much of the effect of such tables already!)

    While, as you say, “Bles changed the manuscript without Galley Proofs, and Lewis did not formally approve of the changes”, “does not seem to be a strong option”, I can imagine Lewis going along with it, without a lot of rumpus (though that is a highly impressionistic response). He could even have thought, he could always bring Ransom back in explicitly, in a later reprint, if that fit best with the developing Ransom corpus.


    • True, and he was already thinking about Perelandra, I think. By the time the proof stage was done, we are into Oct 1941, and Perelandra is part finished.
      I think that option is still possible; I just find it a tad unlikely. Whereas a letter from Bles to Lewis would have gotten the matter fixed up.
      I wonder if the first line of the published Preface is a rewrite by Bles rather than Lewis. Is it Lewisian imagery or Blesian?


      • Charles Huttar says:

        The manuscript preface in the Wade begins, “Nothing will induce me to reveal. . . .” The revised preface as published begins, “I have no intention of explaining. . . .” What is there in the “imagery” or the style that makes you wonder if it isn’t Lewis’s? He toned it down, made it perhaps a little less belligerent-sounding, less perhaps as if there is a secret that has to be concealed (which might no longer be the case, with Ransom excised). When that particular change occurred we cannot say; the fact that both versions bear the same date is irrelevant. I want to work out more speculations about the dates, but that must wait till I can look more carefully at many details of dating and documentation.


        • Hi Charles. I’m not even sure it is tone. Inducing and revealing is a little different than intention and explaining. But I think Lewis could write either.
          What I was thinking was this: the change itself was unnecessary, unless it seemed too forceful (as you say, belligerent). So it might mean that we have Lewis or the editor both toning down the language and slicing the Ransom bit out.
          My own instinct is that Lewis didn’t have much patience for the post writing stages. He rewrote his own things with some revisions, but he did not like proof stages. I suspect that the editor suggested some changes and then Lewis agreed in principle or in a typescript by post. Because the preface is an afterthought, and Lewis was already onto other projects, I could see him saying, “You are the editor, so whatever you think works is fine. I can hardly be trusted to know what an audience needs or wants.”
          There is a possibility that I did not mention in this sketch above. I was waiting to see if anyone brought it out. It is possible that the Handwritten Preface is either a speculative first draft that he self-rejected before submission, or a speculative attempt to shape the experience for Mary Neylan and was never meant as a serious preface. I don’t think either is very likely because it was traveling around in the post with the Typescript. But it is worth noting.


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            How much of the Neylan correpondence do we have (either side)? And, does it look like anything from Lewis’s side might be missing? About all I knew of Mary Neylan (before your linked post) is her little introductory note to “the text of the unpublished letters sent to us” in “My Friendship with C.S. Lewis”, The Chesterton Review, XVII, 3-4 (August-November 1991), 405-11. The last of those letters (described as “The final letter”, dated “October 2nd, 1941”, makes no more reference to Screwtape than any of its predecessors. (If one of the obvious answers is, ‘have a look at the online Wade catalogue yourself’, it’s a good one, as I have not done that yet!)

            Since she was obviously interested in OSP and later Perelandra, it is plausible he’d show her a draft he had rejected before pursuing it further, by sending it to her, but what can we say about how likely that might be? (The idea that it might be “a speculative attempt to shape the experience for Mary Neylan” strikes me as prima facie less likely – but then I haven’t seen the MSS. at the Wade or even read all his published letters to her (et al.) right through in order. Then again, that he could do something like that playfully does not in itself seem all that unlikely – or is my sense of him off-target, here?)

            By the way, I was struck by Michael Ward’s remarks on the end of OSP and the way forward in Planet Narnia (ch. 3) , which strengthens my sense that Lewis might have both sketched a Screwtape tie-in, and then put it in at least ‘suspended animation’.


  4. Arend Smilde says:

    I have, for now, nothing to say on the disappearance of Ransom from the Screwtape preface. But perhaps here are some details you may want to add to the Timeline.
    1. In the chronological order of Lewis’s publications, the first Screwtape letter (2 May 1941) is preceded by the first version of “Bulverism” in Time and Tide (29 March 1941). Can it be conicidence that the theme of “Bulverism” and that of the first Screwtape letter are so closely related?
    2. You mention eight Screwtape translations, beginning with the Italian one which appeared in 1947. I wonder what made you select these eight and no others. More particularly, why skip the Dutch, which also appeared in 1947?
    3. If you want to list “Toast” translations as well, you may mention (among others, no doubt) the 10th, enlarged Dutch edition of 1962 which includes a translation of “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”. It was also included in all subsequent editions.
    4. The 1965 Bles volume called Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces is on my desk while I write this. The “Toast” certainly includes a brief preface of three paragraphs, beginning with the words “I was often asked”.
    5. Also on my desk is a 1968 Macmillan Paperback edition of The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast, specified as a “Tenth Printing”, which has a much longer preface. The last three paragraphs of this preface are identical with the three-paragraph preface which I find in my 1965 Bles volume. I suspect that the preface in this 1968 volume (and perhaps in earlier printings) is the one Lewis wrote in 1961-1963.


  5. Arend Smilde says:

    I posted a fairly long message about three hours ago. Is it lost – or still awaiting approval? (No doubt you’ll approve it!) Sorry for any semblance of impatience. I’m a rare visitor to the blogosphere.


  6. Charles Huttar says:


    This is in reference to your 1976 entry in the “Post-publication history” part of your Timeline. You might want to note that this edition also contains “A Study Guide to The Screwtape Letters. Prepared by Walter Hooper and Owen Barfield” (pp. 149-72) – though I surmise it is largely Hooper’s work, judging by the brief salute given to Barfield at the end of his Introduction (153) It is also interesting that Hooper’s Foreword (7-15) explains on p. 15 the arrangements made by the publishers with the Lewis Estate.for issuing audio records and cassettes and a movie version of Screwtape.and also some some slight emendations that were permitted in this edition.

    For what it’s worth, may I mention that my essay “The Screwtape Letters as Epistolary Fiction” is schedule to appear shortly in The Journal of Inklings Studies,


    • First, I do know that there is a study guide, and I have a PDF photocopy of it, somewhere, I think. I haven’t taken the time to read it though. I have heard a bit over Skype of the Hooper audio recording, which was a lot of fun. Dan Hamilton, who worked with Dr. Edwin Brown, has the record or tape set, and WIlliam O’Flaherty has some of it.
      I had never thought to add the guide part, but it is worthwhile.
      Second, I’m pleased that you wrote a paper on Screwtape as epistolary fiction. I look forward to seeing it. I presented on that topic at ISRLC ’14, but did not carry it through to publication as it isn’t at the centre of my thesis.


    • Question: the 1976 guide, was there 2 versions? I have the Wayland Moore illustrated Lord & King edition, and there was a tape set. But was there another print version without pictures but with the guide? There must have been.


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