Yatta! Chronological Reading of C.S. Lewis Complete

yatta hiroIt is not every day that I resort to an animated gif to describe my thought processes. But last night, as my 11 year old son, Nicolas, was perfecting his shi ho hai at karate, I finished reading everything that C.S. Lewis (or his literary executors) ever published, in the order it was written.

“Yatta” is a Japanese word I learned when I lived in Nagano. It means “I did it!”, and Hiro from Heroes is the best image I’ve ever seen of how it feels to complete the project. You can see the Japanese word for it on the right in the little dialogue bubble in the 9Wonders comic book.

This little accomplishment represents just over 3 years of going through Lewis’ letters, poems, stories, reviews, essays, sermons, and books one by one, from beginning to end. I begin with his precocious childhood letters to Papy and ended with his last letter (to a young Narnian fan) and the final essay he wrote, “We Have No Right to Happiness.” Last night, as I was watching 17 miniature samarai go through their katas, Lewis had a heart attack in bed, spilling his tea as he fell to the floor. His brother, Warren, found him and was with him when he breathed his last.

I will write a proper post about the project anon. I think it is a valuable project that you can do as well.

CS Lewis 1st Editions Books Photo by Lancia Smith
By my very rough count it is about 60 books worth of reading, or about 21,000 pages, 5,000,000-6,000,000 words. Considering this corpus is made up of some of the most important Christian literature in the 20th century, foundational work in literary history and criticism, classic SF and dystopian books, and a series of fairy tales that changed children’s literature forever–not to mention thousands of letters that shaped the spiritual lives of friends and strangers–it is not a bad legacy of the pen.

Lewis’ work ranges in difficulty from the wondrous ease of Narnia to the complex literary criticism and metrical analyses of Selected Literary Essays. In length, many of Lewis’ books are breezy novella-length pieces like The Great Divorce. His brevity was a real gift, but The Allegory of Love and the snappily titled English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama are weighty books. His longest books are actually the letters collected by Walter Hooper into three volumes (with a fourth in the works). There are by my count 3,274 letters in print, plus another dozen or so unpublished letters that have circulated. Though this probably isn’t even 1/3 of the letters Lewis sent in his his days, it is more than 3,500 pages of reading.

Alongside this reading I also did extra digging into apologetics, epistolary fiction, the 16th century and the reign of the Tudors, WWI and WWII, the Oxbridge educational systems, literary theory, and etymology. Reading Lewis caused me to discover or rediscover Jane Austen, Jonathan Swift, Milton, Dante, Virgil, Homer, Samuel Richardson, H.G. Wells, G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, T.S. Eliot, F. Anstey, Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, John Christopher, E.R. Eddison, George Orwell, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Dorothy L. Sayers, Virginia Woolf, as well as Arthurian traditions and the metaphysical poets. I also read much of Warren Lewis’ diary, and letters by Joy Davidman, Dorothy Sayers, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Finally, once I had a good image of Lewis in my mind (at about 1945), a started reading biographies and secondary literature.

HooperBooksOn top of the published work, I tried to get at the unpublished and incomplete materials. Scholars are steadily putting this in to print, often in journals, but I also had to get to libraries in the U.K. and the U.S. where manuscripts are housed. I wasn’t always able to do this at exactly the right time in the chronology, but I did my best. Fortunately, but the 2010s will be know in Lewis scholarship as the decade where Lewis’ hidden work came to light. Whatever I could find, I read it. What I could share, I have done so.

And now I am done.

Well, sort of. There’s a lot more to go. I won’t start again at day 1 right away. I have to read as much of George MacDonald as I can this year, and I am teaching a new class in May. I am also in a program of reading for my PhD. But I suspect I will re-start the “Reading C.S. Lewis Chronologically” project not too far into the future.

I’m actually a little bit sad. Still, I celebrated a bit last night. And I did some configuring on Goodreads last night so that others could give this project a go. I picked 60 of Lewis’ books that cover 99% of what is in print. I would encourage you to check it out!

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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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30 Responses to Yatta! Chronological Reading of C.S. Lewis Complete

  1. tphillman says:

    well done, Brenton. It gives one quite a sense of accomplishment to complete such an undertaking.

    Like

  2. Congratulations! Sending a virtual high-five!

    Like

  3. Dai jobu deshita! But I understand about feeling a little sad. How wonderful it is, though, that it’s all still there to re-experience.

    Like

  4. sdg says:

    Excellent! I think that I would like to venture through a (partial) chronological reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Marc Drayer says:

    Great, It is a time for celebration! In synagogues, when they finish the Torah cycle, Jewish people have a celebration called Simchat Torah. Maybe you can have a similar celebration finishing your Lewis cycle.

    Like

    • That’s really cool, the idea of a Simchat Lewis! In Jerusalem I got to see the men dance in the street after synagogue, and realized then that when the 80s and flourescent biker shorts and big hair went away, so did the culture of celebration–even if the 80s version was a kind of distended limb version of public celebration. We do not live in the street anymore.

      Like

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Congratulations! (I still haven’t managed in all, in any order, in over 41 years, so far… But I have enjoyed as much as I’ve read (and reread), which is a fair bit…)

    “Reading Lewis caused me to discover or rediscover[…]” – this seems a virtue of all the Four Major Inklings, and Eliot and Sayers, that they are ‘centrifugal’ of whatever – they send you out keen to read things they mention with gusto (or otherwise, come to that).

    I can’t remember whether you’ve posted on this, or not, but I’ve even encountered different people, in print of in person, somewhat disappointed by various bits of their following up in this way on things Lewis writes about or quotes in “The Allegory of Love and the snappily titled English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama” – finding that their experience does not come up to the vividness of the tastes he gives…

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    • I like that image of the spinning centre that flings us out to the edges.
      That’s a great point: is Lewis’ 3 paragraph summary of this author or that actually better than the original author? In this day and age where we value brevity, wit, straightforwardness, mimesis, and simplicity, I suspect those are things Lewis excels at. I certainly do not share his affinity for Sidney. Goodness, I found the Arcadia painful.

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  7. Pingback: Yatta! Chronological Reading of C.S. Lewis Complete | A Pilgrim in Narnia | Khanya

  8. speechless! Actually, one word: “wow!”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. laurielfrodo says:

    Quite the accomplishment! Congratulations, Brenton.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Congratulations! I don’t know how you even made time to read anything else during all this. So which GM book will you be starting? I still have much to read by George MacDonald as well!

    Like

    • I’m a bit overwhelmed by GeoMacD because I have a particular question and don’t know where to start. I have read Lilith, Phantastes, the Princess books, 1/2 the Unspoken Sermons, and a smattering of other things. I’m reading North Wind now, and will finish the Unspoken Sermons in April. I’m not sure after that. Sir Gebbie, maybe?

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      • That’s a hard question…I suppose it depends what you are in the mood for. If you want a novel, then yes, Sir Gibbie is great. If you want more fantasy, then perhaps The Golden Key or The Wise Woman. If you want a combination of things then I’d recommend Adela Cathcart. 🙂

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