That’s right, Dominic Winter Auctioneers is putting a newly surfaced letter from C.S. Lewis on the auction block. It is a great artifact, as The Daily Mail reports, a generous and light bit of Narnian delight as Lewis answers some questions from schoolchildren at Grittleton House School in Wiltshire. The auctioneers have made photographs of this short, two-page 22 May 1952 letter. The children of Grittleton House–who Lewis calls Grittletonians–were no doubt curious after the release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) and Prince Caspian: Return to Narnia (1951). Not only did Lewis assure them that The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader (1952) would be out in a few months, but that there would be seven stories in all.
Although the letter is very much like one sent to Michael Irwin just a couple of months previously (25 Mar 1952), there are a couple of things really worth noting here. There is, of course, Lewis’ characteristic humour and generosity of spirit to children. And as is usual for him, Lewis encourages the children to read well and write their own stories.
But what is entirely new here? First, I believe this is the first time that we know there will be seven Narnian books. A year later, on 2 Mar 1953, Lewis will tell his publisher that there will only ever be seven Narnian stories. Second, this is I believe the first time that Lewis has used the phrase The Chronicles of Narnia to describe his work. He tends in articles and letters to say “Narnian books” or “Narnian stories.” It was Lewis’ friend and children’s author Roger Lancelyn Green who named the books, which is fitting considering how important he was to their creation.
This is a good result from a new letter, considering how Lewis tended to follow a certain formula in his writing. It gives one hope about how many thousands of letters have never surfaced, and what may be in someone’s photo album or memory chest. Actually, it is almost a “too good to be true” discovery with more than 3,700 letters already in print, but the handwriting is authentic. Hopefully, the new owner will donate the piece to one of the C.S. Lewis archives or at least provide a high-quality copy for researchers. Or, perhaps you could own it–if you have enough $s or £s kicking around!
Following the Dominic Winter Auctioneers/PA photographs of the two-sided letter, I have provided a rough transcription of the letter. Where I have “and” may in some cases be an idiosyncratic ampersand (his stylistic plus sign). I am hoping tomorrow to dig into the details of the letter and provide a new timeline for the creation of Narnia. Thanks to friends in the Virtual C.S. Lewis Society for discovering it.
May 22d. 1952
My dear Grittletonians—Thanks for your nice and interesting letters. Like you, I am sorry that Peter and Susan are not coming back to Narnia, but I think, being the two eldest, they are now getting to the age at which people stop having that sort of adventure for a time—they may start having it again later, but not for some years. The new book is called The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy and Edmund find Caspian (now King of course) on board ship, sailing to the Eastern end of the Narnian world. There will be lots about Reepicheep. And there will be a Sea Serpent, and a Dragon, and lots of strange islands. I do hope you will all like it. I intend to have seven of these stories altogether—that is, four more after the next one. They will be called The Chronicles of Narnia. The
fifth sixth book goes right back to the beginning and explains how there came to be that magic Wardrobe in the Professor’s house—for of course you will have guessed that the old Professor must have known something about things like that himself, or else he would never have believed what the children told him. I don’t know yet what will happen in the seventh. What do you think would be a good thing to end the whole series with? Of course Aslan will come into them all.
I wonder what other books you all like. I like George MacDonald’s two Curdy books, and Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and The Wind in the Willows. Do you write stories yourselves? I did at your age: it is the greatest fun.
Love and good wishes to all,
P.S. E. Nesbitt’s books are splendid, I think: especially The Phoenix and the Wishing Carpet and The Amulet.