A prodigious essayist, it is this area of C.S. Lewis’ work that I find the most provocative—even more so than the fiction and apologetics books (though there is overlap in the latter category). Whether inspirational or controversial, his brevity, clarity and wit strike through his reviews, lectures, published letters, editorials, sermons, public controversies, paper, and critical essays.
Essay writing was an area that Lewis excelled in. After the onset of WWII, and not including book reviews, Lewis published essays, sermons, lectures or editorials at a rate of about one every 8 weeks. Beyond these pieces that appeared in local and international journals and collection, much of his popular nonfiction began as essays, lectures, or addresses. Mere Christianity (1952) is a collection of 33 WWII-era BBC talks, and much of the material of Miracles (1947) was tested out on the public during WWII as individual articles, Socratic Club papers, and sermons. Beyond his essay collections proper, the centre of many of his books began as lectures, including A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942), Abolition of Man (1943), The Four Loves (1960), Studies in Words (1960), The Discarded Image (1964), the commentary of Arthurian Torso (1948), and some part of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (1954). Lewis used short pieces and talks to form the base of much of the nonfiction we enjoy the most–and as the foundation of some of the fiction.
One of the struggles as a C.S. Lewis reader is trying to navigate the essay collections. I have 19 anthologies and collections on my shelf, and a quick internet search is going to send you scurrying to about 25 different sources all told. Those sources come from separate UK & US publication streams, as well as a series of revised editions, abridgements, gift editions, selections, and reprints under different names. It’s a bit of a mess.
Fortunately, though, C.S. Lewis sleuth Arend Smilde has worked it all out. Arend wrote “A History of C. S. Lewis’s Collected Shorter Writings, 1939-2000” for the Journal of Inklings Studies (JINKS), and then expanded the essay for web publication after a new volume of essays and book reviews came out in 2013 (called Image and Imagination). In the essay, Arend walks you through the pretty peculiar publication history of Lewis’ shorter pieces. Perhaps even more valuable for the C.S. Lewis reader, Arend has taken the time to list the table of contents of each of the 23 major essay collections, and has reordered the shorter pieces in both alphabetical and chronological order (see this impressive work here).
Arend’s lists were important as I set up my schedule to read Lewis chronologically (though I had to redate things by time of writing, rather than publication), and I find myself frequenting his webpage whenever I need to look something up.
As I have been rereading Lewis this year according to topic instead of chronology, I started to think differently about the shorter pieces. The question finally came to me: How could I read almost every Lewis piece while buying as few volumes as possible? It isn’t just about being cheap! It is tough when someone asks what to read next and there is this whole mess of collections floating around. So what is the simplest way to get the vast majority of Lewis’ shorter pieces in book form?
Using a sohpisticated analytical tool (basically the MS Excel version of pencil crayons), I have determined that you can read every single published Lewis short pieces except one if you have 9 books. My fancy chart at the bottom of the page pretty much maps it out for you. To make the list short enough for the screen I’ve left out most of the short book reviews in Image and Imagination (#9). Except for the four-page essay “Christian Reunion” published in 1990–which you can read here–you can read all of Lewis’ published literary critical pieces, editorials, sermons, addresses, lectures, and essays in these nine books:
- The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (revised and expanded edition, US, 1980): This is a beautiful collection that shouldn’t be confused with the 1949 collection of the same name (or Transpositions and Other Essays in the UK).
- God in the Dock (US, 1970); Undeceptions (UK, 1971): This is the classic collection of essays on theology and ethics. Beware of the tiny abridged God in the Dock (1979). Other abridgements include The Grand Miracle (1982), First and Second Things (1985), and Christian Reunion (1990) with that essay that’s missing from my list below.
- Christian Reflections (UK/US, 1967): These are Christian pieces that are a little lighter in tone, and offer cultural criticism and encouragement to Christian growth. The Seeing Eye (1986) has most, but not all, of these pieces.
- Present Concerns (UK, 1986): While the introduction suggests these are “journalistic,” it is best to think of them as cultural critical and editorial pieces. They are more timely than other things Lewis has written, which also makes some of them dated. Still, fascinating to read.
- Of This and Other Worlds (UK, 1982); On Stories and Other Essays on Literature (US, 1982): This is the most full collection of Lewis’ popular-level pieces on writing, literature, and science fiction. Don’t confuse it with the excellent collection Of Other Worlds (1966), which has about half the essays plus four of the stories that are in The Dark Tower and Other Stories (1977).
- The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (US, 1960): This is a volume that Lewis himself put together with his publisher but has been reprinted in a couple of series. These essays are within the apologetics and popular philosophy category (like God in the Dock part 1).
- Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (UK/US, 1966): This volume contains some essays that introduce the reader to literature from the late middle ages through the time of Milton (roughly 11th-17th centuries), as well as some studies of individual books in that period.
- Selected Literary Essays (UK/US, 1969): A diverse collection that runs from Jane Austen to the King James Bible and all the way back through Tasso to the medieval storytellers.
- Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews (UK/US, 2013): Although published last, this might be the best place for the reader new to Lewis’ academic literature essays. A lot of the books he reviews are great reads, and even the more obscure reviews contain Lewisian wit and knowledge. It also includes some essays that have been out of print for decades.
Some notes: The version I put first in the list is the one I have on my shelf (and typically the most accessible to others); the 3 literary collections (#s6-9) are the same on either continent. You’ll notice there is almost no overlap, so what looked like a complete mess falls into place in 2013 with the release of Image and Imagination. Arend divides the essays between academic (#s7-9) and popular (#s1-6), but the 1st section of God in the Dock (#2) is a bit of a challenge, and much of Image and Imagination (#9) is fairly accessible. We could also divide the books between “Christian” (#s 1, 2, 3, 4, 6) and “literary” (#s 5, 7, 8, 9). There are likely some errors here (a lot of the essays are named various things and I might have messed it up); let me know if you see something.
Wherever your interests lie, I hope this list supplements Arend Smilde’s excellent work to give you the resources you need to track down Lewis’ shorter work. For the burgeoning C.S. Lewis scholar, these are the nine core books that cover the majority of the short pieces you’ll need for your bibliography.