Few authors are so gifted that even in their casual, never-intended-to-be-published moments they continuously offer brilliant insights into life.
Of course, here at Mere Inkling we know that C.S. Lewis is one of those few.
I decided to attempt an experiment with this post. It’s motivated by the fact that I’m spending the week watching over three of my grandkids (the youngest of whom is two, and wailing right now . . . be back in a moment. That’s resolved for now, although he wants his sisters to play UNO now, according to his shifting infantile rules.)
For my experiment, I am selecting random pages in Lewis’ three volumes of correspondence. The letters were not written for publication, but I hypothesize that each page will contain some insight or wisdom that merits deeper reflection. I won’t provide the discussion here, I’ll simply select a quotation I believe meets the requirement. (Pagination is from my Kindle copies, so it may be off a bit from the print edition.)
Volume I Page 111
In 1915, Lewis describes to his father a veteran who has recuperated quickly and is in very good spirits. This foreshadows Lewis’ own wounds he will receive in the same military theater.
That Gerald Smythe of whom I told you, who lost an arm in the war, was staying with us last week. He is really wonderful: he has only been out of bed about a month and is going back to the front again next week. It does one good to see a person thoroughly cheerful under circumstances like his, and actually eager to be there again. Even in so short a time he has learnt to be quite independant, and can cut his food, light his pipe, and dress–tho’ how a man can tie a tie with one arm, I don’t know.
In 1917 he describes to his friend Arthur Greeves the difference between prose and poetry.
You have started the question of prose style in your letter and ask whether it is anything more than the ‘literal meaning of the words’. On the contrary it means less–it means the words themselves. For every thought can be expressed in a number of different ways: and style is the art of expressing a given thought in the most beautiful words and rythms of words. For instance a man might say ‘When the constellations which appear at early morning joined in musical exercises and the angelic spirits loudly testified to their satisfaction’. Expressing exactly the same thought, the Authorised Version says ‘When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.’
Volume II Page 111
In a 1933 letter to Greeves, Lewis shares how he has set his expectations low for the reception of his second literary undertaking, based on his first effort.
I had an extremely kind letter from Reid about the book. I think it is going to be at least as big a failure as Dymer, and am consequently trying to take to heart all the things I wrote you when you were bowled over by Reid’s decision on your first novel–not entirely without success. How goes the detective story? [Note: the Reid here is Greeve’s friend, the novelist Forrest Reid (1875–1947).]
In a 1940 letter to his brother Warnie during the latter’s convalescence, Lewis recalls how relaxing how recuperating under medical care comprised some of his fondest memories related to his military service!
I trust it has proved a time worthy to be added to your rich store of blessed periods in sick rooms, ‘san’s,46 and hospitals-pleasant backwaters whence one drowsily hears the roar of the main stream going past. They are certainly among the nicest recollections I have of school and army. One such I spent at Le Tréport with the now probably abolished complaint of ‘Trench Fever’ very early in 1918;47 of specially blessed memory since it was there I first began to conceive that beer was not an utterly unpleasant drink. As my experiments were being made with bottled Bass, it is a little odd that such a result was reached. I remember too nice solitary walks on the ‘front’ of that empty watering place: which, mixed with recollections of the Olderfleet48 in winter and the not disagreeable feebleness of a convalescent’s first walks, increase the general ‘backwater’ feeling.
Volume III Page 111
In a 1951 letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, he relates that only by appreciating things in their proper order (i.e. subordinate to their Creator) can they be truly enjoyed. A keen insight into the nature of idolatry.
it seems to me, the subordination of Nature is demanded if only in the interests of Nature herself. All the beauty of nature withers when we try to make it absolute. Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things. We never get, say, even the sensual pleasure of food at its best when we are being greedy.
In a 1953 letter to a young girl who had sent him drawings of some of Narnia’s characters, Lewis’ extends his appreciation and relates a quaint personal peculiarity.
Reepicheep in your coloured picture has just the right perky, cheeky expression. I love real mice. There are lots in my rooms in College but I have never set a trap. When I sit up late working they poke their heads out from behind the curtains just as if they were saying, ‘Hi! Time for you to go to bed. We want to come out and play.’
That review of letters was fun, and hopefully you enjoyed portions of it as well. It was certainly a good choice for me with no fewer than eight or nine interruptions during its course. Well, the dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets are about ready to come out of the oven, so it’s time to conclude.
6 thoughts on “An Experiment with C.S. Lewis”
I just recently bought a copy of Lewis’s letters (volume II), and a few hours’ worth of reading had its usual devastating effect upon looking up from the book and looking around at my own life, reading list, level of discourse, etc. Thanks for this blog. It is a great solace.
“Devastating” in a good way, I hope. In the sense of tearing down our misconceptions and bulldozing the excuses that prevent us from living a more honest and peaceful life. I could use more of that sort of remodeling, and reading Lewis often ignites the process.
Don’t we all want to know that God works on all of our words, just like Lewis? That is a man who turned his pen over to the Great Author. In Christ,
Very true. In the Fall season of my life I’ve become more conscious than ever that if what I write does not bring glory to God, or serve his beloved creation, it is all for naught.
It is a mystery and Paul writes, how we work in tandem with the Lord. But it works things out that we can’t see.
Yes, a mystery… and a wondrous privilege.