Author Neil Gaiman describes how he felt about seeing the allegory in The Chronicles of Narnia.
My upset was, I think, that it made less of Narnia for me, it made it less interesting a thing, less interesting a place. Still, the lessons of Narnia sank deep. Aslan telling the Tash worshippers that the prayers he had given to Tash were actually prayers to Him was something I believed then, and ultimately still believe.
There was big news in the world of C. S. Lewis studies today. Christianity Today released an article by Harry Lee Poe about the discovery of a previously unknown recording of a radio talk by C. S. Lewis. Not a talk for the BBC, but for Iceland, on Her Majesty’s Secret Service, so to speak:
Until now, the general public and the world of scholarship had no idea that C. S. Lewis began his wartime service by undertaking a mission for MI6. Long before James Bond, Lewis rendered service to this clandestine branch of British Intelligence, which was so secret for so long that few people knew of its existence, and few of those knew its actual name. Alternatively known as Military Intelligence, the Secret Service, and MI6, its actual name may be the Secret Intelligence Service. Ian Fleming gave the head of this spy network the code name of M, but in real life he is simply known as the Chief. When Lewis came on board at the beginning of World War II, it was still a fledgling group of amateurs desperately working to save their island home from disaster.
The story is interesting, not only for the revelation of Lewis’ work for British Intelligence, but because it involves one of his all too rare explications of his passion for Norse literature and myth.
I think the title’s a bit misleading, since Jack Lewis was nothing like a spy, but the story’s a big deal nonetheless. Kudos to Harry Lee Poe for his discovery.
Do you view C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters as a standalone work? A Pilgrim in Narnia has discovered something that may indicate Lewis intended his collection of demonic letters to be part of a larger fictional context.
The Screwtape Letters begins with a letter of its own. “I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands. There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.” Your copy of this work attributes this letter to Lewis himself, but one early edition attributes it to someone else, a character from another of Lewis’s works. Brenton Dickieson spells out more details here.
Who is the more enduringly important of the two? Tolkien wrote the greatest work, as evidenced by Germaine Greer’s backhanded compliment: “It has been my nightmare,” she snarled, “that Tolkien would turn out to be the most influential writer of the 20th century. The bad dream has materialized.” Lewis’s claims are broader. A half-century after his death, does any other writer turn up on so many shelves of good bookstores and libraries?
Michael Nelson reviews another one of those books about the Inklings. (via A&L Daily)
“In general, the all-male group shared a longing for that half-imaginary time before man’s alienation from God, nature and self, the time before the chaos and materialism of the post-industrial era had displaced the elegantly organized cosmos of the Middle Ages. In their various ways, each hoped to spearhead a rehabilitation, a re-enchantment of our fallen world.” Michael Dirda reflects on The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. He says the book focuses largely on the men’s religious lives and thoughts.
The Fellowship looks to be a great, detailed introduction to Barfield and Williams, two men close to Lewis and Tolkien but unfamiliar to most of their fans.
Here’s a story that made me laugh, and will probably offend half our readers. It’s another excerpt from Vol. II of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. It comes from one he wrote to his brother Warren on Nov. 5, 1939, when Warren had been recalled to active service in the Second World War:
I heard as good a story as I know this week about old Phelps the Provost of Oriel [College]—you probably remember him, with the beard and the black straw hat. Jenner was a fellow of Jesus [College], a high-minded dissenter and fanatical tee-totaller. He was dining at Oriel and the Provost asked him to take wine with him:
Jenner: Sir, I would rather commit adultery than drink a glass of that.
Provost: (in a low, stern voice) So would we all, Jenner; but not at the table, if you please.
I just received word that Artist Alec Stevens’ graphic novel on Sadhu Sundar Singh is in print and available through Calvary Comics.
Stevens sends this word because of a post Lars wrote in May which mentioned Singh. On our old blog, Lars wrote:
I’m a long-time member of the New York C.S. Lewis Society. In January, 1991, the society’s Bulletin published an article by Lindskoog which appears to be an early version of the “Golden Chain” piece. It was titled, “C.S. Lewis and Sadhu Sundar Singh.” A comparative reading shows that the material is very similar, though much of it has been rearranged. A further difference is that this (apparent) early version features no mention of the Visions book in relation to The Great Divorce.
In response to that article, I wrote a letter to the Bulletin editor. That letter was published in the January 1992 issue (the delay in Bulletin releases in those days was something of an embarrassment). A portion of my letter is reproduced below:
I enjoyed the article [by Kathryn Lindskoog…] on Sadhu Sundar Singh as the original of Lewis’ “Sura” in That Hideous Strength.
I recently picked up a booklet I have owned for many years but never read before, Visions of Sadhu Sundar Singh of India. It was originally published in 1926, and contains a series of teachings on life after death which the Sadhu claimed were revealed to him during ecstatic experiences. He tells of conversations with angels and blessed spirits, and direct visions of heaven and hell and an “intermediate state” between them.
I was intrigued by some apparent similarities between the visions in this book and the scenes in The Great Divorce. The Sadhu pictures the intermediate state as a place where the majority of human souls are met by angels and spirits of saints [and] are given many opportunities and encouragements to believe in Christ and go on to higher and higher states of grace….
…I can’t help wondering whether there is any evidence of Lewis ever reading it. It could have been a spark for his artistic imagination….
I expressed my devout skepticism as regards “intermediate states,” and closed with publication information on the edition of the Visions I owned (which, as it happened, was published by Osterhus Publishing, a small press/bookstore within walking distance of my present home).