Mere Christianity: An Accidental Classic

C.S. Lewis at his desk in August 1960 (Image from the Wade Center's photo collection), and the cover of the HarperCollins 2012 edition of MERE CHRISTIANITY.

C.S. Lewis at his desk in August 1960 (Image from the Wade Center’s photo collection), and the cover of the HarperCollins 2012 edition of MERE CHRISTIANITY.

This blog post is presented in conjunction with the Wade Center’s Summer 2020 series on our Facebook and Instagram platforms titled: “Mere Christianity – Simple Truths.” We are sharing some of Lewis’s thoughts from his classic, Mere Christianity, hoping they will provide you with some valuable food for thought and encouragement, and of course, that they will intrigue you enough to pick up your own copy of Mere Christianity to read and enjoy! You can follow the series under the hashtag #MCSimpleTruths.

The following text provides background on the creation of Mere Christianity, and some reasons for its continued success as a best-selling book. This post was adapted from an article written by Wade Center Co-director, Dr. David C. Downing, of which a condensed version appeared in our 2020 Spring Friends of the Wade newsletter.

C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity has sold over 3.5 million copies in the 21st century, translated into 36 languages so far. In 2000, it was named as the #1 the most influential book among Christian readers, according to a survey conducted by the editors of Christianity Today. In 2005, TIME magazine pronounced C.S. Lewis the “hottest theologian of the year,” more than forty years after Lewis’s passing in 1963.

This is an amazing impact for a book that was released with no fanfare, no advertising campaign, no print reviews, and, of course, no social media. After all, Mere Christianity was not considered to be a new book, but a collection of three previous books published in the U.S. under the titles The Case for Christianity in 1943 (the 1942 British edition of this volume was titled Broadcast Talks), Christian Behavior in 1944, and Beyond Personality in 1945. These books, in turn, were based upon four series of broadcast talks that Lewis gave over BBC Radio between 1941 and 1944.

The three books that became MERE CHRISTIANITY.

Mere Christianity offers a clear and concise introduction to Christian faith, covering apologetics (reasons to believe), basic doctrine, ethics, and theology. The four main sections are well ordered and smoothly written, giving the impression that the book was carefully planned and outlined in advance. Actually the book evolved piece by piece, and there was nothing inevitable about its final published form.

The story begins in February 1941 when J.W. Welch, the head of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), wrote to Lewis inviting him to give a series of four brief talks on a topic of his own choosing. Welch had been impressed by Lewis’s book The Problem of Pain (1940), and he suggested that Lewis might talk about modern literature as viewed by a Christian or else the Christian faith itself as understood by a layperson. Lewis was interested in both topics, but he chose the second one—one of those “two roads diverging” moments that may have influenced the rest of Lewis’s life and his ongoing legacy.

Lewis gave four 15-minute talks over BBC Radio in August 1941. Rather than beginning his first talk with some generic introduction, Lewis jumped right into his topic: “Everyone has heard people quarreling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kinds of things people say.” After giving several examples, Lewis observes that in most arguments people assume some moral standard that the other person has broken. He goes on to show that all of us judge others by these ethical guidelines, but all of us fall short of our own ideals.

Lewis spent most of those first four talks discussing an “internal Moral Law.” He felt that many people of his generation had lost all conviction of sin. They seemed to view human deficiencies in terms of psychological complexes or social injustices. Lewis felt that his listeners could not hear the good news of salvation until it was clear to them that they were indeed lost and in need of saving.

The first series of radio talks generated so much interest—over a million listeners by the end of August—that the producers of the BBC asked him to add a fifth talk to answer the deluge of letters that had that came pouring in. Before the series had even ended, Lewis was asked to do a second series of talks, and then a third, and a fourth. By the end of World War II, it is said that Lewis’s voice was one of the most recognized on BBC Radio, after that of Winston Churchill himself.

In his fine book C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography (2016),* George M. Marsden documents the ongoing legacy of Lewis’s classic book, noting the key role it has played in the lives of people as diverse as Charles Colson, Pope John Paul II, George Gallup, Jr., J.I. Packer, and Philip Yancey. Marsden goes on to list the qualities that have given this work its permanent value, stating that Mere Christianity

  • Seeks timeless truths instead of culturally bound insights
  • Uses human nature as a point of contact with audiences
  • Presents reasoning in the context of experience, feelings, imagination
  • Uses metaphors and analogies to appeal to the mind’s eye
  • Presents “mere Christianity,” minimizing denominational differences
  • Captures the luminosity of the Gospel message itself

It could be argued that the traits listed above are hallmarks of all of Lewis’s writings. That is, he was successful as lay theologian, literary scholar, and even children’s writer because he was so consistently able to blend intellect and imagination, and to write with a depth of insight conveyed with masterful clarity and simplicity. We can be thankful for C.S. Lewis’s decision to write a series of radio broadcasts to bolster the spirits of his fellow British citizens, and the impact those same words still carry for us today.

*The statistics in this article are taken from Marsden’s book.


Mere Christianity Resources

UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOKS

  1. Read by Geoffrey Howard
  2. Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

STUDY GUIDES

  1. Brown, Devin. Discussing Mere Christianity: Exploring the History, Meaning & Relevance of C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015 (study guide and video)
  2. Mitchell, Christopher W. Mere Christianity: The Book, the Idea, and the Legacy. Free online study guide videos and resources presented by the C.S. Lewis Institute, 2010. Chris Mitchell was a former director of the Wade Center.

SCHOLARSHIP

  1. Marsden, George M. C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016
  2. McCusker, Paul. C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity: The Crisis that Created a Classic. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014
  3. Phillips, Justin. C.S. Lewis in a Time of War: The World War II Broadcasts That Riveted a Nation and Became the Classic Mere Christianity. New York : HarperSanFrancisco, 2002 – alternate title: C.S. Lewis at the BBC: Messages of Hope in the Darkness of War. London: HarperCollins, 2002

RELATED MEDIA

  1. C.S. Lewis at War: The Dramatic Story Behind Mere Christianity. Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, 2013 (audio drama)
  2. Marsden, George. “Mere Christianity and American Culture” lecture at the “C.S. Lewis and American Culture” conference held at Wheaton College, November 2013 (free audio recording)

In Times of Uncertainty by Marjorie Lamp Mead

This piece was originally written as a special devotional for members of the Blanchard Society, which is an honorary group of people who have remembered Wheaton College in their estate plans.

“The great thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.”
– C.S. Lewis, “Cross-Examination” in God in the Dock

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”
– Proverbs 3:5-6 (KJV)

The pulpit in St. Mary the Virgin Church, Oxford, where Lewis preached the sermon, “Learning in War-Time,” later published in the collection, The Weight of Glory.

On October 22, 1939, C.S. Lewis delivered an Evensong message to the students and faculty at Oxford University. These were still the early days of World War II, but having served in the trenches of France during the First World War, Lewis understood only too well the horror of what these young undergraduates were facing. Indeed, the likelihood that the majority of them would not survive the war was all too probable. Given this context, perhaps some will find it surprising that rather than stir these students to courageous action or even attempt to strengthen them as they looked towards the unknown future, Lewis instead chose to talk about the importance of living the life they were currently pursuing, with integrity and dedication, as long as circumstances permitted.

St. Mary the Virgin Church, Oxford

In this case, as members of the University, they were called at this particular moment to the pursuit of knowledge, no matter that their own future remained uncertain. As Lewis explained, “I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. . . . We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal life’. Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil . . . , turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies.”

What Lewis is saying here was not intended to be dismissive of the stark situation that all of them were facing, rather he was reminding them that every one of us lives each day in a world of uncertainty. Circumstances, such as war or a pandemic, do not create a new reality; they simply bring the actual reality home more forcefully. The truth remains, that whether our outward circumstances appear to be calm or whether we are being buffeted in the midst of a storm, we are still mortals living in a fallen world subject to numerous things apart from our control.

Today, we face different circumstances with the spread of this pandemic, but nonetheless, a similar reality. As we experience our own battle with societal upheaval on a global scale along with considerable suffering and significant loss of life that few of us have ever known firsthand, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed. How do we best deal with this sobering reality? Lewis offers wise counsel for this challenge.

C.S. Lewis ca. 1940. Image property of the Wade Center.

First of all, Lewis reassures us that fear and anxiety are a normal human reaction to times of great stress, reminding us that “No man—and specially no Christian who remembers Gethsemane—need try to attain a stoic indifference about these things.” However, this does not mean that we are left alone to cope with our distress. Rather, to quote Lewis once again, “A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord’. It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

The theme of appropriately focusing on the present is found throughout Lewis’s writings. For example, in The Screwtape Letters, written during WWII, he emphasizes the importance of accepting “with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to [us]” rather than imagining what might possibly occur. This was not glib advice on the part of Lewis nor was he personally untouched by suffering. In fact, in his own life, he faced many significant challenges with the earliest being the death of his mother when he was just a young boy of nine. There were other great hardships as well including the ordeal of his war experience, the sorrow of his brother Warren’s long struggle with alcoholism, the deterioration of his “adopted” mother, Mrs. Moore, into dementia, and finally the death of his American wife Joy from cancer following their brief, but very happy marriage.

A young boy named Leslie plants a Union Flag into the pile of rubble and debris that is all that is left of his home, following an air raid on London, 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196794

In what ways did these traumatic experiences influence Lewis? One helpful insight is offered in this poignant reflection from his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: “With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security.” During these difficult days as we struggle to adjust to the tremendous disruption caused by COVID-19, we may find ourselves resonating with Lewis’s words on the loss of a sense of safety — or as he put it, we may discover that we have “no more of the old security.”

So, where does that leave us? How do we find firm footing, if we can no longer count on the world around us to be a place of relative safety? Turning to Lewis once again, we find that he encourages us to realize that this very uncertainty can be a blessing if it causes us to depend upon God more fully. Well and good, we may think, but how do we accomplish that? How do we learn to trust in the midst of uncertainty? In his classic work Mere Christianity, while discussing the meaning of faith, Lewis advises, “There are a great many things that cannot be understood until after you have gone a certain distance along the Christian road.” He then goes on to confess that at a certain point in his own Christian life, after much effort and resultant failure, he found himself admitting to God, “You must do this. I can’t.” Surprisingly, this acknowledgement of our weakness is actually good news, he explains, since an explicit acceptance of our own failure is the very thing that enables us to make “the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.”

However, to most of us at this moment, this may not sound like the good news we were hoping for: truly, why should we rejoice at finding ourselves weak and inadequate? Listen to these words from our Lord in the opening verse of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3): “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Throughout the beatitudes, Jesus turns our human logic upside down, as He offers a very different viewpoint than the one we invariably receive from secular culture. In this verse, the most common reading of “poor in spirit” is to understand it as meaning “humble” –  certainly, not a trait our own world values highly when most individuals strive instead for positions of power, wealth, and even celebrity status. A less traditional rendering of this verse by Eugene Peterson in his version The Message offers additional perspective: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and his rule.”

The encouragement that “you’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope” is exactly what Lewis is attempting to share with us. Indeed, this crucial turning point in his own faith journey came about when he quit relying solely upon his own futile efforts and instead began to trust more deeply in God’s care for him. In The Gift of Being Yourself (IVP), Christian psychologist, David G. Benner shares his understanding of this same difficult yet essential process of learning to trust divine love:

“Coming to know and trust God’s love is a lifelong process. Making this knowledge the foundation of our identity—or better, allowing our identity to be re-formed around this most basic fact of our existence—will also never happen instantly. Both lie at the core of the spiritual transformation that is the intended outcome of Christ-following. Every time I dare to meet God in the vulnerability of my sin and shame, this knowing is strengthened. Every time I fall back into a self-improvement mode and try to bring God my best self, it is weakened. I only know Divine unconditional, radical and reckless love for me when I dare to approach God just as I am. The more I have the courage to meet God in this place of weakness, the more I will know myself to be truly and deeply loved by God. And the more deeply I know this love, the easier it will be to trust it as Christ did—preferring God’s will to my own.”

Like Lewis, Benner identifies that coming to God with a willingness to acknowledge our sin and failures, and saying to God (in Lewis’s words), “You must do this. I can’t”, is a key first step in the process of our learning to trust. However, it is important to note that the act of trusting and thereby leaving things in God’s hands, did not mean that Lewis was proposing a life of passivity. To the contrary, he understood that genuine trust must always lead to obedient actions. Thus, far from advising that we abdicate action, Lewis believed instead that we must experience a change in attitude from one of self-reliance to one of profound trust in God in all that we do.

1st British edition of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Geoffrey Bles, 1952.

During the uncertain days of WWII, part of Lewis’s own call to action was his willingness to give talks on the Christian faith over the BBC radio. These important talks would later be gathered into the single volume that we know as Mere Christianity. More than we might realize today, these broadcasts involved both the hardship of wartime travel as well as the hazards of being in war-torn London. These radio talks were not Lewis’s only actions in support of the British people during these years, but they were among his most courageous, for there was a strong expectation that the Nazis would eventually invade England as they already had done in countries throughout most of Europe. If this invasion had been successful, Lewis and others who were outspoken on behalf of the Christian faith believed it likely that they would have been imprisoned in concentration camps. (For example, Dorothy Sayers wrote to her son in June 1940, “In the event of a German occupation of this country, which is possible, though I think not probable, be careful not to advertise your connection with me; writers of my sort will not be popular with the Gestapo.”) Thus it was, in spite of significant reason to fear, Lewis continued to act in obedience, doing what was needed to help others, aided by his deepening trust in God.

In spite of these gravely uncertain times, we who follow the Risen Lord rejoice in the certainty of His love and care for us, no matter the tumult of external circumstances. In closing, I offer, with permission, these powerful words from Anglican poet and theologian, Malcolm Guite, who speaks confidently of the reality that Jesus is truly with us this very day, bringing His promised light into the darkness of our world. May we all be emboldened to place our trust, not in our own frail abilities, but rather in the strong presence of Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

“Easter 2020”
Malcolm Guite

And where is Jesus, this strange Easter day?
Not lost in our locked churches, anymore
Than he was sealed in that dark sepulchre.
The locks are loosed; the stone is rolled away,
And he is up and risen, long before,
Alive, at large, and making his strong way
Into the world he gave his life to save,
No need to seek him in his empty grave.

He might have been a wafer in the hands
Of priests this day, or music from the lips
Of red-robed choristers, instead he slips
Away from church, shakes off our linen bands
To don his apron with a nurse: he grips
And lifts a stretcher, soothes with gentle hands
The frail flesh of the dying, gives them hope,
Breathes with the breathless, lends them strength to cope.

On Thursday we applauded, for he came
And served us in a thousand names and faces
Mopping our sickroom floors and catching traces
Of that virus which was death to him:
Good Friday happened in a thousand places
Where Jesus held the helpless, died with them
That they might share his Easter in their need,
Now they are risen with him, risen indeed. **

**For those who are interested, a beautiful audio recording of “Easter 2020” read by the poet can be found on Malcolm Guite’s website.

A video of this post is also available on the Wade Center’s YouTube Channel:


Marjorie Lamp MeadMarjorie Lamp Mead is Associate Director of the Marion E. Wade Center, and Executive Editor of VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center. She has been at the Wade Center since  1977, and holds a B.A. in English Literature and an M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies, both from Wheaton College.

Sayers’s Wartime Writing

Christ of the CreedsWade Center friend, Katy Wehr, has written a post inspired by the Wade Center’s recent blog post about the Wade authors’ recommended readings during uncertain times.

Head over to Katy’s site to read her post and learn more about the wartime writings of Dorothy L. Sayers.

Katy has a PhD in Divinity from the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Her research and writing focuses on Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) and her landmark 1940’s radio plays on the life of Christ: The Man Born to be King.

“Those Who Lived to see Such Times”: Suggested Readings from the Wade Authors during Times of Uncertainty

C.S. Lewis at RAF Chaplaincy School, 1944

C.S. Lewis at R.A.F. Chaplaincy School, 1944. Image in the public domain. Original print at R.A.F. Chaplaincy Branch Archive, R.A.F. Museum, Hendon, London.

The world is currently experiencing a unique and unsettling time with the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). As you are aware, most businesses have closures or limited services, cultural and social centers such as libraries and museums (including the Wade Center) are closed to the public, large public events have been cancelled, and individuals are being encouraged to keep their distance for safety in order to prevent the spread of the virus. This isolation is hard, and it has made many fearful. However, our current circumstances are very reminiscent of what five of the seven Wade authors experienced while living in 20th century Britain through some of the most difficult periods in modern history. During this time, they witnessed both world wars, and four of them (Owen Barfield, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and J.R.R. Tolkien) lived to see the unsettling days of nuclear weapons. Rationing was also a problem during these war years, as supplies were limited, certainties rare, and little luxuries or meaningful moments with loved ones all the more precious.

Dorothy L. Sayers during World War II

Dorothy L. Sayers during World War II in her Air Raid Warden attire. Image property of the Wade Center. From the Muriel St. Clare Byrne Collection archive.

During weeks of nightly bombings in Britain during World War II, Sayers and Tolkien served as Air Raid Wardens, helping to enforce public safety measures and watch for bomb threats. C.S. Lewis served in the Home Guard in and around Oxford. He was also writing weekly newspaper installments that later became The Screwtape Letters and traveling regularly to speak to Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) servicemen and chaplains. In addition, Lewis gave radio talks on the BBC that encouraged listeners and shared basic truths of Christianity to homes all across Britain, pointing people to God and to eternal things beyond the chaos of war. These radio talks were later published as Mere Christianity. Tolkien was writing letters to his son serving in the R.A.F., and steadily penning The Lord of the Rings. Sayers’s war work was prodigious. In addition to her radio dramas on the life of Christ, The Man Born to be King, she gave a number of broadcast talks designed to encourage the British people during the hardships of war. She also worked on several writing projects including a collaboration with other writers on works that, they hoped, would help rebuild society once the war was over.

Apart from their war work, all seven of the Wade authors, and the works they produced for the audiences of the past, still have much to offer us today, particularly in this unprecedented moment of history. There is good reason why these particular books are still available as their words hold power to instruct and encourage us now as they have done for thousands of other people over the decades. In this regard, both fiction and non-fiction works are valuable in the different ways that they interact with the human mind, heart, and soul. Let your preferences direct what you read. In other words, select books that you enjoy and also what you feel would be most helpful.

The Wade Center staff has selected a number of titles for recommended reading, with a brief description of each. Please share this information with others in need of good reading resources. While library and business closures may make some of these works harder to obtain, there are also digital methods of purchase and access that will be highlighted. We also encourage readers to continue to enjoy these titles once the Coronavirus emergency has ended as they are applicable for all seasons, and life will continue to have future challenges. There is no expiration date on the nourishment that good words give.

For those of us living to see such times as these, we leave the last words to Gandalf the wizard from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings:

“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter 2

C.S. LEWIS – Recommended Readings

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity: One of Lewis’s most famous works of apologetics providing an overview of the tenets of faith held in common by all Christians. This is a compilation of the talks Lewis gave over B.B.C. Radio during World War II. Available in a variety of print formats, on Kindle, and audiobook.

“Learning in War-Time”: This pivotal essay was first given by Lewis as a sermon in St. Mary the Virgin Church in Oxford on December 22, 1939, and was originally published as “None Other Gods: Culture in War Time.” It is Lewis’s defense for the value of the practice of learning, and the necessity of maintaining life-giving pursuits, even in the midst of war. Available in the book The Weight of Glory in a variety of print formats, on Kindle, and audiobook.

“On Living in an Atomic Age”: First published as an article in 1948, this essay by Lewis discusses how to think and live in the era of uncertainty with the coming of the atomic bomb. The piece appeared three years after atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Available in the book Present Concerns in print or Kindle formats.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Lewis’s beloved seven-book series of tales and adventures that take place in the magical world of Narnia. A favorite choice for both children and adults, the Narnia series is available in a wide variety of editions including print, Kindle, and audiobook. There is also a dramatized version produced by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre and adapted by Paul McCusker; this is available for purchase and digital download.

For more resources on C.S. Lewis, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.

J.R.R. TOLKIEN – Recommended Readings

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien’s epic fantasy tale which takes readers to Middle-earth, the home of elves, dwarves, hobbits, and many other inhabitants. In this story, Frodo the hobbit and his companions embark on a perilous quest to destroy the One Ring and defeat the Dark Lord Sauron. Available in a variety of print editions, on Kindle, and audiobook. A B.B.C. Radio full-cast dramatization, adapted by Brian Sibley, is also available for digital download.

The Hobbit: The prelude to The Lord of the Rings in which Bilbo the hobbit, a band of dwarves, and Gandalf the wizard set off to recapture stolen treasure from Smaug the dragon. Available in a variety of print editions, on Kindle, and audiobook. A B.B.C. Radio full-cast dramatization is also available for digital download.

“On Fairy-Stories”: Tolkien’s famous essay defending and explaining the genre of fairy tales and fantasy literature. This work is included in the following titles, all available in a variety of print formats: Tree and Leaf, The Tolkien Reader, Tales from the Perilous Realm. Audiobook and Kindle versions are available for Tales from the Perilous Realm, which also includes several short stories by Tolkien, and is read by Derek Jacobi.

For more resources on J.R.R. Tolkien, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.

DOROTHY L. SAYERS – Recommended Readings

The Man Born to be King by Dorothy L. Sayers

THE MAN BORN TO BE KING by Dorothy L. Sayers

“Why Work?”: In this essay by Sayers, she defines vocation as purposeful, creative, and a sacred act in that it glorifies God. The famous quote: “The only Christian work is good work well done” comes from this essay. You can find it in Letters to a Diminished Church, discussed below.

Letters to a Diminished Church: In this title, Sayers brings doctrines of the church to life, showing how they are applicable today, and ways in which they are incorporated with science, literature, and history. In addition to the “Why Work” essay discussed above, other recommended essay titles include: “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” “The Triumph of Easter,” and “Creed or Chaos?” Available in print and Kindle formats. Many of the same essays are also available in an earlier anthology, The Whimsical Christian.

Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories: Sayers is a masterful detective fiction writer. Her detective, the  aristocrat Lord Peter Wimsey, is featured in a number of novels and short stories. A listing of the novels is available on the Wade Center’s website. Titles are available in a print, Kindle, and audiobook formats.

The Man Born to be King: A twelve-play cycle based on the life of Christ. These religious dramas were originally broadcast as radio plays on B.B.C. Radio and are now available in book form. C.S. Lewis read this play cycle annually as part of his Lenten devotions. The current in-print version is available in paperback or Kindle edition.

For more resources on Dorothy L. Sayers, see her author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.

GEORGE MACDONALD – Recommended Readings

Since the works of George MacDonald are now entirely in the public domain, you can find most of them free and available online.

Project Gutenberg: This free e-book site offers a wide variety of the works of George MacDonald and many other authors.

LibriVox: For those who enjoy audiobooks, LibriVox offers a vast assortment of audiobook material from books in the public domain, including works by George MacDonald. These audio recordings are made by volunteer readers from around the world, and vary in quality of reading, but are a great way to explore various works of literature. You may also find that different chapters in a book have different readers.

Amazon Kindle: Kindle users will also be able to find many of MacDonald’s works available at very low prices, such as the Complete Works currently selling for $0.99. 

Individual Recommended Titles by George MacDonald

The Wise Woman by George MacDonald

THE WISE WOMAN by George MacDonald

The Wise Woman: A fairy tale of two spoiled children, a princess and a shepherd’s daughter, their choices, and their dealings with a kind but firm guardian, the Wise Woman, who is determined to save them from themselves. Alternate titles for this work are: The Lost Princess and A Double Story.

Unspoken Sermons: Three volumes of essays by George MacDonald on theological topics. Recommended titles: “The Consuming Fire,” “Light,” and “The Truth in Jesus.”

Fairy Tales: The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie are novel-length fairy tales, and are enjoyable for readers of all ages. Try reading them aloud with your family. Other recommended shorter fairy tales are: “The Golden Key,” “The Light Princess,” and “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” (alternate title: “The Romance of Photogen and Nycteris”).

Sir Gibbie: One of MacDonald’s most beloved realistic fiction novels. The story is set in the highlands of Scotland and centers on an orphan boy who cannot speak, but whose life is full of love and generosity.

For more resources on George MacDonald, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.

G.K. CHESTERTON – Recommended Readings

Many of the works of G.K. Chesterton are in the public domain and available free online.

Project Gutenberg: This free e-book site offers a wide variety of the works of Gilbert Keith Chesterton and many other authors.

LibriVox: For those who enjoy audiobooks, LibriVox offers a vast assortment of audiobook material from books in the public domain, including works by G.K. Chesterton. These audio recordings are made by volunteer readers from around the world, and vary in quality of reading, but are a great way to explore various works of literature. You may also find that different chapters in a book have different readers.

Amazon Kindle: Kindle users will also be able to find many of Chesterton’s works available at very low prices, such as The G.K. Chesterton Collection (50 books) currently selling for $1.99. 

Individual Recommended Titles by G.K. Chesterton

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

ORTHODOXY by G.K. Chesterton

Orthodoxy: G.K. Chesterton’s highly regarded work of apologetics and his spiritual autobiography. This work forms the core of all that is Chesterton. If you only read one book by G.K. Chesterton, let it be this one.

Father Brown detective stories: Father Brown is Chesterton’s brilliant detective who also happens to be a Catholic priest. There are five collections of short detective stories, the first one titled The Innocence of Father Brown.

The Man Who Was Thursday: What is often described as a “metaphysical mystery thriller” and one of Chesterton’s finest novels. The setting of Edwardian era London forms the backdrop to the investigation of Gabriel Syme, poet and amateur police detective, who is on assignment to uncover the truth behind a ring of anarchists – arriving upon conclusions no one could have foreseen.

The Everlasting Man: A history of humanity, Christ, and Christianity which serves to some extent as a rebuttal of H.G. Wells’s The Outline of History. This book greatly influenced the faith of C.S. Lewis and was listed in his top ten list of influential books.

Manalive: A novel about not taking life for granted, and seeing the world through eyes of wonder. Follow the exploits of Innocent Smith, and judge for yourself just how “innocent” he really is.

For more resources on G.K. Chesterton, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.

OWEN BARFIELD – Recommended Readings

This Ever Diverse Pair by Owen Barfield

THIS EVER DIVERSE PAIR by Owen Barfield

This Ever Diverse Pair: An autobiographical novel which explores the divergence between a man and his professional persona, personified as two co-workers in a law office who know just the right pressure points to annoy each other in a number of humorous and poignant scenarios. Barfield wrote this book at a time when his practice of the law felt to be stifling his creativity as a writer and thinker. Available as a paperback edition.

Poetic Diction: A study of the metaphors, style, and vocabulary used in poetic language with additional commentary on myth and the origins of language. This work was influential for both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Available as a paperback edition.

For more resources on Owen Barfield, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.

CHARLES WILLIAMS – Recommended Readings

Descent of the Dove by Charles Williams

THE DESCENT OF THE DOVE by Charles Williams

Descent of the Dove: A non-fiction work outlining the history of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Available in paperback and Kindle editions.

The Place of the Lion: One of Williams’s seven novels described as “supernatural thrillers.” In this story, archetypes are embodied as gigantic animals roaming the earth, such as the Lion of Strength and the Butterfly of Beauty. Their interactions in the world cause havoc, but also produce engaging insights into the hearts of the humans they encounter. This book was highly admired by C.S. Lewis when he first read it in February 1936, and helped start the friendship between Lewis and Williams. Available in print and Kindle editions.

Image of the City and other Essays: A selection of essays by Williams which serves as an introduction to the diversity of his work as well as providing great insight into his thought and the various recurring themes in his works. Available in print and Kindle editions.

For more resources on Charles Williams, see his author resources page on the Wade Center’s website. It includes a bibliography of works organized by genre.

In Fine Frenzy Rolling by Crystal Downing, Wade Center Co-Director

Reflections on the Muriel Fuller Endowment Inaugural Event

As is well known, Shakespeare stole almost all his plots. Yet no one would question his ability to create powerful art that continues to speak to us today. As poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge put it over 200 years later, “plot is the canvas only” upon which Shakespeare painted his art.[i]

Like Shakespeare and Coleridge, The Marion E. Wade Center values plots from the past—written by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield—knowing that they can inspire new forms of creative expression. The Muriel Fuller Endowment for Imagination and the Arts was therefore established to celebrate artistic endeavors inspired by our seven authors.

For the endowment’s inaugural event on September 25, 2018, we invited two British scholars, Dr. Malcolm Guite and Dr. Michael Ward, to reflect about the importance of the arts for communicating the Gospel. Chairing the conversation in Barrows Auditorium was Dr. Jerry Root, Professor of Evangelism and Director of the Evangelism Initiative at Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center, which collaborated with the Wade Center to sponsor the event. Dr. Root reminded us of Lewis’s assertion that creative fiction enables writers and their readers to get “past watchful dragons” that prohibit new ways of thinking about Christian truth. Lewis, of course, got past watchful dragons by taking readers through a wardrobe in order to introduce them to Aslan.

Malcolm Guite and Michael Ward in conversation with Jerry Root at the September 25 event.

While a video of the conversation with Drs. Ward and Guite can be accessed through the Wade Center’s YouTube channel, I’d like to draw attention to several highlights of the event. Dr. Guite, who is part of the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University, testified to the importance of Lewis for his own conversion to Christianity. However, while most people cite Mere Christianity as key to their decision to follow Christ, Dr. Guite credited Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost. In other words, Lewis’s ability to highlight the artistry of a great Christian poet, John Milton, spoke to Guite’s heart by way of his imagination. Inspired by Lewis’s celebration of Milton’s artistry, Dr. Guite has published five books of poetry, breathing new life into the poetic form practiced by Shakespeare: the sonnet. Significantly, during the Fuller event, Dr. Guite quoted from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream to explain the importance of poetry:

The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.  (V. 1. 12-17)

Michael Ward and Malcolm Guite showing off their shirt designs, which fit the “creativity” theme of the evening!

Dr. Ward has become famous for glancing from heaven to earth and earth to heaven in his award-winning book Planet Narnia, which aligns the seven Narnia Chronicles with the seven planets. Having excited the imaginations of Narnia fans around the world, Dr. Ward reminded us of Lewis’s important assertion that there is no such thing as “Christian literature” just as there is no such thing as “Christian cooking.” Instead, to quote C. S. Lewis’s friend Dorothy L. Sayers, “Christian work is good work well done”[ii]—whether in the form of sonnet, soufflé, or scholarship.

Both speakers demonstrated good work well done the next evening as they delivered lectures to an overflow crowd in the Bakke Auditorium at The Marion E. Wade Center. The evening was begun with a biographical sketch of Muriel Fuller by her nephew, David Fuller, who made possible the Muriel Fuller Endowment for Imagination and the Arts. Dr. Guite then followed by discussing the imagination of Coleridge before celebrating the artistry of Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as Sayers’s exciting translations of Dante. Dr. Ward, Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Blackfriars Hall and Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, followed with an overview of his argument in Planet Narnia, eliciting insightful questions from audience members.

To encapsulate the importance of imagination and the arts for Christians, I’d like to close with a line from the original song sung by Dr. Guite at the end of the first evening. Using words from Scripture as the canvas upon which to paint new art, Guite sang to Christ his Lord, “I’ll be word made flesh for you.”


[i] Quoted in Crystal Downing, “A Rose by Any Other Name: The Plague of Language in Romeo and Juliet,” in The Ignatius Critical Edition of Romeo and Juliet, ed. Joseph Pearce (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 165.

[ii] Dorothy L. Sayers, “Why Work?” in Creed or Chaos? (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute, 1974), 78.

A Place for “Till We Have Faces,” by David C. Downing, Wade Center Co-Director

Recently the Wade Center unveiled a new display in its museum space, recounting the story of C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces (1956) and how it came to be written. The exhibit features the portable Royal typewriter upon which Joy Davidman typed the novel, as well as a colorful afghan she crocheted for Lewis.

Museum display featuring Joy’s typewriter, and first editions of TILL WE HAVE FACES by C. S. Lewis (Left: British, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1956; Right: American, New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1957).

In 1960 Lewis sadly noted about Till We Have Faces in a letter, “that book, which I consider far and away the best I have written, has been my one big failure both with critics and with the public.” But time can heal wounds and bring fresh perspectives, and Lewis’s late novel is now generally regarded as one of his best, if not the best. As scholar Doris Myers explained, “The cure for such disappointment [of Lewis’s early reviewers] is to realize that Lewis is doing better and much more difficult things than his readers demand of him” (Myers, 213).

The point is well made. Lewis’s readers had been accustomed to enjoying a clear sense of “the good guys vs. the bad guys” in his stories, along with accessible Christian themes. But Lewis offered a number of bold innovations in this, his last novel. For one thing, the main character is not a guy at all—she is Queen Orual of Glome, a fictional kingdom between Europe and Asia in the third century before Christ (Myers, 194).

Orual assumes through most of the story that she is one of the “good,” a loving sister and dutiful monarch, who has been wrongly vilified by chroniclers. Since she lives in a time and place unreached by the Gospel, we cannot expect Orual to find her true self by means of direct Christian conversion. But the Spirit blows where he wishes, and so, in the end, the embittered queen comes to understand that her “case against the gods” is entirely unfounded:  she herself has been the victimizer, in the name of fiercely possessive love, rather than a victim. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the protagonist of the story learns eventually that “the fault lies not in our gods but in ourselves.”

The novel is subtitled A Myth Retold because it is a reworking of the story of Cupid and Psyche, first recounted by the Roman tale-spinner Apuleius. Ever since Lewis’s undergraduate days, he wanted to retell the story with a much psychologically nuanced portrayal of Psyche’s siblings. In his mid-twenties, Lewis wrote 156 lines of rhyming couplets recasting the Psyche story, a fragment now preserved in “The Lewis Papers” at the Wade Center. In this early version, the beautiful Psyche had an equally attractive brother, Jardis, and motherly older sister, Caspian. The sibling characters completely evolved in later drafts, but those names, or something very like them, did not go to waste in Lewis’s later fiction!

Joy and C. S. Lewis, 1958.

While Joy Davidman and her two sons were visiting the Kilns in March 1955, Lewis complained to her that he was in a creative dry spell. The two of them “kicked a few ideas around” that evening, and Joy was amazed to discover the next day that “Jack” had already written the first chapter! Joy felt that Lewis was a far more gifted writer than she was, but that she “helped him write more like himself,” and that he found her advice “indispensable” (Hooper, 247-248).

Joy continued to discuss the unfolding story with Lewis, and she used her Royal typewriter to turn his inky handwritten pages into neat typescript. She may have been something of a creative collaborator on the project, as some of Orual’s life-experiences seem to reflect Joy’s past more than Jack’s. Joy’s son, Douglas Gresham, believes that it was his mother who gave Lewis the boldness to write an entire novel from a female point of view.

After getting off to a slow start, both commercially and critically, Till We Have Faces has been steadily growing in the esteem of readers and reviewers. This fall Dr. Rolland Hein, Professor of English, Emeritus, at Wheaton has been leading a Saturday morning study group on the novel at the Wade Center, to overflow audiences from the College and surrounding community. As Dr. Hein explains the ongoing appeal of Lewis’s classic tale, “In Till We Have Faces, Lewis is at his best, giving insights towards the end of his life on such vital subjects as the importance of spiritual perception and the nature of final judgment.  It’s a must read for all who are interested in Lewis’s thought.”

Detail of the afghan.

Sources cited: The most helpful single resource on Till We Have Faces is probably Walter Hooper’s masterful C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide (1996). Two other insightful and useful studies are Peter J. Schakel’s Reason and Imagination in C. S. Lewis (1984) and Doris T. Myers’s C. S. Lewis in Context (1994). The quotation from Lewis’s letter is taken from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 3, p. 1181 (to Anne Scott, August 26, 1960).

The Wade Authors in the Blogosphere

Blogs come in a variety of topics and formats. They invite in-depth looks at a multitude of topics, as well as glimpses into the lives and interests of people from around the world. In the case of the Wade authors, there are a number of scholars, enthusiasts, and organizations dedicated to the study of their lives and works that offer some helpful resources delivered via blogs; including the Wade Center (as is evident to you, our readers).

In this post, we will take a look at some of the blogs where the Wade authors are studied and appreciated. This is by no means a comprehensive list! We hope it will serve as a useful starting point to whet your appetite for continued exploration and as a means to learning more about the seven authors of the Wade Center and related subject areas. The following details were gathered from the blogs directly, so if you manage one of the blogs below and have additional or updated descriptions, please contact us.

Have other suggestions for intriguing Wade related blogs? Post them in the comments below!

*Note that we are not including podcasts or general websites in these lists; rather, we are defining a blog as a regular series of textual, date-stamped posts.

 

Along-the-Beam

Image from: alongthebeam.com

BROAD TOPICS & MULTIPLE WADE AUTHORS

These blogs discuss multiple Wade authors and/or related topics.

Diana Pavlac Glyer blog: A blog of intermittent posts from Lewis, Tolkien, and Inklings scholar Diana Glyer. She is Professor of English at Azusa Pacific University.

“I Have An Inkling” blog by Mark Sommer: Posts about news, books, and other topics relating to the Inklings, which included 4 of the 7 Wade authors (Barfield, Lewis, Tolkien, Williams).

“Islands of Joy”: A blog focused on the theme of “Sehnsucht” (meaning joy or longing), which C.S. Lewis wrote about; this deep sense of desire is most often evoked by art, poetry, literature, music, or nature. Several writers contribute to this blog.

“Kalimac’s Corner” by David Bratman: Personal blog of Bratman, a scholar who specializes in Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings.

“Letters from the Edge of Elfland” by David Russell Mosley: David has a PhD in theology from Nottingham University and writes posts (“letters”) about theology, creativity, and their places in everyday life. His posts can include content on Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton.

“Transpositions”: A blog on theology, imagination, and the arts managed by The Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA) at the University of St. Andrew’s, Scotland. Several writers contribute to this blog.

 

BLOGS FROM SOCIETIES AND ORGANIZATIONS

C.S. Lewis Foundation: Interviews with C.S. Lewis scholars, information about the Foundation, and words of encouragement. The C.S. Lewis Foundation is based in Redlands, CA.

C.S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga, Tennessee:  Contains news on the Society, and Lewis-related topics and information. Moderated by Rev. David Beckmann.

George MacDonald Society Blog: Posts include Society news and events notices, book announcements, and MacDonald related topics. Moderated by Mike Partridge. The George MacDonald Society is based in the United Kingdom.

Tolkien Society: Publishes Society news and a wide variety of Tolkien related topics. This blog has multiple authors. The Tolkien Society is based in the United Kingdom.

 

BLOG ON GEORGE MACDONALD

“Works of George MacDonald” by Michael Phillips: A website that maintains several “blog” resources under its “Regular Features” and other tab sections, including MacDonald Q&A, information on MacDonald rare book editions, daily devotionals, prayers, blessings, and poems, etc. Phillips is the author of George MacDonald, Scotland’s Beloved Storyteller (Bethany House, 1987), and has adapted MacDonald’s works for contemporary readers.

 

BLOG ON CHARLES WILLIAMS

“The Oddest Inkling” by Sørina Higgins: A blog dedicated to exploring the life, works, and ideas of Charles Williams. The earlier posts on the blog are particularly helpful for an overview of Williams’s ideas and biography. Higgins is in the process of posting overviews of works by Charles Williams in publication order. She serves as Chair of the Literature & Language Department at Signum University’s Mythgard Institute, and is currently a doctoral student at Baylor University.

 

BLOGS ON C.S. LEWIS

“Along the Beam” by Rebekah Valerius: Posts on Lewis and integrated approaches to Christian apologetics. Valerius is a graduate student studying apologetics at Houston Baptist University.

Crystal Hurd blog – Hurd is an educator and Lewis scholar from Virginia. She is currently researching the parents of C.S. Lewis, Albert and Flora Lewis, and her posts focus on books, Lewis, and related topics.

“Dangerous Idea” by Victor Reppert: The personal blog of Reppert contains posts on C.S. Lewis in the areas of reason, science, and philosophy, as well as other topics of interest. Reppert also manages a blog titled “Dangerous Idea 2” and a blog study guide of Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Reppert is the author of C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason (InterVarsity Press, 2003).

David Beckmann blog: Personal blog of Rev. David Beckmann and dedicated to helping others learn more about the life and works of C.S. Lewis, with an emphasis on spiritual topics. Beckmann is the founder and moderator of the C.S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga, TN.

“Essential C.S. Lewis” by William O’Flaherty: Provides daily quotes by C.S. Lewis, and includes links to other Lewis-related resources (podcasts and scholar interviews).

“The Lamppost: C.S. Lewis, Narnia, and Mere Christianity” by Will Vaus: Provides information on Vaus’s books, travels, and a variety of Lewis-related topics particularly in the area of theology. Vaus is a pastor, public speaker, and the author of several books about C.S. Lewis and his works.

Mark Neal blog: Personal blog with topics relating to C.S. Lewis, particularly on the function and life of the imagination. Neal is co-author of the book The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis with Dr. Jerry Root (Abingdon Press, 2015).

“Mere C.S. Lewis” by Ken Symes: Covers topics relating to Lewis and politics, apologetics, ethics, and evangelism.

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” by Brenton Dickieson: A blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis and the worlds he touched, including children’s literature, apologetics, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, and writing, as well as the work of his fellow Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. Dickieson is a university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada.

 

BLOGS ON J.R.R. TOLKIEN

Dimitra Fimi blog: Personal blog of Fimi, who is Senior Lecturer in English at Cardiff Metropolitan University and co-editor of the book A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages (HarperCollins, 2016).

“The Flame Imperishable” by Jonathan McIntosh: A theology blog on Tolkien, St. Thomas Aquinas, and related topics. McIntosh is a Fellow of Humanities at New Saint Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho, and teaches courses on the Great Books, medieval thought, Tolkien, and other areas.

John Garth blog: Personal blog on a variety of Tolkien topics, particularly World War I. Garth is a freelance writer, researcher and reader, and a widely-acclaimed Tolkien and World War I scholar. He is the author of Tolkien and the Great War (Houghton Mifflin, 2003).

“Lingwë – Musings of a Fish” by Jason Fisher: Tolkien scholar Jason Fisher provides the following list describing his blog topics: “J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, the Inklings, J.K. Rowling, and fantasy literature in general; language, linguistics, and philology; comparative mythology and folklore.” He is the editor of Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays (McFarland, 2011).

LOTR Project by Emil Johansson: Blog relating to the creative and ambitious web project dedicated to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, including an extensive Middle-earth genealogy, a historical timeline of Middle-earth, and statistics of the population of Middle-earth. Johansson is a Chemical Engineering student currently living in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“Parma-kenta” by Troels Forchhammer: This blog is maintained by a Danish Tolkien scholar, and contains lists to many Tolkien resources & headlines, as well as posts of varied Tolkien-related topics. A key feature is “Tolkien Transactions” – a review of online Tolkien content that Forchhammer has deemed interesting enough to share with his blog readers.

“Sacnoth’s Scriptorium” by John D. Rateliff: Personal blog of Rateliff, who is an independent Tolkien scholar and author of The History of the Hobbit (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).

“Tolkien and Fantasy” by Douglas A. Anderson: The blog defining itself as “musings on Tolkien and modern fantasy literature.” Anderson is the editor of the books The Annotated Hobbit (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), Tales Before Tolkien (Del Rey / Ballantine Books, 2003), and Tales Before Narnia (Del Rey / Ballantine Books, 2008).

“The Tolkienist” by Marcel R. Aubron-Bülles: Contains a wide variety of Tolkien-related topics by Aubron-Bülles, who is a German freelance journalist and translator.

“Too Many Books and Never Enough” by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull: Personal blog of Tolkien scholars Hammond and Scull on a variety of topics relating to Tolkien studies. Hammond and Scull are known for their in-depth reference books on Tolkien’s life and works, Tolkien bibliography, books on Tolkien’s artwork, and their work editing Tolkien’s books. Christina is the former librarian of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, England. Wayne is Chapin Librarian in the special collections department of the Williams College Libraries in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

“Wormtalk and Slugspeak” by Michael Drout: A personal blog featuring various Tolkien topics, Anglo-Saxon and medieval studies, and the study of language patterns in literature. Drout is Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of the Medieval at Wheaton College, Norton, MA where he teaches Old & Middle English, medieval literature, fantasy, science fiction and writing. He is the editor of Tolkien’s Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics and the Tolkien Studies journal.

George MacDonald in Italy

George MacDonald, ca. 1860s-1870s.

George MacDonald, ca. 1860s-1870s. Wade Center Photo Collection: GM / P-1.

George MacDonald’s life led him on extensive travels. In 1872-1873 he offered a successful lecture tour in the United States. He also traveled throughout Great Britain as well as various countries in Europe. However, apart from Scotland and England, the country where he spent the most time was Italy, which became a second home for his family in MacDonald’s later years. How did a Scottish Victorian author come to have such a close connection to Italy? That is what this blog post will explore.

The MacDonald family experienced numerous health issues over the years. George MacDonald himself was in “delicate” health and suffered frequent illness from a young age, particularly with pleurisy. He also battled asthma, lung infections and bleeding, and bouts of debilitating exhaustion as a result of his extensive efforts to write, travel, and speak. Such strenuous work and activities were necessary to support his large family of eleven children. By the 1850s, it was evident that he was suffering from tuberculosis. Out of concern for his health, Lady Byron (wife of Lord Byron and a friend of MacDonald’s), arranged to send George, his wife Louisa, and their daughter Mary to Algiers, where he would be able to recuperate in a more moderate climate.  In September 1856 the three traveled to northern Africa where they remained until May 1857, while the other MacDonald children stayed at home in the care of relatives. The rest cure was beneficial, and MacDonald returned home to Huntly, Scotland strengthened and healthier. The warmer climate and diverse culture in Algiers had not only been rejuvenating, but had also fascinated him.

Algiers came to mind when, in 1877, MacDonald’s daughter Mary developed an advanced case of consumption. Usually a lively and engaged girl, Mary had become withdrawn and listless during her illness, which caused her family great concern. MacDonald was also suffering from an episode of poor health at the same time, and so the decision was made to take Mary to southern Europe or Africa in hopes that the climate could improve her health much as it had done for her father back in 1857. The decision to choose Italy was largely due to a family friend who was accompanying the MacDonalds abroad. The friend, Hatty Russell, spoke Italian and her mother lived in Nervi, Italy, so in spite of the political turmoil present in Italy at that time, it became the chosen destination.

The MacDonald Family, 1876.

The MacDonald Family, 1876. L to R, 1st row: Maurice, Winifred, Bernard; 2nd row: Ronald, Robert Falconer, Irene, George MacDonald, MacKay, Mary; 3rd row (standing): Grace, Greville, Louisa, Lilia, Ted Hughes (Mary’s fiance). Wade Center Photo Collection: GM / P-9.

Louisa, Mary, and three of the other MacDonald children — Lily, Irene, and Ronald — departed for Italy on September 25, 1877 along with Hatty Russell and a maid for Mary. George MacDonald remained in England with his other children, working hard to write his novel Paul Faber, Surgeon. The Italian group of MacDonalds settled in Nervi and rented a home named Palazzo Cattaneo where George and the other children joined them in November.

Rolland Hein writes the following description of Palazzo Cattaneo:

“Out the window lay a large, beautifully terraced garden filled with orange trees. And down the slope to the west shimmered the waters of the Ligurian Sea, placid and clear, dotted with little sailing vessels. . . .  MacDonald’s delight in his new surroundings rapidly grew. He now had greater solitude, cleaner air, and more beautiful sunsets than in England” (George MacDonald: Victorian Mythmaker. Nashville, TN: Star Song Publishing Group, 1993: 301-302).

The mild Italian climate enabled George to feel significantly better with little to no discomfort from his asthma or other lung ailments. Sadly, despite what seemed to be a promising recovery in her strength early in the trip, Mary’s health continued to steadily decline. She died on April 27, 1878, the first of several losses the MacDonald family would suffer in the years to come.

Realizing that remaining in Italy was a more affordable option for the family, they decided to stay another year. After their lease was up in Nervi, they relocated to Portofino and the house Villa Barratta. The new location was isolated and beautiful. There was no carriage road leading to the house, but the MacDonalds had a boat to row across the bay. They began to invest time in learning to speak Italian, and MacDonald was able to write steadily due to the solitude as well as his improved health. His novel Sir Gibbie, a favorite for many readers, was written during this time in Italy and completed by the end of 1878. While living in Portofino, the MacDonald family also entertained guests in their home and performed dramas of stories like The Pilgrim’s Progress. These acting endeavors were a great delight to the family and continued over the years as a way to provide hospitality as well as an extra source of income.

Some may wonder how the MacDonalds could afford to travel abroad when their finances were generally tight. The income generated by George’s speaking engagements and publications was supplemented, as mentioned above, by the family’s dramatic performances. In addition, a portion of their expenses was covered by the generosity of family friends. A kind and loving man, George MacDonald had a large circle of friends who were quite wealthy and were often moved to help the MacDonald family with practical needs for health, housing, and daily life. The MacDonalds in turn were always ready to welcome others into their home, providing warm hospitality and a haven to all who visited them. These visitors included many friends and relatives from Great Britain who were visiting Italy, as well as the needy among their neighbors such as orphaned children and the poor. In addition to these sources of income, Queen Victoria honored George MacDonald with an annual Civil List Pension in the amount of 100 pounds sterling beginning in 1877.

 

Before returning to England in mid-May 1879, the MacDonalds decided to officially make Italy their second home. They resolved to winter there regularly in the years to come and to settle in Bordighera (the images above show views from ca. 1880s and 2009), putting an offer on a house and intending to finalize the purchase upon their return in February 1880. When they arrived back in Italy, however, they were dismayed to find that the house owner was no longer willing to sell; though he did allow the MacDonalds to stay in the home while they made other living arrangements.

Met with a difficult problem to solve, MacDonald embarked on an endeavor to build a house for his family, which for him was an exciting project requiring his vast creativity. The house was designed with the needs for both a large family and the hospitality of guests in mind. Construction was affordable and happened quickly, and the family moved into their new home in Christmas 1880, naming it “Casa Coraggio” meaning “House of Courage.” William Raeper describes the house:

“It was planted at the front with Scotch firs, and the massive building itself had four floors and a stucco tower. It stood almost back to back with the English church, and only a gate separated the MacDonalds’ garden from the church grounds. The house was a gift from friends, a testimony to the esteem they had for MacDonald.” (George MacDonald. Lion Publishing, 1987: 351)

Michael Phillips writes that Casa Coraggio “quickly became the center of life for a rapidly growing colony of intellectual Scots and English in the area.” (George MacDonald: Scotland’s Beloved Storyteller. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1987: 319) Casa Coraggio not only gave the MacDonald family a wonderful home, but it also gave them adequate space for plays, lectures, musical performances, and the ability to host a steady stream of friends and relatives as well.

 

Barbara Reynolds explains in her article “Bordighera and the British” that the MacDonalds were part of a wave of British visitors to winter in Bordighera regularly. The novel Doctor Antonio, published in English in 1855 by Italian exile Giovanni Ruffini, introduced its British readers of the beautiful scenery in Bordighera and enticed them to visit. Reynolds goes on to say:

“Before long Bordighera was transformed into a British colony complete with Anglican church, a private library containing mainly English books, a museum, an English theatre, an English chemist, an English bank, and an English cemetery.” (Reynolds, Barbara. “Bordighera and the British.” VII. Vol. 12. Wheaton, IL: The Marion E. Wade Center, 1995: 3)

The British came to Italy not just because of the scenery, but also, like the MacDonalds, for health reasons and the hope of escaping or being cured of tuberculosis. Once there, they created a number of charitable and philanthropic endeavors in the area, sharing in the welfare-minded movements of the Victorian era of which MacDonald was also a part.

 

As mentioned earlier, the MacDonalds suffered additional deaths in the family during the years they lived in Italy. After Mary’s death in 1878, their fifteen-year-old son Maurice developed a cough and fever, and died two weeks later on March 5, 1879. They would also lose daughters Grace (d. May 5, 1884) and Lily (d. November 22, 1891), and their little granddaughter Octavia at just nine years old (d. 1891). MacDonald himself (d. September 18, 1905) was cremated in Britain but buried in Bordighera, next to his wife Louisa (d. January 13, 1902), and daughters Grace and Lily. It is perhaps fitting that despite his Scottish heritage and love of Britain, MacDonald’s final resting place should be in this enchanting place that he also greatly loved. Indeed, Bordighera not only nurtured George MacDonald with its beauty, but its temperate climate also helped to restore his health, thereby enabling him to have time and strength to write a number of his best-loved works — ones that would be enjoyed for generations to come.

 

The Religious Cards of Dorothy L. Sayers

From 1953 to 1956, Dorothy L. Sayers produced the text for four illustrated religious-themed cards with the London publisher Hamish Hamilton. The cards featured a unique combination of artwork with accompanying text to tell a story, and were designed for commercial sales and written for children in particular. This “Off the Shelf” post will explore the history behind the creation of the cards as well as Sayers’s involvement.

Hamish Hamilton approached Sayers with the idea of creating an illustrated Christmas card in a letter dated January 12, 1953. The publisher had produced a secular-themed Christmas card the previous year titled “The Days Before Christmas,” which he included with the letter to Sayers as an example of what he had in mind. Sales for this card had increased steadily, particularly due to the innovative design of the card featuring small doors to fold back revealing a picture for each day in December leading up to Christmas. Hamilton wrote in the letter:

“As you doubtless know, similar cards have for years been produced in Germany and other parts of the Continent and are widely sold before Christmas. For some reason the experiment had never been tried in this country until last year. The Continental cards are not accompanied by a text, but we added one for the double reason that we feel that it adds to the child’s interest and that in this way Purchase Tax is avoided as the card becomes a book.”

“Advent calendars” as they are known today were first printed on paper in Germany in the early 1900s. Assuming Hamilton’s statement is correct, this means they did not come to England until December 1952, with the unique addition of text to help tell the story featured in the full page illustration and behind the calendar doors.

Days of Christ's Coming

Including interior text with the Advent calendar was a unique addition that began in England.

While initially Sayers responded to Hamilton by saying she was too busy with other work and would require at least 12 months before she could take on a new project, by January 22 it is evident that she had accepted his proposition and agreed to provide text for the card by the end of February. It is not clear exactly what made Sayers decide to undertake this work, but there was at least one phone call with Hamilton mentioned in the letters, and these additional statements in Hamilton’s January 12 letter may have proved persuasive:

“A number of people … suggested that we should produce a card with a religious theme this year, and it occurred to us immediately that you would be the ideal person … I don’t believe it would take you more than an hour or two, if as much, and it might well prove as remunerative as a book.”

Hamilton paired Sayers with Viennese-born artist Fritz Wegner to do the accompanying illustration for her text. The card was to be named “The Days of Christ’s Coming,” and it would tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Laura Simmons writes of their collaboration:

“[Sayers] was intimately involved in suggesting details for Wegner’s illustrations and even contributed preliminary sketches, but gave him free reign in completing them.” (“’Seeking but to Do Thee Grace’: Dorothy L. Sayers’s Illustrated Religious Cards.” VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review. Vol. 24. Wheaton, IL: The Marion E. Wade Center, 2007: 53)

Wegner would go on to illustrate 3 of the 4 cards that Sayers wrote.

Days of Christ's Coming

THE DAYS OF CHRIST’S COMING card, 1953.

An advance copy of the Christmas card was sent to Sayers on September 15, 1953, and she writes to Hamilton the following day that she is so pleased with the artwork, she would be willing to put in an offer to purchase the original piece (we never learn if she did so or not). She also asks for a half dozen advance copies to use for publicity to promote the publication, and 5 dozen copies at her author’s discounted price to hand out. The card was advertised on television on December 9, and Hamilton reports that sales of the card are very respectable. “The Days of Christ’s Coming” features 27 doors rather than the typical 24 or 25 doors. A review of the card states that the doors were intended to be opened from December 14 until January 7, including both Christmas and Epiphany. (Canter, Doris. “Books for Older Children.” The Friend. December 4, 1953: 112-113)

Days of Christ's Coming

THE DAYS OF CHRIST’S COMING card interior, 1953.

Sayers’s text was later re-published in 1960 as a bound picture book format in New York by Harper, and in London by Hamish Hamilton.

dcc-book-e1520372317288.jpg

THE DAYS OF CHRIST’S COMING in book form, 1960.

The book carried the same title, The Days of Christ’s Coming, and also featured illustrations by Fritz Wegner that, while similar to the earlier ones he did for the card, were new compositions which embodied a style reminiscent of medieval paintings. The text, itself, was identical to that included with the 1953 card, and tells the story of the nativity through the flight to Egypt. The correspondence held by the Wade Center only covers the time period of the creation of the Christmas card, so the inspiration to produce the picture book remains unknown.

On February 1, 1954, Sayers mentions in a letter to Hamilton that she is giving thought to the idea of making a 1955 “Easter card.” Sometime between April and June, the project shifts from a single card to 2 cards: one for Easter, and the other telling a similar story but with a few different elements presented in a manner that would make it appropriate for sale at any time of year. Sayers brainstorms an impressive list of possible occasions the card would be appropriate for in addition to Easter: confirmations, first communions, Sunday school prizes, godchildren’s birthdays, ordinations, etc. Hamilton calls Sayers’s list of ideas “really inspired!” in his reply dated July 12, 1954. The two cards became: “The Story of Easter” showing the Passion Week, death, and resurrection of Christ; and “The Story of Adam and Christ,” outlining Christ’s life as well as a series of other stories central to the core of Christianity and salvation: Adam and Eve, Abraham, the Passover, the Prophets, and the Last Judgement.

Sayers acknowledged a fundamental difficulty in creating the Easter card since the timing of the story elements does not warrant opening a single door per day during Passion Week. For example, some events occur only hours apart in the timeline. Thus, the decision was made to simply tell the story, and allow the parents and children reading the card to determine how and when to open the doors depicting each event.

Hamilton writes to Sayers on June 18, 1954 that Fritz Wegner will not have sufficient time to illustrate both cards in production, and he assigns another artist named Biro to work on “The Story of Easter.” He reports that Biro “in addition to having done a number of most effective jacket designs for us has also  done a further card for this Christmas … I am sure that you would find him every bit as pleasant and intelligent as Wegner.”

Wegner meanwhile began work on the “Story of Adam and Christ” card which Sayers and Hamilton had determined would not feature “advent calendar” style doors, but would instead open as a fold-out card with text on either side of a brilliant central stained-glass window illustration, with panels depicting story episodes from the text. Wegner was enthused to work on a project unlike any other he had yet done. He included a small card template, pictured here, with his October 9, 1954 letter to Sayers to see what she thought of the design.

Biro’s progress for “The Story of Easter” card underwent several rounds of back and forth critique from Sayers. She wrote on August 25, 1954 after seeing some early designs:

“Christ is frightful. He has a silly face, and a horrible wiggly cloak, and He looks as though He were dropping into tea; neither does He look as though He were about to sit at the right hand of God the Father – and in fact there is nothing for Him to sit on.”

Biro responded with good humor to the criticisms in a letter to Sayers on September 28, 1954:

“May I again thank you for the enormous help you gave me throughout this job, and for your really constructive criticism which, even if you hadn’t made so amusing, would not have bothered or hurt anyone. I do hope that perhaps I may have another chance to collaborate with you again.”

Sayers gave her final blessing on the proof of the artwork on October 4, 1954 in a letter to Hamilton:

“Yes – well, I think we had better pass Christ into Heaven now – not perhaps with First-class Honours … Let us say that he has ‘satisfied the examiners’.”

The final proofs of both cards were sent to Sayers for review in December and January, and despite one oversight by the printer (the final 15 lines of the Last Judgement were inadvertently omitted), the cards were approved for publication in 1955.

Hamilton’s letter to Sayers dated February 21, 1955 mentions his pleasure in hearing that Sayers is interested in producing another Christmas card, this time depicting “The Story of Noah’s Ark.” Sayers begins work on the text for the card right away, but writes on March 28 to Hamilton that she is postponing further work until she gets a list of the animals Fritz Wegner intends to include in the illustration. Several delays occur and Sayers receives a draft of Wegner’s Noah’s ark illustration in August, but without the promised list of animals. Further delays caused by health and travel lead to Hamilton concluding that “The Story of Noah’s Ark” will not be ready in time for a Christmas 1955 publication date. Sayers waits until December 7 when she writes an exasperated letter to the publishing house beseeching them to get the list of animals from Wegner so she can finish work on the text:

“We have been waiting for this LIST OF ANIMALS more months now than the waters of the Flood rested upon the earth, and though it has been promised many times I see as yet no rainbow of hope. If it possible to extract a LIST OF ANIMALS from Mr. Wegner without doing irreparable and permanent damage to his nervous system I should be glad to have it; if not, a blunt declaration that no LIST OF ANIMALS is to be looked for would spare me the horrors of suspense.”

Sayers mentions the LIST OF ANIMALS eight times in the letter, including a postscript, with her characteristic humor. Wegner contritely sends a handwritten letter with the LIST OF ANIMALS to Sayers on December 12, 1955, saying:

“I also felt a little uneasy about identifying all the animals which in some instances were not very accurately drawn. Mistakes of this kind would soon produce a flood of letters from young and old zoologists.”

Story of Noah's Ark

Detail of the Ark windows.

The color proof followed in March 1956, and the card was presumably printed shortly thereafter. The final result was an extremely lush scene full of intrigue with animals both in plain sight, and waiting to be discovered by child readers behind the illustrated doors. Sayers included a playful ending for any children worried that an animal had been left out: “And if you can think of any animals that aren’t in the picture – why, they must be inside the Ark!”

Besides the four cards that were published between 1953 and 1956, the correspondence between Sayers and Hamilton reveals that at least 3 other ideas were considered for card production. In a letter to Sayers dated March 26, 1953, the publisher writes that “Mr. Hamilton does not feel we have the organisation to  market your charming CAT’S CHRISTMAS CAROL.” No doubt this was a disappointment to Sayers, who loved cats and designed several personal Christmas cards featuring them. It is interesting to note that even though at first Sayers felt she had no time to devote to creating a Christmas card in January 1953, she is suggesting other project ideas just two months later.

Hamilton also turns down her idea for “Mr. Spooner’s Transformations” in a September 22, 1955 letter stating that “we do feel that the Christmas and Easter cards are as much as we can cope with and are more in our line. My own feeling is that an educational publisher might be very interested.” “Spooner’s Transformations” refers to prints created by publisher William Spooner in the 1800s, specializing in lithographs of a semi-popular and humorous character.

The third idea Sayers proposed that did not end up being created seems to have enjoyed more exploration than the previous two ideas. Sayers states in a letter to Hamilton dated March 28, 1955 that she sent the “Tale from Boiardo” draft to Wegner as she thought the story would be suitable for an illustrated card format. She suggested that if Wegner had interest in illustrating her story, he was welcome to show the content to Hamilton. Hamilton voices interest in seeing the Boiardo content in a letter response to Sayers on March 31, but that is the last mention of this idea.

The manuscript drafts Sayers prepared to send to Wegner for the Boiardo card still exist, and are available in the Wade Center’s Dorothy L. Sayers Manuscript Collection (MS-84) and in the Religious Illustrated Cards and Booklets Archive under the title “The Enchanted Garden.” The story is adapted by Sayers from the Orlando Innamorato by Renaissance author Matteo Maria Boiardo, and tells the story of Roland’s adventures to gain access to, and ultimately destroy, a walled enchanted garden. Unfortunately, only the text for this story card exists — in both handwritten and typed drafts. There is no evidence that Wegner began work on any related illustrations. Production may also have fallen by the wayside due to Sayers’s untimely death in December 1957.

All of the published religious cards by Dorothy L. Sayers are available for viewing at the Wade Center, along with related manuscripts and correspondence. For more information, see the “related materials” section of the Religious Illustrated Cards and Booklets Archive. Content from the letters of Dorothy L. Sayers was used by kind permission of the Sayers Estate via David Higham Associates.

Bibliography Listing of the Religious Illustrated Cards:

  1. Sayers, Dorothy L. The Days of Christ’s Coming. Illustrated by Fritz Wegner. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., [1953] (published card, call number: BT315.2 .S29 1953)
  2. Sayers, Dorothy L. The Story of Adam and Christ. Fritz Wegner. London: Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., [1955] (published card, call number: PR6037.A95 S767 1955)
  3. Sayers, Dorothy L. The Story of Easter. 1st edition. Illustrations by B. Biro. London: Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., [1955]  (published card, call number: BV55 .S29 1955)
  4. Sayers, Dorothy L. The Story of Noah’s Ark. Fritz Wegner. London: Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., [1956]. (published card, call number: PR6037.A95 S76 1956)
  5. Sayers, Dorothy L. The Days of Christ’s Coming. illustrated by Fritz Wegner. London: Hamilton, 1960 / New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960. (published book, call numbers: BT315.2 .S29 1960 and BT315.2 .S29 1960b)

Exploring Screwtape: A Closer Look at The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

“My dear Wormwood” is a phrase many readers will instantly recognize as the opening to C.S. Lewis’s classic work The Screwtape Letters. The book contains a series of letters from Screwtape, a senior devil, to his nephew Wormwood who is just learning the ropes on how to most effectively tempt his first human (aka “patient”). Though the book itself is well-known and widely read, the background to its creation is a fascinating story. In this post, we’ll not only explore the writing of The Screwtape Letters, but also list adaptations of the book over the years, study resources, and highlight our Lenten Reflection series on the book that begins at the Wade Center on February 21, 2018.

BACKGROUND

C.S. Lewis first mentioned his idea for writing The Screwtape Letters in a letter dated July 20, 1940 to his brother Warren, who had returned to active duty as a Major in the Army during World War II. Lewis had been attending a worship service at his church, Holy Trinity in Headington Quarry, when a thought crossed his mind. As he explained to his brother:

“Before the service was over … I was struck by an idea for a book [which] I think might be both useful and entertaining.  It [would] be called As one Devil to Another and would consist of letters from an elderly retired devil to a young devil who has just started work on his first ‘patient.’  The idea [would] be to give all the psychology of temptation from the other point of view.”

Elsewhere, Lewis notes that The Confessions of a Well-Meaning Woman by Stephen McKenna and Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay played influential roles in Screwtape’s composition as well. (Lewis’s 1961 preface to The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast)

It isn’t clear how long it took Lewis to write The Screwtape Letters, but Walter Hooper surmises that it was probably finished by Christmas 1940. (C.S. Lewis Companion and Guide, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996 p. 268) The actual writing process was a tedious one for Lewis due to the mindset he had to adopt while writing in a diabolical guise:

“Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment. … [T]hough it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done.” (Lewis’s 1961 preface to The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast)

In 1940 The Guardian, a weekly Anglican newspaper, had published Lewis’s articles titled “The Dangers of National Repentance” (March 15) and “Two Ways with the Self” (May 3). When Lewis offered Screwtape to The Guardian they agreed to serialize all 31 letters which ran in weekly installments from May 2 through November 28, 1941. The letters proved to be very popular, and later were gathered together and published as a book the following year. Lewis dedicated the book to his friend and fellow Inkling J.R.R. Tolkien, but Tolkien was puzzled by the gesture (see Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, letter draft to Michael Tolkien #252, November or December 1963). And, as Humphrey Carpenter reports, not altogether pleased with the book itself: “for as somebody who believed profoundly in the power of evil [Tolkien] thought it foolish to trifle rather facetiously with such things.” (The Inklings. Pt. 3 Ch. 5. Houghton Mifflin, 1979: 174-5)

As a result of his concern that the Screwtape typescript at his London publisher might be destroyed in a German bombing raid (a justifiable fear in WWII Britain), Lewis sent his handwritten manuscript for safekeeping to his friend Sister Penelope, an Anglican nun at the convent of the Community of St. Mary the Virgin at Wantage. When she later attempted to return it to Lewis, he told her to sell it. This handwritten manuscript is now in the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection. The typescript is held at the Wade Center under the call number CSL / MS-107 in our C.S. Lewis Manuscript collection. The Wade’s typescript also includes a handwritten preface which has been examined by Lewis scholar Brenton Dickieson. You can read Brenton’s findings in “The Unpublished Preface to C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters,” Notes and Queries 60.2 (2013): 296-298 and on his blog.

First British edition of THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1942).

The publication of The Screwtape Letters, along with his BBC Radio talks during the 1940s (which were later issued in book form as Mere Christianity), combined to give Lewis heightened recognition as a Christian spokesperson. One example of this was the September 8, 1947 cover of Time magazine that featured an image of Lewis with the caption “Oxford’s C.S. Lewis: His heresy: Christianity.” As a result of this increased profile, Lewis’s fan mail also grew significantly during this time, requiring hours every day for him to write responses to his correspondents.

REVIEWS & SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST

Following are some brief extracts from contemporary reviews of The Screwtape Letters:

“The book is sparkling yet truly reverent, in fact a perfect joy, and should become a classic.” (Manchester Guardian, February 24, 1942)

“Mr Lewis possesses the rare gift of being able to make righteousness readable, and has produced a pretty piece of homily lit by flashes of insight” (New Statesman and Nation, May 16, 1942).

Charles Williams, fellow Inkling and Wade author, wrote two favorable reviews on The Screwtape Letters in The Dublin Review (July 1942) and Time and Tide (March 21, 1942). His Time and Tide review titled “Letters in Hell” is written as a parody Screwtape letter addressed to “My dearest Scorpuscle.”

Not everyone was as receptive or appreciative of Lewis’s efforts in this book. In his 1961 preface to Screwtape, Lewis reports one humorous instance where a country clergyman, not understanding that that the letters were meant to be read from an opposite point of view, withdrew his subscription from The Guardian stating that “much of the advice given in these letters seemed to him not only erroneous but positively diabolical.”

Despite requests to write additional Screwtape letters, Lewis’s only subsequent Screwtape offering was prompted by an invitation from The Saturday Evening Post that he said “pressed the trigger.” (1961 preface) Published on December 19, 1959 as “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” Lewis switched from an epistolary approach to having Screwtape offer a talk at the annual dinner of the Tempters’ Training College for young devils. This fictional address later appeared in a new edition of The Screwtape Letters in 1961, and is included in most editions today.

ADAPTATIONS

Due to the book’s popularity and impact on readers, The Screwtape Letters has received various treatments over the years through audiobooks, dramatizations, adaptations, and so on. The non-comprehensive list below includes a few examples of these Screwtape variations.

Audiobooks

  • British comedian John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) provided an audiobook reading performance of The Screwtape Letters released by Audio Literature in 1988 (San Bruno, California). Cleese’s recording was nominated for a Grammy that same year for Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Recording. This recording will be used at the Wade’s Lenten Reflections on Screwtape in February. See details at the end of this post.
  • Joss Acland did a voice reading of The Screwtape Letters for the HarperCollins audiobook released in 2000. Acland was the actor who portrayed C.S. Lewis in the 1985 television drama of Shadowlands.

Max McLean as Screwtape.

Dramatizations

  • Dear Wormwood: A Play in Three Acts is an early dramatization of The Screwtape Letters for the stage in 1961 by James Forsyth. It was later renamed Screwtape: A Play.
  • The Screwtape Letters stage play adapted by Anthony Lawton with The Mirror Theatre Company. A 90-minute two-person play punctuated by varied dances including tap, Latin ballroom, jazz, martial arts, and rock, along with whips and fire-eating. Performed various times since 2000.
  • The Screwtape Letters stage play adapted by Max McLean with Fellowship for Performing Arts. A 90-minute production that has done national and international tours and been seen by over 500,000 people. Its most recent run was in London 2016-2017.
  • The Screwtape Letters audio dramatization by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre (2009) features the voice of Andy Serkis as Screwtape. Serkis played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films by Peter Jackson. The recording features a multi-person cast and sound effects.

Printed Works and Parodies

Influences

  • OhHellosThe music group The Oh Hellos released the album Dear Wormwood which they have described as a form of speculative fiction from the point of view of “the patient.”
  • In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin’s teacher is named “Miss Wormwood” — her name, according to creator Bill Waterson, is based on the apprentice devil in Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
  • Lewis himself may have borrowed the name “Wormwood” from a Biblical star mentioned in Revelation 8:11, although it is also a plant name, and a name meaning “something bitter or unpleasant.”

STUDY RESOURCES

For those interested in learning more about The Screwtape Letters, here are some additional resources:

Annotated

Annotated edition by Paul McCusker.

LENTEN SERIES AT THE WADE CENTER:
February-March 2018

During the Lenten season this year, the Wade Center will host reflections on The Screwtape Letters: Wednesdays at noon in the Wade Center’s Bakke Auditorium beginning on February 21 and extending through March 28, 2018. These reflections will be led by David J. P. Hooker, Professor of Art and Art Department Chair at Wheaton College, and Elaine Hooker, Catalog Librarian of the Wade Center.

Since Lent has historically been a time of repentance for Christians, The Screwtape Letters offer an opportunity for readers to take a fresh look at the patterns of behavior in their own lives and consider places where change may be needed. Through the voice of Screwtape, Lewis presents our own brokenness to us so creatively that he enables us to see our lives from a new perspective.  Traditionally, Lent is also a time for slowing down, reflecting and re-focusing. Elaine Hooker will share information and artifacts related to this work taken from the collections of the Marion E. Wade Center, while David Hooker will share how this work has become a regular and beneficial part of his own spiritual practice over the last 10 years.

For more information, contact the Wade Center at 630.752.5908 or wade@wheaton.edu.