Saturday, April 2, 2011

On reading C. S. Lewis's letters

I have begun reading a compilation of C. S. Lewis's letters. There are three volumes, and I have started with volume 3, which covers the years 1930 through, I think 1963 or so, because that is the time period that interests me the most: that was when he wrote the Narnia chronicles and when he met Joy Davidman-Gresham, whom he later married. I have only read through the first year or so of the letters (they are ordered chronologically) through March 1951, and here are some observations:
  • I probably should've started with volume 1.
  • One very interesting thing is that as late as 1950/1951, the UK economy was still suffering from wartime scarcities, and many commodities were still being rationed, even though the war ended in 1945. (This shouldn't really be a surprise. In my own research on World War I, the US federal government control over the coal industry continued up to the beginning of 1921, more than 2 years after the armistice. Als0, from what I know about the "reconversion" process in the US, it, too, was very fitful and as late as 1948 or so, if I'm not mistaken, either the federal government continued to ration at least some goods, or at least there were wage and price controls in some sectors of the economy.)
  • Letter writing is a hard and time-consuming art to engage in.
  • Lewis occasionally reveals personal and moral weakness in ways that one doesn't see in his published writings. I have read most of his published fiction and most of his published Christian apologetics, as well as some of his unpublished work (I have read none of his literary criticism). And in those works, while he never claims moral perfection, one doesn't see specific examples of his personal challenges. In these letters--obviously mediated several times through by the fact that this compilation is edited and that he is speaking to a particular audience and writing in a particular form--he confesses to times, for instance, when he was too tired and stressed to help a student who had just received a poor showing on his examinations.

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