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Targeting C.S. Lewis

When many authors writing between 1920 and 1976 were first published, their works were classified as fiction and went into our Supplementary Card Catalogue.  While the University Library general catalogue was computerised years ago, this was never done to the supplementary catalogue.  This meant users searching the online catalogue found only later editions of classics, and may not have realised that we had certain works, or the first editions of others, because the only evidence was in the card catalogue.  So we are converting the catalogue cards of major figures from 1920 onwards, particularly those with Cambridge academic connections, and any persons specifically requested by departments, so that all titles by these “target” authors are in the online catalogue.

Memories of junior school, when our teacher would read to the class from a novel of classic children’s literature, particularly bring to mind C.S. Lewis’ most famous works, the Chronicles of Narnia, where began my lifelong love of adventure stories of characters on a journey, with many pitfalls and disasters to overcome on their way.  So from our target list of Cambridge connected authors, it seemed appropriate to help the works of this well-loved author become more available to academics, and make it easier for them to learn more about his books, which have been translated into all sorts of languages, and the subjects he was famous for writing about.  Especially as he was more than just a classic novelist.

Clive Staples Lewis was a British novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer and Christian apologist.  Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 29 November 1898, he died in Oxford on 22 November 1963.  Lewis graduated from Oxford with a focus on literature and classic philosophy, and in 1925 was awarded a fellowship teaching position at Magdalen College, Oxford (he is affiliated “Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford” on some of his novels).  At Oxford he famously joined the “Inklings”, an informal group of writers and intellectuals, which included fellow fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien.  Like Tolkien, Lewis seems to have had an ongoing interest in Norse, Greek and Irish mythology, which explains the mythological worlds in both their writings.  Through philosophical conversations with this group, Lewis rediscovered his Christianity, and he went on to write rich apologist texts explaining his faith through arguments of logic and philosophy.  In 1954 he accepted the newly founded chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge, (A post founded with him in mind) where he finished his academic career.  By the way, an interesting little-known fact is that The Pickerel Inn in Cambridge, close to Magdalene College, claims to be a place where Lewis and Tolkien met to discuss their writing, during Lewis’ nine years here.

Lewis began publishing books in the mid 1920s, and in 1938 released Out of the silent planet, the first in the Space Trilogy of science-fiction novels which dealt with the concepts of sin and desire.  Among the holdings we’ve recently added to the online catalogue are the first edition (and 1966 and 1973 editions) of this, and some early editions of the two sequels, Perelandra and That hideous strength.  Also uncovered was the 1956 first edition of a novel that reveals his love of mythology, Till we have faces: a myth retold, a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche.

The project has unobscured lots of early copies of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Our online holdings now show the 1950 first edition (and 1959 and 1965 editions, plus a 1973 Welsh translation) of the original book, The lion the witch and the wardrobe, in which Lewis’ Pevensie children are introduced to a fantastic world where a benign and loving lion called Aslan rises from the dead (Lewis’ Christian inspiration is clear) to help them defeat an evil witch and a land locked in winter.  All early editions of the Narnia series were illustrated by Pauline Baynes, an English illustrator of more than 100 books noted for her illustrations of the works of Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Also now discoverable are the 1951 first edition (plus 1962 and 1967 editions) of Prince Caspian: the return to Narnia; the 1952 first edition (and 1965 and 1968 editions) of The voyage of the Dawn Treader; the 1953 first edition (with 1965 and 1969 editions) of The silver chair; the 1954 first edition (plus 1965 and 1971 editions) of The horse and his boy; the 1955 first edition (and 1963 and 1968 editions) of The magician’s nephew; and the 1956 first edition (plus 1964 and 1973 editions) of the final Narnia book The last battle.  An interesting anomaly with the series is that the order in which they were published is not the chronological order that the stories take, so that the story in The magician’s nephew (the penultimate book published) tells of early times in Narnia before the events told in The lion the witch and the wardrobe, although Lion was clearly originally written as the first book and is the reader’s introduction to Narnia.  Similarly, the story in The horse and his boy (the fifth book) comes at the end of Lion, and before Prince Caspian.

As explored above, C.S. Lewis was also known for his apologist Christian texts.  Highlights of this previously somewhat hidden collection are two 1940s copies (one of them a Czech translation) of Broadcast Talks, a work about “Right and wrong, a clue to the meaning of the Universe and what Christians believe”; another called Christian behaviour; a 1963 edition of The four loves, which explains four categories of love as friendship, eros, affection and charity; a 1972 edition of The Great Divorce: a dream, which is about good and evil; and a 1966 edition of A grief observed, in which Lewis talks about how his faith helped him upon the death of his wife.  Other pamphlets found include Letters to Malcolm: chiefly on prayer from 1966; the 1957 edition of The problem of pain; the 1961 edition of Reflections on the psalms; Shall we lose God in outer space? from 1960; and Transposition, and other addresses from 1949.  It was discovered we had two editions of a religious tome he wrote a preface for, called How heathen is Britain?  Also found was a 1960 edition of Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by joy: the shape of my early life, which tells of his rejection of the Church of Ireland at the age of 15, and how he rediscovered his faith at and joined the Church of England in 1931, the title actually comes from the first line of a Wordsworth poem, and was written before he met his wife, Joy Gresham.  On another subject, he explored his views on animal morality in Vivisection, a 1950 book published by the National Anti-Vivisection Society.  There were a couple of books about him too, C.S. Lewis – speaker and teacher, edited by Carolyn Keefe is about his spiritual writings, and The secret country of C.S. Lewis by Anne Arnott is a biography.    For apologetics still relevant today, Lewis’ connections with Oxford and Cambridge are to be celebrated from July 24 to August 3, 2017 with a C.S. Lewis “Oxbridge” Summer Institute, which will include lectures, workshops, meaningful worship services and cultural programs, some of them in Cambridge.