Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, The: Family Letters, 1905-1931

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9780060727635: Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, The: Family Letters, 1905-1931

This collection brings together the best of C.S. Lewis’s letters – some published for the first time. Arranged in chronological order, this is the first volume covering Family Letters: 1905-1931.

C.S. Lewis was a most prolific letter writer and his personal correspondence reveals much of his private life, reflections, friendships and feelings. This collection, carefully chosen and arranged by Walter Hooper, is the most extensive ever published.

In this great and important collection are the letters Lewis wrote to J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, Owen Barfield, Arthur C. Clarke, Sheldon Vanauken and Dom Bede Griffiths. To some particular friends, such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Lewis wrote over fifty letters alone. The letters deal with all of Lewis’s interests: theology, literary criticism, poetry, fantasy, children’s stories as well as revealing his relationships with family members and friends.

This first volume of Family Letters: 1905-1931 covers Lewis’s boyhood and early manhood, his army years, undergraduate life at Oxford and his election to a fellowship at Magdalen College. Lewis became an atheist when he was 13 years old and his dislike of Christianity is evident in many of his letters. The volume concludes with a letter describing an evening spent with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson when he came to see that he was wrong to think of Christianity as one of ‘many myths.’ ‘What Dyson and Tolkien showed me was that… the story of Christ is simply a true myth… but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.’

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Review:

What does a seven-year old Irish boy's bobbing for apples have to do with a brilliant Oxford don's conversion to Christianity? Everything--when you consider they are the same person. The chief pleasure of this collection is in its cumulative power as it tells Lewis's story up to the point of his spiritual crisis. The volume ends with a fascinating letter detailing that final move to faith, the central event of Lewis's life; its analysis of Christianity as "a true myth" serves as a key to many of his later writings.

En route to conversion we see the young Lewis's unhappiness at school, his adolescent atheism and sexual fantasies, his soldiering in the Great War, his estrangement from his father, his unusual relationship with Mrs Moore, the mother of a close friend who died in the First World War, and his appointment as an English Fellow at Oxford. We see him meeting Yeats and befriending Tolkien. In short, it is Surprised by Joy in epistolary form.

Much of this correspondence has been published before in Letters (1988) and They Stand Together (1979). However, both those books have been out of print for years, and neither of them included Lewis's childhood letters to his father. This collection is the first in a planned three-volume series, covering the whole of Lewis's life. The dust-jacket contains one glaring error, declaring that Lewis fought at the Battle of the Somme. Tolkien did, but Lewis had not even enlisted at that time, as Walter Hooper's painstaking editorial work would have told the blurb-writer. This howler blots what is otherwise and in every respect an excellent collection. --Michael Ward

From the Back Cover:

The first volume of 'Collected Letters' begins with C.S. Lewis's earliest letter. The date is 1905 and the seven-year old 'Jack', as he is known, writes of the delights of home to his brother away at boarding school. Three years later the two brothers are both miserable at the school he refers to as a 'concentration camp'. He writes to his father, 'Please may we not leave? We simply cannot wait in this hole till the end of term.' His childhood letters reveal the world of his vivid imagination and his developing opinion on various subjects.

At 16 Jack is writing to a boy his own age in Belfast, Arthur Greeves. Their correspondence was to continue over the next fifty years. In 1916 he writes, 'Cheer up, whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago.' He also tells Arthur that he has abandoned the Christian faith. 'I believe in no religion,' he says. 'There is absolutely no proof for any of them.'

Lewis goes up to Oxford in 1917 as a determined atheist. Before he can settle down he is called up to fight in the Battle of the Somme and is wounded. He returns to Oxford and brilliantly achieves three First Class degrees. His letters home describes his thoughts and feelings through the horrors of war and sweetness of academic success.

In 1929 Lewis writes to Arthur of a friendship which was to have an enormous influence on him and his writings. 'I was up till 2.30 on Monday talking to the Anglo-Saxon professor Tolkien who came back with me to College … and sat discoursing of the gods and giants and Asgard for three hours.' Gradually, as Lewis spends time with Tolkien and other friends, he admits in his letters o a change of view on religion. In 1930 he writes, 'Whereas once I would have said, "Shall I adopt Christianity?" I now wait to see whether it will adopt me.'

C.S. Lewis was the most prolific letter writer. Throughout his life he maintained correspondence with family member and friends. 'Collected Letters' brings together many of Lewis's best letters, some published here for the first time.

• 'Volume I Family Letters 1905-1931'
• 'Volume II The Christian Scholar
1931-1951'
• 'Volume III Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1952-1963'

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