The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis
Volume II: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949
edited by Walter Hooper
This is the second of a three-volume series that collects all of the letters written by former atheist, C.S. Lewis. He wrote many, many letters; this volume alone contains a thousand pages worth of them.
I received this book as a Father's Day present from one of my daughters. Like The Reagan Diaries, this is a book best read in small chunks, and so I kept it on the dining room table, reading a few pages at a time at breakfast and lunch.
His great passions in life were writing, debating, and walking -- and not necessarily in that order. He wrote on theology, as science fiction, and in allegory. The BBC asked him to talk on theological matters, which then turned into famous books like Mere Christianity (where mere means "basic).
Although he as a professor at Oxford and Cambridge universities, he disliked teaching students and had an even greater dislike interacting with them, either socially or through teacher-student meetings.
Thus it seems contradictory when he discovered a delight in children while taking into his household numerous "London orphans" during WW2. He consequently wrote The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and other soon-to-become classics for children and adults.
He disliked going to church, finding the preaching tedious. No doubt, when compared with his participation The Inklings debating club, which included the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien.
But his greatest love was walking tours. Oh my, he liked the walks, where he and his companions spent several days hiking through the English countryside, finding places to sleep at pubs along the way. He never learned to drive.
You learn all these things through his letters; the pity is that you read only his side of the "conversations," and never the replies from those to whom he is writing. Despite the one-sided conversations, you appreciate his ability in demolishing silly thinking in just a few sentences -- an ability that would come in useful in this day and age.
So what convinced him to turn away from believing in atheism? Simple logic, according to him. In a letter to Eliza Marian Butler (date Oct '40), he apologizes for "writing carelessly" for condemning people who sit on the fence theologically; instead, he wrote, he should condemn those who could sit on both sides of the fence -- something he himself used to fall victim to.
I had the pleasure of every theory, and paid the price for none. I embraced the excitement of polytheism [belief in multiple deities] or demonology [study of non-god superhumans] when I happened to want it, but became a materialist [belief that only matter exists] if some old nursery fears, in darkness and solitude, threatened to make that sort of stuff a little more exciting than I wanted.
I was nearly religious when that mood offered comfort, and sternly skeptical if it threatened to impose any obligation. I would 'rather have believed' in the Norse gods than in Christianity, and now I know why -- because I secretly knew perfectly well that neither I nor anyone else could now really believe in Asgard [home county of Valhalla] as hundreds of people really believe in Christ -- I knew in fact that my bluff would never be called, that my flirtation could never commit me to marriage.
Like Farah Fawcett's death being eclipsed by that of Michael Jackson, the death of C. S. Lewis was eclipsed by that of John F Kennedy's in 1963.
Published by HarperSanFrancisco in 2004
xx + 1132 pages
Available from Amazon.com: The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2