C. S. Lewis’ Birthday

cs lewis

Hello, it’s Jeff again here to talk about one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis (or Jack as he was known by family and friends). He was born on November 29th, 1898 and died November 22, 1963.  I’m not sure how I stumbled across his books, but I remember reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and then the rest of the series when I lived in California in 1976. I remember checking them out of the library repeatedly during that year.  Fortunately, I purchased them at a book sale because the library burned down in 1982, and unfortunately I only have one or two of those volumes now.  Before I move off the topic of the Narnia series, if you are going to read them, be sure to read them in the original order, starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Later versions of the series put “The Magician’s Nephew” first, which while chronologically correct is not how they were published.  (The Magician’s Nephew is my least favorite of the series)

Before delving into his works, let’s take a brief look at CS Lewis’ biography (a more complete biography can be found here or here).  He was born in Belfast, Ireland to a lawyer and the daughter of a priest.  When he was four, his dog Jacksie was killed by a car and he took on the name, later shortened to Jack, which he kept for the rest of his life. (Sorry I digress a little, but during the research for this post I came across some interesting information – Dublin  only had 38 cars in 1900, so there could not have been many cars around at the time!)   Anyway,Lewis attended a number of schools and had a number of different private tutors until he received a scholarship to Oxford in 1916.  In 1917 he joined the military and was commissioned in the 3rd Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry.  In 1918 he was wounded in the legs, arms and chest by a friendly fire incident when a British shell fell short.

After the war he returned to Oxford to continue his studies.  The story goes that Lewis made a pact with his roommate “Paddy” Moore that if either were killed in the war the other would take care of their friend’s family.  Since his friend had died, once back at Oxford Lewis arranged to have Jane Moore, Paddy’s mother, and her daughter move in with him. Historians question the nature of their relationship (she was 17 years his senior) but all agree he cared for her until her death in 1951 and called her Mother (his own mother had died when he was 10).

Lewis completed his studies in 1924 and was made a Fellow at  Magdalen College where he taught philosophy, English and literature for the next 29 years.  During this time he met J. R. R. Tolkien and started a lifelong friendship.  Long discussions on religion with Tolkien eventually led Lewis back to Christianity, a faith he had abandoned when he was 15.  Their association eventually led to the creation of the Inklings, an informal,  jovial group of writers that met regularly to discuss fantasy literature and Christianity.  This group included such notables as:  Charles Williams, Hugo Dyson, Owen Barfield, Dr. Robert Havard, Weville Coghill, Lewis’s brother Warnie and Christopher Tolkien.  In 1955 Lewis accepted the newly formed Department of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University where he worked until he died in 1963.

Lewis was a very prolific writer.  While the Narnia series is one of Lewis’ best known series, with over 85 million copies sold and many movies about the series, he wrote many books in many genres over his lifetime.   They include children’s books, science fiction, non-fiction and christian apologetic.  His most notable works are:  The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Allegory of Love, The Screwtape Letters, The Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life.

As I previously stated, C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors.  In addition to the Narnia series I also like The Screwtape Letters.  This is a story about a low level demon trying to corrupt a soul.  It is told in a series of letters between  the senior Demon Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  I also enjoyed the Space Trilogy, starting with That Hideous Strengh, followed by Perelandra and Out of the Silent Planet, although the final volume wasn’t really to my taste.

Many of Lewis’ works have been made into movies and radio dramatizations.  I particularly like the Family Radio Theater version of the stories.  There are also several live action movies and radio dramatizations created by the BBC of Narnia that are quite good.  Of course there are the Disney movies that started coming out a couple of years ago that are also very good.  My only complaint is that they changed the plot in my mind unnecessarily, particularly in The Dawn Treader.  Others have different complaints such as can be found in this article about the opening of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” movie.  This being said, the movies are very entertaining and well worth watching.

I hope this post has been interesting and informative.  Please send me a comment, I would love to know your favorite CS Lewis book or movie … and it would be nice to know someone read all the way to the bottom of this post!

Jeff Jones

Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

J.R.R. TolkienIt’s Jeff again, here to talk about the Lord of the Rings.  The final volume of the three volume set was published, surprise, surprise, on October 20, 1955.   I read these books for the first time a long, long time ago when I was about 12.  Yes, first time.  I own and have re-read them countless times, mostly in English but several times in German.  Of course I have seen the absolutely spectacular movies and really enjoy the BBC radio dramas.

The Lord of the Rings is the sequel to The Hobbit.  It was written between 1937 and 1949 in stages by J. R. R. Tolkien.  When the publishers first approached him to write a sequel he proposed the book The Silmarillion, which was an early history of Middle Earth (the land where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are set), but it was rejected. I have never been able to get through it, so I think that was a good choice!  Tolkien was a full time professor at Oxford so his writing progressed slowly.  The Lord of the Rings was originally supposed to be a children’s story, similar to The Hobbit, but it evolved into a much more serious and darker tale before it was completed.  The original manuscript was 9,250 pages long.  It has been officially translated into 38 languages.

Tolkien’s wish was for The Lord of the Rings to be published with the Silmarillion as a two volume set.  Post war paper shortages and the high cost of printing caused the publisher to balk at this.  They chose to split the Lord of the Rings into three books and the Silmarillion wasn’t published until after Tolkien’s death in 1973.  Each book is divided into two parts.  My favorite books are the Fellowship of the Ring (part 1) and the Return of the King (part 3).  The Two Towers, particularly where Frodo and Sam are working their way to Mordor is extremely dark and tends to drag on a bit.  It is still good, but the other parts are better.

The Lord of the Rings is an phenomenon.  It is the second best selling book of all times (excluding religious works) having sold over 150 Million copies. (Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities” is the first with over 200 Million copies. Check out Wikipedia’s list of best-selling books – very interesting.)  The work has spawned multiple live action and animated movie series with action figures and all the marketing materials which is not so uncommon, but also board games, online role playing games, comic books, radio dramas, artwork and music.  Led Zeppelin songs “Misty Mountain Top”, “Ramble On”, “The Battle of Evermore” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” are all supposedly inspired by Tolkien’s works. National Geographic did a special which is currently available on Netflix or you can stream for almost nothing here: National Geographic Beyond the Movie – The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring.

There are many groups that were built around Tolkien, but he most prominent is the Tolkien Society.  There are university courses taught on Tolkien and his works.  Being a linguist, the languages he created for the different races in the books were “real” and there are societies devoted to their research and propagation.

This post is a little short and a little light on facts, but there are literally thousands of web pages, classes and programs devoted to the subject.  The best I can do here is guide you to some of them and tell you they are really, really good books.  They are exceptionally well written, fun to read and full of meaning that relate even to today’s society.  While I strongly recommend you read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I suggest you read The Hobbit first.  It is lighter and sets the stage.  Don’t get lazy and just watch the (admittedly very good) movies.  You will miss a lot!

Writing this post reminds me I haven’t re-read these books in a while.  I think I’ll go pull out my copies and take another pass at them! If you don’t have a copy you can find a wide assortment at Amazon – Tolkien Books.

Jeff Jones