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Christmas and Cricket: Rediscovering Two Lost C. S. Lewis Articles After 70 Years
Would you imagine that, with all of the cataloging technologies we have working around the clock, one could still discover unknown articles by a very well-known author? While doing research for my PhD, I discovered two such articles by C. S. Lewis. Although published in the 1940s, these articles have been overlooked ever since and don’t appear in the many lists of his works. The thrill of discovery has brought home a few points (of encouragement) in a time when it sometimes seems as though all the stones have been overturned.
In 2013, I was spending my days pouring over old journals and forgotten newspapers from the early 20th century. I wanted to understand just why Lewis had become a household name in Britain during the height of the Second World War for his Christian writings, and why, in the decades since, it has been Americans, rather than the British, who have continued to relish Lewis’s defenses of Christian doctrine.
On one particular, ordinary day, I made my way to the National Library of Scotland in the Edinburgh rain. I stored my dripping coat in a locker and settled myself among the industrious scholars. It was chilly underneath the fluorescent lights. Someone’s phone was chiming intermittently, disrupting the quiet and concentration. After a while, my back ached from hunching over the delicate pieces of paper spread across the table in front of me. I rose to stretch my legs and consult yet another index of British periodicals in the reference section. This small exertion set my blood moving a little freer through my veins. I took down an unfamiliar volume from a nearby shelf, an index to The Strand Magazine. From what was by then a reflex, I flipped to “Lewis, C. S.” To my surprise, there were two entries. I knew Lewis’s bibliography pretty well, but I didn’t recognize these articles. Could they be … new?
It’s easy to be nostalgic for a magazine like The Strand. As Winston Churchill, a frequent contributor, once remarked, in its heyday it looked “so very prosperous.” Begun in 1891, The Strand was a pioneer of a “picture on every page” policy and was illustrated by some of the best artists in Britain. It presented a pleasing variety of non-fiction pieces alongside fiction from the likes of H. G. Wells, E. Nesbit, P. G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, D. H. Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh, John Steinbeck, J. B. Priestly, and Rider Haggard, to name a few. The author most associated with the magazine, however, was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” became popular through The Strand. A favorite among the British upper classes, The Strand was widely read and earned a devoted following at home and abroad. Its high standing kept the magazine afloat during the Second World War when many others were forced to cease printing due to paper shortages. Browsing Edwardian or Interwar issues of The Strand today, the weight of the pages feels good in one’s hands. One senses, too, that some higher mission lay behind its production.
The index to The Strand informed me that Lewis had published two articles in the magazine shortly after the close of the Second World War. While one was under his own name, the other was under a pseudonym he had used before, Clive Hamilton. In excitement, I paged the issues from some dusty recess of the library’s basement, and they duly appeared, petite and cheerful, on my desk. I felt the thrill of being the first to read lost (to modern readers) creative works in light of Lewis’s subsequent spectacular and long-lived popularity.
The first piece was, as The Strand’s editor had observed in a short descriptor below the title, “a characteristic piece of writing by the Oxford don who has become the most entertaining missionary of our time.” Indeed, “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans” is quintessential Lewis published at the height of his renown. It was even illustrated by the famous cartoonist, Ronald Searle, with a playful series of angels and devils wrestling in the margins. The topic of the article was suggested by The Strand, Lewis tells us, and he “accepted the job light heartedly enough.” However, he continued, “now that I sit down to tackle it I discover a difficulty. Are there any Pagans in England for me to write to?”
Lewis proceeded to use his Christmas “sermon” as an occasion to draw distinctions between the true Pagans or Heathens of old—“the backward people in the remote districts who had not yet been converted, who were still pre-Christian”—and modern people in Britain who have ceased to be Christians, who are sometimes referred to as “pagans.” To confuse these categories, Lewis says, is “like thinking … a street where the houses have been knocked down is the same as a field where no house has yet been built. … Rubble, dust, broken bottles, old bedsteads and stray cats are very different from grass, thyme, clover, buttercups and a lark singing overhead.”
Real Pagans differ from post-Christians, Lewis continued, firstly in that they were actually religious: “To [the Pagan] the earth was holy, the woods and waters were alive.” Secondly, they “believed in what we now call an ‘Objective’ Right or Wrong,” that is, that “the distinction between pious and impious acts was something which existed independently of human opinions.” Finally, Pagans, unlike “post-Christian man,” had “deep sadness” because of their knowledge that they did not obey the moral code perfectly. To compensate for this shortcoming, the Pagan developed a wealth of ceremonies to “take away guilt.”
Lewis went on to bemoan the modern loss of a certain gaiety held by people who lived in a more enchanted world. He described the “post-Christian” view of nature as a “kind of machine for us to exploit,” which has led to our abuse of the Earth. If correct, Lewis says, the post-Christian view means we have awakened into a true freedom from “the old fear, the old reverence, the old restraints,” even if the new reality is decidedly less “fun.” He continued:
A universe of colourless electrons (which is presently going to run down and annihilate all organic life everywhere and forever) is, perhaps, a little dreary compared with the earth-mother and the sky-father, the wood nymphs and the water nymphs, chaste Diana riding the night sky and homely Vesta flickering on the hearth. But one can’t have everything, and there are always the flicks and the radio: if the new view is correct, it has very solid advantages.
We can hear the sarcasm in Lewis’s voice here: Modernity is dreary when compared to a Pagan’s enchanted reality. Nature herself, Lewis says, may even be “hitting back” at the consequences of such a view, for in “country after country comes the same story of failing harvests: even the whales have less oil.” Even if this is not the case, he says, the modern irreverent conquest over nature by humans is disastrous; it “yields new means of propaganda to enslave them, new weapons to kill them, new power for the State and new weakness for the citizen.”
But where does that leave Christianity? Lewis is building to his point. And, as always, his prose invites quotation:
It looks to me, neighbours, as though we shall have to set about becoming true Pagans if only as a preliminary to becoming Christians. … For (in a sense) all that Christianity adds to Paganism is the cure. It confirms the old belief that in this universe we are up against Living Power: that there is a real Right and that we have failed to obey it: that existence is beautiful and terrifying. It adds a wonder of which Paganism had not distinctly heard—that the Mighty One has come down to help us, to remove our guilt, to reconcile us.
Indeed, a remedy has been provided for the “deep sadness” brought onto the world by sin. The very Pagan thing we do on December 25 of “singing and feasting because a God has been born” just may be, Lewis suggests, our “way back not only to Heaven, but to Earth too.”
The second article offered joy of a different kind: a puzzle. Was it, in fact, by Lewis? There were several indications that it was. First, there was the matter of the index identifying Lewis as the author, despite there being nothing in the magazine itself that definitively confirmed that fact. (The author of the index later assured me by email of the thoroughness of her research, which, she said, had led to her attributing the piece to Lewis). Secondly, as I mentioned before, Lewis had used this pseudonym elsewhere, most notably for his poem Dymer (1926) and for his first published work, Spirits in Bondage (1919). Then, there was the Lewis-y title “Cricketer’s Progress,” an allusion to one of Lewis’s favorite books, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; Lewis had modeled his allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933) upon this 17th-century text. Finally, there was a quote from G. K. Chesterton appended (by the editor Reginald Pound) to the close of the piece; Chesterton was an author to whom Lewis was often compared in the 1940s.
Yet, the article itself is wholly unlike anything else Lewis ever wrote. In fact, upon my first reading I thought, “No, this isn’t his.” The most obvious difference was the subject matter: cricket. In the thousands of pages that Lewis wrote over his lifetime, there is scant coverage of sports, and the few mentions of cricket recall his frustration at being forced to play as a boy. Yet the article, subtitled “A Famous Reputation and What Became of It,” follows the career of Maurice W. Tate, a real-life, famous cricketer and contemporary of Lewis, ostensibly in order to ponder the career prospects for servicemen with the recent end of the war.
“They may conceivably turn to sport as an occupation. What are the prospects?” the writer begins. This brings me to a second point weighing against the piece being Lewis’s: the authorial voice. It is written not only about cricket but from the perspective of one who has followed the game with interest for years. It is written, in other words, in the style of a sportswriter. Take, for example, the following excerpt: “Even then, Jardine was unable to give him a Test Match chance. The body-line controversy was at its height, and it was thought impolitic to add the insult of Tate to the injury of Larwood. Yet he could still take 7 Middlesex wickets for 28, despite his being thirty-three!” This is, to all appearances, a cricket fan talking to other cricket fans. But is that reason enough to conclude Lewis did not write it? My hunch—taken together with further evidence—is that Lewis, for whatever reason, wanted to play with the sports-writing genre and so wrote this piece under a pseudonym. But these are questions for another time.
You may be wondering why these articles were not identified before. After all, at least a dozen academics have made Lewis their primary subject, and many, many more have mined his work for something new to say about the medievalist turned Christian apologist and children’s book author. There are entire journals devoted to Lewis, not to mention many fan clubs. Furthermore, as we’ve seen, The Strand was no obscure, fleeting periodical. It was a beloved British institution, whose folding in 1950 was announced by a BBC broadcaster wearing a black armband. (And, indeed, I later learned [after writing this article] that “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans” was found independently by scholar Christopher Marsh in 2015 and is due to be reprinted in VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center in January 2018).
Part of the reason that I found these articles in 2013 is timing. Soon after Lewis died in 1963, his posthumous editor Walter Hooper cataloged all of the Lewis publications he could find (Lewis not keeping a record of his own). The Strand, however, wasn’t indexed until 1983, well after Lewis’s official bibliography was published. Furthermore, the majority of people who have studied Lewis have been Americans, whose libraries less frequently keep indexes of British magazines on their shelves. I, too, am an American, but my PhD was a transatlantic study, and I lived in the UK for four years in order to compensate for the kind of shortcomings a removal from one’s subject’s context can bring.
That said, I think another important reason that I found these works was that I looked where I did not expect to find. This practice proved itself over and over again while I was writing my forthcoming book, The Fame of C. S. Lewis: A Controversialist’s Reception in Britain and America (Oxford University Press). So indulge the admonition: Glance a little beyond where you have reason to, ask the open-ended questions, find moments for agenda-free wandering. We could all do with a little more faith that such habits will return good things, in libraries and perhaps even in the rain falling beyond their doors.
Stephanie L. Derrick is the author of the forthcoming The Fame of C. S. Lewis: A Controversialist’s Reception in Britain and America (Oxford University Press), which is based on her PhD thesis in history at the University of Stirling.