C.S. Lewis’s Humble and Thoughtful Gift of Letter Writing - page 2


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From the Fall 2013 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis's Humble and Thoughtful Gift of Letter Writing

by Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D.
Vice President of Discipleship and Outreach, C.S. Lewis Institute

 

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   Letter writing became one of the vehicles by which Lewis could share the beauty, truth, and goodness of God with others. Having written letters all of his life prior to his conversion, it was natural for Lewis to continue to reply to letters received, just as he continued to engage in rambunctious conversation with his friends at the pub following his discovery of Christ. The difference was that now letter writing and conversations could be redeemed as natural outlets for Lewis to live out his faith. Perhaps the biggest difference in his pre- and post-conversion letter writing, besides the focus of his letters, was the sheer volume of letters to which he responded. Lewis received thousands of letters over the course of his lifetime once his books became known globally. Not only did he reply to the mother of an American boy, but he also wrote thousands of letters to friends, family members, and fans of his books and radio broadcasts, students, scholars, pastors, men in the armed forces, and others. Blogger Brenton Dickieson estimates that we have approximately 3,274 handwritten surviving letters of Lewis.5
  Lewis never learned to type, because he had only one joint in his thumbs, and the clackety-clack of the keys on the manual typewriter disturbed his thinking. The tactile dipping of the pen in ink, and the flow of the pen across the paper enabled him to write almost effortlessly. In fact, Lewis considered himself to be a “dinosaur” who didn’t want modern technology to distract him and upset his rhythm of life.  
  Many of Lewis’s handwritten letters have been published in a three-volume set edited by Lewis’s literary executor, Walter Hooper, titled, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. Other individual collections are titled Letters to Children, Letters to an American Lady, They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis, and Letters of C.S. Lewis saved and organized by his brother, Warren Lewis.  
  On top of these handwritten letters we could add the more than twelve thousand letters that Lewis’s brother, Warnie, typed with two fingers on his old Royal typewriter to help Lewis keep up with his commitment to personally reply to each letter received. Warnie lightened the work load for Lewis as he opened the mail and distinguished between the typical fan mail that could be dealt with by a standard reply and those gems that he felt Lewis would want to address more personally. Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson, writes,

...amongst the usual clutter of Jack’s [Lewis’s] morning mail . . . Jack received letters from all over the world, most of which Warnie would answer for Jack and then take to Jack for his approval and signature. Jack could not type, and his handwriting was not exactly the most legible in the world, so Warnie handled the bulk of his correspondence.6

  Even with Warnie’s help, Lewis would spend an average of two hours each morning at his desk with pen and paper in hand, diligently and faithfully replying to his pen pals from around the world. And he did this for more than twenty years once he became a celebrated author and radio personality.
   So perhaps the obvious question is why? Why in the midst of his busy life of tutoring, lecturing, writing, worshiping, caring for family members, and visiting with friends, did Lewis spend so much of his precious time replying to letters from children, women, and men from around the world?  

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