Clive Staples Lewis was a celebrated Anglo-Irish novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, lay theologian and Christian apologist whose impact and influence lives on.

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A Message in the Bottle: C. S. Lewis’s American Epistolary Friendships

June 22nd, 2011 | Skip to comments

A Message in the Bottle: C. S. Lewis’s American Epistolary Friendships (9.2MB)

This is an audio capture of my plenary address at the 2011 Lille (France) Catholic University entitled, “A Message in the Bottle: C. S. Lewis’s American Epistolary Friendships.” The Lille conference was the first international conference focused on C. S. Lewis hosted in France. A written text will be published later. All Rights reserved, © 2011.


While much has been documented, inferred, and deduced about C. S. Lewis’s Oxbridge friendships, certainly among the Inklings, and especially with his lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves, little has actually been observed about Lewis’s American friendships, their nature, character, and duration. Almost all of these transatlantic friendships began and were nurtured not by visits to the Kilns or attendance in lecture halls or long-distance phone calls, but through a rich consistency of exchanged letters over a twenty-five year period.

The shadows cast by several American friends in particular, Chad Walsh, Clyde Kilby, and Joy Davidman Gresham, have occupied biographers and bibliographers alike, and continue to fascinate scholars of Lewis to this day, nearing fifty years after his death. But what of the hundreds of ordinary Americans who wrote to Lewis between 1938-1963, out of admiration and sheer captivation, seeking insight, soliciting counsel, or merely hoping for likeminded literary companionship?

Who were these correspondents and, who among them, by the standards Lewis sets forth for the basis of friendship in his work, The Four Loves, should be accounted as “friends”?  This condensed presentation presents a Jack Lewis somewhat uniquely revealed to an American audience, and reflects upon his own emerging understanding of the American character. The Lewis whom American readers encountered is observant, attentive, and careful to sound neither omniscient nor above it all. His letters reveal that the foundation for any budding friendship is the simple gift of taking one’s correspondents seriously, and revering them deeply as fellow human beings on the road to redemption.

1 Comment

  1. This talk captured the appeal of Lewis’s works for me. Like his earlier American readers, I have found that his writings are a deeply meaningful response to my own letter in a bottle.

    Thank you for an excellent talk!

    21st-century American Lady

    Comment by Patricia Youngdale — 7 September 2011 @ 1:35 PM

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