New light shed on a fragment of C. S. Lewis' writing

24 July 2009

bodleian_smallA short piece of writing from the pen of C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia Chronicles and Screwtape Letters, has recently received new scholarly attention. 

The work in question consists of eight pages of C.S. Lewis’ handwriting featuring a pre-semiotic analysis in which he defines the meaning and function of language. Professor Steve Beebe of Texas State University has been studying the manuscript for the last seven years and has now reached the conclusion that this essay represents the opening pages of a proposed book by Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In this fragment, Lewis refers to 'the authors' - in the plural - which may substantiate Professor Beebe’s theory that this essay is related to the project on which Lewis and Tolkien were working.

As documented in a letter written by Tolkien in 1944 to his son Christopher, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien had planned to write a book together about language, the working title of which would have been Language and Human Nature. A news release from their publisher announced that the book was scheduled for publication in 1950. It was, however, never published. Scholars have thought, until now, that it was never started.

The fragment is part of a famous C.S. Lewis exercise book which is deposited in the Bodleian Library and is often consulted by scholars. The exercise book also contains the only known substantial fragments of the Narnia books, as well as other miscellaneous notes about various academic topics. Although, the notebook itself is renowned, not all of its contents have received the same attention and interest from scholars.

Dr Judith Priestman, Curator of Literary Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, said: 'The new light shed on this short piece of unpublished academic writing by Lewis testifies to the value of engagement with the manuscript material. We are pleased to see that the Bodleian unique collections are at the forefront of leading academic research.'

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