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Collected Letters, Vol. 1: Family Letters, 1905-1931 Hardcover – International Edition, June 29, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"As we witness Lewis develop we find that these volumes are working as a kind of unconscious autobiography." -- Books & Culture

From the Back Cover

The first of a three volume collection of the letters of C. S. Lewis. This volume contains letters from Lewis’s boyhood, his army days in World War I, and his early academic life at Oxford. From his declared atheism at age 16 to his budding friendship with Tolkien during his days at Oxford, these letters set the stage for Lewis’s influential life and writings.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1072 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1St Edition edition (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060727632
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060727635
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,558,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Marshall on January 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I feel a bit guilty reading this book. Since I "discovered" Lewis thirty years ago in a friend's basement in Alaska, his ideas, stories, logic, and humor have more than influenced me, they have become part of the furniture of my mind. Anyone who knows Lewis well, knows how little he would have liked having his mail read by snoopy Americans. Oh, well, where he is now, they can afford to be forgiving.

This volume is put together well. Walter Hooper is both thorough and judicious in his editing; the notes he adds at the bottom of the page are often helpful. I find myself wondering how in the world he tracked down some of these sources. The book is also physically attractive, as Lewis would have appreciated.

Most of the letters in this first volume are to one of three people: Arthur Greeves, Lewis' "first friend," his father, and his brother Warren. Especially with Arthur, who seems to get the most, the topic is usually books and the ideas contained in them, romance (in the literary sense, not sex, which is treated with a detached voyerism), philosophy, art and music, natural beauty. The "real world" also intrudes (school, war, college, a job) from time to time. Not all of this is interesting to me; often he's talking about subjects I know nothing about, in a way that sheds little light on them.

But from an early age, Lewis has already become a precise and perceptive writer, with wide-ranging curiosity. So while the material is not equally interesting, and some could have been excluded -- are the sexual fantasies of two post-adolescents really our business? -- I am finding it intermittently interesting to look behind the screen, and grapple with this new motherload of unsifted Lewisiana.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I should begin this review with an important stipulation: I haven't finished the book yet. I am slightly over halfway done -- about 600 pages into it.

That said, I think I have a pretty good grasp of the course this first volume is taking. And it's a good one. I am thoroughly enjoying this detailed romp through C.S. Lewis's early life, though I must join with a previous reviewer in saying that I do feel a bit guilty reading through his personal papers.

You have to attack this book with the right mindset. It's not a novel, an action adventure story or even a biography. It's simply the unedited, honest ramblings of a man growing up in the early 20th century.

This first volume does contain a lot of excruciating details that one might call mundane. In many of the letters, Lewis is doing nothing more than asking his father for money, describing the binding of a new book he has recently purchased or apologizing for taking so long to write.

But at the same time, the anthology is chock full of minute details that shed infinite light on what life was like at the dawn of the 20th century. The very idea that people would write so many (and so lengthy) letters at all seems foreign to us now in the age of e-mails and instant messages. Imagine growing up in a time when you were expected, not only to learn Greek and Latin, but also to speak and read it fluently. I used to think I was an intellectual for having read The Iliad and The Odyssey in their English translations. Lewis (and likely his contemporaries) seemed to scoff at anyone who would read anything other than the Greek versions. It was a different time.

The other reason this book is appealing is that it enables you to trace a seismic shift in Lewis's worldview.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
All his life Lewis was a witty and thoughtful letter writer, and readers will find many passages in his correspondence as insightful and quotable as in his published books. Volume 1 is especially interesting as it documents Lewis's somewhat circuitous spiritual journey and his vaunting ambition in his early years to become a great poet someday.

Walter Hooper has done a great service to all Lewis fans by publishing these three volumes of Lewis's collected letters. Hooper is a thorough and thoughtful editor,supplying ample footnotes and biographical sketches so that readers understand the context of the letters.In volume one, Hooper intervweaves selections from Lewis's personal journals (published separately as ALL MY ROAD BEFORE ME), so the readers can compare what the young Lewis was writing to others with the private thoughts he was recording in his journal. (Readers who want to review Lewis's somewhat technical "Great War" correspondence with Owen Barfield should consult volume three of the letters.)

Lewis's letters are highly readable in themselves, but Walter Hooper has made this an especially valuable resource by correcting errors in earlier edtions, supplying a substantial introduction, plus helpful footnotes and biographical notes. These letters will become an enduring part not only of Lewis's achievement, but also of Walter Hooper's achievement as exactly the right person to serve as the steward of Lewis's literary legacy.
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Format: Hardcover
This 1057-page volume includes letters written when Lewis was ages 7 through 33. It begins with a childhood letter containing news from home for brother Warnie who is away at school; it ends with a letter to life-long friend Arthur Greeves in which Lewis reports accepting the mythic but true "reality" of Jesus Christ (a revolution in thought which Lewis attributes chiefly to conversations with Hugo Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien). Besides mostly letters to Warnie and Greeves, letters to Lewis's father make up the bulk of the correspondence included here. There are some letters to scholarly friends like Owen Barfield, but not a great many.

Students of Lewis would be mistaken to assume that the limited range of Lewis's correspondents would offer subject matter of small scholarly interest. Lewis's fulsome reportage, which grows increasingly clever and increasingly articulate from his teenage years onward, allows much insight into his formative critical thought and literary interests, as well as into his experiences, his attitudes, and the convictions which led up to the singularly important conversion which then so entirely influenced the mind of Lewis for the rest of his literary career.

The correspondence is edited by Walter Hooper who supplies copious footnotes identifying the individuals Lewis alludes to as well as the many works of literature, well-known and obscure, that Lewis cites. Hooper also provides a Biographical Appendix of brief "lives" of the most important persons in Lewis's life mentioned in this volume, and there is a very good, detailed index that will help anybody who wants to refer back to the contents of the letters. The prodigious work of editing that Hooper has accomplished here is [to my view] an admirable "wonder.
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