Lewis letters given to university

Rare unpublished letters written by Chronicles of Narnia author CS Lewis have been donated to a university in his native Belfast.

The collection of 11 letters was found in an attic in England by the son of one of Lewis’s friends Captain Bernard Acworth.

In the correspondence with Capt Acworth, who was founder of an organisation opposed to the teaching of evolution as scientific fact, committed Christian Lewis outlined his own views on religion and the origins of life.

Reverend Dr Richard Acworth, from Portsmouth, today gave the letters Lewis sent to his father to Queen’s University in Belfast, where the public will be able to view them in its CS Lewis Reading Room.

“The letters were written to my father between the years 1944 and 1960 and he kept them and when he died they were just left in the loft really and I went through his letters much later and found them there,” he said.

“More recently I thought they ought really to be somewhere where they are accessible to the public and decided to give them here to Queen’s University.”

Rev Acworth said his father, who founded the Evolution Protest Movement in the 1930s, and Lewis became quite close after he originally wrote to the author on the issue of creation.

“I don’t know how they first met,” he said.

“They began by discussing the subject of evolution and they became quite close friends. My father quite often stayed with him in Oxford and the later letters are more sort of chatty than the earlier ones.”

He said the letters suggest that Lewis’s view that evolution and Christianity were compatible began to change later in his life.

“My father was a convinced Christian, as was CS Lewis,” said Rev Acworth.

“My father had a particular view: he was strongly opposed to the teaching of evolution of being certainly true and the full explanation of things and he got in touch with CS Lewis about this.

“Originally Lewis was more or less agnostic on that subject but it seems in the course of the correspondence he gradually became much more of my father’s way of thinking.”

Rev Acworth said Queen’s seemed a natural home for the letters, especially as his daughter Phyllida studied English there in the 1990s.

She accompanied her father to Belfast today for the handover.

“We came here last year and were shown round the library,” said Rev Acworth.

“And I was brought into the CS Lewis room here and seeing the interest and sympathetic interest there obviously was here for everything to do with CS Lewis I thought this was the obvious place to give the letters.”

While acknowledging the collection was probably quite valuable, Rev Acworth said he never considered selling it.

“It never crossed my mind,” he said. “My concern was that they should be preserved and available to the public.”

Rev Acworth said the letters touch on aspects of Lewis the person.

“They also contain insights into various aspects of Lewis’ private life, including when he married his wife at her bedside in hospital as she was dying of cancer and she seemed to make a miraculous recovery,” he said.

“He also talks of visiting Donegal, describing the scenery in North Donegal as ’lovely’ and South Donegal as having a ’sinister character’.

“I am delighted that my daughter Phyllida, a Queen’s English graduate, is here with me today. I know my father would have been happy to have his letters preserved as part of the CS Lewis collection at Queen’s.”

Deirdre Wildy, head of special collections and archives at Queen’s, said: “The works of CS Lewis are enjoyed the world over.

“We are delighted to be in receipt of the Acworth Collection, and will be pleased to facilitate access to the letters as they are likely to be of great interest to researchers in several subject areas.

“This generous donation will be a valuable addition to our manuscript holdings in Special Collections and Archives at Queen’s.”

Queen’s CS Lewis Reading Room in the university’s McClay Library is entered through a replica of the wardrobe door used in the feature film based on Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

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