by Dan Hamilton
An Introduction is a signpost - pointing not to itself but to the pages that follow. While “On the Reading of Old Books” is usually reprinted (and presented) as a stand-alone essay by Lewis, it is actually the introduction to a book written by someone else: "The Incarnation of the Word of God: Being the Treatise of St. Athanasius DE INCARNATIONE VERBI DEI, Newly Translated by a Religious of C.S.M.V. St. Th."
This book appeared in 1944 from Centenary Press/Bles (in England) and later from MacMillan (in the US); it has been reprinted at least twice since then in paperback form.
There is a progression here: to talk intelligently about the Introduction, we should first talk about the book it introduces. But to talk profitably about the book, it is enormously useful to talk first about the friendship behind it. (And one suspects a friendship, because the book is dedicated to Lewis!)
The self-effacing “religious” was actually Ruth Penelope Lawson, who was born in 1890 and had entered the (Anglican) convent of the Community of Saint Mary the Virgin (at Wantage, near Oxford) in 1912. Sister Penelope studied theology and church history, and expressed her practical delight in Greek and Latin by translating numerous works from the early church fathers. She had already written several books of her own by 1939, including Scenes from the Psalms and Leaves from the Trees.
Sister Penelope read and admired Out of the Silent Planet, a book that had appeared in 1938 – written by C. S. Lewis, a don at Magdalene College in neighboring Oxford. Sister Penelope wrote a letter to Lewis in August 1939, and praised his book for (among other things) being thought-provoking, delightful, and scripturally-based. She pronounced it “more lovely and more satisfying than anything I have met before” and inquired if he planned a sequel to the story. She also enclosed a copy of her own recent book, God Persists: A Short Survey of World History in the Light of Christian Faith.
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