An Old Typewriter & A Good Reminder

My wife and I, along with our twin sons Isaiah and Micah, just returned from nearly three weeks in London, England. We dined in numerous charming pubs, consumed an unthinkable amount of fish and chips, and drank in the British landscape with a sense of awe.

I’ve been to London a couple of times before, but this time was able to hit a couple really great locations that I’ve never had the opportunity to experience before. One morning I was able to explore a small town north of London with a new found friend Geoff Dennis. We covered most of the town by foot before we were able to finally locate G.K. Chesterton’s church and burial site. On our trip to Oxford with the rest of our group, we were also able to visit C.S. Lewis’s church and burial site. And for the first time ever I had the opportunity to tour Lewis’s home, known as the Kilns, on the outskirts of Oxford.

The house has been been restored to a fifties motif to match Lewis’s time. Apparently previous owners in the seventies made the place super groovy to match their decade. Thankfully, the creaky wooden floors are no longer covered in shag carpet, and the rooms are filled with memorabilia from the Lewis family. But one item in the home captured my attention.

Warren “Warnie” Lewis used to transcribe messages for his brother who did all of his own writing with pen and paper—a process too slow for the growing avalanche of daily mail.  This might sound trivial, but we now have available in print thousands of letters from C.S. Lewis, known to his friends as Jack, all originally produced on a sturdy Royal typewriter that still sits in the very room in which it was originally used. The space bar is worn from what would appear to be the right thumb of Warnie’s hand as he would space between the carefully chosen words of his brother who responded to nearly all of the fan letters he received.

C.S. Lewis is given rock star status among American evangelicals today. Yet nobody really pays much attention to his brother who struggled with alcoholism throughout his lifetime. Warnie, an unassuming intellect who was thought by Tolkien to be a better writer than his brother, gave us one of the greatest gifts we have from the creator of Narnia: a lifetime of C.S. Lewis’s correspondence. Lewis wrote letters to fans, colleagues, skeptics, and children. He even wrote letters in Latin to an Italian priest for whom Latin was the only language shared in common with Lewis.

We often talk affectionately about Lewis’s commitment to respond to mail. But we certainly wouldn’t have the amount of letters from the creative British apologist if it weren’t for his faithful, though overlooked, brother Warnie. And yet it is unlikely that with each clank of the metal keyboard, or with every zing of the manual return function, that Warnie would have any idea of the extent of his younger brother’s influence, or his “small”  part in it.

In a quaint room with walls and ceiling stained yellow from years of tobacco smoke, Warnie was content to support his brother in a way that must have seemed minuscule in the grand scheme of things. He was just helping him keep up with the demands of daily correspondence. Nothing big. Just another stack of letters to respond to. Click. Click. Click. Clunk. Ziiiing.

Warnie would close most of his brother’s letters with the words, “Sincerely Yours, Jack.” It was of course not his own name in print, but then again, that was never the point.

So, the next time you have the opportunity to serve someone in a small way—do it with all of your heart. Only history will tell the true tale of the influence of humble people who do small things for the glory of God. 

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”
– C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory