Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Click to enlargeJon Kennedy's
'C. S. Lewis Overflow
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

C.S. Lewis's teen letters

Lewis's letters to his friend Arthur Greeves during their teens are probably the most transparent window into his character available. Though the letters occasionally touch on their sexual proclivities (Arthur, whose letters to Jack have not be preserved, apparently preferred male objects of his sexual fantasies to female ones, and Jack lightly refers to a penchant toward sadism, sometimes describing girls he met as ones he'd like to whip), none of the letters suggest the level of sexual obsession that is often the focus of teen boys' private lives and friendly banter. In the letters up to his service in World War I, only one letter has a permanently deleted reference (which the collection's editor, Walter Hooper, says was 15 words), and many of them have been restored after attempted deletions, which words appear in angle brackets <such>. Lewis biographer George Sayer says that Jack advised his brother Warnie, who was the original archivist of the letters, to delete passages that "might be embarrassing to Arthur."

C. S. LewisThough I had read in one of the revisionist treatments of Lewis's life and character online that his best friend Greeves was a homosexual, the clearest indication of this in Jack's letters to Arthur is a reference to "your proclivity" in the context of a mention of Oscar Wilde. In their time, Oscar Wilde was probably the only well-known homosexual "out" there, though in another place (not referring to Arthur's "proclivity"), Jack also mentions the erotic and homoerotic drawings of Aubrey Beardsley as from "that queer artist." Since Jack seems to like Beardsley's art, it's likely that he was using "queer" to modify Beardsley himself rather than his art, though Beardsley--despite having provided art for a French production of an Oscar Wilde play--was not known as homosexual.

Though Jack professed atheism at this time, his letters are laced with more biblical references than one would expect these days in correspondence from a believer, and he specifically says in one letter to Arthur that they should follow the "high road" in their discussions. This could have been a reaction to something Arthur said, cautioning, in effect, "let's not go there," or it may have been a defensive retreat from an earlier veering on to a "lower road" on Jack's part, that Arthur may have objected to. Though they refer to masturbation occasionally, they do so obliquely, as "IT" or "THAT," and indicate that they are against the practice in principle. It must be admitted that they may have had to fear being "spied on" by one or more of their parents, which could explain some of their circumspection. Jack's father, for example, has been referred to at least once as having gone to Arthur's house to get news from him about Jack when his son had failed to keep in touch.

But the letters generally are about their reading, with Jack constantly recommending new books for Arthur's addition to his library, and their shared memories of hikes taken when they were together in Belfast, looking forward to their next meetings, and thoughts about other members of their families with only minor delving into sexual interests and activities. The one surprise to me is that when Jack had become acquainted with the mother of a close buddy in the army, Mrs. Janie King Moore, he mentions her often to Arthur and twice refers to his being "in love now." Though biographer Sayer (who knew Jack probably as well as anyone did in his latter years) doubted whether Jack and Mrs. Moore had ever been lovers, considering that Mrs. Moore is the only woman he is talking about in this part of the correspondence, there must have been at least an acknowledged platonic attraction or infatuation toward her on Jack's part.

Mrs. Moore's son, Paddy, was killed in the war, and because he and Jack had promised each other they would "look after" each other's parents if one of them failed to return from the front, Jack shared a house with Mrs. Moore and her daughter (who was only eleven years old when he first met them) from when he moved back from the war to Oxford in 1919 until her death in 1951. They had separate bedrooms and when he was teaching at Oxford, he spent most of his week nights at his "digs" in Magdalen College.

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Today's chuckle

"What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?"

"Make me one with everything."

Thought for today

You cannot go on "explaining away" for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on "seeing through" things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it..

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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