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, now in stores, 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.

Notes from the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco, 2007, Part 6

A follower of this department raises a good question: "I think maybe you're taking the easy way out with this series of Lewis articles for your weekly. You like him and find him interesting; maybe are wrongly assuming that everyone else does, too." To the first part, I plead guilty as charged. I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that this series is "taking the easy way out." In fact, I hadn't planned to do any "weeklies" any more until I came up to the need to make use of my "overflow" research about Lewis. The appendix of the book points readers to this department, and I wanted them to find more than a hypertext version of the worldwide web resources appendix. But it has taken on more size than I ever expected. It's not as likely to bring as many comments from Blacklick Valley residents and expatriates as memories of Firemen's Conventions of the past, granted. But I've said all I had to say on my valley memories in hundreds of other pages here on the site. So though this may be less exciting and appeal to fewer readers than the walks down memory lane, it will interest some, both in the short term and, I hope, for years to come.

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig Murray1954

To Stella Aldwinckle, January 1, p 400, he resigns his long-time presidency of the Oxford University Socratic Club, "...wishing you a better and more active man as my successor." The club, which debated religion in general and Christianity in particular, was led by Lewis for its first 12 years. It was disbanded in 1972.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, January 1, p 404: "Christmas mails have 'got me down.' This season is to me mainly hard, gruelling work — write, write, write, till I wickedly say that if there were less good will (going through the post) there would be more peace on earth."

To Ruth Pitter, January 4, p 403: "at the moment I have (dooced gentlemanly complaint, what?) gout! There's glory for you."

Footnote on p 404, "Brut or Brutus [is] the legendary founder of Britain...."

To Mrs. D. Jessup, January 5, p 405: "suffering can (but oh! with what difficulty) be offered to God as our part in the whole redemptive suffering of the world beginning with Christ's own suffering: that suffering by itself does not fester or poison, but resentment does; that sufferings which (heaven knows) fell on us without and against our will can be so taken that they are as saving and purifying as the voluntary sufferings of martyrs and ascetics."

To Belle Allen, January 9, p 406: "I think I go with you in preferring trees to flowers in the sense that if I had to live in a world without one or the other I'd choose to keep the trees. I certainly prefer tree-like people to flower-like people — the staunch and knotty and storm-enduring to the frilly and fragrant and easily withered...."

To Sarah Neylan, January 16, p 407: "Where I grew up the great thing was Halloween (eve of All Saints Day). There was always a slightly eerie, spooky feeling mixed with games, events, and various kinds of fortune telling — not a good night on which to walk through a churchyard. (Tho' in fact Irish people, believing in both, are much more afraid of fairies than of ghosts.)" Affirmation that Halloween is an Irish import to the United States, though I've found that the English consider (or until recent years at least, used to consider) it a strangely American "holiday."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB, January 23, p 413: "I have a taste for Dickens but don't think it a low one. He is the great author on mere affection (storge): only he and Tolstoi (another great favourite of mine) really deal with it. Of course his error lies in thinking it will do instead of Agape. Scott, as D. Cecil said, has, not the civilised mind, but the civilised heart. Unforced nobility, generosity, liberality, flow from him." I was a bit surprised by this praise of Dickens because in earlier references I thought Lewis had a lower opinion of him (as I suspect in fact his opinion rose over the years, as his opinion of Shakespeare, also, seems to have done). In his letter he writes "storge" in Greek letters.

Continuing: "...Thackery I positively dislike. He is the voice of 'the World.' And his supposedly 'good' women are revolting: jealous pharisiennes. The publicans and sinners will go in before Mrs. Pendennis and La. Castlewood."

To the Kilmer Children (American fans of the Narnian tales), January 24, p 415: "I was born in Holy Ireland where there are no snakes because, as you know, St. Patrick sent them all away."

To Arthur C. Clarke, January 26, p 418: "Fantasy & S-F [magazine] is by miles the best. Some of the most serious satire of our age appears in it. What is called 'serious' literature now — Dylan Thomas & Pound and all that — is really the most frivolous."

To Mary Van Deusen, January 26, p 419: "Surely one of the marks of the disobedient child is that it is feebler than the obedient, and can't do dozens of things that the other can!

"Unless a doctor ordered it I shd. never, myself, think of choosing my home primarily for the sake of the climate. I wd. if I were a vegetable: being a human I think the first thing about a place to live in is the people one meets, and the second thing is the beauty of the landscape. But of course others think differently. They are so lucky to be able to make the choice at all (999 out of a 1000 have no choice about where they'll live)...."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, January 26, p 420: "The present royal family can claim descent from both the British and the English lines. So, I suppose, can most of us: for since one has 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 16 great grandparents, and so on, one is presumably descended from nearly everyone who was alive in this island in the year 600 A.D."

Same: "I don't mean to ignore (in fact I find it nice) the distinction between a peasant's grandson like myself and those of noble blood."

Footnote on that page quotes Montaigne, Essays, "to study philosophy is to learn to die."

To Katharine Farrer, February 3, p 423: "Cheko-Slovakia (is that how you spell it)"

Same, p 424: "Tekky" = "a detective novel"

To O. T. Bryant, February 5, p 425: "One has often wished for ignorance oneself." Maybe this is Lewis's version of the pop music refrain, "I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then" (attributed to Toby Keith and Bob Seger).

Same, "Genia (trans. 'generation') might mean race — i.e. the Jews will not disappear till all is accomplished. And they have certainly outlived nearly all the races of that time."

To Mrs. D. Jessup, February 5, p 425: "About 2 years ago I made a similar progress from mere intellectual acceptance of, to realisation of, the doctrine that our sins are forgiven. That is perhaps the most blessed thing that ever happened to me. How little they know of Christianity who think that the story ends with conversion: novelties we never dreamed of may await us at every turn of the road.

"About the question of abandoning the 'World' or fighting right inside it, don't you think that both may be right for different people? Some are called to the one and some to the other. Hence Our Lord, after pointing the contrast between the hermit and ascetic John the Baptist, and Himself who drank wine and went to dinner parties and jostled with every kind of man, concluded 'But Wisdom is justified of all her children': meaning, I take it, both these kinds. I fancy we are all too ready, once we are converted ourselves, to assume that God will deal with everyone exactly as He does with us. But He is no mass-producer and treats no two quite alike."

To Katharine Farrer, February 9, p 426, thoughts on "the mystery of poetry."

To Sister Penelope CSMV, February 15, p 428: "I have had to abandon the book on prayer: it was clearly not for me." (In fact Lewis returned to it and wrote it as Letters to Malcom, Chiefly on Prayer, his last book.)

To Mrs. Johnson, February 18, p 428: "Of course taking in the poor illegitimate child is 'charity.' Charity means love. It is called Agape in the N.T. to distinguish it from Eros (sexual love), Storge (family affection) and Philia (friendship). So there are 4 kinds of 'love,' all good in their proper place, but Agape is the best because it is the kind God has for us and is good in all circumstances. (There are people I mustn't feel Eros towards, and people I can't feel Storge or Philia for: but I can practise Agape to God, Angels, Men & Beast, to the good and the bad, the old and the young, the far and the near.)"

To Herbert Palmer, February 19, p 429: "As far as I know the history is roughly thus. Soul (Psyche) is the ordinary Gk. for 'life' of a plant, beast, or man. In Aristotle a man has vegetable Psyche (shared with plants), sensitive Psyche (shared with beasts) and intellectual Psyche. In St. Paul there comes in a different distinction, between Psyche and Spirit (Pneuma). There are 2 kinds of man the Psychic (A.V. 'natural') man and the Pneumatic (A.V. 'spiritual') man."

Same, p 430: "For mind, by the way, no real equivalent seems to exist in any modern language." Which is why Orthodox fathers emphasize the Greek "mind," in the original term, nous.

To Mary Van Deusen, February 22, p 432: "I feel some of the same qualm as you about the Ecumenical Movement."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, February 22, p 432: "I suspect we — and especially, my sex — don't cry enough nowadays. Aeneas and Hector and Beowulf and Roland and Lancelot blubbered like school-girls, so why shouldn't we?"

Same, "I don't object to the family reading the trilogy on the ground that it wd. be too difficult — that wd. do no harm — but because in the last one there is so much evil, in a form not, I think, suitable for their age, and many specifically sexual problems which it wd. do them no good to think of at present. I daresay the Silent Planet is alright: Perelandra, little less so: T.H.S. most unsuitable."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, March 4, p 436: "Since the goal of our endeavor | Has no content, form, or name, | No position, we can never | (Happy warriors!) miss our aim; | Since improvement means just movement, | All directions are the same."
This is from Lewis's poem, "Evolutionary Hymn." It was published in Don W. King's C.S. Lewis, Poet, 2001.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, March 10, p 438: "(Like the total stranger in a train of whom I once asked 'Do you know when we get to Liverpool' and who replied 'I'm not paid to answer your questions: ask the guard'). I have found it more among Boys than anyone else. That makes me think it really comes from inner insecurity — a dim sense that one is Nobody, a strong determination to be Somebody, and a belief that this can be achieved by arrogance. Probably you, who can't hit back, come in for a good deal of resentful arrogance aroused by others on whom she doesn't vent it, because they can."

To Harry Blamires, March 14, p 440: response to Blamires's novel about a sojourn in Purgatory, The Devil's Hunting-grounds. P 441: "A blessed paradox. Men need to be humiliated, but the intention to humiliate, being wicked, is always frustrated." Lewis ends with a warm welcome to come and have dinner, bed and breakfast with him. My impression has been that Lewis went with reticence to great warmth to both George Sayer and Blamires (one of the few members of Lewis's circle of acquaintances whose writing I was familiar with before becoming immersed in Lewis's work). And to some extent I feel the same progression in the connection between Lewis and Dom Bede Griffiths.

To the Kilmer Children, March 19, p 442: "The typescript of your book went off to the publisher last week, though it will not be out till next year. It is called The Magician's Nephew. You must have often wondered how the old Professor in The Lion, Witch & W could have believed all the children told him about Narnia. The reason was that he had been there himself as a little boy. This book tells you how he went there, and (of course that was ages and ages ago by Narnian time) how he saw Aslan creating Narnia, and how the White Witch first got into that world and why there was a lamp-post in the middle of that forest." "Their" book, The Magician's Nephew, was dedicated to them by Lewis.

To Herbert Palmer, March 19, p 443, refers to a program in which a poet "K" appeared as "almost an imbecile." A footnote identifies "K" as James Kirkup whose performance that night was "extremely 'camp.'" Later Kirkup did a poem, describing a Roman centurion's love for Christ, "The love that dares to speak its name," and which was the object of a blasphemy action brought against Kirkup.

To Rhonda Bodle, March 24, p 445: "Oh how you touch my conscience! I treated my own father abominably and no sin in my whole life now seems to be so serious. It is not likely you are equally guilty."

Same: "While my Father was alive I was shocked when I caught myself acting or speaking like him: now I am amused, and not hostilely. At any rate, work now for the night cometh."

To Mary Van Deusen, March 25, p 446: "You ask 'for what' God wants you. Isn't the primary answer that He wants you. We're not told that the lost sheep was sought out for anything except itself. Of course, He may have a special job for you: and the certain job is that of becoming more and more His."

To Arthur Greeves, March 25, p 446: "It wd. be wise if you pointed out to both managers that I am an unseasonably early riser and you a light sleeper so that you wd. be greatly obliged if we could be put in rooms not adjacent (This is not meant as a joke!)"

Same, p 447: "No author minds having to answer letters in praise of his own book: not even Warnie."

To I.O. Evans, March 26, p 447: "why go to Mars? — 'see your own planet first.' "

To Mrs. D. Jessup, March 26, p 448: "Two men had to cross a dangerous bridge. The first convinced himself that it wd. bear them, and called this conviction Faith. The second said 'Whether it breaks or holds, whether I die here or somewhere else, I am equally in God's good hands.' And the bridge did break and they were both killed: and the second man's Faith was not disappointed and the first man's was."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, March 31, p 448: "I am sorry the persecution still goes on. I had that sort of thing at school, and in the army, and here too when I was a junior fellow, and it does v. much darken life. I suppose (tho' it seems a hard saying) we should mind humiliation less if [we] were humbler. It is, at any rate, a form of suffering which we can try to offer, in our small way, along with the supreme humiliation of Christ Himself. There is, if you notice it, a very great deal in the N.T. about His humiliations as distinct from His sufferings in general. And it is the humble and meek who have all the blessings in the Magnificat. So your position is, spiritually, far safer than the opposite one. But don't think I don't know how much easier it is to preach than practice."

Same, p 449: "How right you are to see that anger (even when directed against oneself) 'worketh not the righteousness of God.' One must never be either content with, or impatient with, oneself. My old confessor (now dead) used to impress on me the need for the 3 Patiences: patience with God, with my neighbour, with oneself."

Footnote 148 on this letter describes a study by seven adults of a short poem that had been around for 30 years and about which there was absolutely no agreement as to its meaning.

To George and Moira Sayer, April 2, p 450: "there are no two people I'd be sorrier to lose." In the same, he describes a visit of Joy Davidman Gresham and invites the Sayers to come to meet her: "She's a queer fish and I'm not at all sure that she is either yours or Moira's cup of tea (she is, at any rate, not a Bore)."

On April 2, Warnie wrote to Arthur Greeves (p 451) that his book was selling steadily, not sensationally, but that it had had "a positively rapturous review in the N.Y. Times, which is all to the good, as far as it goes."

Footnote 156 on p 452 describes an acquaintance of Lewis's and Sister Madeleva, CSC, Fr. Martin Cyril D'Arcy, SJ, as instrumental in bringing Evelyn Waugh into the Catholic Church.

To Margaret Pollard, April 20, p 457: "Did you see in the paper the account of that dog who after a lifetime of honesty began to steal food daily? The change coincided with the disappearance of the two other dogs kept in the same house; and on investigation it was found that they were at the bottom of a small mine shaft, alive, and that their noble colleague had been dropping food down it for them every day?" This incident gave Lewis second thoughts about his statement in The Problem of Pain that "so far as we know beasts are incapable of either sin or virtue." (Footnote 164.)

To Phoebe Hesketh, April 21, p 460: "In youth my head was harder and more tyrannous and my heart colder than now."

To Ruth Pitter, April 22, p 460, papyrophagous = paper eating

Same, p 461: quotes (with pleasure) Herbert Palmer as calling "Dylan Thomas 'a drunken, illiterate, leg-pulling, Welsh foghorn."

Same: "There's lots to be said for a dumb choir. I wish ours were."

To Mary Van Deusen, April 22, p 463: "If they have a bad priest they need good laity all the more. And when one comes to think of it, the place where one is most wanted can hardly ever be the place where one wd. have chosen for one's own comfort."

Same: "it is only for your sake He uses you to do what He cd. do v. much more easily Himself."

To Tony Pollock, May 3, p 465: "Behind our own stories there are no 'facts' at all, tho' I hope there are truths. That is, they may be regarded as imaginative hypotheses illustrating what I believe to be theological truths." Then Lewis describes how his "space trilogy" fits into this framework.

To Joan Lancaster, May 7, p 467: "As for doing more Narnian books than 7, isn't it better to stop when people are still asking for more than to go on till they are tired?"

On the same page is a letter to Robert Penn Warren, who years later became the first U.S. Poet Laureate.

An editor's note on p 469 describes the role some friends of Lewis, notably J.R.R. Tolkien, played in his being appointed to the new Professorship of Medieval and Renaissance English at Magdalene College, Cambridge. The following letters to Sir Henry Willink trace steps Lewis took which almost led to his forfeiting the offered post.

To Sheldon Vanauken, May 14, p 471, responding to Vanauken's request for advice on ministering to a homosexual acquaintance: "First, to map out the boundaries within which all discussion must go on, I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homo. no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (Jn IX 1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God shd. be made manifest in him.

"This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, wh. will 'turn the necessity to glorious gain.' Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations wh., if so disabled, we can't lawfully get. The homo. has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forego otherwise lawful pleasures because he wd. be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition."


To Sir Henry Willink, May 19, p 476: "I feel a fool in saying all this. But you know how it is when a man has a possible change before him. It is impossible not to toy with the idea of what you would do, or would have done, if you accepted. I have begun composing imaginary lectures and this has had a good deal to do with it: you know what good lectures those ones always are!"

To Mary Van Deusen, May 20, p 477: "It doesn't surprise me in the least that one who can't do a job himself shd. be set to teach others. Failed schoolmasters become inspectors of schools and failed authors become critics. It's the normal thing."

To A Fifth Grade Class in Maryland, May 24, p 479: "You are mistaken when you think that everything in the book 'represents' something in this world. Things do that in The Pilgrim's Progress but I'm not writing in that way. I did not say to myself 'Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia': I said "Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen.' If you think about it, you will see that it is quite a different thing."

An editor's note on p 482 describes Lewis's declining the offered chair at Cambridge, but later beginning to change his mind. Though it was offered to a "second choice," that person heard of Lewis's second thoughts and so declined so he could have it.

To Delmar Banner, June 8, p 487: "I haven't noticed that College [Magdalen-Oxford] is anxious to have my portrait painted before I go! Otherwise we might hope to see your egg. (The metaphor of sitting in it is intriguing!)"

To Sir Henry Willink, June 10, p 488: "I should like (among other things) to remain under the same Patroness." He was referring to Mary Magdalene as the patroness.

To Dorothy L. Sayers, June 12, p 488: "If you wd. call me Jack as others do, the difficulty wd. not arise. (I believe such suggestions ought to come from the lady, but years pass and the lady doesn't move!)"

To Mr. Allwood, June 18, p 490: "No, I don't for a moment think that conversion wh. can be fixed to a definite date is in the least necessary." This is a question I have often heard in American fundamentalist circles.

To Jane Douglass, June 19, p 491, referring to a proposal from a BBC producer to dramatize the Narnian Chronicle: "I am sure you understand that Aslan is a divine figure, and anything remotely approaching the comic (above all anything in the Disney line) would be to me simple blasphemy. But how are you going to manage any of the animals?"

To William L. Kinter, July 30, p 497, referring to That Hideous Strength and other of his novels: "I am afraid the name St. Anne's was chosen merely as a plausible and euphonious name, and for no such deep reasons as you suggest. The Witch is of course Circe, Alcina etc because she is (and they are) the same Archetype we find in so many fairy tales. No good asking where any individual author got that. We are born knowing the Witch, aren't we?

"The stone has a glance at the stone tables of the Mosaic Law and its breaking to our liberation from the curse of the law at the crucifixion. Mr. Sensible is that type of which Montaigne was the best specimen: inferior ones wd. be Horace, Ld. Chesterfield, Walter Pater, Matthew Arnold (as critic, not as poet), George Saintsbury, Prof. Walter Raliegh, George Gordon. The closest conscious debt to Dante in G. Divorce is the angel who drives the bus: of Inferno IX, 79-102. The unsuccessful meeting between the 'Tragedian' and his wife is a sort of pendant to the successful meeting of D. and Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise.

"I'm not sure I know what Xtian humanism is....Taking the word Humanist in the old sense in wh. they are Humanists, I am solidly anti-Humanist: i.e. tho' I love the classics I loathe classicism."

To F. Morgan Roberts, July 31, p 500: "I am certainly unfit to advise anyone else on the devotional life. My own rules are (1.) To make sure that, wherever else they may be placed, the main prayers should not be put 'last thing at night.' (2.) To avoid introspection in prayer — I mean not to watch one's own mind to see if it is in the right frame, but always to turn the attention outward to God. (3.) Never, never to try to generate an emotion by will power. (4.) To pray without words when I am able, but to fall back on words when tired or otherwise below par. With renewed thanks. Perhaps you will sometimes pray for me?

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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How little they know of Christianity who think that the story ends with conversion: novelties we never dreamed of may await us at every turn of the road.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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