'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.
the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper
SanFrancisco, 2007, Part 6
Jonal entry 1046 | April
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.
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.
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...."
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
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.
"...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."
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."
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)...."
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)"
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).
"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."
Katharine Farrer, February 9, p 426, thoughts on "the mystery of poetry."
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.)
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
To Mary Van Deusen, February 22, p 432: "I feel
some of the same qualm as you about the Ecumenical Movement."
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?"
"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."
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
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."
"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
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!)"
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."
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."
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
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.
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
To Ruth Pitter, April 22, p 460, papyrophagous = paper eating
p 461: quotes (with pleasure) Herbert Palmer as calling "Dylan Thomas 'a
drunken, illiterate, leg-pulling, Welsh foghorn."
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."
"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
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.
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."
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.
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!)"
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
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!)"
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.
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
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?
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.
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?
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