'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 7
Jonal entry 1047 | April
In my book (see above), I say on page 163 (referring to a seeming
error in the Narnian Tale The Voyage of the Dawn Treader): "The Slip
Up Archive points out that in the first of three chapters about the invisible
creatures their leader tells the Narnians that as they are invisible so are their
weapons. but the second sentence of the next chapter reads, 'it was very funny
to see the plates and dishes coming to the table and nothing carrying them.'"
And in my reading in the Lewis Letters last week, I discovered a follow
up on this alleged "slip up" that illustrates exactly why anyone who
sets out to write a new book about Lewis now that all of his collected letters
are available must read them before proceding (this third volume of letters was
not, by the way, in print yet when I was writing The Everything Guide to CSL
and Narnia). In a letter to a schoolboy fan from Virginia on May 16, 1958,
Lewis explains the alleged inconsistency between the weapons being invisible in
the hands of invisible adversaries while the plates and dishes in the same hands
were visible: "Magic is a rum [queer] thing and does not always work out
as we would expect. I can only suggest two possible reasons why they saw the plates
but not the weapons.
"1. A Weapon is much more connected with a warrior
than a plate is with a waiter. A sword or spear may have a name. It is a trusty
old friend fits the hand has stories told about it etc. But a plate
is passed from hand to hand, and one plate is as good as another. Do you think
if one was invisible oneself one's invisibility would be more likely to flow over
into the weapon one grasped than into the plates one was merely carrying?
Perhaps it was not true that the spears were really invisible till they left the
hand. A spear pointed at me would not be easy to see in any case. I would need
to be looking in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment. And of course
if my enemy were invisible I would not know where to look."
To Mary Margaret
McCaslin, August 2, p 501: "God's presence is not the same as the feeling
of God's presence and He may be doing most for us when we think He is doing least."
"Be very regular in your prayers and communions: and don't value special
'guidances' any more than what comes through ordinary Christian teaching, conscience,
"I am shocked to hear that your friends think of following
me. I wanted them to follow Christ. But they'll get over this confusion
soon, I trust."
To Chad Walsh, August 5, p 501, referring his acceptance
of a new professorial chair at Cambridge University: "It's true. I become
'chair borne' and do less work for more pay."
To Cynthia Donnelly,
August 14, p 502: "I think you have a mistaken idea of a Christian writer's
duty. We must use the talent we have, not the talents we haven't. We must not
of course write anything that will flatter lust, pride or ambition. But we needn't
all write patently moral or theological work. Indeed, work whose Christianity
is latent may do quite as much good and may reach some whom the more obvious religious
work would scare away."
The rest of this letter also offers very good
insights on Christians who write.
To Mrs. Sacher, August 18, p 504: "who
knows if Hell is not, in fact, simply the working out of the soul's evil to its
A footnote on p 508 says: "Miss Margaret
Radcliffe was a one-legged nurse who wrote to Lewis constantly. It was her ambition
to live at The Kilns and look after him, and he had constantly to tell her that
he did not need her help. Neither his letters nor hers survive. When Lewis died,
she turned her attention to Warnie whom she also wanted to look after. He let
it be known that if she moved to Oxford he would emigrate to Ireland."
young woman whom Lewis corresponded with for years, Vera Gebbert, was getting
a divorce when he wrote her on September 25 (p 509): "I'm afraid it would
be sheer dishonesty to pretend that we now have any kitchen needs; this government
has done a magnificent job in getting us on our feet again, and a few weeks back,
we solemnly burnt our Ration Books. Everything is now 'off ration,' and though
at first of course prices went up with a rush, they are now dropping. But cheer
up, if our friends the Socialists get back into power, you will be able to exercise
your unfailing kindness once more by supplying us, not with little luxuries, but
with the necessities of life!"
To Mrs. Jones, September 27, p 510:
"'Why has sex become man's chief stumbling block?' But has it? Or is it only
the most recognisable of the stumbling blocks? I mean, we can mistake Pride for
a good conscience, and Cruelty for zeal, and Idleness for the peace of God etc.
But when Lust is upon us, then, owing to the obvious physical symptoms, we can't
pretend it is anything else."
To the Milton Society of America, undated,
October, p 516: "The list of my books which I send in answer to Mr. Hunter's
request will, I fear, strike you as a very mixed bag." He elaborates on the
role of the imaginative side of his personality in his writing, and says that,
under Milton's influence he set out to be a poet but "with little success."
Belle Allen, November 1, p 520: "It sounds absurd: but I've met so many innocent
sufferers who seem to be gladly offering their pain to God in Christ as part of
the Atonement, so patient, so meek, even so at peace, and so unselfish that we
can hardly doubt they are being, as St. Paul says, 'made perfect by suffering.'
On the other hand I meet selfish egoists in whom suffering seems to produce only
resentment, hate, blasphemy, and more egoism. They are the real problem."
Mary Willis Shelburne, November 1, p 521: "I have had to give up potatoes,
milk, and bread: perhaps having to fast for medical reasons is a just punishment
for not having fasted enough on higher grounds!"
Same: "Did I
tell you I've been made a professor at Cambridge? I take up my duties on January
1st at Magdalene College, Cambridge (Eng.). Note the difference in spelling. It
means rather less work for rather more pay. And I think I shall like Magdalene
better than Magdalen. It's a tiny college (a perfect cameo architecturally) and
they're so old fashioned, and pious, and gentle and conservative unlike
this leftist, atheist, cynical, hard-boiled, huge Magdalen. Perhaps from being
the fogey and 'old woman' here I shall become the enfant terrible there.
is nice to be still under the care of St. Mary Magdalene: she must by now understand
my constitution better than a stranger wd., don't you think. The allegorical sense
of her great action dawned on me the other day. The precious alabaster box wh.
one must break over the Holy Feet is one's heart. Easier said than done. And the
contents become perfume only when it is broken. While they are safe inside they
are more like sewage. All v. alarming."
To Dom Bede Griffiths, November
5, p 522: "The best Dickens always seems to me to be the one I have read
last! But in a cool hour I put Bleak House top for its sheer prodigality
Same: "About death, I go through different moods,
but the times when I can desire it are never, I think, those when this
world seems harshest. On the contrary, it is just when there seems to be most
of Heaven already here that I come nearest to longing for the patria. It is the
bright frontispiece [which] whets one to read the story itself. All joy (as distinct
from mere pleasure, still more amusement) emphasises our pilgrim status: always
reminds, beckons, awakes desire. Our best havings are wantings."
on page 523: "On 11 November 1954, [Jocelyn] Gibb wrote to Lewis: 'The Associated
Examining Board for the General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) has
adopted THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS as one of the set books in their English syllabus
for the year 1955-56. I am sure you will agree that this is an excellent thing,
not only for the sales of the book which will follow, but because of the places
where the book will be used . . . I think you will be interested to hear that
the company you keep with the other books on the syllabus is as follows: Erewhon
Samuel Butler, Decade of Decision F. Hoyle, Literature and Science
B. Ifor Evans.'"
To Dorothy L. Sayers, November 14, p 525: "Surely
a poet does add to himself by the poem. (We know better what we mean, and we mean
it more, if we can express it in a poem)."
A footnote on p 525, quotes
Sayers from Introductory Papers on Dante: "There seems to be a kind
of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency,
to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent
references to 'the cruel and abominable medieval doctrine of hell,' or 'the childish
and grotesque medieval imagery of physical fire and worms.' People who write about
Dante are often concerned to sneer at him, or alternatively to pity him, for being
compelled by 'the crude superstition of his age' to believe in these things under
menace of excommunication and torture . . . But the case is otherwise; let us
face the facts. The doctrine of Hell is not 'medieval': it is Christ's. It is
not a device of 'medieval priestcraft' for frightening people into giving more
money to the Church: it is Christ's deliberate judgement on sin."
a second also quotes Sayers: "There is an interesting difference between
Dante's conception and that of the Moslem writer Ibn Arabi . . . In Ibn Arabi's
Heaven, envy is excluded, apparently, only by ignorance and lack of imagination.
But in Dante's Christian Heaven, it is excluded by love. The lower know that the
higher exist, and 'it is a joy to the whole realm': they look up the ranks of
the great ones soaring above them, and are filled with rapture and love. They
envy them no more than you or I envy Dante or Shakespeare for being great and
glorious. Why should they envy, or why should we? We are thrilled with delight
to know that beings so noble can exist.'"
Both of these expressions
of Orthodox conviction sound very "Lewisian."
To Jill Freud, November
15, p 528: "Warnie will pass on your warnings and hints about Susie [Jill
Freud's dog] to Paxford [the gardner, handy man, and sometimes chaffeur of The
Kilns], but points out that the result will be very like talking into a disconnected
To Dorothy L. Sayers, November 22, p 529: "The inaugural
[celebration of his appointment at Cambridge] is not till the 29th so I don't
know how it went. That's the trouble with our kind of time." Lewis is jokingly
contrasting "our kind of time" with Narnian time or "time"
in God's perspective.
To Sheldon Vanauken, November 23, p 531: "If
you can bear, will you tell me your news. If she has gone where we can find no
anxiety about her, then I must feel anxious about you. I liked you both so well:
never two young people more. And to like is to fear. Whatever has happened and
in whatever state you are (I have horrid pictures in my mind) all belssings on
you." Vanauken had lost his beloved wife Davey. He later immortalized their
love and her in his autobiographical book that reads like a novel, A Severe
Mercy. I first read it becamse it contains all of Lewis's letters to him (and
them both) and it immediately became one of my favorite books.
Jenkins, November 30, p 534: "percipient" = capable of being perceived,
especially readily and keenly.
To Walter Hooper, November 30, p 535: "We
should, I believe, distrust states of mind which turn our attention upon ourselves.
Even at our sins we should look no longer than is necessary to know and to repent
them: and our virtues or progress (if any) are certainly a dangerous object of
contemplation. When the sun is vertically above a man he casts no shadow: similarly
when we have come to the Divine meridian our spiritual shadow (that is, our consciousness
of self) will vanish. One will thus in a sense be almost nothing: a room to be
filled by God and our blessed fellow creatures, who in their turn are rooms we
help to fill. But how far one is from this at present!" This was Lewis's
first letter to Hooper, who later became his secretary and is the editor of the
Collected Letters. A footnote says: "During his service in the US Army, 1954-6,
he began corresponding with Lewis."
To J. B. Phillips, December 3,
p 536. Lewis declines an invitation to speak proffered by the famous author of
translations of the Bible into modern English.
To Arthur Greeves, December
4, p 537: "Yes: the move looms large and black all the things to 'see
to' and all the decisions to make."
To Don Giovanni Calabria, December
5, p 540: "The Christian Faith, as I think, counts for more among Cambridge
men than among us; our Communists are rarer and those plaguey philosophers whom
we call Logical Positivists are not so powerful." This was Lewis's last letter
to his dear pen-friend in Italy because, unbeknownst to him Fr. Calabria had passed
away before receiving this letter.
To Vera Gebbert, December 17, p 543:
"Wd. you believe it: an American schoolgirl has been expelled from her school
for having in her possession a copy of my Screwtape! I asked my informant whether
it was a Communist school, or a Fundamentalist school, or an R.C. school, and
got the shattering answer 'No, it was a select school.' That puts a chap
in his place, doesn't it!" Two guesses: The problem with the book may have
been with the name "Screwtape," which did sound rather edgy in the 1950s.
And a "select school" may have been comparable to "charter schools"
in some U.S. states these days.
To Edna Greene Watson, December 18, p 544:
"Can there, one wonders, be any truth in the story that the atom bomb is
slowly altering the climate of the world?"
To Edward A. Allen, December
20, p 545: "I am entirely in agreement with him, and so no doubt are you;
war cannot be eliminated until original sin is eliminated."
Douglass, December 21, p 546: Lewis was recommending books and essays by J.R.R.
Tolkien. On The Lord of the Rings trilogy he says, "Booksellers will
tell you it is a juvenile, but this is untrue."
To I.O. Evans, December
22, p 547: "There was a grain of seriousness in my rally against the Civil
Service. I don't think you have worse taste or worse hearts than other men. But
I do think the State is increasingly tyrannical and you, inevitably, are among
the instruments of that tyranny."
To Mary Van Deusen,
January 19, p 555: "I've had 10 days at Cambridge and am liking it v. much.
Oh yes, I loved 'my own little circle' at Oxford alright: but there were a good
many other intersecting and adjacent circles."
To Mary Willis Shelburne,
January 29, p 557: "the pen has become to me what the oar is to a galley
slave: then (God be praised) influenza and long half-comatose days in bed."
Father Peter Milward, SJ, February 2, p 558: "I suppose (as God turns all
His punishments into blessing) the loss of our original unambiguity of speech
may have been one cause that drove us into poetry?"
Gilfedder, February 5, p 559: "Perelandra wd. never be filmed or acted
because nudity is an essential element in it."
To Alastair Fowler,
February 22, p 568: "pignora" = "wife and child," "family"
Martyn Skinner, February 27, p 573: "Dom Bede dined with me in Cambridge
last Friday. I know no one who has so steadily improved with years: he is a good
advertisement for the monastic life."
To George Sayer, February 29,
p 573, "We must console ourselves with the reflection that Lent is obviously
a good time for this particular ailment."
Same, referring to Warnie's
drinking: "he has never had a year of such long debauches or so frequent
Same, "souvergnetee" = probably a variation on
To Mrs. D. Jessup, March 3, p 574: "I don't think yr. question
wheher these ones were brought into your life by 'a whimsical fate' or by God,
need detain you long. Once one believes in God at all, surely the question is
meaningless? Suppose that in a novel a character gets killed in a railway accident.
Is his death due to chance (e.g. the signals being wrong) or to the novelist?
Well of course, both. The chance is the way the novelist removes the character
at the exact moment his story requires. There's a good line in Spenser to quote
to oneself: 'It chanced (almighty God that chance did guide).'"
Mrs. Johnson, March 2, p 575: "I got a letter from someone asking me if the
Silent Planet was a true story. It's not the first I've had. So I'm beginning
to think that some people (and if you don't look out I'll have to include you!)
just don't understand what fiction is.
"When you say what's untrue
with the intention of making people believe it, that's lying. When you say it
without such intention, that's fiction."
Same, p 576: "a story
is only imagining out loud."
Same: "It is right and inevitable
that we shd. be much concerned about the salvation of those we love. But we must
be careful not to expect or demand that their salvation shd. conform to some ready-made
pattern of our own. Some Protestant sects have gone v. wrong about this. They
have a whole programme of 'conviction,' 'conversion' etc marked out, the same
for everyone, and will not believe that anyone can be saved who doesn't go through
it 'just so.' But (see the last chapter of Problem of Pain) God has His
own unique way with each soul."
Same: "What we practice, not (save
at rare intervals) what we preach is usually our great contribution to the conversion
To Ruth Pitter, March 5, p 577: "The maker of elder
flower wine is G. Sayer, Hamewith, Alexandra Rd. Malvern, a Roman Catholic, a
master at Malvern, a former pupil of mine and the most unselfish man I have ever
gone about with. Like Long John Silver he has 'a face as large as a ham.'"
Mrs. Johnson, March 16, p 580: "a housewife's work [is] . . . surely, in
reality, the most important work in the world."
Same: "We wage
war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food
in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist."
Helmut Kuhn, March 18, p 582: "The Great Divorce . . . is the most
unpopular of my books in this country."
To Mary Van Deusen, March 19,
p 583: "I feel I can't write well enough to live up to" the stationery
she had sent him.
Same: "Every meal can be a kind of lower sacrament.
'Devastating gratitude' is a good phrase: but my own experience is rather 'devastating
desire' desire for that-of-which-the-present-joy-is-a-Reminder."
Mary Willis Shelburne, March 21, p 587: "We were talking about Cats &
Dogs the other day & decided that both have consciences but the dog, being
an honest, humble person, always has a bad one, but the Cat is a Pharisee and
always has a good one. When he sits and stares you out of countenance he is thanking
God that he is not as these dogs, or these humans, or even as these other Cats!"
Mr. Allcock, March 24, p 587: "The doctrine of purgation after death is one
of the many held by the Roman Church which I consider to be intrinsically probable
but which, since it is not clearly stated in Scripture, nor included in the early
creeds, I do not think they have any warrant for enforcing. I repudiate their
practice of defining and systematising and continually enumerating the list of
things that must be accepted. But that is quite consistent with my believing,
as private speculations, some of the things they accept as revealed certainties.
For of course one may 'assert' (in the sense 'hold as private opinion') lots that
one does not 'believe' in the sense of holding as faith. E.g. I personally on
general historical grounds may 'believe' that our Lord could speak a certain amount
To Katharine Farrer, April 2, p 590, referring to his
current book project, Till We Have Faces: "it is the story of every
nice, affectionate agnostic whose dearest one suddenly 'gets religion,' or even
every luke warm Christian whose dearest gets a Vocation. Never, I think, treated
sympathetically by a Chritian writer before. I do it all thro' the mouth of the
elder sister. In a word, I'm v. much 'with book': Juno Lucina fer opem."
The latter is "goddess of childbirth, help me."
To Jill Freud,
April 6, p 591: "Tryfidds" = refers to the book, The Day of the Triffids,
by John Wyndham, which Freud had loaned him.
To Sheldon Vanauken, April
6, p 592: "once we have accepted an omniscient and providential God, the
distinction we used to draw between the significant and the fortuitous must either
break down or be restated in some v. much subtler form. If an event coming about
in the ordinary course of nature becomes to me the occasion of hope and faith
and love or increased efforts after virtue, do we suppose that this result was
unforeseen by, or is indifferent to, God? Obviously not. What we should have called
its fortuitous effects must have been present to Him for all eternity. And indeed,
we can't suppose God saying (as a human artist might) 'That effect, though it
has turned out rather well, was, I must admit, no part of my original design.'
Then the total act of creation, including our own creation (wh. is going
on all the time) meets us, doesn't it? in every event at every moment: the act
of a Person dealing with persons and knowing what He does. Thus I wouldn't now
be bothered by a man who said to me "This, which you mistake for grace, is
really the good functioning of your digestion.' Does my digestion fall outside
God's act? He made and allowed to me my colon as much as my guardian angel."
p 593: "There is great good in bearing sorrow patiently: I don't know that
there is any virtue in sorrow just as such. It is a Christian duty, as you know,
for everyone to be as happy as he can. But you know all this already."
Dorothy L. Sayers, March 6, p 596: "I hope you've read Joy Davidman's Smoke
on the Mountain an ex-Communist, Jewess-by-race, convertite, on the X Commandments
and, I think, really good."
To Harry Blamires, April 6, p 597: "Pubs
don't open till 7 on Sundays."
Letter to Valerie Pitt, April 20, p
598, gives Lewis's views on asceticism.
To Rhona Bodle, April 28, p 600:
"It certainly seems v. hard that you shd. be told to arm the young against
Venus without calling in Christ. What do they want? I suppose the usual twaddle
about bees and orchids (as if approaching a subject by that devious route wd.
make any possible difference either good or bad). And indeed now that contraceptives
have removed the most disastrous consequence for girls, and medicine has largely
defeated the worst horrors of syphilis, what argument against promiscuity is there
left wh. will influence the young unless one brings in the whole supernatural
and sacramental view of man?"
To Alastair Fowler, April 30, p 601:
"I'm afraid nature never meant me for a scholar."
taken to a pub in London in the Vac. where all S.F. writers congregate every Thursday
night: a merry party. They're all v. young."
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