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 8

The mission of these extensive "notes" is set out in the introduction of Part 1 of the notes for Volume 1, here.

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig Murray1954 continued

To Philinda Krieg, May 6, p 602, a tender explanation to a young boy, in a letter to the boy's mother, of why fearing that loving Aslan more than Jesus would not make him "an idol worshipper," is one of the best examples in the collected letters of Lewis's saintliness.

Same, p 603: "I hope you are prepared for the possibility he [the son] might turn our a saint. I dare say the saints' mothers have, in some ways, a rough time!"

To Mrs. Johnson, May 14, p 608: "Always have tea, not coffee, in England: coffee, not tea, in France, wine not beer in all Southern Europe: porridge nowhere except in Scotland and Ireland!

"Far from having acquired a TV. set I've got rid of my wireless!" I suspect that he would have done so years earlier if not for the presence of Mrs. Moore.

Same: "Of course Our Lord never drank spirits (they had no distilled liquors) but of course the wine of the Bible was real fermented wine and alcoholic. The repeated references to the sin of drunkenness in the Bible, from Noah's first discovery of wine down to the warnings in St. Paul's epistles, make this perfectly plain. The other theory cd. be (honestly) held only by a v. ignorant person. One can undersant the bitterness of some 'temperance' fanatics if one has ever lived with a drunkard: what one finds it harder to excuse is any educated person telling such lies about history."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, May 14, p 609: "I heard Time had been at me (Time, in another sense, always is!) but didn't see it."

To Mary Van Deusen, May 15, p 610: "a reading of the false gospels sends you back to the true ones."

To Alastair Fowler, May 19, p 610: "Rats! Academic work and imaginative writing are incompatible only in the same sense as playing the piano and taking hot baths: i.e., they can't be done at the same time. More simply still, those of us who can't live on private means (e.g. you and I) have to do our stories in time left over from our jobs. And our job, all said and done, leaves more time over than most."

To Vera Gebbert, May 24, p 612: "We got the Las Vegas letter alright: and thought that what between gambling (the most uninteresting of all vices: wine, women, and murder I can understand, but roulette — the vapidity of it!) and the glaring hideousness of the decorations and the surrounding desert and its neighbouring explosions, L.V. was about the nearest thing to nightmare we'd ever heard of! Did you like it?

To Sheldon Vanauken, June 6, p 616: "'Take me — no conditions.' After that, through the daily duty, through the increasing effort after holiness — well, like the seed growing secretly."

Same: "I am in great trouble about my dear brother's dipsomania: pray for him and me." dipsomania = compulsive thirst (alcoholic)

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 7, p 618: "I had my first bathe two days ago." "Bathe," to Lewis seems to refer to "swim," as opposed to "bath."

A footnote on p 620 says: "Spencer Curtis Brown had helped Lewis to see that Geoffrey Bles had not given him a fiar share of profits from his books. Lewis's royalties had risen since Curtis Brown Ltd became his literary agent."

To Vera Gebbert, June 25, p 623: "slanging" = speaking "A kind of language occurring chiefly in casual and playful speech, made up typically of short-lived coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used in place of standard terms for added raciness, humor, irreverence, or other effect."

Same, p 624: "all loose usages of words are like inflation and lower the value of the currency."

Same: "You've got it nearly right: the only error being that instead of saying the Great Divide came between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, I said at great length and very emphatically that it didn't. But of course not is a small word and one can't get every fine shade just right." Lewis was answering Gebbert's questions about Time magazine's most recent article on him.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 30, p 626: "About prides, superiorities, and affronts there's no book better than Law's Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life where you'll find all of us pinned like butterflies on cards — the cards being little stories of typical characters in the most sober, astringent 18th century prose."

To Father Peter Milward, S.J., July 4, p 627: "On my own view Perelandra is worth 20 Screwtapes."

To Mary Van Deusen, July 7, p 630: "Don't let anyone bully you into avoiding sentences with a preposition at the end! It's an arbitrary rule that most great writers took no notice of. The Authorized Version and E. Burke thought a preposition a very good word to end with. So there!"

To Katharine Farrer, July 9, p 630: "No crocodile who is worth his scales ever bit a trochilus." trochilus = humming bird

P 639: sub sigillo = under seal (in strict confidence)

To Arthur Greeves, August 18, p 642: "Somtime after September 15 a copy of my autobiography will arrive for you. (You can always sell it or give it as a Christmas present, you know!)" Or as they would say these days, "sell it on eBay."

Editor's note on p 643: "Lewis was on holiday in Ireland with Arthur Greeves from about 2 to 13 September. While there he told Greeves of a problem he was facing. For reasons unknown, the Home Office had refused Joy Gresham permission to live and work in England. As she was keen to stay — and as Lewis wanted her to stay — one solution seemed to be a register office marriage which would provide Joy and her sons with British nationality. Lewis made it clear that he did not regard this as a true marriage."

To John H. McCallum, September 22, p 647: "Watch the spelling: mine is atrocious."

On p 651 is a letter from Lewis to Carl Henry, the founding (and then-) editor of Christianity Today.

To Janet Wise, October 5, p 652: "My own position is not Fundamentalist, if Fundamentalism means accepting as a point of faith at the outset the proposition 'Every statement in the Bible is completely true in a literal, historical sense.' That wd. break down at once on the parables."

Same, p 653: "But I think He meant us to have sacred myth and sacred fiction as well as sacred history."

Same, "The basis of our Faith is not the Bible taken by itself but the agreed affirmation of all Christendom to which we owe the Bible itself."

To Mary Van Deusen, October 9, p 655: "I once had a bad scare about cancer myself..." A footnote reports "This is the only known reference to Lewis having been threatened by a possible cancer."

To Nan Dunbar, October 29, p 664: "Cf. also the Cherry Tree Carol where it is simpler and more unblushing — 'Joseph was an old man, and an old man was he.'" It is the opinion of the ancient church, in both east and west, that Joseph was the father of grown children to a deceased previous wife before being betrothed to Mary.

To Arthur Greeves, October 30, p 669: "W. has now resolved to live as a tee-totaller and is doing splendidly at present. I know you will not cease your prayers."

To Mary Van Deusen, November 9, p 670: "Presumably the suspicion of cancer arose from pain which has now turned out to be rheumatism or indigestion? If so, I can't see how a Thrift Shop (whatever that may be!) shd. cure them. Am I being v. stupid? Try to tell me it all in words of one syllable: remembering that I am both ingnorant and sceptical about psychology, especially the amateur psychology of the patient's family."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, November 10, p 673: "It's a boss review...." "boss" = slang, first-rate, top-notch. The slang use was the hippest term in American pop culture circa 1964. Maybe that usage had already begun in England a half decade earlier (though perhaps it has been around much longer than I have guessed)?

Same: "Don't you find you are much less pained by honest and accurate reviews that are unfavourable than by favourable ones from some ass who praises you for saying what you never said."

To Edward A. Allen, December 5, p 678: "I've never been told the Landlord's plans for Rome! And there are all sorts of things about her I dislike. But she has her terrific good points too. I think she can boast more martyrs in the mission field than most of us."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, December 6, p 679: "I can't help you, because under the modern laws I'm not allowed to send money to America. (What a barbarous system we live under. I knew a man who had to risk prison in order to smuggle a little money to his own sister, widowed in the U.S.A.)."

To Harry Blamires, December 12, p 682: "I have had some experience of such disappointments myself. first as an unpublished, and then as an unnoticed, author."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, December 14, p 684: "I admit that people write me letters asking if I really know someone who has been to Mars and Venus, but I think that's because they are mentally disordered, not because they live in new towns."

Footnote on p 687 reveals that a quotation sometimes attributed to Lewis is actually from Rougemont, L'Amour et l'Occident: "Love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god."

To Sarah Neylan, December 27, p 692: "Somehow the whole horrible business of 'Xmas' (which I distinguish sharply from Christmas), with the huge mails coming in every half hour has quite got me down this year and I wasn't really in my right mind till yesterday evening. I now enclose a belated present."


To Philinda Krieg, January 28: "One is sorry the Sunday Schools should be so dull. Yet I wonder. In this all important subject, as in every other, the youngsters must meet, if not exactly the dull, at any rate the hard and the dry, sooner or later. The modern attempt is to keep it as late as possible: but does that do any good? They've got to cut their teeth. Aren't many parts of the Bible itself, read at home, quite simple enough and interesting enough to be a counterpoise to the dull teaching?"

To Ruth Pitter, January 31, p 700: "And (now an old book) Margaret Kennedy's The Feast? This is most remarkable: a wholly successful allegory on the Seven Deadly Sins."

To Mary Van Deusen, February 5, p 701: "I don't know whether your 'harmony' is my 'joy' or not, tho' I suspect they have in common at any rate one thing: that both are already 'shattered' when one first observes them. I suppose this is partly due to the nature of time — there being no real present, every moment already past however quickly you try to grab it. How rich we shall be when we get off this single railway-line into the rich green country left and right."

Same, p 702: "Nearly all that could be said before the Incarnation is said in this Psalm [36]. It is so much better Paganism than the real Pagans ever did! And in one way more glorious, more soaring and triumphant, than Christian poetry. For as God humbled Himself to become Man, so religion humbled itself to become Christianity."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB, February 8, p 703: "I am glad you found a Chestertonian quality in the book. Actually, it seems to me that one can hardly say anything either bad enough or good enough about life." I think (but the context is ambiguous) "the book" here is Surprised by Joy. A footnote reports that Lewis's autobiography was dedicated to Griffiths, which struck me as a victory for the younger man who had been held, I thought, at arm's length for a while earlier in their correspondence.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Thought for today

All loose usages of words are like inflation and lower the value of the currency.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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