'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.
Strength, third novel in Lewis's 'space trilogy'
Having reviewed the
first two of Lewis's "space trilogy" novels here in the past two weeks,
it should be mentioned by way of reminder that I treated the thrid of those books,
That Hideous Strength, here,
in Jonal entry 1011 (July 18, 2007) , and here,
in Jonal entry 1014 (August 8, 2007).
Notes from the Collected Letters
of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco, 2007,
Jonal entry 1055 | June
The mission of these extensive notes is set out in the introduction
of Part 1 of the notes for Volume 1, here. This week's entry covers the entire
To Mary Willis Shelburne, January
17, p 1312: "Alas! advances in hygiene have made most of us live longer but
other things have made old age harsher than it ever was before."
"Your view reminds me of a dipsomaniac retired major I once knew who refused
the suggestion that he shd. try A.A. on the ground that 'it would be full of retired
majors'!" This quote, almost without doubt from Jack's brother Warnie, is
reminiscent of (and possibly inspired by) the famous quote attributed to Groucho
Marx: "I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would have me as a
To Martin Hooton, January 26, p 1313: "I'm glad to be
able to say that at last there is a definite improvement in my condition; in fact
the doctor said (and not to me) that he thought I had turned the corner."
Vera Gebbert, January 29, p 1314: "No later than a week ago we were going
to ask you down when, alas, I got the bad news that my blood count had fallen
back; which means another course of blood transfusions. But when I'm once more
on the up-grade I have great hopes of a meeting."
To K.C. Thompson,
February 11, p 1316: "A great many of the little religious books people send
me seem to be very unhelpful but yours was really needed for it does tackle (with
great lucidity) questions that people really ask....as an RC friend comically
said to me, 'this is a subject on which nearly every statement anyone can make
always turns out to be heretical and the only safe thing is not to think about
it at all.'" Thompson's book was a study of "the Christian doctrine
To Jocelyn Gibb, March 13, p 1322: "I am much better
and may be able to go up next term."
To Jocelyn Gibb, March 23, p 1325:
"In future I'd be glad if you'd arrange with all French, Italian & German
translators to send each 1 copy only, and with all other translators to send none.
The house is getting constipated with translations in languages I can't read a
To Francine Smithline, March 23, p 1325: "I was at three
schools (all boarding schools) of which two were very horrid. I never hated anything
as much, not even the front line trenches in World War I."
Lancaster, March 28, p 1327: "I shall always be rather an invalid: but it
doesn't hurt, and anyway I'm 63, so I haven't much to complain of."
"Health and disease both exist in me and are now reconciled in mild invalidism.
But really, I'd rather that Health had fought and slain his antagonist!"
Mr. Charles A. Huttar, March 30, p 1329: "Tolkien himself might help. But
he is the most unmanageable man (in conversation) I've ever met. He will talk
to you alright: but the subject of his remarks will be whatever happens to be
interesting him at the moment, which might be anything from M.E. [Middle English]
words to Oxford politics. It will be only by luck if you get anything relevant
to your own problems."
A footnote on p 1335 reveals that "Lewis
was the general editor of a series of texts published by Thomas Nelson as Nelson's
Medieval and Renaissance Library."
To Stuart Robertson, May 6, p 1336.
The entire letter discusses Christian doctrinal issues. Most notable is the conclusion,
p 1337: "To preach instantaneous conversion and eternal security as if they
must be the experiences of all who are saved, seems to me v. dangerous: the very
way to drive some into presumption and others into despair. How v. different were
the callings of the disciples.
"I don't agree that if anyone were completely
a new creature, you and I wd. necessarily recognise him as such. It takes holiness
to detect holiness."
To Mr. Green, May 16, p 1344: "I was not
only baptised in infancy, but, what seems to me far worse, I was already an apostate
when I hypocritically allowed myself to be confirmed and made my first communion
in a state of total unbelief."
Same: "There is a lovely
passage in Pascal where he represents Our Lord as saying to the timorous soul
'Be comforted. Unless you had found me, you would not be seeing me.'"
T. S. Eliot, May 25, p 1345: "We must have a talk I wish you'd write
an essay on it about Punishment. The modern view, by excluding the retributive
element and concentrating solely on deterrence and cure, is hideously immoral.
It is vile tyranny to submit a man to compulsory 'cure,' or sacrifice him to the
deterrence of others, unless he deserves it. On the other view what is
there to prevent any of us being handed over to Butler's 'Straighteners' at any
"I'd have to know more about the Greek of that period to make
a real criticism of the N.E.B. (N. T. which is the only part I've seen). Odd,
the way the less the Bible is read the more it is translated!"
Willis Shelburne, May 31, p 1347: "All you tell me about China is horrible,
and I was shocked to read an article the other day about Portugal. I had got the
idea that Salazar was (as if such a thing were possible!) a good dictator. But
apparently Portugal is just like all the other totalitarian countries, indeed
worse in one way, for the atrocities are done in the name of Christianity. As
a verse in our version of the Psalter says 'All the earth is full of darkness
and cruel habitations.'
"I'm sorry my letters are so short compared
with yours, but I'm afraid this is an irremovable difference between the sexes
women love letter writing and men loathe it. And there is so much other
writing in my day's work!"
To Mary Van Deusen, June 10, p 1349: "My
friend Charles Williams had a high opinion of Kierkegaard and on that ground I
am ready to believe there must be a lot in him. But I could not find it myself.
Perhaps I did not give him a long enough trial. I may yet give him another. I
have in my time had to change my opinion about a good many authors!"
Edward Lofstrom, June 10, p 1349: "You are of course perfectly right in defining
your problem (which is also mine and everyone's) as 'excessive selfness.' But
perhaps you don't fully realise how far you have got by so defining it. All have
this disease: fortunate are the minority who know they have it. To know that one
is dreaming is to be already nearly awake, even if, for the present, one can't
wake up fully. And you have actually got further than that. You have got beyond
the illusion (v. common) that to recognise a chasm is the same thing as
building a bridge over it."
Same: "The important thing now is
to go steadily on acting, so far as you can and you certainly can to some
extent, however small as if it wasn't there. You can, and I expect you
daily do behave with some degree of unselfishness. You can and do make
some attempt at prayer. The continual voice which tells you that your best actions
are secretly filled with subtle self-regard, and your best prayers still wholly
egocentric must for the most part be simply disregarded as one disregards
the impulse to keep on looking under the bandage to see whether the cut is healing.
If you are always fidgeting with the bandage, it will never will.
text you shd. keep much in mind is I John iii, 20: 'If our heart condemns us God
is greater than our heart.' I sometimes pray 'Lord give me no more and
no less self-knowledge than I can at this moment make a good use of.' Remember
He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can't see it. So quietly submit
to be painted i.e. keep on fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station
(you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each
failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk
don't keep on looking at it."
To Mr. Green, June 11, p 1350: "You
are kind enough to say that I helped you. This emboldens me to make a very serious
request of you, almost an entreaty. Cancel your order for Grace Abounding,
or, if it is too late, don't read it. I implore you not to. It is a strange
request, you will say, since I first directed your attention to the book. But
the whole point of that was to convince you that a man can come through all that
nightmare about the unforgivable sin and live to be a great Christian.
for you, who have just got out of it, to go back and steep yourself in another
man's sinister nightmare, might do dreadful harm. When a man has just got over
malaria one doesn't advise him to go back to a malarial district. I now blame
myself God forgive me for having mentioned the book at all. A line
from you promising not to read it not for 10 years or so would be
a v. great relief to me."
To Mr. Green, June 18, p 1353: "There
is something to be learned from the book, and I will now tell it you.
It is this: that the habit of taking isolated texts from the Bible and treating
the effect which they have on one in a particular mood at a particular moment
as direct messages from God, is v. misleading. It fills some people (who are in
one state) with morbid terror, and fills others (who are in a different state)
with presumption. This, I say, can be learned from B. but I don't think
that is what you wd. get from him at present. No very introspective book
no book in which a man is wholly preoccupied with his own spiritual state
would be very safe reading for you just now. Convalescents need a careful diet!
You need something that will direct your attention away from yourself to God and
To Sheldon Vanauken, June 30, p 1354: "we murder
To Walter Hooper, July 2, p 1355: "I feel very strongly
that a man is ill advised to write a book on any living author. There is bound
to be at least one person, and there are probably several, who inevitably know
more about the subject than any ordinary research will discover. Far better write
about the unanswering dead! Also, there is a book already C.S. Lewis:
Apostle to the Skeptics by the Rev Chad Walsh of Beloit."
Mary Willis Shelburne, July 3, p 1356: "Yes, and one gets bored with the
medicines too besides always wondering 'Did I remember to take them after
breakfast?' and then wondering whether the risk of missing a dose or the risk
of an overdose is the worst! All my sympathy."
To Mr. Beimer, June
9, 1357: "Prayers invoking other people's behaviour do not necessarily imply
that God will infringe other people's freedom. He can suggest or encourage action
without compelling them. I myself have felt a curious nagging in my mind to go
and see a particular person. I believe I could have resisted it, but I
didn't. And when I arrived on his door-step his first words were 'Oh I
was praying you might come to-day.'"
To Mary Willis Shelburne, July
31, p 1361: "I think I continue to improve physically. As I get better I
feel the loss of Joy more. I suppose the capacity for happiness must re-awake
before one becomes fully aware of its absence."
To Dom Bede Griffiths,
OSB, August 4, p 1362: "nature seems to remove the desire for exercise when
the power declines."
To Mary Willis Shelburne, September 3, p 1366:
"I am surprised that you shd. doubt your forgiveness for sins from which
you have doubtless long since received absolution. Especially as what apparently
troubles you is not malice but the unforeseen results (or things only possibly
the result) of behaviour whose intention was innocent. No doubt, as I know only
too well, the knowledge that one's acts have, contrary to one's intention, led
to all sorts of dreadful consequences, is a heavy burden. But it is a burden of
regret and humiliartion, isn't it?, rather than of guilt. Perhaps we all dislike
humiliation so much that we tend to disguise it from ourselves by treating blunders
To Keith Manship, September 13, p 1368:"The whole problem
of our life was neatly expressed by John the baptist when he said (John, chap
3, v. 30) 'He must increase, but I must decrease.' This you have realised. But
you are expecting it to happen suddenly: and also exprecting that you shd. be
clearly aware when it does. But neither of these is usual. We are doing well enough
if the slow process of being more in Christ and less in ourselves has made a decent
beginning in a long life (it will be completed only in the next world). Nor can
we observe it happening. All our reports on ourselves are unbelievable,
even in worldly matters. God sees us, and we don't see ourselves. And by trying
too hard to do so, we only get the fidgets and become either too complacent or
too much the other way.
"Your question what to do is already
answered. Go on (as you apparently are going on) doing all your duties. And, in
all lawful ways, go on enjoying all that can be enjoyed your friends,
your music, your books. Remember we are told to 'rejoice.' Sometimes when you
are wondering what God wants you to do, He really wants to give
"As to your spiritual state, try my plan. I pray 'Lord,
show me just so much (neither more nor less) about myself as I need for doing
thy will now.'"
To Mary Van Deusen, September 13, p 1369: "you
know the saying 'Happy are the people who have no history.'"
Preistley, September 18, p 1371: "The actual history of Eng. Lit. as a 'Subject'
has been a great disappointment to me. My hope was that it would be primarily
a historical study that wd. lift people out of (so to speak) their chronological
provincialism by plunging them into the thought and feeling of ages other than
their own: for the arts are the best Time Machine we have.
that side of it has been destroyed at Cambridge and is now being destroyed at
Oxford too. This is done by a compact, well-organised group of whom Leavis is
the head. It now has a stranglehold on the schools as well as the universities
(and the High Brow press). It is too open and avowed to be called a plot. It is
much more like a political party or the Inquisition."
Willis Shelburne, October 2, p 1374: "our ginger [cat] Tom (a great Don Juan
and a mighty hunter before the Lord) will take no notice of me, but he will of
others. He thinks I'm not quite socially up to his standards, and makes this v.
clear. No creature can give such a crushing 'snub' as a cat!"
"I never could find out what the VIIth Day Adventists believe, tho' I had
a long talk with one the other day, a professor of electrical engineering from
your country. I fear it is very mixed up with attempts to interpret the prophecies
in the Book of Daniel not, to my mind, a very profitable undertaking. But
he was a grand young chap, sweet as a nut and absolutely sincere. No fool, either."
Mary Willis Shelburne, October 26, p 1376: "I do most thoroughly agree with
your father's principles about alms. it will not bother me in the hour of death
to reflect that I have been 'had for a sucker' by any number of impostors: but
it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need. After
all, the parable of the sheep and goats makes our duty perfectly plain, doesn't
it. Another thing that annoys me is when people say 'Why did you give that man
money? He'll probably go and drink it.' My reply is 'But if I'd kept [it] I
should probably have drunk it.'"
Same: "I am sorry to hear
of the little dog's death. The animal creation is a strange mystery. We can make
some attempt to understand human suffering: but the sufferings of animals from
the beginning of the world till now (inflicted not only by us but by one another)
what is one to think? And again, how strange that God brings us into such
intimate relations with creatures of whose real purpose and destiny we remain
forever ignorant. We know to some degree what angels and men are for. But what
is a flea for, or a wild dog? What you say about the VII Day Adventists
interests me extremely. If they have so much charity there must be something very
right about them.
Same, p 1377: "And what is a 'wall can opener'? It
suggests either opening a tin by means of a wall or opening a wall by means of
a tin, and both sound v. strange operations."
To W. L. Stafford, October
28, p 1377: "I still disagree. Socrates did not claim to be Zeus, nor the
Buddha to be Bramah, nor Mohammed to be Allah. That sort of claim occurs only
in Our Lord and in admitted quacks or lunatics."
A footnote says "Stafford
had complained about a passage in The Problem of Pain (London: Bles, 1940;
Fount, 1998), ch. 1, p. 13: 'There was a man born among these Jews who claimed
to be, or to be the son of, or to be "one with," the Someting which
is at once the awful haunter of nature and the giver of the moral law. The claim
is so shocking a paradox, and even a horror, which we may easily be lulled
into taking too lightly that only two views of this man are possible. Either
he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else He was, and is,
precisely what He said. There is no middle way.'"
To John Lawlor, November
7, p 1379: "I suppose the head of F. R. Leavis in a charger wd. be rather
too costly?" Lawlor had told Lewis a volume of essays was being planned,
to honor him.
To Mary Willis Shelburne, November 8, p 1379: "I can
well understand how you long for 'a place of your own.' I nominally have one and
am nominally master of the house, but things seldom go as I would have chosen.
The truth is that the only alternatives are either solitude (with all its miseries
and dangers, both moral and physical) or else all the rubs and frustrations of
a joint life. The second, even at its worst seems to me far the better."
J.R.R. Tolkien, November 20, p 1381: "What a nice letter. I also like beer
less than I did, tho' I have retained the taste for General Talk."
p 1383, a footnote recaps Lewis's suggestion in The Problem of Pain that
beloved animals may be raised up to heaven "in" their masters.
Mary Willis Shelburne, November 26, p 1384: "But these particular guesses
arise in me, I trust, from taking seriously the resurrection of the body: a doctrine
which now-a-days is v. soft pedalled by nearly all the faithful to our
great impoverishment. Not that you and I have now much reason to rejoice in having
bodies! Like old automobiles, aren't they? where all sorts of apparently different
things keep going wrong, but what they add up to is the plain fact that the machine
is wearing out. Well, it is not meant to last forever. Still, I have a kindly
feeling for the old rattle-trap....But this is turning into a sermon!"
Fr. George A. Restrepo, SJ, December 1, p 1387: "God has been v. good to
me and allowed my work to reach more people than I would have dared to hope. But
I always remember that He can preach thro' any instrument Balaam's
ass is the example I keep in mind."
In a footnote, Lewis asks Fr. George
regarding Balaam's ass, "Can't you get it canonised?"
A. Allen, December 10, p 1389: "I discovered only the other day that Christmas
presents had begun in the time of St. Augustine, and he called them 'diabolical'
because they originated not in Christmas but in the Pagan Saturnalia. Diabolical
is a bit strong: perhaps 'a darn nuisance' wd. be more accurate." Or...bah
Same: "it was a favourite proverb of my father's that 'people
never forgive kindess.'"
To Mary Willis Shelburne, December 10, p 1390:
"(Of course a great deal of so-called 'democratic' feeling against the claims
of blood is really based on a desire to make the claims of money all important:
and of all claims to distinction money is, I suppose, the basest.)"
Walter Hooper, December 15, p 1393: "You are now a very much better C.S.L.
scholar than I am! Your list contains a good many things I had wholly forgotten."
Laurence Harwood, December 19, p 1395: "If there were any choice, the lonelier
the place the further from cinemas, pubs etc the better. Not that
he (in any sinister sense) 'drinks': but he is desperately social and time-wasting!"
Lewis is referring to his stepson, Douglas Gresham, who was at this time 16 or
17 years old.
To J.R.R. Tolkien, December 24, p 1396: "All my philosophy
of history hangs upon a sentence of your own "Deeds were done which were
not wholly in vain.'" A footnote attributes the quote to The Fellowship
of the Ring, Book 1, chapter 2.
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