Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

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'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 16

Despite hoping as shown in several of his 1962 letters that his heath had "turned a corner," by the beginning of 1963 it had definitely turned back for the worse, and in November, the same day that President John F. Kennedy died, C. S. Lewis died of heart failure from complications of an enlarged prostate and, as a consequence, kidney failure. Up to the end his letters continued encouraging and instructing others, as this week's notes illustrate. This week's entry covers the letters of Lewis's final year, 1963.

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 Murray1963

To the editor of Encounter magazine, undated, published in the January edition as "Wain's Oxford," p 1400: "Dorothy Sayers...was the first person of importance who ever wrote me a fan-letter. I liked her, originally, because she liked me; later, for the extraordinary zest and edge of her conversation — as I like a high wind. She was a friend, not an ally. Needless to say, she never met our own club [the Inklings], and probably never knew of its existence.

To Mrs Leon Emmert, January 2, p 1402: "Yes — how one's view of one's parents begins to change when one has discovered the beam in one's own eye! I have had that experience too. And when one has grasped the right view of marriage, how all the current gabble about 'sexual morality' is reduced! — as if it did not consist almost entirely in applying to sexual behaviour the same principles of good faith and unselfishness which have to be applied to all behaviour."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, January 2, p 1403: "As for looks — do most women value beauty in a man at all? My experience is that they rather distrust and dislike it."

Same: "Let's hope 63 will be a better year for us all!"

To Mary Willis Shelburne, February 8, p 1410: "I'm not surprised at Son Suez's reaction. She coundn't possibly know that this inexplicable arrest, exile, and imprisonment had a kind intention. It suggests the comforting thought that the strange and terrifying things which happen to us are really for our benefit. That's an old platitude of course: but seeing it the other way round, in relation to the cat, somehow brings it to life." "Son Suez" was Shelburne's cat.

To Arthur Greeves, March 10, p 1414: "Keep our fingers crossed and keep on saying D.V." D.V. = Deo Volente, Lord willing.

To Sherwood E. Wirt, March 18, p 1411: "I shall be happy to answer any questions if I know the answers, and I'd much rather do it by word of mouth than by pen." Sherwood Wirt, the editor of Decision, the magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, had asked for an interview with Lewis, which providentially turned out to be the last interview Lewis ever gave. A lengthy footnote to this letter mentions that Decision was planning to publish an excerpt of Joy Gresham Lewis's book, Smoke on the Mountain.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, March 19, p 1415: "I'm sorry they threaten you with a painful disease. 'Dangerous' matters much less, doesn't it? What have you and I got to do but make our exit? When they told me I was in danger several months ago, I don't remember feeling distressed."

To Arthur Greeves, March 22, p 1418: "We're both too old to let our remaining chances slip!"

To Hugh Kilmer, March 26, p 1419: "Don't get any more girls to write to me, though, unless they really need any help I might be able to give. I have too many letters already."

To Mrs. Dunn, April 3, p 1420 (probably, a footnote says, referring to Jesus's "miracle of destruction" of cursing a fig tree in Matthew 21:19): "I think it is a moral allegory enforced by an actual miracle. It wd. be shocking if a man, or even a beast, were destroyed just to point a moral. But a vegetable? After all, every tree that dies (and they all die) anywhere in the world does so by God's will. Not a sparrow falls to the ground etc.' Mustn't we face the fact that He wills deaths as well as lives? He has made the natural world to depend partly on death — 'unless a seed die.' At least, that is how I look at it."

To Edward T. Dell, April 22, p 1422: "I'd rather keep off Bishop [A.T.] Robinson's book {Honest to God]. I should find it hard to write of such a man with charity, nor do I want to increase his publicity. But thanks for the offer."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, April 22, p 1423: "What in Heaven's name is 'distressing' about an old man saying to an old woman that they haven't much more to do here? I wasn't in the least expressing resentment or despondency. I was referring to an obvious fact and one which I don't find either distressing or embarrassing. Do you?"

"I'm glad you can still enjoy a new dress. I can still dislike a new suit."

To Father Peter Milward, SJ, May 6, p 1425: "You ask me in effect why I am not an R.C. If it comes to that, why am I not — and why are you not — a Presbyterian, a Quaker, a Mohammedan, a Hindoo, or a Confucianist? After how prolonged and sympathetic study and on what grounds have we rejected these religions? I think those who press a man to desert the religion in which he has been bred and in which he believes he has found the means of Grace ought to produce positive reasons for the change — not demand from him reasons against all other religions. It wd. have to be all, wouldn't it?"

Same: "A single act of even such limited co-operation as is now possible does more towards ultimate reunion than any amount of discussion."

To John H. McCallum, May 19, p 1427: "My old pensioner Mrs. M. W. Shelburne (103 6th St. N.E. Washington 2, D.C.) is in a spot of extra trouble. Will you please send her 150 dollars and debit it against my next royalties?" In the same day's mail Lewis sent Mrs. Shelburne a note saying he was directing Harcourt Brace to send her "a little extra."

Note on p 1429: "Lewis arrived home from Cambridge on Friday, 7 June, and that afternoon he gave tea to Walter Hooper, who taught English Literature at the University of Kentucky, and who was in Oxford for the summer. Lewis invited Hooper to a meeting of the Inklings at the Lamb and Flag on Monday, 10 June. After that the two men generally met three times a week, Mondas at the Lamb and Flag, Wednesdays at The Kilns with a pint afterwards in The Six Bells pub, and Sundays at The Kilns when Hooper accompanied Lewis to church."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 10, p 1429: "I am sorry to hear of the acute pain and the various other troubles. It makes me unsay all I have ever said against our English 'welfare state,' which at least provides free medical treatment for all."

To Miss H. Coffey, June 11, p 1429: "Sorry but I'm out of photos. Which is perhaps just as well, for I look awful. Imagine a marsh-wiggle gone fat and red in the face. And deaf and bald. I talk far too loud."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 17, p 1430: "Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well? Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hair-shirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind."

Same, p 1431: "Yours (and like you a tired traveller near the journey's end)

To Mary Van Deusen, June 20, p 1431: "Blamires — not Blamise, as you spell him! — is an old pupil of mine. I was very pleased with his work. It was badly needed. You'd think, wouldn't you, his name rhymed with 'aspires,' but he pronounces it Blamers (rhyme with TAMERS)."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 25, p 1432: "Only a few months ago when I said that we old people hadn't musch more to do than to make a good exit, you were almost angry with me for what you called such a 'bitter' remark. Thank God, you now see it wasn't bitter: only plain common sense."

Same: "As far as weakness allows I hope, now that you know you are forgiven, you will spend most of your remaining strength in forgiving. Lay all the old resentments down at the wounded feet of Christ."

Same: "How awful it must have been for poor Lazarus who had actually died, got it all over, and then was brought back — to go through it all, I suppose, a few years later. I think he, not St. Stephen, ought really to be celebrated as the first martyr." In his thinking on Lazarus, Lewis is in disagreement with church tradition, which holds that Lazarus went on to be a bishop of the church. Orthodoxy says it was in Cyprus; Roman Catholic tradition says he went to what is now France.

Same: "For if this is Good-bye, I am sure you will not forget me when you are in a better place. You'll put in a good word for me now and then, won't you!

"It will be fun when we at last meet."

To Father Peter Milward, SJ, June 27, p 1433: "half of my life is spent answering letters anyway...."

Same: "My stories were not influenced by any of the authors you mention. The first impulse came, I believe, from H.G. Wells. More important was David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus. To Chesterton I am much indebted as a controversialist, but not to fiction, tho' I like his fiction. I don't share the widespread admiration of Berdyaev. Surely he says the same thing over and over in different words. Orwell I read much later. I give Animal Farm full Marks: 1984 is far below it.

Same: "I don't know that I ever thought about the relation between my S.F. and my Narnian books. Of course they are alike, for both are fantasies and both by the same man."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 28, p 1434: "Don't try to concentrate. Pretend you are a dormouse or even a turnip."

Same: "But cock-crow is coming. It is nearer now than when I began this letter."

To Hugh Montefiore, July 2, p 1435: "I'm afraid I'm not up to it. I am pretty well an invalid now and professional lectures are all I can manage. But indeed I had other reasons for giving up preaching, even before my illness. I write better than I talk, and reach more people and at a less cost of nervous energy. Also, at less moral danger. I was beginning to be histrionic: an unmistakable red light." Histrionic = overly emotional.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, July 6, p 1438: "Do you know, only a few weeks ago I realised suddenly that I at last had forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood. I'd been trying to do it for years: and like you, each time I thought I'd done it, I found, after a week or so it all had to be attempted over again. But this time I feel sure it is the real thing. And (like learning to swim or to ride a bicycle) the moment it does happen it seems so easy and you wonder why on earth you didn't do it years ago. So the parable of the unjust judge comes true, and what has been vainly asked for years can suddenly be granted. I also get a quite new feeling about 'If you forgive you will be forgiven.' I don't believe it is, as it sounds, a bargain. The forgiving and the being forgiven are really the v. same thing. But one is safe as long as one keeps on trying."

Same: "Yet, in another mood, how short our whole past life begins to seem!"

To Mary Willis Shelburne, July 9, p 1439: "By the way, as you come out I may possibly go in. Swollen ankles — the Red Light for me — have returned. I see the doctor about this to-morrow. My fear is that he will forbid me to go to Ireland on Monday as I had arranged, and put me back in hospital.

"Our friends might really get up a sweepstake as to whose train really will go first! Blessings."

To Arthur Greeves, July 11, p 1440: "Alas! I have had a collapse as regards the heart trouble and the holiday has to be cancelled. Let me know how much you are out of pocket for our cancelled bookings at Port Steward and, as is only fair, I will send you a cheque for that amount.

"I don't mind — or not much — missing the jaunt, but it is a blow missing you. Bless you."

To Joan Lancaster, July 11, p 1440: "Zoroastrianism is one of the finest of the Pagan religions. Do you depend entirely on Nietzsche for your idea of it? I expect you wd. find it well worth time to look at the old sources."

To Karen Housel, July 13, p 1441: "After a long illness I am now suffering a relapse and at present waiting to be admitted to hospital as soon as there is a vacancy. One of my complaints is anermia. This, tho' painless, has a most debilitating effect on the mind: so that even if I were technically 'well' again, you would find yourself confronted with, almost, an imbecile. Thanks for the kind things you say, but look for no help from me. I am but a fossil dinosaur now."

A note on p 1441 reports that on Sunday that week Lewis was too ill to accompany Walter Hooper to church, and asked him if he would resign his position at the University of Kentucky to become his personal secretary.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, July 15, p 1442: "I go into hospital this afternoon. Think any sudden change in my state is v. improbable. Last time, the repeated blood-transfusions got me past the danger point, tho' they took much longer to do it than the doctors expected. This time they will either take even longer, or else they will fail to do it at all. I'm so sleepy and tired that I feel v. little concerned. The loss of all mental concentration is what I dislike most. I fell asleep three times during your letter and found it v. hard to understand! Don't expect to hear much from me. You might as well expect a Lecture on Hegel from a drunk man."

A few hours after writing the preceding letter, a note reports, Lewis had a heart attack.

From a letter from Walter Hooper to Roger Lancelyn Green, August 5, p 1446: "At 2:00 p.m. Austin Farrer, a priest as you know, gave him Extreme Unction. Then at 3:00 p.m., much to the amazement of the doctors and nurses, Jack woke from his coma and asked for his tea."

From Walter Hooper to Mary Willis Shelburne, August 10, p 1448: "He has with regret, but love for his College, resigned his Chair and Fellowship at Cambridge."

To Arthur Greeves, September 11, 1456: "I am glad you are fairly well and have a housekeeper. But oh Arthur, never to see you again! . . ."

To Walter Hooper, September 20, p 1457: "No one has ever so endeared himself to the whole household."

To Francis Anderson, September 23, p 1458: "I don't think Tolkien influenced me, and I am certain I didn't influence him. That is, didn't influence what he wrote. My continual encouragement, carried to the point of nagging, influenced him v. much to write at all with that gravity and at that length. In other words I acted as a midwife not as a father. The similarities between his work and mine are due, I think, (a) To nature — temperament. (b) To common sources. We are both soaked in Norse mythology, Geo. MacDonald's fairy-tales, Homer, Beowulf, and medieval romance. Also, of course, we are both Christians (he, an R.C.)."

In the following paragraphs Lewis describes the problem of higher critics in literature. He says many of them become "higher critics" without ever having first become critics. "They don't know by the smell, as a real critic does, the difference in myth, in legend, and a bit of primitive reportage."

To Jane Douglass, September 31 [30], p 1460: "Thanks for your kind note. Yes, autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I'm not sure that old age isn't the best part of life. But of course, like Autumn, it doesn't last!

To Sister Madeleva, CSC, October 3, p 1461: "Since my wife's death I have been very ill myself and last July I was, while unconscious given extreme unction. It wd. have been such an easy death that one almost regrets having had the door shut in one's face — but nella sua voluntade e nostra pace." The Latin, "in His will is our peace," is from Dante.

To Lorna Wigney, October 15, p 1463: "I think, don't you?, the Pevensey children picked up the rather old-fashioned way of talking from living with old Professor Kirk, who was of course a Square: perhaps even a Cube?" Lorna Wigney was a ten- or eleven-year-old fan.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, October 17, p 1464: "The papers, drat 'em, have all published a bit about my illness and retirement with the result that I have countless letters of sympathy (some from total strangers) to answer. As if hours of loathsome letter-writing every day were a good rest-cure for a sick man. How can people indulge their sentimental 'kindness' by such actual cruelty?"

A note to this letter reports: "Shelburne wrote on the envelope of this letter: 'The last letter from Jack — His going has saddened me beyond measure, but how I thank God for giving me such a friend! And he is still my friend!'"

To Jeannette Hopkins, October 18, p 1465: "I am sorry to be importunate. Invalids, you know, are fussy." Lewis was rather sharply entreating Ms. Hopkins to forward some funds he had sent for his stepson, David Gresham, his having not yet received any of it.

To Jocelyn Gibb, October 18, p 1466: "Some future Research Beetle can then write a thesis on the textual problems. And if you destroy this correspondence as soon as it has served its turn he can have all the more fun with it!"

To Colin Bailey, October 18, p 1467: "Thanks for your kind words. Perelandra is my favourite too."

To Basil Willey, October 22, p 1468: "I am like the dead man in Henry More's poem —

Horse-hoofs that knock upon this grassie door
He answers not.

To Nancy Warner, October 26, p 1473: "I don't know how you discovered that I am N. W. Clerk. If it was from internal evidence, you must be a good critic."

To Mr. Young, October 31, p 1476: "I believe in the Virgin Birth in the fullest and most literal sense: that is, I deny that copulation with a man was the cause of the Virgin's pregnancy." The rest of the letter deals with other theological questions Mr. Young had raised.

To Kathy Kristy, November 11, 1478: "the Screwtape Letters . . . has been the most popular of all my books."

To Mary Van Deusen, November 16, p 1480: "It becomes more and more evident every day that we are certain to have a Labour government in a few months time, which I suppose means back to the old scheme of austerity for everyone and extravagance for the government. Worse still, we expect them to get in with a majority which will take at least ten years to break down."

Same: "There are times when I wonder if the invention of the internal combustion engine was not an even greater disaster than that of the hydrogen bomb!"

To Mrs. Frank L. Jones, November 16, p 1481: "I'm as well as I ever shall be again."

Same: "My brother tells me gloomily that it is an absolute certainty that we shall have a Labour government within a few months, with all the regimentation, austerity, and meddling which they so enjoy."

To Nan Dunbar, November 21, p 1483: "Thursday December 14 at about 11 a.m. wd. suit me well."

It was a date Lewis didn't keep. He died the next day. A note on p 1485 says, "His funeral took place in Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, on 26 November — three days short of his sixty-fifth birthday."

§          §          §

The remaining sections of the Third Volume of the C.S. Lewis Letters includes a section of letters from earlier years but added to the collection after the first two volumes were printed, and a section containing the letters from "the great war" between Lewis and his close friend and later his attorney, Owen Barfield. Notes on these will conclude this series next week.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Procedural: These Jonals will appear sporadically, on Wednesdays. Please check the Home Page crawling marquee, click "Latest Post," or check the Jonals Index for updates. To have Jonals sent directly to your email or to reply to a Jonal, please write to


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[I get a] new feeling about "If you forgive you will be forgiven." I don't believe it is, as it sounds, a bargain. The forgiving and the being forgiven are really the very same thing.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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