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 1

Before beginning Volume 3 of Lewis's letters, of course I had to first read the print version of my own book, the author copies of which arrived on the same day from my publisher as the copy of the Lewis letters came via mail order. I was immensely satisfied with my book as it came out, and the good news is that reading it yet again in hard copy produced no sinking feelings, nor did that reading produce new topics for filling in here, other than last week's treatment of Lewis's detractors. Since finishing reading my own 284-page book I've read the first 100 pages of the new letters book, but the bad news about that is that Volume 3 is 1,646 pages, not including the appendices! And since Lewis tended to become more and more wise and lucid as he matured, I suspect (based on these first 100 pages) that we're in for a long but highly rewarding ride for the next several months. So fasten your seat belts!

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig MurrayPage xvi, in the Preface by editor Walter Hooper: "I once asked [Lewis] how he managed to write with such ease, and I think his answer tells us more about his writing than anything he said. He told me that the thing he most loved about writing was that it did two things at once. This he illustrated by saying: 'I don't know what I mean till I see what I've said.' In other words, writing and thinking were a single process."


Editor's note, footnote 37, p 11: "For years Lewis had been publishing some of his poems under the pseudonym Nat Whilk (or N.W.) — Anglo-Saxon for 'I know not whom.' In Perelandra...he quotes a note on the eldila or angels by one 'Natvilcius,' which is Latin for 'Nat Whilk.'"

Editor's note, p 13, discussing brother Warnie's alcoholism, Hooper says "Jack was not successful in persuading him to join Alcoholics Anonymous."

To Warfield M. Firor, March 12, p 17: "...Democratic educations means — give them all an equal start and let the winners show their form. Hence Equality of Opportunity in practice means ruthless Competition during those very years which, I can't help feeling, nature meant to be free and frolicsome. Can it be good, from the age of 10 to the age of 23, to be always preparing for an exam, and always knowing that your whole worldly future depends on it: and not only knowing it, but perpetually reminded of it by your parents and masters? Is this the way to breed a nation of people in psychological, moral, and spiritual health? (N.B. Boys are now taught to regard Ambition as a virtue. I think we shall find that up to the eighteenth century, and back into Pagan times, all moralists regarded it as a vice and dealt with it accordingly.)"

Same, p 18: "Don't imagine that I am constructing a concealed argument in favour of a return to the old oder. I know that is not the solution. But what is? Or are we assuming that there must be a solution? Perhaps in a fallen world the social problem can in fact never be solved and we must take more seriously — what all Christians admit in theory — that our home is elsewhere."

To Mrs. Frank L. Jones, April 6, p 22, "It is much more difficult [to work out matters of loyalty] with an institution like a nation. I am sure you don't in fact regard all your duties to the U.S.A. as null and void the moment a party or a President you don't like is in power. At what point the policy of one's own country becomes so manifestly wicked that all one's duties to it cease, I don't know. But surely mere disapproval is not enough? One must be able to say, 'What the State now demands of me is contrary to my plain moral duty.'"

Editor's note, p 28: "Lewis's friend, Mrs. Janie King Moore — 'Minto' — was now 78. She had been bed-ridden for several tyears, and it had become impossible for Lewis to look after her. On 29 April 1950 she was moved to Restholme, the Oxford nursing home...."

Footnote 90, p 28: "'The Wood that Time Forgot' is a novel by Roger Lancelyn Green. Although it was written before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it remains unpublished because it would seem to owe too much to Lewis's Lion."

To Arthur Greeves, May 6, p 29: "Thanks for your wise and kind letter. Of course you're perfectly right and I do try to 'consider the lilies of the field.' Nor do I doubt (with my reason: my nerves do not always obey it!) that all is sent in love and will be for all our goods if we have grace to use it aright."

To Cecil Harwood, May 22, p 29: "In utrumque paratus" = "prepared for either thing"

Footnote 101, p 31: "In 1942 Lewis had Owen Barfield set up a charitable trust into which Lewis directed all his royalties." I have added the stress on "all," as some sources have said that he put the royalties from his "religious works" in trust for charity.

To Cecil Harwood, June 9, "Still love to both: I wish it were of better quality — I am a hard, cold, black man inside and in my life have not wept enough."

Footnote 110, pp 33-34, describes Christopher Dawson, 1889-1970, a Lewis acquaintance, as a cultural historian who researched and wrote about "religion [as] the dynamic of all social culture" and proposed that "the 'dark ages' were in fact the most creative period in the culture of the Western world."

To Stella Aldwinckle, June 12, p 35, in describing G. E. M. Anscombe, a philosopher who bested him in an apologetic debate: "The lady is quite right to refute what she thinks bad theistic arguments, but does this not almost oblige her as a Christian to find good ones in their place: having obliterated me as an Apologist ought she not to succeed me?"

Footnote 130 on p 35 reports that Lewis revised chapter 3 of his book on Miracles because of Anscombe's "obliterating" him.

To Jill Flewett, June 15, p 36: "it is not a southern sea for which I pine. I want to see and hear Ulster waves breaking on an Ulster beach."

[The notes for pages 38-65 were accidentally omitted in the original version of this page. Here they are.]

To George Sayer, June 21, p 39: whoreson = abominable; detestable

Editor's note on p 39: "When Roger Lancelyn Green met Lewis and the other Inklings in the 'Bird and Baby' pub for drinks on 22 June, he found proofs of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe being passed around and discussed."

To Edward A. Allen, July 21, p 43: "I see the latest Russian move is to lay claim to Alaska, but I can hardly believe this is a serious threat: designed don't you think to panic the American staff into refusing to reinforce the Far East?" Allen was an American correspondent. Before reading this sentence it never occured to me that a major impetus for the American government to grant statehood in the 1950s to Alaska and Hawaii was the perception of threats on the United States and especially on those territories, from Russia and Japan.

To Warfield M. Firor, July 26, p 44: "I am spending most of my time at present ploughing through back numbers of learned periodicals less in the hope of fresh knowledge than in the fear I've missed something."

Same, p 45, referring to the fact that Mrs. Janie Moore, finally living in a nursing home, and becoming progressively more demented: "I am rather cheered by it. It does look so like childhood, only working backwards: the mind gradually withdrawing from the body in the last years as it was gradually settling in during the first. She was for many years of a worrying and, to speak frankly, a jealous, exacting, and angry disposition. She now gets gentler—I dare to hope not only through weakness. Certainly, I think she is a little happier, or a little less unhappy, than she usually was in health."

To Chad Walsh, August 5, p 47, "I am just back from attending a Russian Orthodox Eucharist. The congregation walk about a lot!" Orthodox worshippers typically (though not so much in Western Pennsylvania as in other parts of the world where I've attended services) stand through most of their services, so moving around helps relieve leg cramps and foot aches.

To Vera Mathews, August 28, "whilst the English—and no doubt American—papers were full of anxious discussion of the Korean war, the leading Irish paper carried banner headlines, WHAT IS WRONG WITH IRISH JUMPING? (It was Horse Show week). What is wrong with Irish THINKING would be more to the point."

Same, p 51, "They are certainly an odd people."

Same, referring to himself and his brother Warnie, "we have no sisters, and are a couple of confirmed old batchelors."

To Vera Mathews, September 20, p 54: "autumn is my favorite season. My brother and I took a day off last week, put sandwiches in our pockets, and tramped sixteen miles or more along the old Roman road—now a mere track—which runs from Dorchester Abbey to Oxford."

To Martyn Skinner, October 11, p 56: "The right mood for a new poem doesn't come so often now as it used to. There is so little leisure, and when one comes to that leisure untried—well, you know, Ink is a deadly drug. One wants to write. I cannot shake off the addiction."

To Chad Walsh, October 20, p 59: "The religion of politics is a religion without sacraments: for the human sacrifices which it practices are mere murder, not even ritual murder."

To Belle Allen, November 2, p 61, referring to their respective childhoods: "Ours was very different; for there was always plenty of money, on the modest scale of provincial comfort in those far-off days; but we really hadn't anyone to raise us, and ran wild; like Topsy, we just growed."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB, November 11, p 62: "The trouble in the 16th century was that Luther—who intuited the truth—was fundamentally an uneducated man, a peasant type and really let the whole question get immediately entangled with political and ecclesiological questions which were really quite irrelevant to it. But the whole question must now be raised again."


To Warfield M. Firor, December 6, p 67, on the fears of war with Communist Russia: "The Russian is not, like the German, a congenital invader. But this is slender. Though thought of such a war as that wd. be bad enough in itself: but the thought of entering it with such a government as England now has, is sheer nightmare. Have you any parallel to their imbecility? All rulers lie: but did you ever meet such bad liars?"

To Mary Van Deusen, December 7, p 68: "the New Testament does not envisage solitary religion: some kind of regular assembly for worship and instruction is everywhere taken for granted in the Epistles. So we must be regular practising members of the Church."

"...the Church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the body of Christ in which all members however different (and He rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping and receiving one another precisely by their differences."

Pp 68-69: "If people like you and me find much that we don't naturally like in the public and corporate side of Christianity all the better for us: it will teach us humility and charity towards simple low-brow people who may be better Christians than ourselves. I naturally loathe nearly all hymns: the face, and life, of the charwoman in the next pew who revels in them, teach me that good taste in poetry or music are not necessary to salvation."

"On the whole, my attitude wd. be that any claim [of spiritual healing] may be true, and that it is not my duty to decide whether it is.

"Regular but cool' in Church attendance is no bad symptom. Obedience is the key to all doors: feelings come (or don't come) and go as God pleases. We can't produce them at will and mustn't try."

To Sheldon Vanauken, December 14, p 71 (Vanauken was at the time investigating possibly becoming a Christian): "the notion that everyone would like Xtianity to be true, and that therefore all atheists are brave men who have accepted the defeat of all their deepest desires, is simply impudent nonsense. Do you think people like Stalin, Hitler, Haldane, Stapledon (a corking good writer, by the way) wd. be pleased on waking up one morning to find that they were not their own masters, that they had a Master and a Judge, that there was nothing ever in the deepest recesses of their thoughts about which they cd. say to Him 'Keep out. Private. This is my business'? Do you? Rats! Their first reaction wd. be (as mine was) rage and terror. And I v. much doubt whether even you wd. find it simply pleasant. Isn't the truth this: that it wd. gratify some of our desires (ones we feel in fact pretty seldom) and outrage a great many others? So let's wash out all the Wish business. It never helped anyone to solve any problem yet."

Same: "The only two systems in which the mysteries and the philosphies come together are Hinduism & Xtianity: there you get both Metaphysics and Cult (continuous with the primeval cults). That is why my first step was to be sure that one or the other of these had the answer. For the reality can't be one that appeals either only to savages or only to high brows. Real things are like that (e.g. matter is the first most obvious thing you meet — milk, chocolates, apples, and also the object of quantum physics)."

Same, p 72: "It is only Xtianity wh. compels a high brow like me to partake in a ritual blood feast, and also compels a central African convert to attempt an enlightened universal code of ethics."

"Have you read the Analects of Confucius? He ends up by saying 'This is the Tao. I do not know if any one ever kept it.' That's significant: one can really go direct from there to the Epistle to the Romans."

To Mrs. Frank L. Jones, December 21, p 73, says that though California "must be a very attractive state, I confess I prefer New England. It is more my sort of country." Saying that he is "getting too old for ice and snow," he quotes a verse of Kipling's about ice and snow. It may be the first time I've seen Lewis quote Kipling.

To Sheldon Vanauken, December 23, p 75: "I do not think there is a demonstrative proof (like Euclid) of Christianity, nor of the existence of matter, nor of the good will and honesty of my best and oldest friends."

"The case for Xtianity in general is well given by Chesterton: and I tried to do something in my Broadcast Talks." The latter were later republished as a section of Mere Christianity.

Same: "How cd. an idiotic universe have produced creatures whose mere dreams are so much stronger, better, subtler than itself?"

Same: "God trained the Hebrews for centuries to believe in Him without promising them an after-life: and, blessings on Him, he trained me in the same way for about a year. It is like the disguised prince in a fairy tale who wins the heroine's love before she knows he is anything more than a woodcutter. What wd. be a bribe if it came first had better come last."

Same, p 76: "Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or wd. not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. ('How time flies! Fancy John being grown-up and married? I can hardly believe it!') In heaven's name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something in us that is not temporal."

Same, "I think you are already in the meshes of the net! The Holy Spirit is after you. I doubt if you'll get away!"

To Belle Allen, December 28, p 77: "The whole question of the atomic bomb is a very difficult one: the Sunday after the news of the dropping of the first one came through, our minister asked us all to join in prayer for forgiveness for the great crime of using it. But, if what we have since heard is true, i.e. that the first item on the Japanese anti-invasion programme was the killing of every European in Japan, the answer did not, to me, seem so simple as all that."

To Sister Penelope CSMV, December 30, p 79: "it wd. be v. dangerous to have no worries — or rather no occasions of worry. I have been feeling that v. much lately: that cheerful insecurity is what Our Lord asks of us. Thus one comes, late and surprised, to the simplest and earliest Christian lessons!"


To Sheldon Vanauken, January 5, p 83: "I've always been glad myself that Theology is not the thing I earn my living by. On the whole, I'd advise you to get on with your tent-making" rather than go back to school to study theology.

To Ruth Pitter, January 6, p 83: "what is the point of keeping in touch with the contemporary scene? Why should one read authors one doesn't like because they happen to be alive at the same time as oneself? One might as well read everyone who had the same job or the same coloured hair, or the same income, or the same chest measurements, as far as I can see."

To Sheldon Vanauken, January 8, p 84: "the question is not whether we should bring God into our work or not. We certainly should and must: as MacDonald says 'All that is not God is death.' The question is whether we should simply (a.) Bring Him in in the dedication of our work to Him, in the integrity, diligence, and humility with which we do it or also (b.) Make His professed and explicit service our job. The A vocation rests on all men whether they know it or not: the B vocation only on those who are specially called to it."

To Mary Van Deusen, February 7, p 91: "It is certainly not wrong to try to remove the natural consequences of sin provided the means by which you remove them are not in themselves another sin. (E.g. it is merciful and Christian to remove the natural consequences of fornication by giving the girl a bed in a maternity ward and providing for the child's keep and education, but wrong to remove them by abortion or infanticide)." Though from Lewis's philosophy it was easy to deduce that he would oppose abortion, this is the first instance I found of his saying so explicitly. Abortion was illegal at the time, so not being debated and therefore not as widely discussed as it has been for the past four decades.

To Mrs. Lockley, March 5, p 93: "the best thing about happiness is that it liberates you from thinking about happiness — as the greatest pleasure that money can give us is to make it unnecessary to think about money."

To Roger Lancelyn Green, March 6, p 94: "Does peat go out easily by treading? As an Irishman I ought to know, but don't."

To Mary Van Deusen, March 17, p 96: "My idea is that unless one has to qualify oneself for a job...the only sensible reason for studying anything is that one has a strong curiosity about it. And if one has, one can't help studying it. ...Life's short enough without filling up hours unnecessarily. And I think one usually learns more from a book than from a lecture."

Footnote 35 on p 96 quotes notes on three letters to Colin and Christian Hardie: "Three letters...relate to the two novels which I lent to C.S. Lewis. He had revealed one day at lunch with us, that he had read no book by Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene. I said that he should try to catch up with the contemporary scene, and that I would lend him some books which were currently read and admired. The first, in March 1951, was Brideshead Revisited. Treating this as a Lenten penance, a year later he asked for another and got The Power and the Glory. He could easily have returned the books with only a verbal message; characteristically, he took the trouble to write a letter."

In the letter to Christian Hardie, p 98, Lewis says the characters in Brideshead are "like people out of an Oscar Wilde melodrama, only without the epigrams."

And later: "You shall prescribe me a book to read every Lent: a kind of literary hair shirt."

To Douglas Edison Harding, March 25, referring to the manuscript Lewis had read of Harding's The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth, p 100: "A great deal of your book is completely beyond me. My opinion is of no value. But my sensation is that you have written a work of the highest genius."

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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It is only Christianity that compels a high brow like me to partake in a ritual blood feast, and also compels a central African convert to attempt an enlightened universal code of ethics.

—C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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