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 4

In the past week, Arthur C. Clarke, famous for writing 2001: A Space Odyssey and "the father of the geosynchronous communications satellite" (an innovation he predicted in his science fiction years before it became reality), died in Sri Lanka, his adopted home country. C. S. Lewis, though not a close friend, had been lavish in his praise of Clarke's early writing, calling it inestimably better than the "reality fiction about relationships" that had begun dominating English and American literature in the early 1950s. Lewis and Clarke exchanged mutually appreciative letters (see the note on the letter of February 14, 1953, below). Another science fiction and fantasy author who produced some of his best work in that same era, and who is still with us, was also greatly praised in Lewis's letters, the American Ray Bradbury, who has long been one of my favorite contemporary authors (though more for his fantasy romances, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine than his science fiction) (see notes on the letters of February 3 and 5, 1953, below).

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig Murray1952, continued

To Robert Longacre, June 19, p 203: "I can't bear Walt Whitman."

To Arthur Greeves, June 28, p 210, referring to a vacation plan they were working up: "the first time you and I have been away together since Portsalon in about 1916!"

To I. O. Evans, July 23, p 216: "we are reaching a stage at which scientifiction has far too much science and too little fiction to make an agreeable brew."

To Anne Scott, July 28, p 217: "By the way 'The time on my hands has gone to my head' is a phrase you must make something of: it cries out for literary use."

To Vera Gebbert, July 28, p 219: "if all goes well, slip through the Iron Curtain about noon on Thursday; it is quite a dramatic performance. You go chugging along in the Dublin express though rocks and heather ("The Gate of the North'), and presently pass an enormous Union Jack on the side of the track. As soon as you are past the flag, prices for drinks in the dining car drop about fifty percent: you are through and out of the clutches of the Welfare State (now known by the way as 'The Farewell State'). By tea time we shall be sitting on a bungalow verandah, three miles from anywhere, looking across Dundalk Bay at a range of blue mountains." Lewis frequently referred to England's experiments with socialism as "the Iron Curtain." So going by train from the United Kingdom which rules in Northern Ireland into the now-independent Republic of Ireland, is crossing the Iron Curtain.

Same, page 220: "I suppose by this time you have got Mr. Gebbert broken in, and trotting nicely in harness?" The Gebberts were newlyweds from the United States.

To June Lancelyn Green, September 11, p 221: "It cd. hardly be better. If he ever has a chance he shd. take out 9 of every 10 exclamation marks, though. I feel about them as the Red Queen felt when she said 'You needn't say exactually, I can believe you without that.'"

A footnote about the budding friendship between Lewis and Joy Gresham on p 222 notes: "Unfortunately, none of Joy's letters to Lewis has come to light, and the only letters from Lewis to Joy that survive are those in this volume of 22 December 1953, 11 March and 19 November 1959."

An editor's note on p 223: "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was published by Geoffrey Bles of London on 15 September 1952."

To William Borst, September 15, p 224: "I am afraid you must quote the opening words — as if it were a Papal Bull!"

To Vera Gebbert, September 20, p 225: "If is only fair to tell you that (tho' we have an excellent hot water system) we have so little coal that there are no hot baths in our house, only hot water in jugs (This doesn't mean that we never have baths: but then we bath in College, where ladies can't). Otherwise, we hope the hardships wd. not be too great." He was inviting the Gebberts to spend some time at the Kilns on their planned vacation in Europe.

To Jonathan Francis "Frank" Goodridge, September 22, p 227, Lewis describes a role for "daemons" (angelic beings) and "aerial spirits' as having a role in attending human spirits from the terrestrial to the celestial realm, reminiscent at the "aerial tollbooths" sometimes mentioned in Orthodox fathers (cf. Fr. Seraphim Rose). In the same letter he refers to ghosts being "ploughed," perhaps meaning stirred up, "aerial [beings?] longing to get back to their terrestrial state." In some myths about ghosts it is said they will not cross ploughed (or "plowed") ground, but whether there's a connection here is unclear.

To Roger Lancelyn Green, September 26, p 229, referring to problems Lancelyn Green is having getting some of his writing accepted for publication while others was being published: "I shouldn't be surprised if it all depends on the time of the month at which Miss G. reads the Ms."

Charles Moorman, an American medieval literature scholar, is the recipient of a letter of October 2, p 231. Moorman was the author of one of my English texts at University of Pittsburgh (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). Moorman had described an idea for treatment in the writings of Lewis's late friend, Charles Williams. Lewis refers in passing in this letter to Williams's "new interest in Byzantium" around the time when he had made Williams's acquaintance.

To Arthur Greeves, October 17, p 236: "I've finished vol. 1 of the Letters of H.J. [Henry James]. ...I'm afraid he was a dreadful Prig...." Prig = someone who imposes (or at least boasts of) his own presumed higher standards.

To Mary Van Deusen, October 20, p 237: "All that Calvinist question — Free-Will & Predestination, is to my mind undiscussable, insoluble." (My thinking on this has been expressed here.)

To Roger Lancelyn Green, October 21, p 239, referring again to Henry James: "An interesting man, tho' a dreadful prig: but he did appreciate [Robert Louis] Stevenson. A phantasmal man, who had never known God, or earth, or war, never done a day's compelled work, never had to earn a living, had no home & no duties."

To the Editor of the Church Times, undated, p 241, gives his view of the discussion then going on of Anglicanism taking up the canonization of saints.

To Mrs. Johnson, November 8, p 245: "I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god or to a v. imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know Him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep & Goats (Matt. XXV, 31 and following) those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ. But of course our anxiety about unbelievers is most usefully employed when it leads us not to speculation but to earnest prayer for them and the attempt to be in our own lives such good advertisements for Christianity as will make it attractive."

The rest of this lengthy letter has many other gems.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, November 10, p 248-9, he shares her joy at converting from Episcopalian to Roman Catholic faith and mentions his reasons for not following the same course.

Footnote 264 on p 249, about a letter beginning above from Lewis to J.R.R. Tolkien, describes Lewis's role in the publishing of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and other Tolkien books published subsequently. To Tolkien, p 250, referring to the long "gestation" the book had gone through: "I think the very prolonged pregnancy has drained a little vitality from you: there'll be a new ripeness and freedom when the book's out. And how pleased Priscilla [Tolkien's daughter] and Mrs. [Katharine] Farrer will be."

To Mrs. D. Jessup, November 13, p 250: "It is clearly what G.M. [George Macdonald] meant when he said 'Have pity on us for the look of things, When desolation stares us in the face. Although the serpent-mask have lied before, It fascinates the bird.'"

Same: "And of course there was no 'conceit' or 'selfishness' in your writing to me: are we not all 'members of one another.'"

To Mrs. D. Jessup, November 17, p 252: "But don't send me any newspaper cuttings. I never believe a word said in the papers. The real history of a period (as we always discover a few years later) has v. little to do with all that, and private people like you and me are never allowed to know it while it is going on."

To Vera Gebbert, December 9, p 258: "Nor did I realize the shabbiness of present day Paris. The business and travel advertisements still hold up Paris to us as a little oasis of gaiety in a drab world. I'm very much afraid that the answer is that France is an extinct volcano and can one wonder? For the last four hundred years France has been losing the best stuff in the nation in war after war, and no people can stand up to that indefinitely. Portugal, Spain, Holland, England, we've all had out innings: and now it is up to your country to go in and bat. If one looks far enough ahead, I'm inclined to think that — after our time thank goodness — China is going to come out on top: for she has unlimited manpower, unlimited grit, and a capacity for hard work on nothing a year paid quarterly which none of the while peoples possess."

To Phyllis Elinor Sandeman, December 10, p 261: "that odious work Brideshead Revisited."

Same, p 263: "One wd. rather be scolded by a mortal than comforted by a ghost."

Same, "I fancy happy childhoods are usually forgotten."

Same, "I sometimes eat parsnips because their taste, which I dislike, reminds me of my prep-school, which I disliked, but those two dislikes don't in the least impair the strange joy of 'being reminded.'"

To I.O. Evans, December 13, p 264: "Thank you for your kind letter. I am so glad you liked the story. What is one to do with illustrators — especially if, like mine, they are (a far surer defence than obstinacy) timid, shrinking, young women who, when criticised, look as if you'd pulled their hair or given them a black eye! My resolution was exhausted by the time I'd convinced her that rowers face aft not (as she thinks) forward."

Footnote 204 on this letter quotes his illustrator, Pauline Baynes, as writing that Lewis "only once asked for an alteration — and then with many apologies — when I (with my little knowledge) had drawn one of the characters rowing a boat facing the wrong direction."

To Laurence Harwood, Lewis's godson and the second son of Cecil Harwood, December 19, p 268: "Here's something for expenses. I am completely 'circumvented' by a guest, asked for one week but staying for three, who talks from morning till night. I hope you'll all have a nicer Christmas than I. I can't write (write? I can hardly think or breathe. I can't believe it's all real)."

The guest was Joy Gresham, his future (but obviously not yet realized) beloved and wife.

To Mrs. Johnson, December 19, p 268: "we — like you no doubt — are in the climax of the 'Christmas rush,' a time which I always regard with horror."

To George Sayer, December 23, p 271, explaining that because of Joy's visit he cannot stick with his plan to visit george and Moira on New Years: "The whole Vac. is in fact a shambles. Perpetual conversation is a most exhausting thing. I begin to wonder if I have a vocation for La Trappe. I am sick at these numbers. But I love you both: it is one of my most frequent and tonic activities." I'm guessing that he was referring to the Sayers' home as his version of a Trappist monastic retreat. But I have no idea what he means by "these numbers."


To J. Keith Kyle at the BBC: "I wish the series every success, but . . . if the public doesn't by now know what I believe I shouldn't enlighten them much in three and a half minutes more!"

Footnote 4, on p 274, on a letter from Lewis to Ruth Pitter, quotes her regarding her recent move closer (but not close enough) to Oxford: "I had hoped to see a little more of Lewis, of David Cecil, and others, and to attend open lectures, plays, etc. But we could not find anything near enough to make this at all easy."

To Don Giovanni Calabria, January 5, p 276: tiros = "beginning students," "newbies"

To Don Giovanni Calabria, January 7, p 278: "we Westerners preached Christ with our lips, with our actions we brought the slavery of Mammon. We are more guilty than the infidels: for to those that know the will of God and do it not, the greater the punishment."

To Belle Allen, January 19, p 282: "I don't wonder that you got fogged in Pilgrim's Regress. It was my first religious book and I didn't then know how to make things easy. I was not even trying to very much, because in those days I never dreamed I would become a 'popular' author and hoped for no readers outside a small 'highbrow' circle. Don't waste your time over it any more."

To Mary Van Deusen, January 26, p 286: "I have always thought of how that the greatest of all dangers to your country is the fear that politics were not in the hands of your best types and that this, in the long run, might prove ruinous. A change in that, the beginning of what might be called a volunteer aristocracy, might have incalculable effects."

To Edward A. Allen, January 26, p 286: "while a fool cannot be clever, a clever man can often be silly."

Same, p 287: "My brother and I can both sympathize with you over rheumatism: having had it for several years, and it being a faimly heirloom."

To Nathan Comfort Starr, February 3, p 288, referring to the conclusion of work on OHEL: "I know now . . .how a balloon feels when the sandbags are thrown out."

Same: "I have just read two books by an American 'scientifiction' author called Ray Bradbury. Most of that genre is abysmally bad, a mere transference of ordinary gangster or pirate fiction to the sidereal stage, and a transference which does harm not good. Bigness in itself is of no imaginative value: the defence of a 'galactic' empire is less interesting that the defence of a little walled town like Troy. But Bradbury has real invention and even knows something about prose. I recommend his Silver Locusts."

To Anthony Boucher, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, for which Lewis had written a couple of stories, February 5, p 289: "You, and (in a different way) Ray Bradbury, are the real thing."

Same, "I found that neither the favourable nor the unfavourable reviews helped one at all: they merely either soothed or wounded one's vanity — neither a very beneficial experience. They v. often hadn't even read the book with any accuracy."

Same, p 290: CH3 CH2 OH = the chemical formula for alcohol of the kind found in wine and beer.

To Arthur C. Clarke, February 14, pp 292-3, he declines an invitation to speak to an interplanetary society conference chaired by Clarke in defense of the proposition that interplanetary space travel might be a bad thing. In a postscript he jokes, "Probably the whole thing is only a plan for kidnapping me and marooning me on an asteroid! I know the sort of thing" The "sort of thing" was how the hero in Lewis's first two science fiction books got to other planets.

To Mary Van Deusen, February 21, p 296: "Your question about Communists-in-government really raises the whole problem of Democracy. If one accepts the basic principle of Govt. by majorities, how can one consistently try to suppress those problems of public propaganda and getting-into-govt., by which majorities are formed. If the Communists in this country can persuade the majority to sell in to Russia, or even to set up devil-worship and human sacrifice, what is the democratic reply? When we said 'Govt. by the people' did we only mean 'as long as we don't disagree with the people too much'? And is it much good talking about 'loyalty'? For on strictly democratic principles I suppose loyalty is obligatory (or even lawful) only so long as the majority want it. I don't know the answer.

"Of course there is no question of its being our duty (the minority's duty) to obey an anti-God govt. if the majority sets it up. We shall have to disobey and be martyred. Perhaps pure democracy is really a false ideal."

To Roger Lancelyn Green, March 3, p 301: "slithy" = a blend of slimy and lithe, pronounced with a long I. Though dictionaries often say it comes from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, Lewis is here telling Lancelyn Green that it was found as far back as John Bunyan..

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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A friend went to her doctor the other day, and the man was not very sympathetic with her aches and pains. "You'll just have to learn to live with it," he said.

When she got her bill for $90, she sent it back with the notation, "You'll just have to learn to live without it!"

Thought for today

While a fool cannot be clever, a clever man can often be silly.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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