'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.
the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper
SanFrancisco, 2007, Part 4
Jonal entry 1044 | March 26 2008
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).
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!"
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."
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."
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.
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
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.'"
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
To William Borst, September 15, p 224: "I am afraid you
must quote the opening words as if it were a Papal Bull!"
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.
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
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."
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
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.'"
"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."
p 263: "One wd. rather be scolded by a mortal than comforted by a ghost."
"I fancy happy childhoods are usually forgotten."
"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)
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."
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.
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."
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."
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"
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
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."
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."
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."
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."
p 290: CH3 CH2 OH = the chemical formula for alcohol of the kind found in wine
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..
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