Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Click to enlargeJon Kennedy's
'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 10

We have now reached the halfway point in the third volume of the Collected Letters.

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 Murray1956 continued

To Walter Hooper, November 2, p 804, he thanks Hooper's class of fifth graders in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for writing to tell him about the dramatization they made of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as a class project. "I would never allow a public commercial performance," Lewis told them, "because you know what theatrical managers are like! They'd make it awful. I am sure yours was quite different."

To Chad Walsh, November 9, p 804, he breaks the news that Joy has been diagnosed with cancer (Joy and Walsh had been friends for years before she had met Lewis): "She has still 'a fighting chance.'"

To Mary Margaret McCaslin, November 15, p 806, quotes George McDonald: "The Son of God died not that we might not suffer but that our sufferings might become like His."

To Charles A. Brady, author of an article, "Finding God in Narnia," in the Jesuit (Catholic) magazine America, November 16, p 807: "It might amuse you that the whole thing took its rise from nightmares about lions which I suddenly started having." I may have reported elsewhere finding that Lewis had been having dreams about lions before Aslan "came bounding in" to his Narnia storyline, but I did not know they were nightmares. No wonder Aslan is oft described as "not a tame lion." A footnote on this letter quotes Brady as saying in the article that Lewis "evangelizes through the imagination."

To John Gilfedder, November 18, p 808: "It is always nice to get a letter in praise of one's last book [Till We Have Faces]. The combination is irresistible especially since that book has had a worse reception from the English reviewers than any I ever wrote. I don't however, despair. The children's stories were very ill received at first and now begin to worm themselves into favour: better that than to be the rage for 12 months and then forgotten forever." This sounds prophetic.

To Mary Van Deusen, November 18, p 809: "Not that critics really matter very much. The real question is how the book goes 10 or 15 years after publication."

A footnote on p 811 says that Lewis wrote an essay, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May say Best What's to be Said," published in The New York Times Book Review (18 November 1956)." I don't remember seeing any reference to this article elsewhere.

To Arthur Greeves, November 25, p 812: Lewis explains Joy's situation and reports that they plan to "publish their marriage" shortly.

To Mr. Lucas, December 6, p 814: Lewis describes some places in the New Testament where humor can be found. In a later letter he reveals that Joy had told him Jewish people consider many passages in the Old Testament humorous, unlike the traditional Christian interpretations of the same, and this may have introduced the idea of looking for humor in the Scriptures. Though his sense of humor seldom comes through in his letters, his biographers agree that anywhere Lewis was, even up till his final days, there was laughter.

To Father Peter Milward, SJ, December 10, p 815, Lewis says that allegory is "one of those words which needs defining in each context where one uses it."

To Vera Gebbert, December 10, p 816: "We never send any one any presents, so why shd. we get any. Our real name is Scrooge."

To William Gresham, December 30, p 820, he writes to tell Joy's former husband of her condition and how the Gresham boys are doing at the time.


To Charles A. Brady, January 5, p 824: "I have to thank you for your many kind and (what is even rarer) perceptive reviews. I don't keep reviews, whether friendly or hostile they are not a diet good for the soul — so I can't now talk about them in detail." He also says Charles Williams influenced him, not the other way around, and that Dorothy Sayers "was an established author before I was heard of."

To Martin Kilmer, January 22, p 826: "The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end — in her own way. I think that whatever she had seen in Narnia she could (if she was the sort that wanted to) persuade herself, as she grew up, that it was 'all nonsense.'" "What happened to Susan" remains a controversy that detractors of Lewis use against him to the current day, some accusing him of having consigned her to hell for having adopted feminist ways in her adulthood.

To Mrs. D. Jessup, January 29, p 829, Lewis reports that Till We Have Faces, "has had a less favourable reception not only from critics but from most friends than any I ever wrote."

To Clyde S. Kilby, February 10, p 830: "An author doesn't necessarily understand the meaning of his own story better than anyone else, so I give you my account of the TWHF [Till We Have Faces] simply for what it's worth." Later he describes Psyche, a main character in the novel, as "the anima naturaliter Christiana making the best of the Pagan religion she is brought up in...." anima naturaliter Christiana = a "soul by nature Christian," as defined by the second century church father, Tertullian.

To Chad Walsh, February 13, p 832: "After a severe attack on her morale and even her faith Joy has made a marvellous psychological and (please God) spiritual rally. During my two last week-ends in Oxford she has been in wonderful peace and even in high spirits. Physically, while the doctors hold out almost no long-term hope, she is, to a layman's eye, improving: sitting up for a while daily, going out in a wheeled chair, eating and sleeping well. You wd. hardly believe how much happiness, not to say gaiety, we have together — a honeymoon on a sinking ship."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, February 17, p 834: "I can't type: you could hardly conceive what hundreds of hours a year I spend coaxing a rheumatic wrist to drive this pen across paper."

To Sister Penelope, CSMV, March 6, p 837, he reports that his mother, his father, and his favourite aunt all died of cancer. He also describes his new step-son, Douglas, then 13, as "a charmer [and] almost exactly what I was — bookworm, pedant, and a bit of a prig."

Kathryn Stillwell sent him a letter enclosing a reprint of an article of his published in His magazine, the publication of Inter-Varisty Christian Fellowship, on March 6 (p 838).

In a footnote on p 839 to a letter to Sheldon Vanauken, Vanauken is quoted as saying that Lewis had told him of marrying Joy "as an act of friendship to prevent the Government deporting her to America as a communist, despite her being a lapsed communist and, in fact, a Jewish Christian."

An editor's note on p 841 says that Lewis had heard of what some believed was a miracle performed by his friend, the Rev. Peter Bide of the Diocese of Chicester. This sets the stage for Lewis to ask Bide to pray for Joy's healing.

To William Gresham, April 6, p 843, Lewis sets out the case against Gresham attempting to take his sons away from their mother and himself (mainly that neither of them are interested in returning to live with their father, who had been abusive to them and their mother).

A second letter to Gresham on the same date, p 844: "I think there has never been any ill-feeling between you and me, and I very much hope there never will be."

Same, p 845: "You may suspect that a letter you will get from David was 'inspired' by Joy or me. In reality, it was expurgated, i.e. the letter he meant to send was much stronger, and Joy made him tone it down. Douglas burst into tears on hearing your plans. I assure you that they have never heard a word against you from me. No propaganda at all has ever gone on."

To Laurence Krieg, April 21, p 847, he agrees with Laurence that the Narnian tales might best be read in their chronological order, rather than their published order. He also indicates that he didn't have all seven storylines in mind when he was doing the early volumes, but thought that at the end of Prince Caspian there would be no more, after Voyage of the Dawn Treader that was the end, and so on.

Same, p 848: "I can't say I have had a happy Easter, for I have lately got married and my wife is very, very ill. I am sure Aslan knows best and whether He leaves her with me or takes her to His own country, He will do what is right. But of course it makes me very sad. I am sure you and your mother will pray for us."

To Bice Chrichton-Miller, May 14, p 851, he declines an invitation to preach because "I now find I can't. This happens to many public speakers...."

A footnote on p 853 to a May 17 letter to Roger Lancelyn Green reports that Lewis had been made an Honorary Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, with dining rights, after leaving Magdalen for Magdalene, Cambridge. He had invited Green to meet him at the Magdalen dining hall for lunch and to meet Joy.

To Mrs. Johnson, May 25, p 856: "Of course Heaven is leisure ('there remaineth a rest for the people of God'): but I picture it pretty vigorous too as our best leisure really is. Man was created 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' Whether that is best pictured as being in love, or like being one of an orchestra who are playing a great work with perfect success, or like surf bathing, or like endlessly exploring a wonderful country or endlessly reading a glorious story — who knows? Dante says Heaven 'grew drunken with its universal laughter.'"

Several letters by Joy to friends and fans of Lewis are reproduced in the book. In one to Mrs. Jessup, May 27, p 857, Joy makes these comments about her feelings about having cancer: "Before I had it, I had all the usual fear and horror of it; but since then I've found that it's possible to live with your cancer and still get a great deal of happiness out of life."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 18, p 859: "Joy is to all appearance (blessedly or heart-breakingly) well and anyone but a doctor would feel sure she was recovering."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, June 25, p 860: "I have only slowly come to admit that manners is more than judiciousness and that I'd better write a note even without my apparatus."

Same, p 861: "I ought to tell you my own news. On examination it turned out that Joy's previous marriage, made in her pre-Christian days, was no marriage: the man had a wife still living. The Bishop of Oxford said it was not the present policy to approve re-marriage in such cases, but that his view did not bind the conscience of any individual priest. Then dear Father Bide (do you know him?) who had come to lay his hands on Joy — for he has on his record what looks v. like one miracle — without being asked and merely on being told the situation at once said he wd. marry us. So we had a bedside marriage with a nuptial Mass.

"When I last wrote to you I would not have wished this: you will gather (and may say 'guessed as much') that my feelings had changed. They say a rival often turns a friend into a lover. Thanatos, certainly (they say) approaching but at an uncertain speed, is a more efficient rival for this purpose. We soon learn to love what we know we must lose." Thanatos = "Greek god of death"

Same, p 862: "My heart is breaking and I was never so happy before: at any rate there is more in life than I knew about. My own physical pains lately (which were among the severest I've known) had an odd element of relief in them."

To John H. McCallum, June ?, p 862: "Oddly enough, this situation is not quite so bad as it sounds. I have indeed more unhappiness, but also more happiness, than I ever had before."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, July 1, p 862: "I always thought that admirable formula for acknowledging a book (no doubt, you suffer, like me, from a plague of such gifts, which one is ashamed to throw away and equally ashamed to have on one's shelves) was Lewis Carroll's not Dizzy's."

Same, p 863: "I remember now one point I did want to make: on Astrology in the dialogue. I'm sure the statement (in a sense true) that the medieval Church discountenanced Astrology often gives a false impression. So far as I have been able to find out she discountenanced A. Total stellar determinism which wd exclude free will. B. Practices wh. suggested Planetolatry. C. The lucrative imposture of prediction. But she never denied the general doctrine of planetary influences in natural objects, historical events, and human psychology."

Same, p 864: "I have bad spasms both of body and soul, but they all go on amidst a sort of ballet of agape, storge, and eros."

Same, from postscript: "We have a family of pet mice (my stepsons') growing up — absolute beauties."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, July 3 p 865: "What on earth is the trouble about there being a rumour of my death? There's nothing discreditable in dying: I've known the most respectable people do it."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, July 4, p 866, postscript: "Tawney has done much harm. And tho' I'm no Calvinist I wish people who write about Calvin wd. read the Institutio first." The reference is to Richard Henry Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.

To Mrs. Johnson, July 9, p 866, on Joy: "for the moment, apparently perfect health, no pain, eating and sleeping like a child, spirit is usually excellent, able to beat me always at Scrabble and sometimes in argument. She runs the whole house from her bed and keeps a pack of women not only loving her but (what's rarer) one another. We are crazily in love." The proof of Lewis's crazy love: I can't imagine him having played Scrable before Joy.

Same, p 867, on his own condition: "It has passed the stage of spasms and screams (each was rather like having a tooth out with no anaesthetic and you never knew when they were coming!) but I still ache a good deal and need sleeping draughts.

"Can you realise the good side? Poor Joy, after being the sole object of pity and anxiety can now perform the truly wifely function of fussing over me — I'm in pain and sit it out — and of course the psychological effect is extremely good. It banishes all that wearisome sense of being no use. You see, I'm v. willing to have osteoporosis at this price."

On p 868 the editor provides a letter from Lewis's publisher, Jocelyn Gibb, in which he reports: "Till We Have Faces goes along slowly but has lingered for some time around the 10,000 mark. On the other hand Surprised By Joy still goes along briskly."

To Jocelyn Gibb, July 11, p 869: "As I am now married, and my wife ill, and two stepsons to educate, and an illness of my own, the news about sales is just what I shd. have exprected!" A bit of cynicism?

To Joan Lancaster, July 18, p 871: "I don't think being good always goes with having fun: a martyr being tortured by Nero, or a resistance movement man refusing to give away his friends when tortured by the Germans, were being good but not having fun. And even in ordinary life there are things that wd. be fun to me but I mustn't do them because they wd. spoil other people's fun."

Same, p 872: "A perfect man wd. never act from sense of duty; he'd always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) — like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times: but of course it's idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits etc) can do this journey on their own!)"

To Anne and Martin Kilmer, August 7, p 873, on the question of whether angels have bodies and what "bodies" might mean: "I have no scruples about this because, religiously, the qustion seems to me of no importance. And anyway what do we mean by 'matter'?"

"I'm so glad you both like TWHF [Till We Have Faces]. I think it much my best book but not many people agree."

Same, p 874: "Psyche has a vocation and becomes a saint." An uncommon comment by Lewis on sainthood.

To Roger Lancelyn Green, August 17, p 876: "My rage against the Bodley Head reader is unbounded." A footnote explains that a reader at The Bodley Head, Green's publisher, had required Green to make unnecessary changes in his Mystery at Mycenae.

To W. K. Scudamore, August 19, p 877: "Memo: it is impossible for the wit of man to devise a story in which the wit of another man cannot find, and quite plausibly, an allegory."

To Arthur Greeves, August 21, p 878: "Telephone call from Eire to say that W. was dead drunk and they were trying to get him into the Lourdes Hospital. Then, a day or two later, letter from W., not in Lourdes Hospital, to say he has been diagnosed as having a heart complaint wh. will kill him in a year."

To Jane Gaskell, the author of a sensational novel written when she was only fourteen years old, September 2, p 879: "I want to tell you that I think it a quite amazing achievement — incomparably beyond anything I could have done at that age."

In several additional pages, Lewis shares his advice about how to make her next novel even better, basic writing principles. For example, p 881: "always write by ear not by eye."

To Arthur Greeves, September 5, p 882: "I've now got the real news about W., wh. is much less alarming. The heart trouble is slight and curable: it was a bye-product of acute alcoholism and pneumonia."

To Cecil Harwood, September 21, p 884: "My wife has made wonderful progress, quite unexpected by the doctor. Can it be? — dare one hope? I suppose not. But we are often a great deal happier, merrier, delighted, than you wd. think possible. We are at present being accorded all the privileges of shorn lambs!"

A note introducing a letter to Dorothy L. Sayers, September 29, p 885, says "the following was to be Lewis's last letter to Dorothy L. Sayers, who died suddenly on 17 December 1957."

To I.O. Evans, September 31, p 886-7: "I suppose if science is to be run as a kind of religion they feel it must have saints' lives."

To Jocelyn Gibb, October 15, p 888: "No, I much prefer Miss Baynes [over the artwork in a German edition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe]. These have their wit but they belong to a school which thinks (a.) That whatever is meant for children must be comic. (b.) That the right way to be comic for children is to parody their own attempts at drawing."

To Kathryn Stillwell, October 29, p 892: "It's like driving cattle: if there's an open gateway anywhere on the road, they'll go into it!"

To Mary Willis Shelburne, November 3, p 892: "Nor do I think you are in the least danger of getting 'queer' — except that we're all queer."

To Vera Gebbert, November 12, p 894: "the improvement in my wife's condition is, in the proper use of the word, miraculous; now not only is there no pain, but she is walking."

Same, p 895: "I don't feel that 'Sputnik' in itself is anything very dangerous, but one does'nt like the underlying implication, i.e. that its existence proves that Russia is far ahead of your country in inter-continental missiles." Russia had launched the first man-made space satellite that month.

To Robert Palmer, November 17, p 898, referring to his proofreading of Palmer's book of poetry: "I spotted no literals — but then I never do." Literals = spelling mistakes.

To Arthur Greeves, November 27, p 900: "I like Cambridge better all the time: also my new job — or rather my new leisure for I've never been so under-worked since I first went to school."

To Sheldon Vanauken, November 27, p 901: "Of course the sword of Damocles hangs over us. Or shd. I say that circumstances have opened our eyes to see the sword which really hangs always over everyone."

Same: "The intriguing thing is that while I (for no discoverable reason) was losing the chalcium from my bones, Joy, who needed it much more, was gaining it in hers. One dreams of a Charles Williams substitution! Well, never was a gift more gladly given: but one must not be fanciful." But I would propose: Miracle.

—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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Thought for today

Of course Heaven is leisure ('there remaineth a rest for the people of God'): but I picture it pretty vigorous too as our best leisure really is. Man was created 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' Whether that is best pictured as being in love, or like being one of an orchestra who are playing a great work with perfect success, or like surf bathing, or like endlessly exploring a wonderful country or endlessly reading a glorious story — who knows? Dante says Heaven 'grew drunken with its universal laughter.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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