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 11

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 Murray1957 continued

To Mary Willis Shelburne, November 30, p 902: "Yes: moves are desolating things. The wind of Time blows cold at these corners, doesn't it? — and one's belongins have a sort of squalid pathos about them once they are packed."

To Walter Hooper, December 2, p 902: A second exchange with the young man who was destined to became the key to Lewis's posthumous "success."

To Mrs. Frank Jones, December 9, p 903, Lewis refers to Joy's recovery as "almost a miracle."

A footnote on p 904 reports that after Lewis joined the Cambridge faculty, the Inklings meetings were moved from Tuesday to Monday, so he could attend before catching a train to Cambridge.

To Vera Gebbert, December 16, p 908: "my wife (you may have read her, as Joy Davidman) may soon begin to write again. Then all three of us will be at it and I'll put up a plate at the door reading Lewis, Lewis, and Lewis Inc., Book Factory." Lewis seems to be "higher" in his correspondence this month than ever and this is the only December thus far in which he has no complaints against Xmas and Xmas mail.


To Don Luigi Pedrollo, January 8, p 913: "I do not know if this (clearly extraordinary) fact was a miracle; in any event, it was not without the prayers of the Church and the imposition of the hands of a holy priest that it took place. What can I say unless Whence is this to me, who did not deserve anything of this sort?

"I pray every day for the soul of Father Giovanni Calabria and for the Congregation."

To Kathryn Stillwell, January 14, p 913: "No. The story about my coming to teach at Cornell is quite untrue."

Same, p 914: "Yes, I read Animal Farm. I can't understand why so few mention it while everyone talks about 1984 — surely a far inferior work."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, January 14, p 914: "What a pity you haven't got our National Health system in America."

To Joan Lancaster, February 9, p 918, referring to the Russian space satellite Sputniks, which were much in the news and conversation of the time: "The pity is that some cosmic rays didn't produce a mutation in the dog which would have made it super-rational: then it might have found its way back alive and started taking revenge on the humans."

To Mervyn Peake, February 10, p 919, referring to Peake's book, Gormenghast: "It has the hall mark of a true myth: i.e. you have seen nothing like it before you read the book, but after that you see things like it everywhere."

To Mr. Pitman, February 13, answers questions Pitman posed about sexual temptations. The whole letter is worth quoting, but I'll limit my notes to this, on p 921: "On the purely physical side (but people no doubt differ) I've always found that tea and bodily weariness are the two great disposing factors, and there the great dangers. Sadness is also a danger: lust in my experience follows disgruntlement nearly always. Love of every sort is a guard against lust, even, by a divine paradox, sexual love is a guard against lust. No woman is more easily and painlessly abstained from, if need be, than the woman one loves. And I'm sure purely male society is an enemy to chastity. I don't mean a temptation to homosexuality: I mean that the absence of ordinary female society provokes the normal appetite."

To Jocelyn Gibb, February 22, p 923: "I shall stick to my capital H for pronouns referring to God....they often get one beautifully out of ambiguities which the use of pronouns normally begets. I won't throw away the convenience." Exactly; I too have stuck with the capital H's, but alas lacked the clout Lewis had earned by this time in his career. My book publisher wouldn't honor my request to leave them, though against my wishes insisted on using quotations from the Authorized (King James) version of scripture which neither I nor Lewis considered wise to use with readers born after 1940. Gibb was Lewis's publisher, but by this time Lewis had the services of a literary agent.

To Herbert Palmer, March 15, p 924: "The proper title for my book was Bareface, but the publishers wouldn't have that because they said people wd. think it promised a book about Red Indians. (Tolkien's title for The Lord of the Rings was objected to on the ground that it suggested prizefighting!)

"Thank heavens we both can at least remember civilization...."

To Arthur Greeves, March 15, p 924: "I don't think I can make any plans for the summer. Joy (how unlike poor Minto) wd. not breathe a word against my going. But though all goes splendidly, the sword of Damocles hangs over us. How shd. I feel if It descended quite soon and I then felt 'I did not even stay with her while I had her.' If, by God's mercy, all continued to go well for a couple of years it wd. be a different matter."

To Jocelyn Gibb, March 27, p 927: "I think it a bad fashion to substitute printed mimicry of ugly handwriting. I wish all publishers wd. stop it. Even if the handwriting were a beautiful script, which this is not, the whole idea that decoration consists in making everything masquerade as something else, is surely wrong. Do you like smoking-rooms on ships made up to look like Scotch baronial halls?"

To William P. Wylie, March 28, p 928: A one-page tour de force regarding false religions.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, April 15, p 935: "We were away at a v. nice country hotel last week having at last, what we never had before, a honeymnoon! Here's another absurdity of the mind: I'm such a confirmed old bachelor that I couldn't help feeling I was being rather naughty ('Staying with a woman at a hotel!' Just like people in the newspapers!)"

Same, postscript: "By the way, you are one of the minority of my numerous female correspondents who didn't gradually fade away as soon as they heard I was married!"

To Jane Douglass, April 19, p 938: "I don't like committing myself to exact ages for the children" in the Narnian Chronicles.

Same, "our lives are littered with flase starts! at least mine is."

To Sheldon Vanauken, April 26, p 940: "Joy's improvement continues....The Doctor, doubtless without what a Christian wd. regard as true seriousness, used the word miraculous. I am also, by the way, nearly quite restored myself. I sometimes tremble when I think how good Joy and I ought to be: how good we would have promised to be if God had offered us these mercies at that price."

Same: "More and more I see how useless it is to try to play Providence either to oneself or to another. All we can do is to try to follow the plain rules of charity, justice and commonsense and leave the issue to God."

To Henry I. Louttit, the Suffragan Bishop of Southeast Florida, Lewis addresses him as "Lord Bishop." In England, Bishops (both Anglican and Roman Catholic) are addressed as "Lord" by virtue of their office (and the fact that a number of them are members of the House of Lords) but an encyclopedia entry on the title says it is considered inappropriate for bishops in the United States.

To Nathan Comfort Starr, May 12, p 945: "When she came home from hospital in April '57 she was expected to live a few weeks. Then, after (but long after) the prayers for the sick and the laying on of hands, the unpredictable began to happen. Bones rebuilt themselves in a way the doctors themselves discribed as 'miraculous.' Now, though she will always walk with a limp, she is in full health and living a normal, crowded, and happy life. 'Believe as you list.' One's gratitude to God need not depend on deciding whether this is, in some strict sense, a miracle or not."

To Butch Banton, May 16, p 946: "Magic is a rum thing and does not always work out as we would expect. I can only suggest two possible reasons why they saw the plates but not the weapons." Banton was a schoolboy in Virginia.

On p 947-8, a letter from Joy to Roger Lancelyn Green is presented. The most notable point Joy makes may be this: "I've even got a fence round the woods and all the trespassers chased away; I shoot a starting-pistol at them and they run like anything!"

To Clyde S. Kilby, June 6, p 951: "Thank you very much for your invitation to speak at Wheaton College. I hope to visit the United States some day: but my duties at Cambridge will make it impossible for several years to come." Kilby, as the founder of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton, probably ranks next behind the letters' editor, Walter Hooper, as a "friend of Jack" who kept his flame alive for decades after his death and whose work continues through the Center (dedicated to the works of Lewis, Tolkien, McDonald, Chesterton, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield) even after Kilby's death (1986).

Joy wrote a long letter to Mary Willis Shelburne on Lewis's behalf on June 6, p 953: "It's better to make pretty things, I find, than just useful ones."

To Michael Edwards, June 27, p 959, referring to the oral tradition of preliterate societies: "Bookless people have enormous memories."

To Martin Kilmer, July 21, p 961, referring to an article he had published in an American religious magazine, "Yes — the Christian Herald is pretty frightful, and so apparently are its readers. I have had the stupidest letters about that article."

To George Sayer, August 19, p 965: "From about Aug 30th to Sept 6 — W. in Ireland and Joy taking the boys away for a jaunt — I shall be a grass widow, grass stepfather, and grass brother. Any chance of your coming up for a couple of nights or so? Hunphrey [Lewis's nickname for his physician-friend, Dr. Robert Havard] also will be very 'grass' etc. and you can have your choice of several bedrooms, all now with new mattresses! Do." "Do" was frequently used in Lewis's more enthusiastic invitations.

To Jessie M. Watt, August 28, p 967, referring to a trip he and Joy had recently made to Ireland: "It was the first flight either of us had ever experienced...."

"As for the picture in The Observer, even our most ribald friends don't pretend it has any resemblance to either of us. As a spiritualist picture of the ectoplasms of a dyspeptic orangutan and an immature Sorn it may have merits, but not as a picture of us."

To Derek Brewer, August 30, p 969: "let's mix our metaphors well — that you are skating on thin ice over various hornets' nests that might at any moment burst into flame."

To Lucy Matthews, September 11, p 971: "A strict allegory is like a puzzle with a solution: a great romance is like a flower whose smell reminds you of something you can't quite place."

Same, "In a great romance..." referring to his friend Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, there "is so exactly what living feels like to me. Particularly the heart-breaking quality in the most beautiful places...."

And, p 972: "The darkness comes again and again and is never wholly triumphant nor wholly defeated."

To Mr. Langton, September 22, p 973, he provides gratuitous feedback on Langton's poetry. This is one of many examples of why Lewis is so loved; his generosity is so often freely given, doing for free what he was generally paid to provide.

To Vera Gebbert, September 23, p 974, describing Ireland: "As for beauty, it has the ugliest towns in the world — as bad, Joy said, as the worst parts of her native New York...." Ironic as one of the things I love about Ireland is its towns, which always give me glimpses of the towns I remember from the 1940s in Pennsylvania, all now so different as to no longer be called the same places. But I have no idea what the towns of Ireland looked like in 1958.

To Martin Kilmer, September 29, p 975: "All schools, both here and in America, ought to teach far fewer subjects and teach them far better."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, September 30, p 975: "We must both, I'm afraid, recognise that, as we grow older, we become like old cars — more and more repairs and replacements are necessary. We must just look forward to the fine new machines (latest Resurrection model) which are waiting for us, we hope, in the Divine garage!"

Same, p 976: "at this time of the year lovely, still, cool sunshine from 7 till 10, followed by rain from then on, is common. I love the empty, silent, dewy, cobwebby hours."

To Corbin Scott Carnell, October 13, p 979, is a tour de force of Lewis's theological influences and non-influences. "I tried Berdyaev, but he seemed to me terribly repetitive; one paragraph wd. do for what he spins out into a book."

Same, p 980: "Existentialism, so far as I can at all make out what the word means, does not appeal to me." Carnell is a professor at the University of Florida and is the author of Bright Shadow of Reality: Spiritual Longing in C.S. Lewis, Eerdmans, 1974.

To Thomas Howard, October 14, p 980, he enthusiastically recommends Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, "except for the first chapter which is a botch — don't be put off by it." At this time, Thomas Howard was still probably in graduate school. From a well-known evangelical family (his sister is Elizabeth Elliott, the former missionary author of Through Gates of Splendor). He did his doctoral thesis on Charles Williams, later converted to Catholicism, and has written books on Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and evangelicalism.

To Jocelyn Gibb, October 22, p 982. "beano" = "a British colloquial term for a noisy festive occasion" Lewis used it to refer to a party to launch J.B. Phillips' New Testament in Modern English which was published that year by Gibb.

To Mary Van Deusen, October 27, p 982: "What you say about books turning up at what seems to be just the right moment is well supported from my own experience. So much so that now, if I lose or forget something I've read that seems important, I do not much bother, for I feel a confidence that if I really need it it will be given to me again, and just in time — in a book on some quite different subject I shall find it quoted or a man I didn't much want to talk to will mention it in conversation."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, October 30, p 984: "I suppose living from day to day ('take no thought for the morrow') is precisely what we have to learn — though the Old Adam in me sometimes murmurs that if God wanted me to live like the lilies of the field. I wonder He didn't give me the same lack of nerves and imagination as they enjoy."

Same: "As for wrinkles — pshaw! Why shouldn't we have wrinkles? Honorable insignia of long service in this warfare."

To Clyde S. Kilby, November 2, p 985: "The editor sent me Pittenger's article and offered to print my reply. I hope you will like it as much as I liked yours. Thank you both for writing and for sending it. We don't overlap much, and I hope they will both be printed. But alas, we may merely be putting up the sales of what seems a pretty nasty periodical!" The periodical is The Christian Century.

To Martin Kilmer, November 23, p 991: "American university teachers have told me that most of their freshmen come from schools where the standard was far too low and therefore think themselves far better than they really are. This means that they lose heart (and their tempers too) when told, as they have to be told, their real level."

To Roger Lancelyn Green, December 3, p 993, referring to how critics often miss the mark: "e.g. that the ring in Tolkien 'is' the Hydrogen Bomb! Histories which in my experience are almost invariably quite wrong."

To Corbin Scott Carnell, December 10, p 995: "Old men, by the way, are one of the things America does very well."

Same: "Yes, Chesterton can be, in the bad sense, rhetorical, but v. seldom is. As a man once said to me 'G.K.C. has the same quality of beoming more eloquent the more exactly he means what he says.'"

From a letter by Warnie to Edward A. Allen, December 15, p 998: "I am very busy just now trying to keep pace with the cost of living by turning out another book; good fun, even if it doesn't bring home the bacon."

A footnote on p 998 says that Episcopal "Bishop [James A.] Pike was so impressed [by the spirtualism of Arthur Ford] that he affirmed his belief in the reality of psychic phenomena in his book, The Other Side." But after Ford's death, the note continues, researchers found notes that revealed his "seances" to be fraudulent.

To Sheldon Vanauken, December 15, p 1000: "my own bone disease is as good as cured — anyway, quiescent."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, December 25, p 1004: "Never knew so long a spell of fogs. One pines for lights and, scarecely less, shadows, which make up so much of the beauty of the world."

To Mrs. Hook, December 29, p 1000, a lengthy explanation of Lewis's view of the difference between allegory and fictitious "supposal": "Ransom (to some extent) plays the role of Christ not because he allegorically represents him (as Cupid represents falling in love) but because in reality every real Christian is really called upon in some measure to enact Christ. Of course Ransom does this rather more spectacularly than most. But that does not mean that he does it allegorically. it only means that fiction (at any rate my kind of fiction) chooses extreme cases."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, December 29, p 1006, Lewis's only "grumble" about Xmas this year: "Just a very hurried line — [...] To tell a story which puts the contrast between our feast of the Nativity and all this ghastly 'Xmas' racket at its lowest My brother heard a woman on a 'bus say, as the 'bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, 'Oh Lor! They bring religion into everything. Look — they're dragging it even into Christmas now!'"

To the Editor of The Christian Century, undated, p 1007: "Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can't turn your faith into it, then either you don't understand it or you don't believe it."


To Mary Van Deusen, January 1, p 1008: "it is hard not to hate a man who takes money for defending Christianity and spends his time attacking it. But pity comes to one's aid. Such a man cannot be happy. I think there is a good deal of anguish in his rudeness." He is referring to the Rev. Norman Pittenger.

To Cecil Harwood, January 16, p 1010: "If by Friday morning you (I mean you) have had too much you can blank well blank off and blank it blank." (Harwood was one of the first friends Lewis made at Oxford, some 40 years earlier.)

To Edard Lofstrom, January 16, p 1011: "Remember Pascal? 'I do not admire the extreme of one virtue unless you show me at the same time the extreme of the opposite virtue. One shows one's greatness not by being at an extremity but by being simultaneously at two extremities and filling all the space between.'"

To Mary Van Deusen, January 19, p 1013: "What 'existentially' means — unless it means 'melodramatically' or 'ostentatiously' or 'making no end of fuss about it' — I have never been able to find out."

Clyde S. Kilby wrote to Lewis on January 15: "I wish I might have a word or two from you on one comment written by Professor Cornelius Van til of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He says not all your writings are orthodox and asks, 'Is it orthodox to hold that man must seek to ascend in the scale of being from animal life to participation in the life of the triune God?' The book in which he thinks you teach this is Beyond Personality. While I do not plan to enter any public controversy with Professor Van Til, I am wondering if you would consider this a proper description of your book'" Though I never sat under Van Til, he was cited so frequently in my own seminary, also in Philadelphia, that he was almost an "adjunct" theologian there.

Lewis's reply, January 20, p 1013: "it is cerrtainly scriptural to say that 'to as many as believed He gave power to become sons of God' and the bold statement 'God became Man that men might become gods' is Patristic. Of course Van Til's wording 'that man must seek to ascend in the scale of life' with its suggestions (a) That we cd. do this by our own efforts (b) That the difference between God and Man is a difference of position on a 'scale of life' like the difference between a (biologically) 'higher' and a (biologically) 'lower' creature, is wholly foreign to my thought."

To Mrs. Theodore Rohrs, January 22, p 1014, he calls Perelandra "the best of the three" of his science fiction novels.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, January 26, p 1016: "By the way, I mentioned to a distinguished theologian that I had been attacked by 'a man called Pittenger,' and he replied 'Oh! old Norman Pittenger! What does he believe this week?' — so apparently he changes his views pretty often. Perhaps one day he may give Christianity a trial. I have put him in my prayers."

To Vera Gebbert, March 11, p 1029, referring to Gebbert's young son: "He has my profound sympathy in his attitude to mathematics, a science of which I have to this day not succeeded in mastering the elements...."

Same, encouraging her in her fledgling writing course, "the effort to get the first book published is practically always a long and tedious one. And my brother had his first book refused by nearly everyone in London."

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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My brother heard a woman on a 'bus say, as the 'bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, "Oh Lor! They bring religion into everything. Look — they're dragging it even into Christmas now!"

— C. S. Lewis

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How useless it is to try to play Providence either to oneself or to another. All we can do is to try to follow the plain rules of charity, justice and commonsense and leave the issue to God.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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