Saturday, October 15, 2011

Selling C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Just because you're paranoid, that doesn't mean they're not out to get you. By the same token, just because you're a bit unhinged, that doesn't mean you're necessarily wrong about everything.

As a follow-up to my post on the J. R. R. Tolkien Estate, I thought I might address the even more vexed issue of C. S. Lewis's literary legacy, complex and almost beyond disentanglement as it is at this point.

It comes down (for the most part), to a battle of the Titans between two rather dubious people: in the right corner, Walter Hooper, allegedly Lewis's "secretary" in the last few months of his life (though it now turns out that the two were only in contact for a few weeks at most); on the left, the bed-ridden literary sleuth Kathryn Lindskoog, crippled by multiple sclerosis, whose "fanciful theories have been pretty thoroughly discredited" (according to Lewis's stepson Douglas Gresham).

Walter Hooper (b.1931)

Kathryn Lindskoog (1934-2003)

What's the easiest way of summarising this controversy? Well, to make it simpler to visualize, I thought I might do what I did for Tolkien: compare the published works from Lewis's lifetime with his posthumous productivity (edited, or introduced - for the most part - by Walter Hooper):



  1. Lewis, C. S. [as 'Clive Hamilton']. Spirits in Bondage (1919)

  2. Lewis, C. S. [as 'Clive Hamilton']. Dymer (1926)

  3. Fiction:

  4. Lewis, C. S. The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism (1933)

  5. Lewis, C. S. Out of the Silent Planet (1938)

  6. Lewis, C. S. Perelandra: A Novel (1943)

  7. Lewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups (1945)

  8. Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce: a Dream (1945)

  9. Lewis, C. S. Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (1956)

  10. Children's Books:

  11. Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: A Story for Children (1950)

  12. Lewis, C. S. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)

  13. Lewis, C. S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: A Story for Children (1952)

  14. Lewis, C. S. The Silver Chair: A Story for Children (1953)

  15. Lewis, C. S. The Horse and His Boy (1954)

  16. Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew (1955)

  17. Lewis, C. S. The Last Battle: A Story for Children (1956)

  18. Theology:

  19. Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. The Christian Challenge Series (1940)

  20. Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters (1942)

  21. Lewis, C. S. Miracles: A Preliminary Study (1947)

  22. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity [consisting of Broadcast Talks (1942), Christian Behaviour (1942) and Beyond Personality (1944).] (1952)

  23. Lewis, C. S. Reflections on the Psalms (1958)

  24. Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves (1960)

  25. Lewis, C. S. The World's Last Night and Other Essays (1960)

  26. Criticism:

  27. Lewis, C. S. The Allegory of Love: a Study in Medieval Tradition (1936)

  28. Lewis, C. S. Rehabilitations and Other Essays (1939)

  29. Lewis, C. S., & E. M. W. Tillyard. The Personal Heresy: A Controversy (1939)

  30. Lewis, C. S. A Preface to Paradise Lost(1942)

  31. Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man: Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools (1943)

  32. Lewis, C. S. Arthurian Torso (1948)

  33. Lewis, C. S. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, excluding Drama. Oxford History of English Literature (1954)

  34. Lewis, C. S. Studies in Words. (1960)

  35. Lewis, C. S. Experiment in Criticism (1961)

  36. Lewis, C. S. They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses (1962)

  37. Autobiography & Letters:

  38. Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955)

  39. Lewis, C. S. [as 'N. W. Clerk']. A Grief Observed (1961)

  40. Edited &c.:

  41. Lewis, C. S. ed. George MacDonald: An Anthology (1947)

  42. Lewis, C. S. ed. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1947)

That's a pretty substantial oeuvre: novels, children's books, poetry, critical books, as well as the works of popular theology he's most famous for ("easy answers to difficult questions," as one of his more sardonic friends called them).

So what happened afterwards?

(1963- )


  1. Lewis, C. S. Poems. Ed. Walter Hooper (1964)

  2. Lewis, C. S. Narrative Poems. Ed. Walter Hooper (1969)

  3. Lewis, C. S. Collected Poems. Ed. Walter Hooper (1994)

  4. Fiction:

  5. Lewis, C. S. The Dark Tower and Other Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper (1977)

  6. Hooper, Walter, ed. Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young C. S. Lewis (abridged: 1985)

  7. Lewis, C. S., & W. H. Lewis. Boxen: Childhood Chronicles Before Narnia. Essay by Walter Hooper. 1985. Introduced by Douglas Gresham (complete: 2008)

  8. Theology:

  9. Lewis, C. S. Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer (1964)

  10. Lewis, C. S. Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces (1965)

  11. Lewis, C. S. Of Other Worlds. Ed. Walter Hooper (1966)

  12. Lewis, C. S. Christian Reflections. Ed. Walter Hooper (1967)

  13. Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed. Walter Hooper (1970)

  14. Lewis, C. S. Fern-seed and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity. Ed. Walter Hooper (1975)

  15. Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory. Ed. Walter Hooper (1980)

  16. Lewis, C. S. Of This and Other Worlds. Ed. Walter Hooper (1982)

  17. Lewis, C. S. The Business of Heaven. Ed. Walter Hooper (1984)

  18. Lewis, C. S. First and Second Things. Ed. Walter Hooper (1985)

  19. Lewis, C. S. Present Concerns. Ed. Walter Hooper (1986)

  20. Lewis, C. S. Timeless at Heart. Ed. Walter Hooper (1987)

  21. Lewis, C. S. Christian Reunion. Ed. Walter Hooper (1990)

  22. Lewis, C. S. Readings for Meditation and Reflection. Ed. Walter Hooper (1992)

  23. Lewis, C. S. Compelling Reason: Essays on Ethics and Theology (1998)

  24. Lewis, C. S. Essay Collection: & Other Short Pieces. Ed. Lesley Walmsley (2000)

  25. Criticism:

  26. Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964)

  27. Lewis, C. S. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Ed. Walter Hooper (1966)

  28. Lewis, C. S. Spenser’s Images of Life. Ed. Alistair Fowler (1967)

  29. Lewis, C. S. Selected Literary Essays. Ed. Walter Hooper (1968)

  30. Translation:

  31. C. S. Lewis's Lost Aeneid: Arms and the Exile. Ed. A. T. Reyes. Foreword by Walter Hooper (2011)

  32. Autobiography & Letters:

  33. Lewis, W. H., ed. Letters of C. S. Lewis (1966)

  34. Lewis, C. S. Letters to an American Lady. Ed. Clyde S. Kilby (1967)

  35. Hooper, Walter, ed. They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963) (1979)

  36. Lewis, C. S., & Don Giovanni Calabria. Letters: A Study in Friendship (1988)

  37. Lewis, C. S. Letters. Ed. W. H. Lewis. 1966. Rev. ed. ed. Walter Hooper (1988)

  38. Lewis, C. S. All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis, 1922-1927. Ed. Walter Hooper. Foreword by Owen Barfield (1991)

  39. Lewis, C. S. Collected Letters, Volume I: Family Letters, 1905-1931. Ed. Walter Hooper (2000)

  40. Lewis, C. S. Collected Letters, Volume II: Books, Broadcasts and the War, 1931-1949. Ed. Walter Hooper (2004)

  41. Lewis, C. S. Collected Letters, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy, 1950-1963. Ed. Walter Hooper (2007)

Kathryn Lindskoog:
Sleuthing C. S. Lewis (2001)

Kathryn Lindskoog estimated that, by 2001, when her book Sleuthing C. S. Lewis: More Light in the Shadowlands appeared, Walter Hooper had edited, or written forewords for, no fewer than 27 books of C. S. Lewis material, and written over 300 pages of prefatory material for them. Since the appearance of her book, he's edited another 4,000-odd pages of Lewis's letters in the three-volume set of his Collected Letters.

One would certainly have to call him industrious, considering the fact that during this same period he also collaborated with Roger Lancelyn Green on the 1974 authorised biography of Lewis, wrote a critical book on the Narnia books (Past Watchful Dragons (1979)), and compiled the immense C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide (1996).

So what's wrong with that? Nothing, surely. Lewis's fans have an apparently inexhaustible appetite for anything from the Master's hand. Why should Hooper be criticized for providing precisely that?

Well, I guess that one could begin with the nature of Hooper's editing - the bibliographical chaos of all of those overlapping volumes of theological essays, constantly repackaged in different ways as the decades unfolded. One might also cite the fatuous, gushing tone of his prefaces, comparing Lewis to one "of the Apostles," recounting silly snippets of conversation from the period when he was "his private secretary in the last months of his life" (elsewhere: his "companion-secretary").

All this rings a bit false when one discovers that Hooper and Lewis were in fact personally acquainted for only a few weeks in the last year of the latter's life, and that there's even some dispute about whether he ever did in fact live in his house. He certainly wasn't there for very long if so.

Hooper certainly exaggerates the extent of his "intimacy" with Lewis, and it's a bit hard to understand how he's come to assume such a crucial role in the centre of "Lewis studies" (for want of a better description).

There is, however, one very important event which does go some way towards explaining it: the famous "bonfire" of Lewis's literary remains which (allegedly) took place in January 1964.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of Hooper's activities over the years has been his systematic undermining of the reputation of Major Warren Lewis ("Warnie"), C. S. ("Jack") Lewis's beloved brother and friend.

First of all there was this tale of the bonfire on which "Warnie" allegedly cast all of Lewis's manuscripts and proofs. In chapter three of her exhaustive study, "Throwing Water on the Bonfire Story" (pp.41-55) Lindskoog does an interesting job of comparing the various conflicting accounts of this event, which has gradually come to assume dimensions as terrifying as Lady Burton's holocaust of her husband's literary remains, or the burning of the first book of Carlyle's French Revolution by a careless housemaid.

Did it ever take place? Nothing was said of this three-day orgy of destruction by anyone until 1977, when Hooper told the sad tale in his introduction to The Dark Tower. Also, within two months of the great burning, W. H. Lewis was advertising in the press for unpublished C. S. Lewis letters for his projected biography of his brother. It just doesn't seem that probable that he would have destroyed all those suitcases full of papers described so movingly by Hooper ...

When was it, in any case? The Dark Tower preface dates it to January 1964. But in a letter of W. H. Lewis's to Hooper dated 8 February, written from Ireland, he remarks that "I look forward to meeting you." If he hadn't even met Hooper at this point, how does this square with his allowing the unknown American to save so many pages of manuscript remains from the engulfing flames a few weeks before?

Perhaps the fire actually took place in February. But if so, why did Hooper specify that he had to drag two large trunks of papers back to his rooms in Keble College, where he was living in January, but not February 1964?

Less and less seems to have been heard about this famous bonfire, the source of Hooper's unrivalled (and largely unseen) collection of Lewis typescripts and manuscripts, since the 1980s. The story does not make it into his 940-page C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide (titled in the US: A Complete Guide to His Life and Works). But either it happened or it didn't. If it didn't, why has Hooper told the tale so often and so circumstantially? If it did, why has he stopped doing so?

LIndskoog also points out that Fred Paxford, Lewis's gardener, the man who allegedly performed the fell deed (albeit on Major Lewis's orders) categorically denied it:

"As regards Walter Hooper's story about a bonfire, I am still in touch with Paxford and went to see him yesterday," Len Miller wrote to me. "He says it is all lies." ... he added, "I am afraid anything Hooper says should be taken with a large pinch of salt." [p.47]

The bonfire has been very useful to Hooper (as Lindskoog points out), since it provides a source of manuscript authority for any subsequent changes and additions he has made to the Lewis canon. Whether or not it actually happened - and it is a little hard to believe that it can have, given the conflicting nature of the accounts given of it over the years - it does rather cast a shadow over Hooper's credibility in general.

Then there's the matter of "Warnie's" (again alleged) alcoholism and general unreliability. What people could be forgiven for not realizing, as they read Hooper's bumptious and patronising account of his "old friend's" little failing (in the preface to his 1988 "corrected edition" of Warnie's 1966 collection of his brother's Letters, among other places), is that W. H. Lewis was himself a considerable scholar (of French history and literature, mainly) and wrote a number of works about the era of Louis XIV which are still well worth reading.

The Sunset of the Splendid Century: The Life and Times of Louis Auguste de Bourbon Duc du Maines, 1670-1736 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1955), is particularly entertaining, but Levantine Adventurer: The Travels and Missions of the Chevalier d’Arvieux, 1653-1697 (London: Andre Deutsch, 1962) also has its moments.

Far from the ill-informed, querulous drunk he's gradually been reduced to in the Hooper demonology, W. H. Lewis should be seen as an indispensable part of his brother's life work, and a valid and honorable person in his own right.

For so systematic, cunning and ruthless a campaign of petty subterfuge and damning with faint praise, I think one would have to go back to the egregious Rufus Griswold, the alleged "friend" (but actually bitter enemy) of Edgar Allan Poe, who (as the latter's literary executor) managed to create, almost single-handedly, the black legend of Poe's drunkenness, perverted taste for young girls, and general irresponsibility in worldly affairs.

It took many many years for Poe's reputation to recover from Griswold's calumnies; hopefully the reputation of C. S. Lewis may eventually be able to be seen apart from the misrepresentations of Walter Hooper.

Anthony Hopkins as C. S. Lewis
[Shadowlands (1993)]

You'll notice how often "Warnie" is seen staggering about drunkenly in this rather romanticized account of Lewis's late love affair with Joy Gresham. To do them credit, the film-makers are also careful to show him as the most humane and wise member of Lewis's entourage.

Joss Ackland as C. S. Lewis
[Through the Shadowlands (1985)]

None of this can be allowed to detract from the fact that Lindskoog is herself not beyond reproach. The central contention of her book is that Walter Hooper is not simply an egotist, determined to promote himself to centre-stage in the Lewis story, but also a ruthless and cunning forger, who has systematically contaminated the gene-pool of pure Lewisiana with his own foolish impostures (the fragmentary Dark Tower novel principal among them).

She may well be right, but unfortunately extraordinary accusations need extraordinary levels of proof, and this she fails to provide. She gives any number of excuses for this in her book, but I'm afraid the basic rule of scholarship is that what cannot be proven, should not be asserted.

A brief examination of some of her other theories (such as her notion that the subject of Botticelli's enigmatic painting Primavera is actually Dante's meeting with Beatrice in the final canto of the Purgatorio; or her discovery that "parts of Huckleberry Finn were copied from a book by Scottish author George MacDonald"), do not inspire very much confidence in her judgement or sense of the value of hard evidence.

For what it's worth, I suspect that The Dark Tower is indeed a piece of poor early writing by Lewis, rather than a cunning forgery by Hooper. Without a close examination of the manuscript, though (including, perhaps, a test for scorch-marks) it's hard to be absolutely sure.

What is certain is that the multi-million dollar Lewis estate has, for reasons of its own, allowed Walter Hooper to issue volume after volume of ephemeral material by Lewis, edited without any systematic scholarship or method. That's a pity, given C. S. Lewis's own lifetime of devotion to the niceties of scholarship.

I suppose the best of his work will survive it, though - as will the best of his friend J. R. R. Tolkien's.

[Sandro Botticelli: Primavera [Spring] (c.1482)


Bronwyn Lloyd said...

Jack, this is absolutely fascinating. You are becoming quite the literary sleuth yourself. It makes me want to sneakily doctor your own literary archives over the next few decades...

Richard said...

Jack 's reading of Poe has not been wasted! But the Truth the Truth! Elusive.

Good post Jack. I saw 'Shadowlands' I think it was the movie with Hopkins. I thought it was a very good film. Moving also.

Did you ever read that anecdote about Lewis and Tolkien always arguing about(obviously things older than Middle English Lit. and history etc as I was told they considered anything after Chaucer to be too modern!

They were always arguing in the pub with great vehemence. One day a patron asked what they were so much in deep earnest of, and often so heated and noisy about it, only to be rounded upon and told:

"Dragons! What else? We are discussing the nature of dragons!"

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

I think it might be this little poem you're thinking of (written by Lewis to illustrate the workings of Old English alliterative verse):

We were talking of dragons, // Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire bar. // The big workman
Who had sat silent // and sucked his pipe
All the evening, // from his empty mug
with gleaming eye // glanced towards us;
'I seen 'em myself', // he said fiercely.

He claimed that the incident was entirely fictitious, but I tend to agree that it may well have taken place ...

& Bonze,

picking up on your "sneaky doctoring" notion, the funny thing is, some of the reactions I got to my original Tolkien post when it went up on Scoop media seemed to imply that they thought I was critical of the whole idea of publishing the posthumous literary remains of these giants.

Actually it's not that at all, it's just that I think that the way they're published, and the choice of materials should have some connection with their own (high) standards in such matters ...

Giving the rest of us a good laugh is an almost equally lofty aspiration, of course, so it would be hard for me personally to object to any posthumous tampering.