Sunday, October 30, 2011

Extraordinary Popular Delusions

& the Madness of Crowds

[J. P. Chaplin: Rumor, Fear ... (1959)]

J. P. Chaplin. Rumor, Fear and the Madness of Crowds. New York: Ballantine Books, 1959.

There's just something about that title, isn't there? Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds ... It almost doesn't matter what the book is actually about: the name says it all.

Or does it? Clearly J. P. Chaplin (or his publishers) thought so when they tried to update Charles Mackay's nineteenth-century classic with their own new set of otherwise inexplicable brutalities and pogroms as Rumor, Fear & the Madness of Crowds in the McCarthyite 1950s.

Strangely enough, I'd never actually read the 1841 original, despite its having had such a disproportionate influence on historians and sociologists ever since.

I found a respectable copy of the "Wordsworth Classics" edition in the Local Op Shop on Friday, though, and am presently finding it rather difficult to put down.

[Charles Mackay: Extraordinary Popular Delusions ... (1841)]

Charles Mackay. Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. 1841. Rev. ed. 1852. Introduction by Norman Stone. Wordsworth Reference. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1995.

I guess I was secretly expecting to find it a bit of a disappointment, and it's true that some of the contents have gone off the boil a bit (the author does rather go to town on his idée fixe, the lives and works of the Alchemists), but - as Professor Norman Stone remarks in his introduction to the 1995 edition - it's terrifying how closely each of the items in the original table of contents resembles one of our own particular contemporary follies.

  • For Mackay's blow-by-blow account of the 18th century French Mississippi Scheme and its British equivalent, the South Sea Bubble, read the Wall Street bail-out and the Euro crisis.

  • For his chapters on Alchemists and "Modern Prophets", read local weather sage Ken Ring and the whole world-wide industry of snake-oil selling psychics, astrologers, self-help gurus and other charlatans.

  • For his chronicle of the almost unbelievable cruelties and fatuous pointlessness of the Crusades, read US foreign policy in Latin America or the Middle East over the last half century.

  • For his sections on ghosts, haunted houses and witches, read ... well, some of our own foolish books or TV series on precisely the same subject. If thereis a difference, it might be that people have grown a bit dumber and more credulous over the past 150 years.

One could protract the list almost indefinitely (Mackay's book is, after all, over 600 pages long -- though he remarks somewhat disarmingly in his preface that he could have filled another fifty or so volumes without too much trouble).

Where I'm rather going out on a limb (and risking being torn limb from limb for my lack of patriotism and proper feeling) is by suggesting that all the Rugby World Cup hooplah we've just emerged from is yet another example of the madness and hysteria of crowds.

Wasn't there a slight sense of let-down for just about everyone last Sunday after the All Blacks squeaked in their victory over the French by the hard fought margin of one point? It's hard to imagine anyone claiming to have actually enjoyed the game. Too much was riding on it - or, rather, too much seemed to be riding on it.

The local equivalent of the Boston Red Socks Baseball World Series curse, or England's long dry spell at the Soccer World Cup (since 1966, I believe), had finally been broken. 1987 / 2011 - almost a quarter of a century between victories, after various other teams had actually succeeded in winning it twice in the intervening period.

Yet now, in the cold light of day, so the hell what? Yes, we won it. Yes, it was all done fair and square. Yes, we have a good rugby team. Didn't all our real problems come flooding back over us with a vengeance when we all woke up on Monday morning, though?

It's quite funny sometimes to study accounts of the rivalries between supporters of the Blue and Green teams of chariot racers in Ancient Constantinople (one of the many vices the Byzantines borrowed from Rome). Whole families and dynasties were born into the faith of one or other team. Emperors were defined in terms of which faction they supported. Riots, violent deaths, murder were common occurrences on the streets after a big race. Don't think that the Brits invented soccer hooliganism - Byzantium was way ahead of them on that one. An estimated 30,000 people died in the sports-inspired Nika riots of 532 AD.

It all sounds a bit odd when you read about it now. How on earth could it matter which chariot team won the race? But it did matter - it mattered desperately. It was apparently even worth killing and dying for, that elusive victory over the Blues (or was it the Greens?)

Dare I suggest that this particular extraordinary popular delusion is pretty similar to our own rugby mania: our own unreasonable fanaticism over the fortunes of the team we "support"? What has all that got to do with playing the game, anyway? Isn't it all supposed to be for fun - or if not fun (perish the thought), fitness, team spirit, all those other strange old virtues? Does gathering around the big screen with a bunch of other chip-guzzling and beer-swilling bozos to bay and leap and scream do anything to promote such ideas? Hardly.

So don't think you can get away with simply calling me "anti-sport" or "unpatriotic" ... Trying, on a daily basis, to be a bit less of an imbecile than at least some of the people I see around me is, I must confess, one of my principal objects in life. And I'm afraid, at times, that that means calling the madness of crowds just what it is ...

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)