The Lewis Legacy-Issue 84, Spring 2000
A New Theory about the Origin of The Dark Tower
The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing
March 1, 2000
Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth
Edited by Verlyn Flieger and Carl F.Hostetter
(Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000)
"The Lost Road, The Dark Tower, and The Notion Club Papers: Tolkien and
Lewis's Time Travel Triad"
by John D. Rateliff
According to John Rateliff, the genesis of The Dark Tower is recorded in a letter that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote on December 18, 1944. "This morning... I saw C. S. L. for a while. His fourth (or fifth?) novel is brewing, and seems likely to clash with mine (my dimly projected third). I have been getting a lot of new ideas about Prehistory lately (via Beowulf and other sources of which I may have written) and want to work them into the long shelved time-travel story I began. C. S. L. is planning a story about the descendents of Seth and Cain."
According to Rateliff, the two books Tolkien mentioned were The Dark Tower and The Notion Club Papers (originally subtitled "Out of the Talkative Planet"). He points out similarities between the two books, but that Tolkien's is far better than Lewis's, which "bogs down in a lecture and history lesson so tedious that it makes [some of Tolkien's involved history] positively chatty by contrast." "Lewis tries to construct a scientifically plausible explanation of part of his story, until the explanations strangle it and bring it to an untimley halt."
"So far as I know," Rateliff continues, "no one has noted that Tolkien's comment on Lewis's projected 'story about the descendents of Seth and Cain' is the only reference to the story known to us as The Dark Tower." Rateliff sees the Stingingman as a descendent of Cain (with the "mark of Cain" on his forehead) and sees the White Riders as descendents of Seth. He points out that Gervase Mathew, who allegedly told Walter Hooper he heard Lewis read the story to the Inklings in 1939 or1940, is not on record as attending the Inklings until 1946.
In Tower Ransom is the sage of That Hideous Strength, not the fallible man he remains at the end of Out of the Silent Planet.
Similarly, MacPhee's character as developed in Tower is inappropriate if the book was written before That Hideous Strength. The same is true of the spelling of MacPhee's name, which was McPhee in Perelanda and did not change to MacPhee until 1945.
The opening of Tower refers to Lewis being "mixed up" in Ransom's previous adventure; but Lewis was not involved in Silent Planet at all; he was first involved in Perelandra.
The description of carvings on the wall of the Stingingman too closely resemble Charles Williams' description of a painting in All Hallow's Eve (not written until 1943-1944).
On the back of page two of the Tower manuscript, Lewis wrote 1946 as his birthdate, then crossed it out and put in 1898.
On the back of page one of the Tower manuscript, Lewis wrote a version of the first paragraph of the Narnian Chronicles. If the 1938-1939 manuscript date were correct, that would mean a delay of eleven years before he returned to the story; but if the 1946 date is correct, there was only a two year delay. (Rateliffe does not mention an even more important factor: the paragraph in question describes the evacuation of children from London because of World War Two air raids. Lewis could hardly have described that circumstance before the war began.)
Rateliff's 18-page essay contains a great deal of material, and I have only summarized his salient points about The Dark Tower. Although Rateliff contests Walter Hooper's account of the story's origin in 1938, he dismisses the idea that it is not by C. S. Lewis. (He first attacked this idea in 1989 in his review "The Kathryn Lindskoog Hoax: Screwtape Redux" in Mythlore 58. There he began, "This is an appalling book. That it should ever have been published at all is distressing; that it should be issued by a Christian publisher festooned with a broadside of apparently laudatory comments from old friends of Lewis (Dom Bede Griffiths, George Sayer), Lewis scholars (Joe R. Christopher, Nancy-Lou Patterson), and professional Christian writers (Sheldon Vanauken, Frederick Buechner, Walter Wangerin) is nothing short of amazing.... Screwtape would be delighted.")
Rateliff is more restrained but just as certain in footnote 2 on page 216 of Tolkien's Legendarium. "Some have questioned the authenticity, in whole or in part, of The Dark Tower, This is not the place to examine the claims and counterclaims; suffice it to say that I have thoroughly examined the evidence (including consulting the original manuscript) and concluded that there can be no reasonable doubt that the story as we have it is entirely the work of C. S. Lewis. Those interested in investigating the matter further are invited to read my essay review of The C. S. Lewis Hoax (Mythlore 15, no. 4, whole no. 58 [Summer 1989]:53-56), the three articles by Erland Clouston in The Guardian (September 7, 1991, May 4, 1992, and May 26, 1992), and the forensic examination by Nancy H. Cole, "An Investigation into the Authorship of The Dark Tower: a Work Published Posthumously and
Attributed to C. S. Lewis."
Rateliffe does not mention the fact that Nancy Cole's essay was never published and was quickly withdrawn from informal circulation in manuscript form. He also fails to mention that the Clouston articles contain no evidence at all about the authenticity of The Dark Tower (they were about an April Fool joke) and that his 1989 essay review is eleven years out of date.
The defenders of The Dark Tower differ with each other about its origin. Walter Hooper claims that C. S. Lewis wrote it in 1938-1939. John Rateliff claims that Lewis wrote it in 1946. And Douglas Gresham and HarperCollins both claim that Lewis wrote it in the late 1950s. They all claim that the other two theories are wrong, and that's right.