CS Lewis Web
The Lewis Legacy-Issue 71, Winter 1997
Sheldon Vanauken
By: Kathyrn Lindskoog
The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing
January 1, 1997


Sheldon Vanauken, who died at home in Lynchburg, Virginia on 28 October1996, was a personal friend of C. S. Lewis. He was also an amazingly generous, succinct, and lively correspondent, who often said more on one postcard than others say on two full pages. (His neat, tiny script and abbreviations were easy to read.)

Editor Lindskoog received about 160 letters from Van, starting in 1980. The letters touch on everything from Lewis studies to contemporary social issues, humor, English usage, Southern history, new writing projects, pets, and personal matters. Her single favorite sentence in all those letters from Van is

"God gives us many gifts, but never permanence; that we must seek in his arms."

20 August 1990, Van to Kay

A year ago Monday the 21st I was typing and drinking coffee. much as this morning. But my chest felt vaguely achey, and I eventually rang my doctor, who said it might be well to come by the office come afternoon. So I did; heart attack. Carried off in an ambulance. Now a year has passed, a year one might feel given by grace.

31 May 1991, Van to Kay

I think CSL's Great Divorce one of his finest, most perfect book his Divine Comedy. You?

4 December 1992, Van to Kay

Your cat Flossie says that [according to the Bible] there are [dogs but] no cats in Hell and remarks that there are no archangels there either. I'm sorry to contradict her felinity, but the CDO of Ultimate NY (as well as Miltons Hell) is made up of FALLEN angels and archangels including Satan himself. And cats are among the most fallen of creatures, as their presence in black magic ceremonies and their role as familiars in witchcraft indicate...On All Hallows Eve, before the Hallows or Saints come the next night. what do you see? Spooks and cats under the moon, and bats ... (But never a noble dog.)

6 January 1993, Kay to Van

But all well-fed cats are fastidious, which is not true of well-fed dogs. Cleanliness is next to godliness, and everyone knows which of man's favorite companions is immaculate. (Humans call a villain a dirty dog, not a dirty cat.) Remember Proverbs 26:11, which Flossie considers too disgusting to repeat. Furthermore, dogs are so theologically illiterate that they think humans are divine; but cats see right through people and know that even the most likeable ones are faulty. Thus cats often serve God by keeping human pride in cheek with a subtle gaze or twitch of the tail--which eager, slobbering canine sycophants can never do.

11 March 1993. Van to Dean Picton

A friend of mine thinks Purgatory may be something like a university from which one graduates into Full Heaven. At this university one has to face up to every meanness, lie, selfishness one has ever done ... absolutely no fudging in that cold, austere light ... every sin and all its consequences,faced and repented...

I refuse to attempt to decide whether The Dark Tower is forged or by CSL.

2 May 1995, Van to Kay

Did I ever tell you about my calico cat, Dimity, that I unwillingly acquiredby rescuing her from a brutal master & tried with mixed success to turn into a dog?

27 June 1995, Van to Kay

Of course there are people who might defend the rewriting [of Lewis's poetry] but no one who cares for truth. [It] violates every standard of scholarship... I absolutely cannot understand how he dares risk it.

28 December 1995. Van to Kay

This is to acknowledge and thank you for Finding the Landlord ...I hope it causes more people to read and enjoy Regress .

12 August 1996. Van to Dean Picton

I hope that when I look into Jesus eyes, even if they are a bit stern, that what I will see is love--and a trace of humour, too.


Reminiscences of Loring Ellis; Hampton. South Carolina

When I came on the scene of Van's life it was September 1979, not long after I read his celebrated book A Severe Mercy. He had just lost a dear friend he referred to as Lady Francis. I was someone to take her place. I knew that when he said. "You and Lady Francis should get on very well." So we became confidants.

How I bless the day that I picked up A Severe Mercy because with that act my life was changed. I was introduced to the great big wonderful world of ideas, reading all that Van suggested, discussing it all on the telephone.

I suppose we discussed every topic under the sun and sometimes those of a very high order above the sun (for he was a devout Christian) No subject was too lowly or too high for Van. He was interested, as Steve Schofleid said, in everything. He wanted to know the why, the where and the how of it all. His mother told him his first words were "where's Daddy?" This tendency to want to learn is what made him the best historian I have ever known. He didn't forget anything.

Van asked if I would be his kinsman. He said we both were reared in the country (he, Glen Merle, and I, Old Fleld) and we both loved the old ways. Although Van was eight months older, he liked to think of me as his Auntie. I sent the usual parcel for his birthday, special things he liked: old country cured ham, chocolate fudge, preserves and homemade bread. I remember how delighted he was that I sent Rudyard Kipling's poems along too. He said about my auntie role, "there are cousins and cousins but an auntie is someone special."

Van had, as they say, "a way with words." He wrote a beautiful style. Prose that gilded along like the smooth steps of an old waltz. But he would tell you he was first of all a poet. And so he was --writing odes to the months, to the saints and to all beauty, equating beauty to God.

One time I asked him, why not write a poem about September? He answered" I have only celebrated the months of April and May. How can you like September when it is hot as August?. I took up the challenge and wrote a corny thing that began,

"I think you must forget, September is the month we met..."

Yes, it was nice to bask in the sweetness of his spirit, to march by his side to the beat of our expectation of eternal life. I'm afraid I benefited from the relationship far more than he as nephew, but I tried to live up to the ideal of a loving auntie and he let me know that I succceded.

I will miss my adopted nephew, but who among us could be overly sad that he is now at home with his God and his Davy. Certainly none who truly love him.


In 1991 Sheldon Vanauken published a short piece calling for better adjectives derived from place-names. This led to a playful exchange between Van and Kathryn Lindskoog, who wondered where the v came from in Peruvian and the g in Norwegian. (John Lindskoog provided Van with a label that said "Norway sardines" in "Norwegian oil") She wrote up the subject and mailed it to Jack Smith, a very popular senior columnist at the Los AngelesTimes who often wrote about our amusing language. Smith took the bait and published a column about it. He led off by presenting as his own quite a bit of Lindskoog's material, which gave her the satisfaction of being plagiarized by a big-name writer. (Because he gave her credit for the rest of her contribution, she took it in good spirit.) Both Jack Smith and Sheldon Vanauken died in 1996.

There Are Few States of Grace When It Comes to Nomenclature

Jack Smith; Los Angeles Times; Tuesday, July 2, 1991.

When California was Mexican, citizens were called Californios. That term seems to have died with the end of Mexican rule. We are Californians now.

Its disappearance brings into question the rule, if any, by which nouns and adjectives pertaining to the various United States are formed.

Why is the basic noun used invariably as an adjective -- Cailifornia poppy, California sunset, California bathing beauty, and so on? Yet we residents are called by the adjectival form Californians?

There seems to be no rule for making state names into adjective- nouns.Why is a Georgia peach not a Georgian peach? But a Georgia resident is a Georgian. Why is a Carolina moon not a Carolinian, when a Carolina resident is a Carolinianan? And why isn't Carolinian simply Carolinan, like Montanan?

I have always thought the silliest of state appelations is Floridian, which not only adds an unnecessary i but forces a shift in emphasis from Flor to id.

Why doesn't Montana follow suit and call its residents Montanians? Why aren't Alaskans called Alaskians? Or Oklahomans Oklahomians?

Michigan defies analysis. Its residents may call themselves Michiganders, Michiganians, or Michiganites. But we have Michigan football and the Michigan wilderness.

Evidently such words arise from local custum, and are not bound by any rules of word formation.

Kathryn Lindskoog of Orange has given some thought to the subject. She quotes a column in the Richmond (Va.) Times- Dispatch by poet-novelist Sheldon Vanauken deploring the loss of the adjective Virginian in such terms as Virginia ham and Virginia Cavaliers.

Vanauken notes the products of nations are usually modified by true adjectives, such as French bread, English countryside, or Welsh nationalism. It would be very odd, he points out, to hear of France bread, or the England countryside or Wales nationalism. Then why not Virginian ham?

Curiously, Vanauken asserts, only Hawaii, of the United States, gives an adjectival form to its products, culture and parts. Hawaiin luaus, Hawaiin music, Hawaiin legend--the same word serving as a noun for a person of Hawaiin ancestry.

(Hasn't he forgotten Alaska? Don't we speak of the Alaskan malamute, the Alaskan winter, Alaskan king crab, Alaskan Airlines?)

Note that all the words for residents of American states are genderless--Californian, Vermonter, Arizonan, Kansan, Iowan, New Jerseyite. But there is no genderless word for a French person or an English person. There are Frenchmen and there are Frenchwomen. France and England do not recognize unisex.

If we want to dignify our slipshod country with real adjectives, "suggests Lindskoog, "should New England clam chowder be called New English clam chowder? Should we speak of Connecticutian towns? Illinoisian farmers? Would the public accept New Yorkish wines? Bostonian baked beans? Manic woods? Arkansian travelers? Kansan wheat? Texan chili? Massachussetsian candidates? Coloradoan Rockies? Indianan limestone? Oklahoman territory? Idahoan potatoes? Vermontese winters?

She notes that Carolinian, like Canadian, has an extra i before the final an. If that were common would it not lead to Indianian limestone? Oklahomian territory? Nebraskian plains, Iowian corn?

The process by which Panama becomes Panamanian would wreak even more havoc with our states, she goes on. "It would give us Carolinian, Indiananian, Oklahomanian etc."

Exploring the intracacies of foreign nomenculture, Lindskoog notes that aside from Peru, most countries' names convert easily into short adjectives:"Germany actually subtracts a syllable to become German, and Afghanistan shrinks gracefully to Afghan. But one very small country offers three different adjectives: Netherlandic, Netherlandian, and just plain Dutch.

"In spite of such Netherlandic adjectival superfulidity, however, we still have Holland gin. Holland tulips and even Hollandaise sauce, which happens to mean Holland sauce sauce."

Lindskoog's invention of "Massachussettsian" and "Connecticutian" forces me to confess that I haven't the slightest idea what the citizens of those two states are called. Surely neither of Lindskoog's monstrosities is in use. But what words are?

My dictionary is of no use. Though it lists Vermonter, New Hampshrite, New Jerseyite, Mainer and Rhode Islander, it comes up blank for Massachussetts and Connecticut.

A reliable source (a New Englander) tells me the words are Bay Stater and Nutmegger, "but nobody outside a fourth-grade geography class everuses them, especially not the residents.

My nominees would be Massachusers and Connecticats.

Meanwhile New Yorker remains the best of citizen names. It is short and logical and its meaning is unmistakable. Only two things can properly be called a New Yorker. One is a magazine and the other is a resident of New York City.

Both have distinct characters. The magazine is smart, sophisticated, literary, stylish, witty and syntactically impeccable; the people are savvy, insular, outspoken, polyglot, energetic, and loyal to the Mets, the Knicks and the Yankees. The word is pronounces N'Yawkuh.

What they call Upstate residents I don't know.