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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 76, Spring 1998

Letter from Barbara Linville

Barbara Parsons Linville holds a degree from the University of Denver. She is a published freelance writer, conducts annual trips to England with her husband, Delbert, and occasionally lectures on various topics concerning C. S. Lewis and the Inklings. See her article on pp. 12-13.
I began reading Lewis back in the mid-70’s. After a slow start (I had almost no literary background at the time) his works took fire for me. I read almost everything, even the academic works.

In 1979, Walter Hooper came to Denver and I went with thumping heart to hear this man who surely had known Lewis better than any other living person (as the lecture promos intimated). We saw a film (none of which I remember now) and there were questions and answers afterward. And suddenly I was hearing with my own ears Walter Hooper saying that Jack and Joy’s marriage had never been consummated.

“Then what about A Grief Observed?” someone asked. Hooper answered that the book had a contrived theme like Letters to Malcolm, that Lewis merely used it as a vehicle for ideas he wanted to pass along.

Suddenly my world reeled. This simply did not match with the Lewis I thought I knew. I wish I could say that I shot to my feet and demanded that Hooper account for such statements. But my critical literary powers were just forming. Who was I to challenge such a man, a man who had been so close to Lewis? I went home angry and disillusioned not only with Hooper but with Lewis as well. When the dust finally settled in my thoughts, I decided that Hooper must somehow be wrong (not lying, merely wrong). I went back to reading Lewis, but now in a slightly shaken frame of mind.

Some time after that, I bought The Dark Tower. I knew it was supposed to be inferior to Lewis’ other works, but it was after all Lewis. How bad could it be?

I read it and felt I had opened Pandora’s Box. Every ill seemed to waft from it. The Dark Tower was dark indeed with cruelty and something smutty that rubbed off onto my mind.

The combination of this terrible story and what Hooper had said about Lewis contriving A Grief Observed disgusted me. I felt betrayed by Lewis! I threw the book and Lewis with it into a cupboard for two years. But eventually a longing rose up to visit at least Narnia again. I went back, warily this time, expecting hidden dragons. But I found no taint on Narnia, nor on the space trilogy nor in the apologetics works nor anywhere else.

But I did not reread The Dark Tower or its companion pieces. These remained consigned to a darkened place, painful as a festered wound, a wound I would not tend. I heard about The C. S. Lewis Hoax somewhere along the way and knew that it questioned the authenticity of The Dark Tower but I still was not ready for it. In subsequent years I buried the issue further and further. Eventually I taught classes on C. S. Lewis but never mentioned The Dark Tower. And since it was such an esoteric work, none of my students ever questioned me on it — until last year.

A man asked me whether I thought The Dark Tower genuine. He had read your book and wanted my opinion. I had to admit I had not read Hoax. I told him only that there was vigorous controversy concerning The Dark Tower’s authenticity but that was all I could say. And at last I knew I had to tackle this.

First I reread The Dark Tower and could not believe how differently I was seeing it. It was so obviously not Lewis! Lewis’ style even as a teenager far outshone anything in that piece. “The argument we have just gone through,” was impossibly awkward. Ransom saying something as hackneyed as “Great Scot.” Characters rushing in and shouting, “The White Riders are upon us!” in a scene worthy of a Buck Rogers serial. These were not Lewis.

Past fears about this fragment vanished in the cleansing gales of my own laughter. I could see clearly that the emperor wore no clothes.

A short time later Brad Hicks’ interview with you appeared in Inklings and after reading it, I checked Hoax out of our church library, read it cover to cover, then went and bought Light in the Shadowlands and read it again out loud to my husband so we could discuss it as we went along.

Over and over as I read, I remembered Hooper speaking from that stage in 1979 – personable, urbane, but with the ring of brass behind his words. My intuition picked up on it even then. Part of me knew it couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t be true. But I didn’t trust my knowledge against the experts, and that stopped me in my tracks and robbed me of Lewis’ company for years. If only I had read Hoax earlier, I might have found the support I needed.

Shortly after reading your books I read And God Came In. In one of Joy Davidman’s letters to Chad Walsh (Jan. 27, 1950) she said: …there are serious scholars who work hard at proving that Bacon wasn’t Shakespeare, without ever noticing that one conclusive fact that, simply by the kind of man that comes through Bacon’s writing, he couldn’t have been Shakespeare. What she says holds true also for Jack and the writer of The Dark Tower.