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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 84, Spring 2000

From the Mailbag Original Article

* I just got the new Lewis Legacy, and as always it is fascinating. Ilike the “C.S. Lewis: Not On Their Side/Not On Our Side” articles — I was very surprised at first to meet “mere” Christians who held Lewis in disesteem, but now I’ve got used to it; as Thomas Howard notes, many of them can’t stomach his “Catholic” (albeit Anglo rather than Roman) beliefs. And of course he was fond of alcohol and tobacco! As a Roman Catholic, I’m always frustrated that he didn’t follow Newman over the line!

And I very much enjoyed your article on The Great Divorce! That has always been one of my very favorite of his books. And you do make a very convincing case for Lewis having consciously had The Divine Comedy in mind when he wrote it.

And of course I see that your lucid and well-founded work on Hooper and The Dark Tower continues to get patronizing dismissal, as with Patricia
Batstone! I am struck by her notion that “there is no reason why Walter Hooper, had he wished to write a fantasy, could not have done so in his own name and still gained a market.” Sure, especially with a winner like The Dark Tower. And I’m just baffled by her serene question, “does it really matter anymore?” What, that things published under Lewis’s name really are by him? I’ve got to say it matters to me. Incidentally, I’m right in the middle of reading both The Silver Chair and The Problem of Pain right now. I don’t imagine I go more than a few months without having some Lewis book open beside my desk.
–Tim Powers, San Bernardino, CA

* Today I found the web site with your Merelewis contributions on it. You said, “But I am uncomfortable with the [Mike Logsdon-Lindskoog exchange] being advertised as a debate. I’ve never before heard of a debate in which [one] debater cuts off the debate permanently when he chooses, without giving his opponent a chance to make a closing statement.” Actually, the last tactic is not unknown, even in a debate. It is called “surrender.”
–Martin Ward, Durham, England

* I’m a “split” Lewis reader: all the Narnia books I read and loved as a child were German translations, and the illustrations that come to my mind thinking of them are newer German ones. It’s fun to reread the books in the original now when I still remember certain passages almost verbatim in German! (I try to complete my set of the original Puffin series whenever I get to a used book seller. My latest copy was found in a tiny port town in Cornwall — Lewis is in every nook.) All the Christian and “grown-up” stuff I read in English when I got older, so I got aquainted with his original “voice” rather late, but in a better position to appreciate the finer points. (British Literature is one of my subjects at University, the rough equivalent of a minor, I think.} In Legacy. 76, p.6, Irish sculptor Ross Wilson tells about seeing Lewis’s letter to Anne Jenkins at Doug Gresham’s house and then locating Anne Jenkins herself. He quotes the letter on the back of his wardrobe sculpture. What confuses me is that the letter (Legacy 82) really doesn’t read very much like Lewis’s other letters to children.
I’m interested in what one can be certain of, how to distinguish “fact” from “fiction”, how “truth” is established in human minds and what kind of “truth” is likely to prevail — one reason for my interest in the Lewis case. I’ve long wanted to comment on the Walterization of “The End of the Wine” (No. 72). What is your theory on the reasons for the changes? Mine is that most of the changes were made to eliminate the repetition of words (we/we in 1, fallen/fallen in 6/7, untamed/untamed in 13 etc.) according to the grade-school rule for writing: “avoid repeating words in order to make your writing more interesting”. My theory to explain the changes in two other instances is that there was an option for alliterations: “sea” (for “ocean”) to alliterate with “salt” in 8 and “bone” (for “stone”) to alliterate with “blunt” in 17/18. I think the person who made the changes really thought he was improving the poem, being clearly unschooled in dealing with poetry, as your instances show. And I don’t consider the change in the title inconsequential at all! The association I had immediately with the original title was “the end of the world”, which would fit the loss of a world described in the poem (to me, the combination “end” and “wine” sounds unusual anyway, so I would assume it to be chosen very deliberately – but I’m no native speaker). The (possible) allusion is lost in the changed title. Finally: I’ve come across a curious echo of the Lewis-situation in Vladimir Nabokov’s marvellous book Pale Fire. Since you seem to take some interest in freak Lewis echoes, I thought you might find this one fun. Like most of Nabokov’s books, Pale Fire is crammed with allusions, absurd twists, metaphorical meaning, false trails etc., but on the whole, the story comes down to this:

An editor is introducing “his” dead poet’s last work — a long narrative poem — acquired by dubious means from the widow, whose subsequent pleas to give it back he ignores. The editor is so egomanical that his abstruse notes turn the poem more or less into a commentary to the editor’s life. Only that entire life is a string of lies (or a delusion because the editor is mad). He keeps stressing his close friendship with the famous poet, though his account makes it implicitly clear that he hardly knew the man and thoroughly misjudged him. Looking in the poem for things to gratify his own vanity, the editor misses the work’s entire point and all the most beautiful parts (for one thing, in spite of the poem’s tenderly poignant tribute to the poet’s wife and a lost daughter, the editor denies that it’s autobiographical). I could also mention that he delights in homosexual allusions and entertains a distinct dislike for women… Can you imagine why I kept laughing for more reasons that the story’s humour when I read it? In one thing, by the way, truth surpasses fiction: the fictional editor, crazy as he is, does not tamper with the original poem, but, as is contextually understood, publishes a version faithful to the manuscript.
–Helen Schroeder, Hamburg, Germany