Guest Post: Christmas Gift List #3 — From the Bookshelf of C.S. Lewis

1From the Bookshelf of C.S. Lewis —  A Third Hogwarts Professor Christmas Gift List for Serious Readers

By Chris C [Chris’ Christmas List #1 is here and List #2 here — and  we’ll post #4 after Thanksgiving!]

In 1963, a few days after C.S. Lewis had passed on (and according to one amateur historian, not long after the real Sixties got started with a literal bang), his literary executor named Walter Hooper returned to Lewis’s lifelong home known as the Kilns. When he arrived, he noticed smoke coming from the backyard. Hooper rounder the corner of the house, only to see the grounds and housekeeper Fred Paxford (the inspiration for Puddleglum from The Silver Chair) dutifully tossing most of Lewis’s letters along with volumes from his library into the oven of a backyard stove. The caretaker said he was just following orders on behalf of Warren Lewis (brother of C.S.) yet Hooper managed to convince Paxford to hand over what was left.

f38810022We may never know how much text or correspondence was rescued from that One thing is for certain, along with Hooper, the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College has done a very admirable job of compiling a list of most (if perhaps not all) the books Lewis kept on his shelves. I got to tell ya, I’d really like to see the length of those shelves, because it looks like it would take the Babylonian Library to house all the books named on the list. That’s where my idea for this installment of the HogPro Christmas Gift List came from. What better holiday gift for Inklings fans than some recommended reading more or less endorsed by none other than C.S. Lewis himself!

In presenting this list of possible gifts to fans of Lewis, Tolkien, or Rowling, I’d ask that everybody pay extra-special attention, because in addition to listing a number of select volumes for your inspection and delight, I also thought it was important to highlight just how the chosen books in question can help shed a light or two on the thought behind the Narnian Don and the Writer of the Rings (and perhaps, maybe, Ms. Rowling as well).

Fiction for Seekers.

f38807014For most people this may seem unimportant, and yet I’d argue there is a value in having a list of Lewis’s reading material for several reasons. On the one hand, he has bequeathed to future generations a veritable storehouse of fiction both fantastic and forgotten for fans and the curious to rediscover at their leisure. For instance, there is The Works of H. Rider Haggard. He was a writer much admired equally by Tolkien and Lewis; so much to the point that each author had copies of both King Solomon’s Mines and She on their shelves.

The best way to describe this writer who captivated and influenced the Oxford Group’s imaginations is to say that together with Rudyard Kipling (at least to an extent with the former), Haggard pioneered the kind of adventure yarn that Robert Louis Stevenson began, and that Edgar Rice Burroughs was later to make famous. All four authors have been eclipsed in various ways by the processes of history and the shortness of the modern memory. In fact, it could be argued that they were all overshadowed by the very writers they went onto inspire, including people like Rowling or Susanne Collins. Still, that’s no reason to leave them neglected on history’s dustbin. If you have the time, track down a copy of She, or Treasure Island, or any number of books by the four authors listed above.

Literary Criticism.

While you’re at it, be sure to try and hunt down any affordable used copy of Rider Haggard: His Life and Works by Morton M. Cohen. It’s a great read, and proves very insightful about the creative process. This isn’t so surprising when it’s remembered that Cohen wrote what many consider the definitive book on the author of Alice in Wonderland, with Lewis Carroll: A Biography.

Cohen’s Haggard biography in particular is a useful guide to the thought of the Inklings. The other Oxford Lewis once wrote a glowing review of Cohen’s exegetical tome (said review can now be found in either collection of essays, On Stories, or Image and Imagination), and his words on the subject and nature of writing in general are valuable by being particularly enlightening.

2For my part, what I find so valuable about Cohen’s Haggard biography aside from the light it sheds on the creative process is that it helps serve as a kind guiding marker (if that makes any sense) not so much in terms of what’s the best work of fiction ever, but more in terms of finding just the right vantage point that reaches a kind of level playing field between the literary and the popular novel. I know this won’t make much sense, but I’ve believed for a long time now that there had to be some way of being able to make authors like James Joyce shake hands with authors of popular works like Tolkien. The reason for this was not to pair each writer off against the other and decide who’s best, but precisely to show that they are on an equal footing, and that it is possible to discover what Joyce called the “litter-rare” even in a simple children’s book as it is to discover the simple pleasures of so-called “popular fiction” in works like The Cormoran Strike Mysteries.

Haggard, with his combination of the literate and the popular, is I think able to bridge that gap and set a kind of standard not for perhaps the best author, but rather the one who gave us the sane vantage point from which to review all fiction. It could thus help explain how an author like Thomas Williams could write a New Yorker type book such as The Hair of Harold Roux and then turn right around and pen a fairy tale like Tsuga’s Children. Such, I’d argue, are the unique benefits of Mr. Cohen’s biography.

Moving further afield, there is Hidden Riches, by Ms. Desiree Hirst. Ostensibly a contribution in the ongoing studies in the intricate (some would say obtuse) symbol system of William Blake, Hirst’s book tracks down most of the images, ideas, and concepts that Blake used in constructing his own Mythology of England. In doing so, the author does an able job of demonstrating that, far from being any kind of heretic, Blake’s thought is essentially one with the Christian Platonism of Shakespeare’s day.

bird-babyWhat makes Ms. Hirst’s Hidden Riches such a valuable resource is not only that it is among the earliest literary studies to focus on the Four Level Renaissance model of writing employed in books like The Hobbit or the Silver Chair, it is one of the few I’m aware of that has the endorsement of the Inklings themselves. While Hidden Riches was first published in 1964, thus arriving on the scene after Lewis’ passing, there is still an open question as to whether or not he might have had at least some amount of input on the finished work. In the acknowledgement section of her book, Ms. Hirst writes: constructive criticism, interest and advice has come from Professor Nevill Coghill…at Oxford…(ibid, xi, 64 Hardcover First ed.).” Coghill, for the record, was close friends with both Tolkien and Lewis, and shared their outlook, as well as being a frequent attender of various Inkling gatherings. With this in mind, Hidden Riches itself becomes a hidden resource in which the the Oxford Fantasists divulge their knowledge of and dependence on hermetic symbolism.

hobbit-2For another sample that demonstrates not only the reach and influence, but also the thought of Lewis in particular, and of the Inklings in general, I turn once more to the work of Thomas Rice (T.R.) Henn. I’ve written about Henn once before at the end of a previous Christmas list. The reason I return to his work again is because the more I dig, the more I find signs and pointers in Henn’s criticism not just to the influence of the Inklings, but also indications of the nature and overall shape of the group’s thought.

What I’ve found to my continued surprise and delight are hints that, far from being dinosaurs, they were perhaps far more knowledgeable in a lot of trends of 20th century thought. In fact, what I’ve gleaned is just to how much an extent they were conversant and interested in areas such as quantum physics, existentialism, artistic modernism, psychology, and modern education. In particular, the idea suggested from reading Henn’s work is to how much concern Tolkien and Lewis had for the average common man living in the contemporary world. That makes sense if given a bit of thought, inasmuch as both Inklings were university teachers, and so would naturally have a practical concern for reaching as many people as possible.

4What Henn is able to show is just how far both Inklings were perhaps willing to go to meet their modern audiences half-way. For instance, Henn’s The Apple and the Spectroscope is an introductory text on poetry. The twist is that it is an English 101 text geared toward science students whose language is more geared toward mathematical equations than it is to turn of phrase by Shakespeare.

What’s so important about this text is that one of it’s three epithets is from The Abolition of Man. The implications of this are that (a) in order to quote from that book, Henn would have had to contact Lewis himself to get his express permission as the Narnian Don was still alive at the time. Also (b), in order to give his permission, Lewis would have to read Henn’s manuscript in order to see whether any quote from him belonged in such a book; in other words Lewis had to see if he agreed with Henn’s main argument. Finally (c), the fact that Lewis gave his permission not only means that he shared Henn’s point of view, but also that Henn’s primer is as much concerned with Head, Heart, and Cultural Literacy as much as Abolition.

This point is not as pronounced in Henn’s book as it is in Lewis’s, however the point is underlined in the guest preface by Cambridge educator W.L. Bragg, who writes in a sentiment very similar to Lewis. I’d argue that anyone interested in any texts that could be said to further the arguments of Abolition of Man, or else put its ideas into various forms of useful practice could do a lot worse than read The Apple and the Spectroscope.

Another text of Henn’s which can shed light on the thinking of the Inklings is The Harvest of Tragedy.

last-battle-1Bearing in mind the deliberate use of the words macro and microcosm in the text, combined with the acknowledged familiarity with Desiree Hirst’s Hidden Riches as revealed in the bibliography of The Bible as Literature means that Henn is indeed familiar with the Renaissance mode of literary criticism. What seems to be going on in The Harvest of Tragedy is that Henn is examining the symbolism usually associated with the Nigredo stage of any literary Great Work while at the same time trying to show how that same hermetic thinking has never really gone away but is still at work in both modern Humanities and Sciences. In other words, Henn’s secondary (esoteric?) contention in his work might be that the terminology changes, yet the basic ideas of classic literary symbolism remain the same. All in all, not bad for a book on a stylistic genre many are unfamiliar with today.

Apologetic influences

As said before, part of my goal in this list is demonstrate how source hunting from one text to another can so, times be a clue to the thought of two of Oxford’s most famous fantasists. Nowhere is that Arthur J. Balfour’s Theism and Humanism.

f38821286The best edition to recommend is the one edited by Michael W. Perry, available at his website Inkling Books. In short, it is Perry’s contention that Balfour’s book had a more or less major impact on Lewis’s apologetic work, and it is possible to see how the argument in, say, Miracles, coincide with the philosophic proofs Balfour offer in Humanism. However, Perry’s own original, detailed description does the book better justice than I can. So I would direct the curious to Perry’s site.

3-rudFinally, the Marion E. Wade Center has done a host scholar, fans, and the curious a service in compiling a list (by no means complete) of books the Narnian kept on his shelves for most of his life. Believe me when I say it is vast in a Babylonian sense of the word. Nonetheless, it is of value to anyone who would like to no more about the influences on the thought and fiction of their favorite writer. So, as a final Christmas present, I present, the Library of C.S. Lewis.

I have offered all these as a sample of both the depth of Lewis’s thought, and as a cautious guide for a good way to track down both the thought of their favorite writers. If this list can at least encourage some in the audience to take that adventure, well, then at least I’ve done something right.

Happy Holidays.

Comments

  1. This article is really a chrtismas gift for book reader

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I’m glad Alexis’s comment brought this in view, and second it – adding, better late than never, meeting with it!

    It is worth saying explicitly here, that another writer worth adding to the “four authors” noted is, John Buchan.

    It is also worth noting both Charles Williams’s attention to Blake, and Coghill’s attention to Williams.

  3. D.L. Dodds,

    For what its worth, I did find a fantasy series where the three major Inklings (Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams) are the major protagonists.

    No, seriously. I’d kind of like to say that’s just joshing. From one thing, I’m not at all sure how well the Inklings can work as the main heroes of a Fantasy series. Maybe it’s just me, yet the idea sounds self-defeating. I’m mean, wouldn’t they be too genre savvy to even get involved?

    Still, that hasn’t James A. Owen from penning “The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica”.

    http://jamesaowen.com/books-and-publications/the-chronicles-of-the-imaginarium-geographica/

    Like I say, “only” for what it’s worth. Mileage is probably everything with a property like this.

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Dear ChrisC,

    Thanks! I’m sure I’ve read one thing and another – I think book reviews? – about fiction featuring one or more of the ‘major’ Inklings, but can’t remember most of what, where – this sets my head spinning (not least as a slow reader – except, maybe, where HP is concerned – !): wow!

    One thing I do remember is David Bratman’s jolly Annotated Bibliography, which is, however (not surprisingly) characterized by brevity:

    http://home.earthlink.net/~dbratman/infiction.html

    I can’t remember how many of those he lists concern detective work, but given the multitude of famous folk others have made into detectives – I think some of the Eleanor Roosevelt ones are the only ones I tried, so far – Inklings as detectives seem an obvious possibility – I’ve even toyed with trying one myself featuring the Lewis brothers, ‘based on a true story’.

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