Farewell, Walter Hooper, Protector of C.S. Lewis’s Literary Legacy

Hooper-2009When C.S. Lewis died in Oxford in late November, 1963, there was very little international furor, because the man who invented Narnia had the great misfortune to pass from this earth within the same twenty-four-hour period that saw Lee Harvey Oswald assassinate President Kennedy in Dallas (Aldous Huxley also died that day, also with little fanfare). Ironically, yesterday, December 7, 2020, Walter Hooper, secretary to Lewis and editor of many of his works, passed through the Stable Door and into the real Narnia. And I almost didn’t hear about it.

Late last night, I learned that one of mine and my father’s heroes, the incomparable Gen. Chuck Yeager, left this earth for the last time yesterday. Chuck Yeager, 'America's greatest pilot', dies aged 97 | Daily Mail OnlineBreaker of the sound barrier, war hero, aviation legend—Yeager has fascinated me most of my life. His Glamorous Glennis, the sexy orange aircraft in which he broke the sound barrier in 1947 , is one of my favorite exhibits at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum (and I have thirty-five years of photos to prove it). I was saddened by the news, although not surprised, even if there was a part of my brain that thought he might just live forever. This morning, my news and social media world had many tributes to Gen. Yeager and even to John Lennon, who was assassinated on this date forty years ago. Squished in there was a small mention of Walter Hooper’s passing.

Interestingly, I only heard Walter Hooper speak once, at the Wake Forest C.S. Lewis conference many years ago, the conference where I also met, for the first time, an enthusiastic and brilliant blogger whose posts I had been reading: John Granger. That was a formative conference for me, as the organizers kindly included my paper in their collection from the event, providing some great publicity for my C.S. Lewis: Views From Wake Forestbook on Lewis, Spenser, and Milton; meeting John Granger brought me both a friendship that I treasure and this lovely spot, where I have found great joy over the years; and Walter Hooper signed my copy of the first volume of Lewis’s letters, which he had edited.  It sits on the shelf above me as I write, with numerous other volumes he edited or kept in print. The fact that he edited the conference collection, including my essay, was both humbling and exhilarating, as it meant that I had been edited by the man who edited Lewis. His talk at the conference was wonderful, yet I knew that it was probably the only time I might have the opportunity to hear him. I am so glad, for so many reasons, that I went to that conference.

It is strangely fitting that Hooper, a man who devoted his professional life to protecting and promoting the legacy of another, should pass so quietly. Thankfully, many beautiful tributes are being offered, celebrating Hooper’s life and contributions. Surely, without him, many of Lewis’s works would be out of print or unavailable to scholars or casual C. S. Lewis - Apostle to the Sceptics by [Walter Hooper]readers. We owe much to him, an American who became a secretary for Lewis not long before the latter’s death. As my eyes pass over my small Lewis collection and as I ponder the contribution  Walter Hooper has made to my own scholarship and to that of countless other scholars now and in the future, I am deeply grateful, and I expect that when he passed through that Door yesterday, traveling higher up and further in, there was someone familiar there waiting in a certain garden that somehow contains all that Place. Thank you, sir. Well done.


  1. In some ways, it’s difficult to pay tribute to someone you’ve never even met. At the same time, there are those authors who make the task just a bit easier for the way their writings can help gain at least minor sense of familiarity. I guess that must be some kind of testament to their ability to be able to invite the reader in.

    When I think of Walter Hooper, three words come to mind. The first two go together to form a compound word: anonymous ubiquity. Unlike the famous name whose legacy he guarded, Hooper never seems to have shown much of an interest for the public spotlight. Instead, like most readers of C.S. Lewis, he was content to show up here and there almost in a brief, master of ceremonies position. He was never the main event, Hooper was always more like the host of an a series of writings that could, looked at from one perspective, form an anthology of work that managed the double feat of enlightening, as well as entertaining.

    It’s even possible to pinpoint just such a text that highlights his particular contribution. One of the items I’m now proud to say I own turns out to be what must be near the last book that Hooper ever edited. It’s called “Image and Imagination” by CSL. Hooper, as always, served as editor, and gave a brief introduction.

    That was and remains the extent to which the reader ever saw of him. However, what always sticks out to me is the way he had of always managing to convey the flavor or atmosphere (what Prof. Michael Ward would have termed the “Donegality”) of each collection. In “Image and Imagination”, for instance, Hopper opened with noting how Lewis always wished to find a room with a good book lying in wait for him. The anecdote is simple, yet it also does the necessary task of helping to recalling the subject and his writings to life for the reader. When it came to such an essential skill, I’m not sure I’ve read from many authors, even sympathetic ones, who were able to accomplish it in the way Hooper did.

    Other than this, however, I admit I’ve never known any more about him than what he chose to tell any of his audience. His account of how he and Lewis met can be found in places like the joint biography Hooper wrote alongside Roger Lancelyn Green. Aside from this, there is almost nothing to go on. I say almost because of one other factoid that is worth a mention. One of the interesting results of Lewis’s friendship and influence on Hooper is that the latter one day found himself converting to Catholicism. If it means anything, then it perhaps serves as a good example of the consequences a good fried can have for another. Still, aside from a brief forward in Sean Connolly’s “Inklings of Heaven” (a mostly competent book which tries to systematize Lewis’s eschatological thought) Hooper still remains the figure in the background.

    There may be some who will argue that it doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things. If that’s the case, then all I can do is beg to differ. For it brings up the final word that must always be associated with the life and efforts of Walter Hooper. It all comes down to just a single term, or word. It can trace its roots al the way back the age when Latin was the lingua franca of what used to be considered the Modern World. I think the phrase in that language is mostly pronounced “Humilitas”. There are several good translations for it. One of them means “Grounded”, or “Of the earth”. The best, however, still remains the word describing the virtue that I can’t help thinking someone like Walter Hooper was able to realize in his own life. For whatever reason, we’ve settled on labeling the word Humility.

  2. Steve Morrison says

    So, in the same year we’ve lost both Christopher Tolkien and Walter Hooper.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Well said, Elizabeth Baird Hardy and ChrisC – thank you!

    Earlier this year, I was trying to find out more about Sir William Quartus Ewart and family and Sir Otto Moses Jaffé and family in Belfast, and what a wealth of interesting material Walter Hooper provided in Lewis’s Collected Letters, Volume I – one example of, no doubt, millions in readers’ experiences.

    In mourning our recent losses and in our grateful memory for richly good contributions, we remember as well Richard C. West, about whom Douglas A. Anderson has briefly written, here:


  4. Three quick notes:

    (1) Hooper contributed his talk to the Wake Forest Conference, ‘Editing C. S. Lewis,’ but played no part whatsoever in the editing of the collection. Michael Travers was the editor assigned and he, together with R. H. Trexler, the publisher, were responsible for ‘Views from Wake Forest‘s final form.

    (2) All of us who have read Lewis’ work and who came to his legacy many years after his 1963 repose owe Walter Hooper a great debt. Owen Barfield, I believe, was named CSL’s literary executor qua bannister but it was Hooper who acted as such — and did so largely without the blessing or permission of the family. How he did this remains no small mystery — and only Kathryn Lindskoog, for all her supposed failings, labored to solve that mystery. Her ‘The C. S. Lewis Hoax‘ and ‘Light in the Shadowlands‘ simply must be mentioned in anything about Hooper’s legacy because the Lindskoog books make Hooper’s claims hard to believe.

    (3) This 2007 conference was memorable in my life because I met Elizabeth Baird-Hardy there. There were no other contributors to this weblog at the time. Prof Baird-Hardy became the first not too long after and has been friend and adviser ever since. I also had occasion at the Wake Forest gathering to talk about the alchemical elements of Lewis’ ‘Ransom Trilogy’ with Sanford Schwartz, whose OUP book on that series would come out in 2009. That book, ‘C. S. Lewis on the Final Frontier,’ was my first encounter with Ring Composition; Schwartz charts the three Lewis novels as rings and notes Mary Douglas’ ‘Thinking in Circles‘ as the reference title on the subject.

    Which wound up changing my life quite a bit…

    Rest in peace, Walter Hooper.

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    As I just noted at Brenton Dickieson’s Pilgrim in Narnia blog, we must add yet more Inklings- and ‘Seven’-authors-related writers and friends, to the losses we mourn, together with our grateful memories.

    Today, receiving a digital copy of VII, volume 37, I learned that Thomas Howard, Colin Manlove, and Stephen Prickett had also all died this year, as had Jill Paton Walsh, who completed Dorothy Sayers’ novel Thrones, Dominations, and complemented it with three more Wimsey novels, A Presumption of Death (which makes use of Sayers’ Wimsey Papers, published in the Spectator in 1939-40), The Attenbury Emeralds, and The Late Scholar. And I had an e-mail from one of my old professors that Lewis’s godson, Laurence Harwood, also died this year (they sang together in a choral society).

  6. This is sad news, David, but thank you for sharing!

    I thought the blogpost at A Pilgrim in Narnia, ‘The Legacy of Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis’ Better than Boswell,’ was excellent in laying out the breadth and depth of Hooper’s lifetime of preservation and publication of CSL’s work — the essays, the novels, and the letters.

  7. I’m responding to John’s post of “Three quick notes” > 17th Dec. ’20.

    Thanks for your second point which gets closer to the mark.
    It seems to be overlooked that for a decade, Walter was the trustee of the Owen Barfield Literary Estate.
    He had a 33-year affiliation with the Inkling author Owen Barfield, who was Lewis’s appointed Trustee.
    We are grateful for the good-things that Walter did, but there are also the loose-ends he’s left behind.
    May he rest in peace.

    Owen A. Barfield
    Grandson & Trustee

  8. What a wonderful response to my quite hasty post! I confess that it was a rush job, as I write at much more a Tolkien pace than a Lewis one. I am grateful to our headmaster for pointing out that, indeed, Michael Travers did the editing for the Wake Forest collection, my copy of which, I discovered, was sitting right here on my shelf even as I scrambled to post in the mistaken belief that my copy was locked up in my office at the college while I primarily teach online in these hectic days!
    Indeed, there are always those loose ends, and I am deeply grateful for the insights of those who are far better qualified than I to speak of them. Thank you, Mr. Barfield, for joining us here. We are honored. I am thankful to be part of this community, in which we can have these conversations, and I am so thankful to these complicated, interesting people who have walked before us and who have left us their words, sometimes messy and confusing words, like our own.
    Sometimes, I feel quite overwhelmed by the brilliance of these authors we enjoy discussing here, and then, on a snowy day like today, when I could truly believe a faun in a red scarf might nip in at my back door, sometimes I am just grateful for the glimpses of magic with which we have been blessed.

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