All the Good Soaps

Sometime in my teens The Body Shop arrived at the local mall. Today, on the rare occasion I am forced to enter such a place, I steer clear this trendy little cosmetic store. The fumes it emits make my head swim and eyes water. I can no longer tolerate the perfumes. For a while I could not even enter stores like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The invisible barrier of scents was like a wall of fire.

When I was a kid, though, The Body Shop offered me the perfect place where I could buy my mother Christmas gifts on the little bits of money I scratched together. I found those bright oval soaps so cheery, and I loved the scents of kiwi, mandarin orange, and satsuma. For just a few dollars those soaps filled out my mother’s stocking well.

They looked great and smelled nice, but as soap they were hardly practical. In the shower they melted into a sudsy green or orange pool of chemical cream. The while film in the dish reminded me of a rainbow with glaucoma. On the sink they left a hard wax crust. Honestly, I could never shake the feeling that they weren’t actually soaps—that they didn’t so much clean the body as coat it with a microthin layer of wax. All these years later we still have some of those bars of soap around, and dig them out from time to time to watch them melt in the shower or cement themselves to the sink.

What The Body Shop did, though, was open up a market for beautiful soaps. Not long after, much like the microbrew sensation of today or the hipster tea movement of yesteryear, artisan soaps began filling the farmer’s markets and Christmas craft sales. Bathrooms were soon decorated with rough hewn blocks of soap fashioned from free range goat’s milk or Himalayan glacier salt or Arctic seal blubber. You can see a gorge-raising parody in Fight Club if you want to remember the trends of the times.

The problem was that these well-loved products of the artisans’ hands gave us soaps that were simply too good to use. Like the Scotch that is too old to share, or the leather-bound journal that is too epic to write in, these artisan soaps were too precious to use on something as mundane as removing dirt from skin. So, all across North American, bathrooms were adorned with tiny pastel inukshuks of beautifully smelling soaps.

I think I knew my mother was really going to die when I pulled out one of her artisan soaps. This one had a spicy smell, more like an herb garden than a flower monger’s stall. I don’t know where mom ever picked it up, but I would guess it was a Christmas gift or farewell party token of some kind. I pulled off the craftsman’s seal and washed my hands.

It was time to use all the good soaps.

Now I am at my mother’s hospital bed. As she sleeps, head tilted forward on her collapsing chest, she is still for a moment. When moments become seconds, she heaves in a great breath of air. At night I watch, sometimes, wondering which one of these breaths will be the last one. For some reason I want to see her last breath.

It has happened quickly. I am still using that same bar of soap in my mother’s bathroom, the bar I opened when I knew the chemo wouldn’t work. As my mother’s body wastes away, I am amazed at how little of the soap is used. Life can be spent so quickly.

Even now, as we are enjoying favourite wines and meals for the last time, using the artisan soap seems like wanton luxury—a billion dollar yacht in a five dollar room. As I breath in the fragrance and role the hard-edged milky bar in my hand, I cannot help but ask this absurd question: what are we saving the good soaps for?


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Sleepless Knights by Mark H. Williams

mark williams sleepless knightsWhat kept King Arthur up at night?

I bet people have been wondering about this all these centuries. After all, defining a nation, revolutionizing social culture, conquering the world, defending against cuckoldry, protecting your kingdom against your evil witch sister, and defeating usurpers on the field of battle can take a lot out of a guy.

It’s tough being a messiah, especially when you are so very, very flawed–as King Arthur clearly is.

Then there is the whole grail quest: a lifelong obsession at best, the key to madness at worst. And, given the nature of the grail, it is bound to lead to disappointment.

Did these things keep Arthur awake during the moonlit hours? Thanks to British author Mark H. Williams, now we know.

As it turns out, all we had to do was ask Arthur’s butler. The entire story is captured in the 2013 romp, Sleepless Knights.

The 20th century is filled with retellings of the Arthur tales by writers like C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Roger Lancelyn Green, Roger Zelazny, and T.H. White. We have also seen a number of farces, most notably in film (like Monty Python). What Williams has done is provide for us a hilarious farce filled with antics and adventures, that still somehow treats the material for the rich and varied source that it is.

Monty Python King ArthurDid I also mention that it is a time travel piece?

This risky narrative is achieved by a sophisticated time-structured pattern to the story outline, moving us in and out of the historical Camelot as it exists in several different time lines. The changes in narrative voice are not always smooth, simply because they are rooted in a single character. But that single character’s point of view serves to solidify what is a truly mercurial plot.

I met Mark Williams when, in line for dinner at Mythcon, my careless questioning caused him to admit that his book was Shortlisted for the 2014 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. I ordered the book for myself and it sat in the teetering pile of books on my bedside table. I finally made it a Christmastide read, and have not regretted it. A bit on the long side for a farce, but a superb book for its entertainment value and unusual treatment of Arthuriana.

Mythopoeic AwardsI am actually a little jealous. I wish I had written this book, or one like it. But that time will come, perhaps.

Meanwhile, check out Sleepless Knights. It won’t keep you up in the worried ways that caused Arthur to roam the halls of his mind (and his castle), but it might keep you up turning the pages to see what happens next.

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A Gospel Too Simple for the Learned: Tough Jo in Bleak House

Charles Dickens Bleak House banner

This is my first time reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. As it is featured in Gary Colledge’s God and Charles Dickens and Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, I thought I should come at last to this very long book.

If you have ever been thrown by the sheer weight of the book, try to move past this intimidating feature. It is a beautifully written book, filled with some of the most hilarious and heartbreaking characters I have ever met.

The stunning pose that Milton’s Satan strikes upon the page has Charles Dickens Bleak House tough jomade some wonder whether it is simply impossible to write a morally good character with as much colour and complexity as a bad one. Dickens has done it with his protagonists–and done so without bending the “bad” characters into moral gargoyles. Actually, the evil characters are mournful, self-ingrained figures, sorrysome to behold. Dickens’ supporting cast are like the characters in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. We see them face their own cruelty, sadness, ill luck, and self-delusion one after the other. The self-revelation is sometimes fatal, but not often enough.

Dickens does not use sophisticated language, yet his biting irony and iron-edged description, set in the context of dusky gloom and dim sitting rooms and low burning fireplaces, results in very beautiful writing. Of the most moving scenes, the various visits into the slums are the most effective for me.

Jo, the Crossing Sweeper from Bleak House (Charles Dickens), by Mervyn Peake PeaksI don’t have the courage to replay for you some of the most pathetic shocking of these scenes, so I will play one of Tough Jo. he might be the beginning of a cultural change in the imagination of the downtrodden. This pour street urchin spends his life among

“the extraordinary specimens of human fungus that spring up spontaneously in the western streets of London.”

Here’s how we meet Jo, early in the story, as he is a witness in a court case and it needs to be determined whether he can give sufficient testimony:

Here he is, very muddy, very hoarse, very ragged. Now, boy! But stop a minute. Caution. This boy must be put through a few preliminary paces.

Name, Jo. Nothing else that he knows on. Don’t know that everybody has two names. Never heerd of sich a think. Don’t know that Jo is short for a longer name. Thinks it long enough for HIM. HE don’t find no fault with it. Spell it? No. HE can’t spell it. No father, no mother, no friends. Never been to school. What’s home? Knows a broom’s a broom, and knows it’s wicked to tell a lie. Don’t recollect who told him about the broom or about the lie, but knows both. Can’t exactly say what’ll be done to him arter he’s dead if he tells a lie to the gentlemen here, but believes it’ll be something wery bad to punish him, and serve him right—and so he’ll tell the truth

jo sweeper bleak houseNeedless to say, the gentlemen of the chancery court don’t find him an eligible witness.

Jo can’t tell us his full name or family or anythink about anythink, but his story haunts me. I’ll play a bit of it for you now, picking up where a preacher, Rev. Chadband, has tricked Jo into coming to hear a sermon. Midway through–and I’ll spare you playing the entire thing–Jo falls asleep standing. Despite his prime audience’s disinterest, Chadband takes advantage of the moment to preach to the room. He finds one convert, Mrs. Snagsby, whose jealousy haunts her morally limp hen-pecked husband, and whose servant (Guster) is prone to fits (seizures?).

Watch Jo’s interaction with Guster, but also note that the narrator takes a moment to make a rare religious judgment upon the scene. The warning about improving the gospel–about preachers standing in its light (and blocking what others can see)–is no less relevant today, I think.

Charles Dickens Bleak House jo

“Or, my juvenile friends,” says Chadband, descending to the level of their comprehension with a very obtrusive demonstration in his greasily meek smile of coming a long way downstairs for the purpose, “if the master of this house was to go forth into the city and there see an eel, and was to come back, and was to call unto him the mistress of this house, and was to say, ‘Sarah, rejoice with me, for I have seen an elephant!’ would THAT be Terewth?”

Mrs. Snagsby in tears.

Jennie_Lee_as_Jo Charles Dickens Bleak House 2“Or put it, my juvenile friends, that he saw an elephant, and returning said ‘Lo, the city is barren, I have seen but an eel,’ would THAT be Terewth?”

Mrs. Snagsby sobbing loudly.

“Or put it, my juvenile friends,” said Chadband, stimulated by the sound, “that the unnatural parents of this slumbering heathen—for parents he had, my juvenile friends, beyond a doubt—after casting him forth to the wolves and the vultures, and the wild dogs and the young gazelles, and the serpents, went back to their dwellings and had their pipes, and their pots, and their flutings and their dancings, and their malt liquors, and their butcher’s meat and poultry, would THAT be Terewth?”

Mrs. Snagsby replies by delivering herself a prey to spasms, not an unresisting prey, but a crying and a tearing one, so that Cook’s Court re-echoes with her shrieks. Finally, becoming cataleptic, she has to be carried up the narrow staircase like a grand piano. After unspeakable suffering, productive of the utmost consternation, she is pronounced, by expresses from the bedroom, free from pain, though much exhausted, in which state of affairs Mr. Snagsby, trampled and crushed in the piano-forte removal, and extremely timid and feeble, ventures to come out from behind the door in the drawing-room.

Charles Dickens Bleak House 2All this time Jo has been standing on the spot where he woke up, ever picking his cap and putting bits of fur in his mouth. He spits them out with a remorseful air, for he feels that it is in his nature to be an unimprovable reprobate and that it’s no good HIS trying to keep awake, for HE won’t never know nothink. Though it may be, Jo, that there is a history so interesting and affecting even to minds as near the brutes as thine, recording deeds done on this earth for common men, that if the Chadbands, removing their own persons from the light, would but show it thee in simple reverence, would but leave it unimproved, would but regard it as being eloquent enough without their modest aid—it might hold thee awake, and thou might learn from it yet!

Jo never heard of any such book. Its compilers and the Reverend Chadband are all one to him, except that he knows the Reverend Chadband and would rather run away from him for an hour than hear him talk for five minutes. “It an’t no good my waiting here no longer,” thinks Jo. “Mr. Snagsby an’t a-going to say nothink to me to-night.” And downstairs he shuffles.

But downstairs is the charitable Guster, holding by the handrail of the kitchen stairs and warding off a fit, as yet doubtfully, the same having been induced by Mrs. Snagsby’s screaming. She has her own supper of bread and cheese to hand to Jo, with whom she ventures to interchange a word or so for the first time.

Charles Dickens Bleak House 3“Here’s something to eat, poor boy,” says Guster.

“Thank’ee, mum,” says Jo.

“Are you hungry?”

“Jist!” says Jo.

“What’s gone of your father and your mother, eh?”

Jo stops in the middle of a bite and looks petrified. For this orphan charge of the Christian saint whose shrine was at Tooting has patted him on the shoulder, and it is the first time in his life that any decent hand has been so laid upon him.

“I never know’d nothink about ’em,” says Jo.

“No more didn’t I of mine,” cries Guster. She is repressing symptoms favourable to the fit when she seems to take alarm at something and vanishes down the stairs.


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A Hobbit’s Theology (2016 Pub Talk)


On Thursday last I had the privilege of speaking at the most recent “Theology on Tap”–an evening that has never failed to disappoint in the past (see some background here).

I spoke about “How Hobbits Save the World,” suggesting that there is a hidden, subversive quality to Tolkien’s work that has profound implications for faith, life, culture, and politics. I’ll be talking about how that quality works itself out in other authors like C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and J.K. Rowling–and to what extend other authors offer an “anti-Hobbit” vision.

In essence, I suggest there is a “Theology of the Small” in some of the most transformative fantasy literature of the 20th century.

They recorded the talk, including questions, and I’m pleased to share it with you. Feel free to share it with others, and I appreciate your comments.

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Hobbits, Beer, and Theology

theology_on_tap_bannerFor fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and the literary club that formed around him in the 1930s to the 1950s, you will know how beer, hobbits, and theology go together. Each week, for a two and a half decades, a group of mythmakers, poets, and fantasy writers gathered in college rooms or a local pub–and sometimes in both–to read from their works in progress. Unknown when they began, the figures of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Roger Lancelyn Green, and a few others became leading figures in their special fields and in the genres they loved most. The Inklings, as they were known, are now a part of our cultural canon.

While The Hobbit was born in darker corners, and Narnia did not capture everyone’s sympathy, much of The Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ speculative fiction and apologetics works were read aloud to a small cluster of literary men, veiled in cigarette smoke, manuscripts dampened by cider and covered in editorial marks. At these meetings the conversations could move from great books–and bad ones–to politics, history, and theology.

Given how the Lord of the Rings was brought to life in a pub, I thought some Hobbits’ tales would be perfect when I was invited to give a talk “Theology on Tap.” This is a local tradition, at least, where professors share their leading discoveries at a “Research on Tap,” or where they talk about the intersection between faith and critical thought at a “Theology on Tap.”

I’m quite looking forward to it.

I am speaking about How Hobbits Save the World. I am suggesting that there is a hidden, subversive quality to Tolkien’s work that has profound implications for faith, life, culture, and politics. I’ll be talking about how that quality works itself out in other authors like C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and J.K. Rowling–and to what extend other authors offer an “anti-Hobbit” vision.

Now I know that most readers are more than a little far from our local pub. 70% of Pilgrim in Narnia readers are American or British, and another 15% are from other parts of the world. You may not be able to make it to little Prince Edward Island, and it is difficult to Skype microbrew to one another.

But for those who are within striking distance, come on down to the Pourhouse at 7:00 on Thursday, Jan 28th. It’s right above the Olde Triangle, and as far as I know there are no celtic codewords needed. I invite you to raise a glass–or a question–on what should be a fun night. And who knows what might come of it?


Get the full poster here: Concerning-Hobbits (1)


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Reconsidering the Lindskoog Affair

Lindskoog CS Lewis HOaxPerhaps no figure has caused as much tension in the community of C.S. Lewis scholars and fans as Kathryn Lindskoog.

In 1978, shortly after the publication of C.S. Lewis’ The Dark Tower and Other Stories, Walter Hooper found his editorial work and his character under attack. The Dark Tower was the newest in a line of Lewis volumes that Hooper edited and wrote prefaces for. It included an unfinished science fiction tale, which he called “The Dark Tower.” This strange, incomplete time travel piece includes some of the characters and themes of the Ransom Cycle, but with a curious lack of interest and some strange psychosexual themes.

Not long after the release of The Dark Tower, Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog wrote a scathing exposé of Walter Hooper as literary fraud artist in the popular and intelligent journal Christianity and Literature. In “Some Problems in C.S. Lewis Scholarship,” Lindskoog lists dozens of questions based upon a long series of discrepancies. She followed it up with a series of books with overlapping and evolving material: The C.S. Lewis Hoax (1988), Light in the Shadowlands: Protecting the Real C. S. Lewis (1994), and Sleuthing C.S. Lewis: More Light in the Shadowlands (2001).

Dark Tower and Other Stories by CSLAs part of my early research, and with a kind of stunned fascination, I read through each of these books. Much of the material is repeated over and over again, and comes down to a series of key accusations:

  • Walter Hooper overstated his qualifications as C.S. Lewis’ secretary
  • Hooper’s claim to save a number of manuscripts from a legendary housecleaning bonfire “doesn’t hold water”
  • Hooper made decisions that went against the will of C.S. Lewis’ brother, Warren
  • Hooper made critical and editorial decisions that go against C.S. Lewis’ intentions, especially in the area of editing his poems
  • There is a culture of secrecy around the C.S. Lewis estate
  • There is a blending of C.S. Lewis’ features into Walter Hooper’s persona
  • Hooper has made unusual assertions about C.S. Lewis’ biography, some of which were distributed through books, talks, and films
  • After years of studying C.S. Lewis’ unique handwriting, Walter Hooper has forged a number of manuscripts, including “The Dark Tower”

The trilogy of Lindskoog’s literary mysteries have a Dan Brown quality to them. What makes them unique is the response to these books. The accusations galvanized frustration that some scholars and fans had about the protectionism of the C.S. Lewis estate and about the concerns they had over Hooper’s power in shaping the Lewis legend. Some scholars chaffed at the degree of control exhibited over manuscripts and Lewis material. Even for the skeptic of Lindskoog’s approach—and her accusations become phrenetic, so much so that their credibility suffers even in presentation—there is just enough of truth to draw in the honest reader.

c.s. lewis: a biography by a.n. wilsonWhile figures like John Beversluis, A.N. Wilson, and David Holbrook have raised the ire of Lewis followers—each of them anti-hagiographical in his own way—these men were intentionally outside the mainstream. Lindskoog, however, was a fully devoted follower of C.S. Lewis.

In fact, I would suggest that it was her commitment to protecting Lewis that led her to her accusations.

I have investigated Lindskoog’s claims as best as I can, giving the resources that I have (note: if you are offering grants, I would gladly take you up on that offer!). For my own part, my introduction to Walter Hooper was through his editorial work in collecting C.S. Lewis’ letters. The work is superb. The scholarship is tight, lacking any temptation to nostalgia and little protectionism. Indeed, my only concern is how little Hooper as editor inserts himself in the Letters. I could use more, rather than less, of Hooper in the Letters.

So, for me, turning to Lindskoog was a bit peculiar. After reading dozens of Hooper prefaces and spending enough time in the academic world to hear publishing war stories, I began to understand, at least from their perspective, why scores of respected scholars and institutions rallied around Lindskoog’s claims. For a period of time, this issue divided the community. It even dominated, for example, the pages of The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal for much of the 1980s. That archive shows a series or pointed letters, calls to action, and even legal notes. It was a peculiar time.

collected-letters-c-s-lewis-box-set-c-s-paperback-cover-artAlthough we now have the luxury of critical distance to consider these kinds of claims, I still felt the ghost of the Lindskoog controversy haunting my most recent Mythcon visit, as well as recent publications by Drs. Charlie Starr and Edwin Brown. Samuel Joeckel, in chapter 13 of The C.S. Lewis Phenomenon: Christianity and the Public Sphere (2013), dedicates an entire section to Lindskoog and the entire C.S. Lewis industry. And I live in an area where dedicated Lewisians—including folks who have donated materials that I have been able to use in research—presume Walter Hooper’s guilt.

I decided I wanted to explore the issue openly, but all of us have some skin in the game. The truth is that I would be a fool as an emerging scholar to take the Lindskoog side on things. It would limit access to resources, publication possibilities, and mentors to lead my way. Yet, as a critical thinker, I have endeavoured to take the claims that can be weighed using evidence and consider them seriously. There might be a cost to that approach. After all, just because I can string fancy words together on a glowing screen doesn’t mean I’m not a fool.

Brenton Bodleian MugshortWhen I went to Oxford in the fall of 2014, I intended to use my knowledge of Lewis’ handwriting to decide, as best as I could, whether he wrote the “Dark Tower” fragment. It was a project I never told anyone about, and wasn’t the only reason I went to the Bodleian library. But I needed to know for my work on the Ransom Cycle whether “The Dark Tower” should be included.

I looked at the manuscript and I knew in a flash: This is a work by C.S. Lewis.

It isn’t just the characteristic handwriting. Lewis forms his letters (like f, p, and s) in distinctive ways, as Charlie Starr is working out in his research. A forger could mimic distinctive features—and even copy a certain “era” of writing style. For me, it was the non-literary aspect of the manuscript that won me over: the weight of the pen, the pattern of dark and light lettering, the cluster of letters huddled here and there, the way he underlines or sets off text, and the way he makes corrections.

Lindskoog sleuthing CS LewisI have decided in my mind the chief accusation against Walter Hooper is false. While it isn’t a very good story, “The Dark Tower” was written by Lewis. Some of the other questions, like secrecy and a difficulty to get manuscripts, have taken care of themselves over time. There are twenty or more books of Lewis edited by Hooper, and scholars have been steadily publishing archived material, available at the Bod, at the Wade Centre, and at Taylor University and a handful of other archives.

Thinking back to the debate, I can see where it quickly went wrong–in my judgment, anyway. What began as a question of forgery, soon became a question of sheer character—not just a question of who told the truth or lied, but who would tell the truth or who is most likely to lie. I’m not sure how anyone can find a way out of that maze. As an historian, I can only deal with the evidence.

If I have any criticism of Walter Hooper’s work—and here I trust that his many friends will forgive me—it is that I find some of his prefaces and introductions a little too effusive. Although this trait is gone by the 1990s editorial work, a younger Walter Hooper was clearly enamoured by C.S. Lewis. Many people are taken in by Lewis, you know. As a literary secretary I have wondered whether he has sometimes lacked the critical distance needed–the kinds of critical steps back taken even by Christopher Tolkien of his father’s work.

My criticism might just be a matter of taste, though others have noted the feeling in Hooper’s work that his time at the Kilns represents itself as longer than it perhaps was. I suspect it was life-changing for Hooper, and I have coded weekend retreats (personal or religious) in my memory with more detail than many months or even years of my life. I understand how important a time like that might be.HooperBooksHowever, with due respect to critics, love of an author does not a forger make.

In fact, reading Walter Hooper’s introductions, he seems like the last person in the world to profane the C.S. Lewis script with his own hand. This is probably why Lindskoog turned to the question of Hooper’s sanity, arguing that he lost himself in the myth of C.S. Lewis, the way that lines between Sean Connery and James Bond blurred for a while.

Bond_-_Sean_ConneryIt is not the kind of claim that I can even consider as a scholar. On the balance of what I have before me—manuscripts and letters and a hundred literary clues—there isn’t evidence that Hooper was a forger.

Walter Hooper has dedicated himself to protecting the character of C.S. Lewis, even going as far as to suggest that Lewis never consummated his marriage with Joy Davidman. But Hooper has remained an independent identity, leaving behind his Episcopalian credentials to revert to Roman Catholicism—a move that Lewis never made. And, as I have said, the Collected Letters and Hooper’s Companion and Guide are critically helpful resources.

Was Lindskoog, then, just out to cause damage?

I don’t think so. What many do not recognize is that Kathryn Lindskoog’s claims emerged out of her desire to protect Lewis—the same kind of impetus that Hooper has, actually. Though she is ignored by some, and treated as an enemy by others, Lindskoog attacked Walter Hooper and the C.S. Lewis Co. because she felt they were dishonouring the C.S. Lewis that she loved.

Lindskoog CS Lewis light in shadowlandsAn example of this protective instinct is her attack of A.N. Wilson’s biography of Lewis, a biography that many Lewis followers thought was over-psychologized, reductionistic, and (frankly) too cute. Lindskoog’s bullet point list of errata is characteristic of her style (John Visser has archived it for us here). This extensive critique came from her desire to keep Lewis from being posthumously bent into someone else’s image. Doubtless, the whole thing came unhinged. But it began where most of us begin: trying to do honour in our work.

The Lindskoog affair offers some lessons in caution.

I think there is a danger whenever we try to protect a figure—especially a figure as dynamic and elusive as C.S. Lewis. His intellect or skill with the pen or ability to offer spiritual advice can sometimes cause readers to undervalue the flaws—or even to cover them up. For me, Abigail Santamaria in her biography of Joy Davidman captures the problematic features of an historic personality well without lusting after them. At the same time she manages to present the stunning intellect and rigorous courage of an evasive figure.

Any complex figure is going to create different interpretations. This has happened with C.S. Lewis. Perhaps we can recover A.N. Wilson’s value as an iconoclast for a moment—despite errors in his work. His comment here is a caution to what we do with people whom we think get it wrong:

“Lewis idolatry, like Christianity itself, has resorted to some ugly tactics as it breaks itself into factions. Hard words are used on both sides, and there is not much evidence of Christian charity when the war is at its hottest” (C.S. Lewis, xvi).

The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies - Evangeline LillyAs C.S. Lewis readers, we should avoid investing in these factions. It can happen in subcultures. One lover of Tolkien questioned my essential human goodness because I didn’t think the Peter Jackson adaptations the worst things to ever happen. This sort of demonizing does nothing for scholarly discussion, and it certainly does not “protect” the integrity of the authors we love.

So, what do we do with Kathryn Lindskoog’s conspiracy theory?

Would it be cheeky of me to turn to C.S. Lewis himself for the answer?

Kathryn Stillwell-Lindskoog began corresponding with Lewis during her MA studies. She visited Lewis in Oxford in 1956, and sent him her completed MA Thesis in 1957. Lewis was not thrilled with “research” as a university discipline, and preferred the lens wasn’t focused on him. But note the response that he provides this young scholar:

Oct 29th 1957
Dear Miss Stillwell–
Your thesis arrived yesterday and I read it at once. You are in the centre of the target everywhere.
For one thing, you know my work better than anyone else I’ve met: certainly better than I do myself….
But secondly, you (alone of the critics I’ve met) realise the connection, or even the unity, of all the books–scholarly, fantastic, theological–and make me appear a single author not a man who impersonates half a dozen authors, which is what I seem to most. This wins really very high marks indeed.
There is one place (pp. 93, 94) where, tho’ I am sure you are not misunderstanding, you express yourself in a way wh. might make it seem to the reader that you were….
If you understand me so well, you will understand other authors too. I hope that we shall have some really useful critical works from your hand.
With thanks and good wishes.
Yours sincerely
C. S. Lewis

The Lion of Judah CS Lewis lindskoogI’ve shown before how Lewis carefully guides his students, but I find it fascinating that Lewis recognizes something special in Lindskoog’s work. While he tolerated his friend, Chad Walsh’s, biography (C.S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics, 1949), he was impatient with literary critics who took up his own works. Lindskoog, just an American grad student, “got” Lewis.

Whatever the value of her conspiracy trilogy, I am going to hunt down Lindskoog’s other work. Her thesis was published as The Lion of Judah in Never-Never Land: The Theology of C.S. Lewis Expressed in His Fantasies for Children (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), which was expanded into Journey Into Narnia (Pasadena: Hope Publishing House, 1998). I have the 2nd edition of her C.S. Lewis: Mere Christian with InterVarsity Press, but it had at least four editions. It is an “ideas” book, laying out 16 topical essays on Lewis’ ideas in his work (some that overlap with the kind of work I have done on A Pilgrim in Narnia).

Though there are some who were very hurt during the two decades dominated by the Lindskoog affair, emerging scholars may be wise to follow Lewis’ lead in looking into his life. He did not point to the Pilgrim in Narnia blog, after all. And though Lindskoog did not turn out to be the broad-based critic that Lewis predicted she could be, there may still be something for us in those older books. Finally, there is a caution about how far our devotion should go. We can protect something to death, after all.

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Call for Submissions

I have been pleased to have had a blog published at the Fellowship of the King. They have now sent out a call for poetry, short stories, and essays. Check it out!


“The Fellowship of The King” ( is a Christian-based online magazine inspired by and dedicated to the cultivation of literary expressions in the spirit of such authors as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, etc. Dabbling in fantasy, history, philosophy, theology, and a host of other topics, the magazine seeks to draw together literary and artistic talent from various backgrounds with a common appreciation for the Liberal Arts and Classical Culture.
At present, TFOTK will be launching the third installment of their fantasy/sci-fi trilogy issue. For those who would like to participate, your submissions of short fiction, poetry, and essays will be welcome, both for the issue format and rotation on the magazine website. Contact the Editor, Rosaria Marie:
Also, please spread the word about the magazine to your contacts and sign up as email followers of the website. In the ethereal spirit of Robin Hood: the more the merrier!

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