Perhaps 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).
As 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.
While 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.
Although 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.
When 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.
I 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.However, 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.
It 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.
An 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).
As 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.
C. S. Lewis
I’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.