Adventures in Geekland: Book Collecting and C.S. Lewis

Lewis at His DeskWarning: You are about to experience C.S. Lewis geekery brought to a new level.

Now, I have gone down this road before. After all, I travelled to New York city to spend four hours with a handwritten manuscript of The Screwtape Letters. Worse than that, I undertook the insane project of counting C.S. Lewis’ letters in the 3 Volume collection and then made charts about how much he was writing in each stage of his life. That’s right. I made charts.

Well, I like charts. And though that displays some disturbing aspect of my own life, I can easily say that I am not the worst. Websites, blogs, C.S. Lewis societies, Narnia role play games, podcasts, tumblr paNumber of Pages of Letters Lewis Wrote Per 4-5 Year Periodges, digital networks, Disney film protest groups, midnight reenactments of Narnian celebrations, facebook chats, international conferences—there’s even talk of a C.S. Lewis College, a kind of “Good Books” school. There is no end to Lewisimania.

On the well-respected edge of this geekery—somewhere near chart makers—are book and letter collectors. C.S. Lewis literary artifacts are no mean affair. Letters typically sell between $300-$5000, and 1st edition books with the dust jacket can go for five figures. This project hasn’t interested me all that much. You may be surprised, but I’m just not in the market to buy 1st editions—even with all these blog revenues. Ahem. Cough.

C.S. Lewis signatureMoreover, as a researcher, I find the cost a little annoying. I need, in some cases, the 1st edition printing to compare with manuscripts or to see how a work developed over time. Fortunately, I have been able to get 6th or 7th printing of some books in fair shape for $20-$30. But I would prefer to pay $5-$10.

Among the master collectors is Edwin W. Brown, an American doctor. He began collecting nearly fifty years ago, and about fifteen years ago provided his collection to The Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis & Friends in the Zondervan Library at Taylor University in Upland, IN. By that time he had In Pursuit of CS Lewis Edwin Browncollected multiple 1st editions of most of Lewis’ books, as well as an extensive collection of Lewis letters and two original manuscripts—a rare thing indeed, since Lewis used them to start his fires. I had the opportunity of viewing the Edwin W. Brown collection in 2012 when visiting TaylorU.

In 2006, with the help of his friend and George MacDonald editor, Dan Hamilton, Edwin Brown decided to write up his experience of collecting C.S. Lewis artifacts. The result is a delightful and helpful book, In Pursuit of C.S. Lewis: Adventures in Collecting his Works (2006).

In Pursuit of C.S. Lewis is divided into two sections. The first is a series of chapters on various topics:

  • How Dr. Brown began collecting Lewisiana.
  • Who the major players are in Lewis’ literary estate.
  • How he came across various collections, books, and manuscripts.
  • An entire chapter about the dedications in Lewis’ books, as well as notes on various editions.
  • Tips on how to spot a forgery.
  • Conversation about C.S. Lewis’ handwriting.
  • The work of Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis’ literary executor.
  • Some amazing scribal notes in books he’s found.
  • Tips on how to find a bar stool in Britain.

It is a crazy variety of topics, and that is what makes this book so much fun. It is neither very literary nor very academic. Instead, Dr. Brown tells stories of how he stumbled into bookshops, made C.S. Lewis friends, worked through tight issues in the field, and even how he was ripped off by an inauthentic signature that he had actually authenticated.

In Pursuit of C.S. Lewis is humorous and light, and yet quite informative. The second half of the book is a highly organized list of all the first edition books with details to look for. Throughout Brown avoids speaking of financial matters, but he gives enough clues that other collectors could follow his literary breadcrumbs to authentic C.S. Lewis and Inklings materials.

I loved this book, but it isn’t without weakness. Edwin Brown reminds us that he does not know the publishing industry, and that is what we are missing: a solid chapter on how the book printing industry worked, especially in WWII. There is repetition in the book, and the outline rolls along, taking time to stop whenever something beside the road seems interesting. I’m sure this book would drive some readers mad!

CS Lewis Apologetics Books Mere Christianity Miracles ScrewtapeBut that’s partly why I like it. I suspect this book—with typos and quick-moving paragraphs and both too-much-said and not-nearly-enough—is authentic to Dr. Brown’s voice as a storyteller. An example is in the Lindskoog-Hooper controversy, where an American researcher accused Walter Hooper of substantial forgery. This topic is no man’s land for most of us in the field, and yet Edwin Brown rolls over it without so much as a wrinkle. He made friends with both parties, and though he chose sides, he avoids the demonization that often happens in the discussion.

Critical historians are going to struggle with this kind of “pretty” history. Brown sees C.S. Lewis in bright colours,  even recounting a sort of saintly C.S. Lewis miracle a leading British Christian experienced after Lewis’ death.Lewis books signature series

Fair enough. But isn’t it the stories that we want anyway? It’s true, there are times when charts are the bomb. And Dr. Brown’s book list is essential on-the-shelf material for any researcher. But reading In Pursuit of C.S. Lewis was like getting to sit down at dinner with the book collector himself. It was scattered, disorganized, self-indulgent, and simple. It was sheer geekery.

In that sense, then, it was perfect.

I’m pretty sure I warned you.

For those interested, included below are a book description, as well as an expanded index. Brown only indexed the second half of the book; I attempted to index the first half too.

Book Description
Behind the Edwin W. Brown Collection at Taylor University — one of the world’s finest holdings of C. S. Lewis first editions, letters, and manuscripts — are tales of thirty years of warm and humorous adventures, tales of curiosity, perseverance, and “coincidence” — a British pub in an American basement — an obscure name scrawled in a rare Lewis book — a long-lost Lewis manuscript which solves a modern controversy — a little girl’s treasure, sold by mistake and amazingly recovered –and friendships and encounters with those (among many others) who knew Lewis well — Walter Hooper, Doug Gresham, Pauline Baynes, George Sayer, and Owen Barfield.

Expanded Index
Note: Additions 03/18/14, adding page numbers from the body of the book to the index at the back of the book. Bolded items are entries I have added. I have not included all listings about letters and poems; it is necessarily incomplete and added only for interest based on my own notes. For corrections or additions, drop me a note.

Abolition of Man – 222, 224
Allegory of Love – 69, 71, 76, 83, 135, 149-50, 185, 189
All My Road Before Me – 310
Arthurian Torso – 72, 241

Beyond Personality – 91, 143, 225, 226
Beyond the Bright Blur – 128, 296
Boxen – 30, 167
Broadcast Talks – 61, 211

Case for Christianity – 212
Christian Behaviour – 87-92, 214, 216
Christian Reflections – 305
Collected Letters – Vol. I – 311
Vol. II – 312
Vol. III – 134, 312

Dark Tower – 94, 100-104, 307, 308
Discarded Image – 76, 301
Dymer – 68, 110, 125, 169, 172, 174

English Literature in the Sixteenth Century – 126, 265, 267
Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces – 311
Experiment in Criticism – 294, 295

Four Loves – 76, 285, 286

George Macdonald Anthology – 25, 37, 38, 63, 68, 235, 237
God in the Dock – 307
Great Divorce – 71, 87, 232, 233
Grief Observed – 123-7, 292

Horse and His Boy – 74, 118-22, 147, 262, 263

Joyful Christian – 308

Last Battle – 41, 75, 85, 147
Letters of C.S. Lewis – 133, 304 (see also 32, 35-6, 38, 62-7, 68, 131-5, 136-9, 143-5, 149)
Letters to Don Giovani Calabria – 310
Letters to an American Lady – 305, 306
Letters to Children – 74, 309, 310
Letters to Malcolm – 128-30, 298, 299
Light – 87, 94-5, 98, 100-4, 113, 158 (see Dark Tower; see Charlie Starr, Light)
Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe – 11, 41-2, 43, 47, 51, 72-3, 86, 102, 110, 247, 248

Magician’s Nephew – 72, 122, 268, 269
Mere Christianity – 20, 34, 49, 61, 253, 254 (see also Beyond Personality, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour)
Mind Awake – 306
Miracles – 56, 71-2, 87

Narnia – 41-2, 43, 47, 50, 77, 84-6, 102, 118, 122, 146, 158, 171
Narrative Poems – 306, 307

Of Other Worlds – 304
Of This and Other Worlds – 309
On Stories – 309
Out of the Silent Planet – 44-7, 51, 69, 102, 190, 193 (see also Space Trilogy)

Perelandra – 20, 47, 56, 68, 74, 218, 220
Personal Heresy – 198
Pilgrim’s Regress – 63, 69, 177, 180, 181, 182, 183
Poems – 303
Preface to Paradise Lost – 71, 136, 208
Prince Caspian – 41, 74, 122, 146, 250, 251
Problem of Pain – 68, 95, 110, 200, 202

Reflections on the Psalms – 75, 280, 281
Rehabilitations and Other Essays – 70, 195

Screwtape Letters – 46-8, 67, 70, 110-3, 204, 206
Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast – 130, 288, 290
Selected Literary Essays – 307
Silver Chair – 41, 74, 147, 259, 260
Space Trilogy – 51, 171
Spenser’s Images of Life – 305
Spirits in Bondage – 12, 29-33, 61, 85, 95, 125, 149-50, 159, 165
Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature – 303
Studies in Words – 76, 287
Surprised by Joy – 33, 72, 75, 93, 97, 100, 114-5, 140, 271, 272

That Hideous Strength – 47, 51, 71, 87, 228, 229
They Asked For a Paper – 295
They Stand Together – 308 (see Letters of C.S. Lewis)
Till We Have Faces – 75, 114, 277, 278
Tortured Planet – 230
Transposition and Other Addresses – 244

Undeceptions – 307

Visionary Christian – 308
Voyage of the Dawn Treader – 41-2, 74, 148, 256, 257

Weight of Glory – 245
World’s Last Night – 283

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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12 Responses to Adventures in Geekland: Book Collecting and C.S. Lewis

  1. robstroud says:

    Thank you for an extremely informative post. I don’t believe that your time was wasted counting pages, etc. After all, such details often provide new insights. I wasn’t familiar with Brown’s book, and appreciate your effort to complete the index.

    Like

  2. Will Vaus says:

    I am glad you got Brown’s book and enjoyed it so much. He is a wonderful man and good friend. And the photo of early editions of Lewis’ books you have in the article are mine, not that I mind. It was just a surprise to see some of my collection in someone else’s post. Blessings….

    Like

  3. WOW. What a great post. I need to get by here more often. Peace, T

    Like

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