A Final Letter from Arthur C. Clarke to C.S. Lewis

Marion Wade Center frontI am roaming the stacks at the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, IL. This is the premium North American archive for C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others in the 20th c. Christian literary movement in and around Oxford. There is a lifetime of reading behind these glass doors, and many lifetimes of work to do in the archives. The Wade is very much a place I love.

I have just stumbled across a book I had only heard of: Ryder W. Miller, From Narnia to A Space Odyssey: The War of Ideas Between Arthur C. Clarke and C.S. Lewis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003). Readers of a Pilgrim in Narnia will know that I did a little Clarke & Lewis interplay back in the winter (see here and here). Miller’s book takes this interplay up to a new level, allowing Clarke and Lewis to speak to one another with their own words, from their own books.

narnia space oddyseyThe dialogue is worthwhile, for the men did not see eye to eye. Lewis thought that real space travel would spoil SF, while Clarke longed to see the outer realms (see below). Lewis used science as a rough framework for credibility, while Clarke worked intensely to ensure that he was as accurate as one could be while still peaking ahead. Lewis was an orthodox Anglican, while Clarke was a logical positivist. Actually, he later described himself as a hidden Buddhist: he was occupied by God and religion in his works, but he did not see Buddhism as a religion.

The two men had much to talk about when they met, and they corresponded briefly. Lewis loved some of Clarke’s work, and Clarke wrote of Lewis in his 1953 essay, “Science Fiction: Preparation for the Age of Space,” and in his 1969 essay, “Space and the Spirit of Man.” For all they shared, they were light years apart in key areas. “Needless to say,” Clarke writes, “neither side converted the other, and we [at the British Interplanetary Society] refused to abandon our diabolical schemes of interplanetary conquest.”

From Narnia to A Space Odyssey includes a preface by Arthur C. Clarke. This little note talks about his fondness for Joy Davidman–“one of the most charming and intelligent people I’ve ever known” (34)–who was a member of the science fiction writers group that housed up in London taverns in the 1950s. Lewis had read and loved Childhood’s End, and here Clarke admits that he twisted Joy’s arm to send it to Lewis in the first place. As SF readers today we may remember Clarke and forget Lewis, but Lewis was important in that classic SciFi period. Clarke also admits that he never had the heart to read Lewis’ A Grief Observed–a book I avoided for some time until I snatched it from the shelf one day and fell in love with it. Later I was able to return to it for comfort.

Miller, From Narnia to A Space OdysseyOne of the neat things about this book is that it includes a letter that Clarke wrote to the long dead C.S. Lewis (on p. 175). It is worth a read for a little chuckle, and to see how senior authors can be mentors to the emerging superstars. After all, they are never superstars while they are still emerging!

Dear CSL

wherever you are….

I’ve just recalled a memory of our last (only?) meeting. It was with other Interplanetarians, and you commented on our hopes of space exploration–“I’m sure you’re very wicked people–but wouldn’t the world be dull if everyone was good?”

You had a friend with you whose name I discovered later was Tolkein or Tolkien. Wonder what happened to him?

Best Wishes
Arthur Clarke

17 July 03

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 A Final Letter from Arthur C. Clarke to C.S. Lewis

  1. L.A. Smith says:

    So interesting! I love to think of these two sharing a pint and having a discussion – and wouldn’t i love to be a fly on the wall when they did!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wow – fascinating: thank you! Clarke would have been an interesting speaker to debate with at the Socratic Club! (I wonder if anyone ever pit out feelers in that direction?) I ran into a 1997 BBC programme about him called “The Man Who Saw the Future”, the other day (in One of the Usual Places), but have not tried it, yet. (I was bewildered by 2001 until a read an article about it, years later – it was vivid enough in my memory to see the sense in retrospect… Someone got me to read Childhood’s End – I can’t remember if it was Lewis, or a college friend with whom I discussed it.)


  3. Joe R. Christopher says:

    The problem with the edition of the Lewis and Clarke letters is that the editor couldn’t read Lewis’s handwriting and there are horrible guesses at what Lewis said. The editor just wasn’t as interested in Lewis as in Clarke.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Thanks for the heads-up! Having read your comment, I went looking at the reviews under various entries on the U.S. Amazon site, and whew! Someone said there were only 17 pages of letters (out of 176 pages of book), lots of critique of copy-editing (including by the late Bruce Edwards) and transcription, with an unimpressive defense by the editor among the comments – all very curious: have the Lewis letters ever been re-transcribed and reprinted elsewhere (and where are the originals)?

      Not that I am not delighted to know of its existence and grateful to Brenton for telling us so attractively, but I’ll sure wait till I run into a library that purchased it…


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I should’ve checked the UK Amazon before posting my comment: a reviewer on one entry there notes “We are shown one of the letters as it was written” – and corrects four mis-transcriptions on its basis. Another notes, ” On comparing the transcriptions of Lewis’s letters in Miller’s book and in Hooper’s recent edition of C.S.Lewis’s Collected Letters (vols. 2 and 3) I discovered the Miller transcriptions to be garbled and in not a few places sheer nonsense whereas Hooper’s transcriptions gave excellent sense.” So, I can read them better-transcribed (though presumably without the Clarke ones).


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