I 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.
The 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.
One 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!
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?
17 July 03