Narnia’s Lost Poet and C.S. Lewis’ Lost Biographer: A Further Note on A.N. Wilson

Last Monday I produced a review that was a bit tetchy (despite my own apparently hypocritical protestation that I don’t write bad book reviews). Therein I used a big sophisticated word that I clearly didn’t know (“coy”), and tried to highlight some strong features in A.N. Wilson’s work. Overall, I argued that Wilson is selling us a biography but really providing a mythology of an Oxonian literary historian of note who became known for apologetics, controversy, and Narnia.

My review is out of step with scholars of Lewis only in that it offers some positive things.

I should note, though, that outside the relatively tight fellowship of Lewis critics there are smart readers of Wilson’s biography that appreciated the iconoclastic yet appreciative tone of the book. I suspect that Wilson’s Lewis book was the strongest selling one until Alister McGrathAlister McGrath’s 2013 critical biography. By contrast, Lewis biographers tend to write much more positive, cozy books that are often described as hagiography or even idolatry. If you are curious about the conversation, check out Samuel Joeckel’s The C.S. Lewis Phenomenon: Christianity and the Public Sphere (2013), especially ch. 11.

Because of great A Pilgrim in Narnia readers, I have been led on to a couple more A.N. Wilson resources. One of these is a documentary, “Narnia’s Lost Poet: The Secret Lives and Loves of C.S. Lewis,” produced for the BBC. Despite the lurid subtitle and the curious title–lost how? lost where?–it is a pretty good documentary overall. Wilson is a bit goofy at moments, and the filmmakers were tempted to presume more drama than I feel in watching at times. However, the film is visually tight and well-scripted, using A.N. Wilson as a well-connected clubable guide to an hour with the main points of C.S. Lewis’ life and influence. Most of Wilson’s controversial biographical choices are missing from the film, but he allows a couple of those points to sneak in. He ends up being most frustrating in this piece for what he leaves out. For example, he says that Narnia has evocative medieval elements, but he doesn’t really tell us what they are. Given his knowledge and history, I would love more content packed within this pretty piece.

I’ve included the documentary below because it is worth watching. But in looking to see if the audio of Wilson’s C.S. Lewis was available at audible.com (it’s not), I found a shorter book of his, The Man Behind Narnia (2013). This little (3.5 hours/70 pages) book is a lot of fun to read.

Wilson doubles down on most of the controversial aspects of C.S. Lewis’ biography, but the book is not about C.S. Lewis. Critically, The Man Behind Narnia is about Wilson’s relationship with Lewis, and is, therefore, a very engaging read and a worthwhile journey of words. There is a touch of bosh in the Lewis bio bits, but I still very much enjoyed reading (by audio) this companion volume to a documentary of 2013.

I am writing this follow-up post for a few reasons.

First, the documentary and companion volume are worth reading for fans of C.S. Lewis who can forgive a couple of gaps. Wilson’s experience of reading Lewis, of returning to the church, and of fighting with his own demons is quite moving and sometimes funny or heartwarming.  Also, because Wilson is such a critic of Lewis, he can get away a chapter entitled “A Really, Really Good Man.” Honestly, it is such an audacious claim–that Lewis was a personally honourable, ethical, and “good” person–in today’s world of scholarship. I would not do it but would leave that conclusion to my readers. Yet Wilson’s ironical wit and loss of pretence of distance disarm me, so I took the chapter well.

And for $2, the book is a pretty easy purchase.

Second, Wilson admits in The Man Behind Narnia that he did not write the 1990 biography when he was in a personally good place. Honestly, I don’t think that books are dead things. I know he did some revision of the 1990 volume (which I haven’t read), and so I want to be fair to authors admitting growth. On a number of points, Wilson admits that he has changed his views of Lewis’ writing, or made a misstep in the original assessment. I like that, and right or wrong I honour him for doing so.

Third, frankly, I am a bit resistant to (my own) Lewis scholars community that has a tendency to retell the same Lewis stories from the same appreciative perspective over and over again. We also tend to resist anyone who resists or criticizes Lewis. I don’t know that Wilson always gets Lewis, but intellectual honesty requires us to widen our conversation a bit.

I know that people might be annoyed by today’s post, but I was honestly a little ill about how well received my last week’s negative review was received in discussion boards and facebook groups. The leap to crucify A.N. Wilson–or John Beversluis, David Holbrook, Kathryn Lindskoog or Walter Hooper–disturbs me at a deep level. I will not do it. So this post is a bit of resistance to all the nice people that said “huzzah!” when I slagged Wilson.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it does make me feel better.

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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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61 Responses to Narnia’s Lost Poet and C.S. Lewis’ Lost Biographer: A Further Note on A.N. Wilson

  1. dalejamesnelson says:

    When you write about “hagiographical” books on Lewis, what are some of the ones you mean? I’m guessing these are, or far and away for the most part are, books by publishers serving the Christian bookstore market (there’s no sneer intended) and that don’t get widely reviewed.

    Conversely, I wouldn’t think any of the following should be dismissed as “hagiographical” (nor do I suppose you have any of these in mind):

    Kilby and Gilbert’s C. S. Lewis: Images of His World
    Sayer’s Jack
    Lawlor’s C. S. Lewis: Memories and Reflections
    McGrath’s C. S. Lewis: A Life
    Jacobs’ The Narnian
    Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis
    Como’s (ed.) C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table
    Schofield’s (ed.) In Search of C. S. Lewis
    Graham’s (ed.) We Remember C. S. Lewis
    Poe’s (ed.) C. S. Lewis Remembered
    White et al.’s C. S. Lewis and His Circle

    …and others. These no doubt contain many pages by, or reflecting the memories of, people who liked and admired Lewis — and who would have falsified themselves if they had written in a debunking manner.

    So perhaps you would like to name some of the books you think fall into the hagiographical category (or, if you haven’t read them, sound to you, at second hand, like they probably do).

    I’ve found much of interest in all of the above — not only specifically about Lewis but about his academic milieu, about English society at the time, and so on.

    Perhaps Hooper’s book Through Joy and Beyond is an older specimen of the hagiographical genre — ? (I Have a copy but don’t think I have read it.)

    Dale Nelson

    Like

    • dalejamesnelson says:

      — I shouldn’t have included Jacobs’ Narnian in a list of books I can attest to have found much of interest in, since I haven’t read it yet, but I expect to do so before long, & expect further that it will be well worthwhile.

      I think I have read only the “Memories” part of Lawlor’s book.

      DN

      Like

      • Hi Dale, thanks for that. I won’t actually say the ones that seem to be too warm or too protective, but they aren’t all either biographies or all books. There are 6 volumes of memories of Lewis I have, and there would be a good smattering of saint-appreciation in those texts. Some of those are in the last few volumes on your list, but I think they are far more restrained than some others and some fan reactions. Frankly, when I criticize Lewis for something in certain groups, I get various versions of the “how dare you!” response, and variations of the “ah well, good ole Jack” response. It’s there, I think.
        However, I should say, I don’t think hagiography is a wrong thing to do, even of Lewis (if people view him in that light). It just doesn’t interest me much. I also think I find this in older books more than new ones. And I stopped reading things that weren’t helpful to me some time ago.
        I do have a general discomfort in American response to Lewis that makes him look more evangelical that he would be, but the strongest critics don’t bend him that way, I think. I am probably reacting to groups I feel less sympathy with that quote him often, so it might be my overreaction.
        Yes, read Jacobs. Lawlor is fun and a bit too friendly for most history books, but worth reading.

        Like

        • dalejamesnelson says:

          I’d have a lot of tolerance for love and protectiveness of Lewis from people who knew him, e.g. Jill Flewett/Freud, where I wouldn’t find those feelings as appealing if Lewis seemed to have been appropriated as a mascot for “communities” whose characteristic modes he might not have been all that close to, but I appreciate even those when they have helped to keep Lewis’s own work before us. Specifically, I’m thinking of an edition of Lewis’s Four Loves recordings from some years ago, in which, out of deference to the sensibilities of the target audience and/or the publisher, the cigarette in Lewis’s hand had been airbrushed out. That might bother some people a fair bit — growl growl, the real Lewis is being obscured, growl — but it wouldn’t crank me up. The oft-criticized American evangelicals have done a lot of good for all interested in Lewis, since they are, undoubtedly, a large and reliable market for books by & about Lewis. Would we have had the three thick volumes of Lewis’s letters if not for them?

          Dale

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          • No–and I am for all intents and purpose, an “American evangelical,” though Canadians split between UK style and US style.
            Stephanie Derrick’s new book on the Fame of C.S. Lewis shows pretty clearly how Americans shaped the history of Lewis. If anyone peeks in, they should know that if it wasn’t for “those Americans” that people complain about, we mightnot have half the Lewis books we have now. As you point out.
            Plus, some silliness. But we can always do the best we can.

            Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I certainly remember enjoying Through Joy and Beyond as well as Kilby and Gilbert’s C. S. Lewis: Images of His World (though there are some curious things – just what does Walter Hooper mean by whatever the exact words are about Lewis losing his virginity, for one instance? – never asked him… !).

      And I would add Green & Hooper (though I’ve never yet read it right through from cover to cover, I’ve read happily around in it and refer to it regularly).

      Also, Light on C.S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (1965).

      And I’ve enjoyed browsing around in William Griffin’s 1986 (UK 1988) bio, and have often enough used it as a reference work, too.

      Like

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Yes, Light on CSL is a good book, too. Kathleen Raine’s piece, for example.

        These books have a way of providing leads for further reading, like Lewis’s letters and other writings, and what I owe to them must be great. I must read at least the brief book Raine wrote about Blake’s sources. The university library here has the very impressive two-thick-volumes version of her work. Either version would be likely to send me scurrying to archive.org for “Thomas Taylor the Platonist.” But life becomes shorter and books can be long!

        DN

        Liked by 1 person

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Oh ho: I see Raine and G. M. Harper prepared a generous selection of Taylor’s “Platonick” writings.

        That’s how these pieces-on-Lewis often work. Collateral reading — ar at least daydreaming-about-reading.

        Liked by 1 person

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          That’s how, in my experience, the Inklings’ critical prose (especially – including letters) works, too – what I tend to call ‘centrifugally’ – and what I was pleasantly surprised to see Burgess experience Wilson as doing (as he seemed to me to be ‘reading it so you don’t have to’ in a dire way).

          Liked by 1 person

          • dalejamesnelson says:

            Oh, certainly — the Inklings’ writings as spurs to collateral reading; but also writings about the Inklings as spurs. These two sources have been of enormous importance for my education, whatever that is.

            Liked by 1 person

            • True true. You could do a second column, Dale: Jack and My Bookshelf–all the books he gets us to read!

              Like

              • dalejamesnelson says:

                That’s been dozens, in my case — of books that Lewis spurred me to read, as well as those additional books that I might have read anyway, and that he sent me to with greater enthusiasm and interest than I’d otherwise have had. Those could range from an obscure science fiction novel — Lynch’s Menace from the Moon — to Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy.

                There’ve been a very few “duds.” In his letters we see that Lewis wrote kindly to Jane Gaskell about her novel (written, I think, in her teens), Strange Evil: well, I couldn’t manage to finish it — that would be one dud. A very different book, Henry Latham’s Pastor Pastorum, was also one I didn’t stick with; I think CSL read it, & Warnie thought well of it…. Somewhere I believe he refers to Christopher North’s Noctes Ambrosianae. I got that one on interlibrary loan, but … …. returned it (almost) unread!

                Dale

                Liked by 1 person

              • dalejamesnelson says:

                Speaking of Lewis’s reading: having spent a lot of time chasing down things he read or that, at least, were in the 1969 inventory of his library, I’d just about be willing to say: X is the most puzzling gap in his reading; -how- could he have missed this author?

                Guess who X was.

                I’m thinking of Sigrid Undset. Somebody should have started him out on her tough-as-nails saga-novel, Gunnar’s Daughter, and then given him the three Kristin Lavransdatter books and the four Hestviken books. I’m not certain he would have liked them all, but I think he might have. He did read novels by modern women authors. I’m reading one now, Rose Macaulay’s They Were Defeated. (And loving it.) In one of the Time magazine pieces on Lewis, he was asked if there were any modern writers (literary writers) whom he liked and he named two, Macaulay and Stephen Vincent Benét (24 Jan 1944).

                DN

                Like

              • I’ve wondered about Sigrid Undset and Lewis. I quite like her work.
                Is “Sigrid” a “her”? I just always assumed so.
                Good X spot.
                And I agree that some of Lewis’ leads are duds, though you typically have written positively. I think David Lindsay not a dud, but I don’t catch the vision Lewis had for the piece.
                I wish I read more quickly.

                Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                A quick, limited browse in vol. I of Lewis’s letters and in the selection from Warnie’s diaries persuades me they had a gusto for Rose Macaulay in common and that her work was part of the fabric of their minds – I wonder from how early? (The earliest title referred to is The Lee Shore (1913) – though there are only 2 in the Wade Lewis library list.) My first and only of her books so far is Mystery At Geneva: An Improbable Tale of Singular Happenings (1922), thanks to Cathy Barratt at LibriVox.org, and it is a wild and thoroughly enjoyable book I would heartily recommend. Looking it up, I see they have added a couple Great-War-time ones in the last couple years, which sound attractive – the earlier, a Cambridge novel!: The Making of a Bigot (c.1914) – and Non-Combatants and Others (1916).

                Like

              • Thanks David, I don’t know her work but it has references I’ve noted.

                Like

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I also have the impression “there are smart readers of Wilson’s biography that appreciated the iconoclastic yet appreciative tone of the book”, or, anyway said astonishingly laudatory things about it, and cannot see how their readerly acumen was involved in that. (There is so little “appreciative tone”, except – happily – where (some? or, even, a lot?) of the literary criticism is involved – I was pleasantly surprised when I read Anthony Burgess’s review, especially, as I remember it, that Wilson got Burgess, to his surprise, wanting to (re)read Lewis: if that was a widespread (though, to me, unexpected to the point of inexplicable) experience of a lot of readers of the Wilson bio, then that is a good thing. But it does not mean the book was a well-written, scholarly, perceptive, illuminating book.)

    I well remember what Nancy-Lou Patterson calls Aidan Mackey’s review article “of major substance” in VII, volume 7 (1986) of Wilson’s 1984 Belloc bio – it was swingeing, and gave me some misgivings at the thought of Wilson writing a Lewis bio. On the other hand, Wilson’s talk to us in the Lewis Soc on Lewis’s conversion (later published in Penfriends from Porlock) was (as far as I recall) really very good and interesting – which seemed hopeful. And he was an enjoyable, amenable, personable member of the Lewis Soc (while working on the bio). And Walter Hooper thought so well of him, being then one of his priests when Wilson was parishioner at ‘Mary Mags’ (i.e., St Mary Magdalen’s Church: also sometimes known with the ‘Oxford -er’ as ‘Maggers’). Well, misplaced hope, alas.

    I wonder if I can steel myself to watch the BBC programme…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    John Beversluis’s written critique of Wilson’s bio deserves mention, too. (He was also good company – we had him staying at The Kilns when he was at an early stage of working on Cross-Examining Socrates: A Defense of the Interlocutors in Plato’s Early Dialogues (CUP, 2000) – and was quite open to critical discussion of C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion – though I have never yet studied the Revised and Updated edition carefully side by side with the first edition to see to what extent he has incorporated or replied to points we made…)

    Like

    • I just haven’t been able to do a critical read of Beversluis but I am glad to hear about his openness.
      I just bought, by the way, The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, my next between the seats of the car book. Lovely design and lively writing, a God-disbeliever who generally likes Lewis’ work.

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I must have heard of it – but don’t have a sense of it (just looked up its blurb or whatever at Amazon…). There’s a big and (what’s an adequate word? – ‘interesting’ seems too weak – is ‘weighty’ any better?) ‘matter’ there of how one reads and is disposed toward things – a big matter throughout much if not all of Christian history for one thing, and especially for those first three and more centuries in the public Greek- and Latin-speaking world(s) when an education was an education in ‘pagan’ Classics (with Julian the Apostate shutting Christians out from it, when he got the chance…). How does one ‘place’, how ‘appreciate’ and ‘enjoy’ without ‘agreeing’? (Something Lewis takes up, to a certain extent, in An Experiment in Criticism.)

        Like

        • Great questions, yes. I’ve been thinking about that. I think, frankly, I am more able to honestly assess the weaknesses in Phil Pullman’s great works than Tolkien’s, simply because of the worldview-distance we share. That’s just me. On rereading, I recover some of that critical distance.

          Like

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Here’s a sample of the audiobook of The Man Behind Narnia – the beginning of the first chapter – though not as long as the “Look inside” one I got at Amazon:

    https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Man-Behind-Narnia-Audiobook/B00RU9E2I0

    It certainly gives a very different impression from that I had of how he was approaching the book all the long while he was working on it as a member of the Lewis Soc!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I really like the personal tone of the book.

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I suppose my – and many a one’s impression – was of rather a different personal approach, and expected tone, where the bio was concerned. (I wonder how his Walter Scott bio – his first – is – including, how much his taste for Scott coincides with Lewis’s? – ! Speaking of Scots – a friend, yet another former Lewis Soc President, was tutored by him as an undergrad, and he recommended John Buchan for pleasure reading!)

        Like

        • I haven’t gotten to Buchan, myself–or really even Scott. Years ahead.

          Like

          • dalejamesnelson says:

            Let me urge you to start your Buchan reading with Witch Wood — the one Lewis liked so much that he sent the author a fan letter.

            And remember that, with Scott, a safe rule of thumb is to start with Chapter Two. You might like The Heart of Midlothian — perhaps Scott’s greatest novel — with its heroine Jeanie Deans, one of the most notable women characters of the 19th century.

            Like

            • Thanks Dale. And I’ve heard that about Scott’s openings, but I probably will start with ch. 1! It’s an illness.

              Like

              • dalejamesnelson says:

                Well, there’s often an introduction, too, before the first chapter, so you could be in for 30-40 pages or so before you get to the story. Totally up to you, but you might want to start with the second chapter so as to give Scott his best chance — then go back and mop up the front matter if you read the rest. Just a thought.

                Liked by 1 person

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    That “Lost Poet” is indeed a “curious title–lost how? lost where?” – doesn’t he explain it, then? I assumed it had to do with the young Lewis’s poetic aspirations – as author of Spirits in Bondage and Dymer and thereafter – and would enjoy a detailed treatment of that, and what happened instead – both Lewis’s not uncommercial success in (selling shorter poems for) periodical publication over many a year and also his transition to mostly, and much more commercially successful, ‘poesis’ where prose fiction, rather than verse, was concerned. (Any recommendations, anyone?)

    Like

    • So, here’s the thing: Wilson never read Dymer because he hates the poetry. I love the poetry and the world but struggle to understand the ideology. So we won’t get that.
      I think–think–that the “lost poet” is the one encrusted in Westminster Abbey in form, but who left his poetry behind for faith writing and fiction. I think. So poetry–>prose, though he could have made use of “mythopoeia,” which would work. I think, personally, that Lewis didn’t trade poetry for prose, but poetry for mythopoetry in a poetic-prose voice.
      No recommendations now but I’ll watch out.

      Like

  6. dalejamesnelson says:

    To Brenton at 9:17 pm on 18 Feb.: Yes, Sigrid Undset was a woman. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature, btw.

    I’ve read Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus a couple of times and hope to read it again before too long. I hear an annotated edition may be coming out. Lewis really liked this novel, and Tolkien also appreciated it. Perhaps David can tell us if Charles Williams did.

    DN

    Like

    • I knew about the Nobel prize, cool.
      Perhaps I should give Arcturus a 2nd chance.

      Like

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        David Lindsay gets rapped for the bad writing in Voyage to Arcturus, but I don’t recall that being a problem for me (!) when I read it those two previous times — the last completed reading being all the way back in 1981! I reread a fair bit of it when I was working on an article on 19th- and 20th-century literary influence on Tolkien for Michael Drout’s JRRT Encyclopedia, but even that was the better part of 15 years ago now. I have thought of it as being a book I like; it will be funny if it turns out I can’t bear it now.

        DN

        Liked by 1 person

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          I wonder how many of us tried it on the basis of Lewis’s (complicated, qualified, lively) appreciation? I was certainly very impressed (while finding it terrible in various ways)!

          Like

          • Did anyone in the last 40 years read Lindsay without a Lewis connection?

            Like

            • dalejamesnelson says:

              I’m sure they did, thanks to the gorgeous Bob Pepper wraparound cover art for the Ballantine paperback.

              Like

            • dalejamesnelson says:

              There was a 1970 book, The Strange Genius of David Lindsay, by J. B. Pick, E. H. Visiak, and Colin Wilson,* on the author of A Voyage to Arcturus and his works; and I don’t think of any of them (to the extent that I know anything about these three) as devotees of CSL. Wilson tends to write a lot about himself: if his topic is Lindsay’s Arcturus, he’ll probably start by telling how such-and-such a person introduced him to the book, or how he saw it mentioned somewhere, etc. I’ve read Wilson’s contribution to Strange Genius (which has been published separately, too), and recall no CSL connection. In short, I think the book was little-known for decades but not forgotten and not just remembered by Lewis and Tolkien. After the paperback in the late 1960s, I suppose lots more people read it than before, and if it’s been out of print at any time since then, I doubt that was for long.

              DN

              *Wilson got a lot of attention in his twenties for The Outsider, but eventually became more of a cult author than a standard one. So far as I can tell, he wrote a lot of books on crime and the occult in large part for money, but recycled his “New Existentialist” ideas about human potential, which have had a fair bit of traction in some quarters.

              His chapbook, Tree by Tolkien, is worth a look. Addicts of H. P. Lovecraft remember him because he wrote about HPL early on when HPL was hardly a household word (around 1962, I think), and wrote a few “Lovecraftian-revisionist” stories. Wilson didn’t have much use for HPL’s materialist-pessimist philosophy (which is, indeed, something pretty easy to knock holes in) but was impressed by his construction out of his psyche and his reading of elaborate dark fantasies. I think of him as being a little like the productive writer John Gray, an atheist who’s actually pretty interesting (read his Immortality Commission just before your next rereading of That Hideous Strength).

              Here’s a review of a biography of Colin Wilson that might be of interest:

              https://kirkcenter.org/reviews/the-art-of-robotics/

              Wilson greatly admired George Bernard Shaw, about whom Lewis was critical, as we know, although he had an interesting favorable remark to make about him too. See item II here:

              http://tolkienandfantasy.blogspot.com/2013/11/five-notes-on-cs-lewis.html

              Here’s something about a 1956 radio dramatization of Lindsay’s Arcturus:

              https://www.ianwatson.info/a-book-that-made-me-and-an-odd-bull/

              Dale Nelson

              Liked by 1 person

              • dalejamesnelson says:

                I wrote:
                Wilson didn’t have much use for HPL’s materialist-pessimist philosophy (which is, indeed, something pretty easy to knock holes in) but was impressed by his construction out of his psyche and his reading of elaborate dark fantasies. I think of him as being a little like the productive writer John Gray, an atheist who’s actually pretty interesting (read his Immortality Commission just before your next rereading of That Hideous Strength).

                The “him” I meant is Colin Wilson, not H. P. Lovecraft.

                Liked by 1 person

              • dalejamesnelson says:

                More on Colin Wilson and Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus: Wilson begins his essay “Lindsay as Novelist and Mystic” (published as a short book as The Haunted Man: The Strange Genius of David Lindsay, with a hideous cover design, by Borgo Press in 1979) with a typical chatty Wilsonian account of how he came to read it: –

                –I first came across A Voyage to Arcturus in 1963, when Gollancz reissued it for the second time. His first reissue was in 1946. It was first published by Methuen in 1920. I had heard about the book several times before — mainly from a friend whom I regarded as a bad judge of books. Still, I was curious, and when I heard it had been reissued,. I ordered it at our local bookshop. I read it for the first time on a hot summer day in 1963, lying on the lawn, looking out over a very calm sea, determined to absorb a little sunlight. I have no capacity for idling, which means that I cannot sunbathe in the normal way, with a newspaper over my face; so I sometimes try to compromise by catching up on my reading in the sun.
                —The first thirty pages confirmed my judgment that my friend was no judge of books. I had always thought of Arthur Machen as a second-rate Stevenson; Lindsay struck me as a second-rate Arthur Machen. The prose limped its ponderous, unfelicitious [sic] course through a late nineteenth-century landscape, and I found myself thinking: Why the hell can’t people write as they talk? No one has to write as stiffly and awkwardly as this. I decided to stick it out until the scene changed to Arcturus. And when that happened, and Joiwind appeared, I was astonished at the change that came over the book. Does the prose actually improve? I’m not sure. But Lindsay is suddenly at ease, and the story begins to flow like a fast stream. And I thought, “Ah, yes, this is a gentle Blakean mystic, the Blake of the Book of Thel and the Songs of Innocence…” A few chapters later, where Oceaxe and Maskull take the ride on the shrowk, I was hypnotized; it seemed some of the most powerful imaginative writing I have read. And when Crimtyphon’s neck snaps, and the Crystalman grin appears in his face, I remember thinking: “I have discovered [sic] one of the greatest books of the twentieth century”.—-

                All this, Brenton, suggested by your remark that perhaps nobody has read A Voyage to Arcturus except people who turned to it because of Lewis;s advocacy of it.

                Dale Nelson

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Thanks – interesting evidence! (Also of the – at least, potential – value of reprints!) Jolly that Wilson is so chatty about his adventures in reading…

                Liked by 2 people

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                I read someone discussing Lindsay’s style in different works, but can’t find it again! There seems surprisingly few of his books online (so far as I can see), given that he’s out of copyright. I see that The Haunted Woman is one of them, and that Phil Benson has read it aloud for LibiVox.org

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              • Thanks for all the work, Dale, all interesting and mostly unknown to me. You certainly answered my clearly hyperbolic question! I do know some of the online Arcturus resources, including an amazingly bad student film I found fascinating.

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Funnily enough, Arend Smilde just introduced me to that little piece about Shaw – and Twain – the other day. I don’t know why Douglas Anderson omits a couple sentences, but here they are! Where he has …: “He was not, of course, a humorist of the heart like Dickens or our own patron: the mingled humour and pathos of the scene in Huckleberry Finn where Huck tries to betray Jim and decides that he is a reprobate because he can’t, would have been outside his powers.” and, at the end: “I hope he has already found that there is something better than Elan Vital over yonder!”

                I can’t recall Lewis referring to Mark Twain, elsewhere, and have only paused to check Vol. I of the Letters – where he quotes something to his father familiar to both, but says he can’t recall if it’s Twain or Bret Harte. Nothing in Warnie’s diary selections. But, “our patron”! Warmer than mere politeness in reply to an invitation for a comment… And, what a striking hope for Shaw “over yonder”! (And, by implication, for George MacDonald’s friend, Mark Twain?)

                Liked by 2 people

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I don’t know how he came to read him, but Douglas A. Anderson is a great and knowledgeable savorer of Lindsay:

            https://desturmobed.blogspot.com/search/label/LINDSAY%20David

            Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Good question! I can’t recall a reference by him to it, but you’d think it might easily have turned up in Inklings conversation!

      Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Sigrid Undset is a very interesting Lewis – and Inklings – question! She sure got translated into English, and, I think in many case, quite quickly. And you’d think the ‘Northern-minded’ Inklings would pick up on her soon and heartily. (My Beowulf professor, William Alfred, drew our attention to a passage in Kristin Lavransdatter as a sort of analogue to something in Beowulf!) I wonder who may know more about the likelihood or fact of acquaintance with her work?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. dalejamesnelson says:

    David wrote, at 8:20 pm on 20 Feb. 2019: “Jolly that Wilson is so chatty about his adventures in reading…”

    Yes, but also Wilson had a way of writing as if reading the right books really mattered — as if he were trying to come to grips with really important things, and finding them in Dostoevsky & Tolkien & others; and this was infectious. You’ll find this quality also in a science fiction novel like The Philosopher’s Stone, written before he really went into his crime-sexual aberration-occult stuff so much — you’d take note of these references he made, e.g. to Ralph Vaughan Williams.

    Three years ago I reread The Philosopher’s Stone and wrote notes such as these:

    Up to page 50 in the Crown Publishers edition, I’m thinking Wilson can create a mood akin to that created by Knut Hamsun in Mysteries, Pan, etc. In each you have the sense of protagonists who belong to a kind of aristocracy of the inner world. ….The protagonist/narrator of Wilson’s novel (Howard or “Harry” Lester, p. 53) is like a bright young fellow who becomes excited about new books and new music. The first 50 pages are a torrent of references to authors and composers, to the excitement of discoveries in books and recorded music – and this kind of experience is well conveyed. I remember my own times poking around the university library stacks and scanning bookstore and record store offerings, taking home something or other. I’m pretty sure I tried Bruckner thanks to Wilson; I’d have done better to delve into Sibelius in my twenties. Did I notice, reading Wilson’s novel in 1973, the references to Boehme on pp. 34-35 and later connect them to Lewis mentioning Boehme when I came to read “On the Reading of Old Books”? …But this sense of an inner life largely circling around various authors – this I can relate to my state of mind around age 18 when I first read the novel, and months ahead. Like Wilson’s narrator, I wasn’t much interested in reading the books that were fashionable to be read; I was on a not very definite quest of my own, or getting ready to be. ….
    I liked this on page 128, where a character goes for a walk on a grey Christmas morning in the English countryside: “Even the greyness of the sky seemed inexpressibly beautiful, as if it were a benediction. I saw cottages across the fields with smoke rising from their chimneys, and heard the distant hoot of a train. Then I was suddenly aware that all over England, at this moment, kitchens were full of the smell of baked potatoes and stuffing and turkey, and pubs were full of men drinking unaccustomed spirits and feeling glad that life occasionally declares a truce. Then there was the thought that this world is probably one of the most beautiful in the solar system. Mercury is all white-hot rock; Venus is all heavy cloud, and the surface is too hot to support organic life. (Oddly enough, I had a clear intuition that there is life on Venus, but that it somehow floats in the atmosphere.) Mars is an icy desert with almost no atmosphere, and Jupiter is little more than a strange ball of gas. All barren – metallic, meteor-pitted rocks, revolving around the blank sun. And here we have trees and grass and rivers, and frost on cold mornings and dew on hot ones. And meanwhile, we live in a dirty, narrow claustrophobic life-world, arguing about politics and sexual freedom and the race problem.”

    Yes, yes, yes!

    Dale Nelson

    But avoid The Space Vampires!

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Does terrestrial garlic help? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Well, what seems to have happened is that Wilson got caught up in writing about his idea that sex criminals were often “rebelling” against meaninglessness, etc., but the “sexual impulse” is sort of evolution’s way of nudging us towards life-affirmation and sensing vistas of meaning. But anyway he wrote about a lot of stuff that, I suppose, most people are better off not thinking about, much. And the cocktail of crime + sexual perversity + occultism could be a strong one. It’s probably something like 40 years since I read The Space Vampires, though.

        For me, there’s often been a sense of excitement in taking up a new (to me) Colin Wilson book from the library, followed before too long by some disappointment; so that the number of his books that I have actually finished is not very high.

        It seems others find him exciting for a time and then… not so much.

        http://albionawakening.blogspot.com/2017/12/colin-wilson-englands-john-baptist.html

        Liked by 1 person

  8. mickeymas says:

    So glad I found this page..great post(s)!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    In the sample of the first chapter of The Man Behind Narnia I’ve read at Amazon, there’s quite an accent on Tolstoy – but I can’t remember whether the bio had any attention to Lewis’s love of War and Peace. As I resume my listening to the First Epilogue of Alexander Scourby’s excellent audiobook of the Maude’s translation, I wonder again – comparing Tolstoy’s comments on Natásha’s thoughts on marriage with what I remember of Hyoi’s in Out of the Silent Planet – how rich and varied Lewis’s interaction with Tolstoy may have been (and, if Andrew Wilson noticed, if he mentioned it, as well).

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