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Courtney Clark
2/28/06
ENG 375R: Fiction of Tolkien and Lewis

"Remembering C.S. Lewis"

"Remembering C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him" is a biography-like book edited by James T. Como. Each chapter is written by a different personal acquaintance of Lewis'. This book gives much more insight to who C.S. Lewis was as a person, a friend, a tutor, or a colleague than any normal biography would. The average biography simply gives details of events that happened in a person's life. "Remembering C.S. Lewis" gives countless events and anecdotes that might seem trivial to a biographer, but that give the reader an insight into who C.S. Lewis really was. Many of the accounts share similar stories or attributes, but they also each have their own take on the man that they knew so personally.

One attribute of C.S. Lewis that many of the contributors to this book mentioned, was that he was a very private and shy person. He never revealed more information about his private life and feelings than was needed. John Wain, who was a Professor of Poetry at Oxford, comments that Lewis' writings are never very personal. They never get to the core of his personal feelings. Wain states that it was quite easy to become a friend of Lewis, but that did not mean that you would come to know his inner thoughts and feelings. Richard W. Ladborough, Lewis' closest friend at Cambridge, says that C.S. Lewis' shyness often came off as aggressiveness, although it was unintentional. He said that Lewis was too shy to seem to want to be known, and too modest to think that anybody would want to know him. Leo Baker, who was a friend and fellow student to Lewis at Oxford, tells how Lewis would erupt spontaneously into fits of anger when their friendship began to be closer. This may have been because of his shyness and his fear of close relationships. James Dundas-Grant confirms that Lewis did not bring his personal problems into a friendship. He and Lewis met regularly with friends at a pub. When Joy died, Lewis stopped coming for a while. When Lewis came back, he never talked about Joy's death. He did not want his grief to deter their friendship.

There is another quality of Lewis' that numerous contributors to this book commented on. Lewis was an incredibly kind and generous man. Almost everybody who wrote about him in this book said that he was the most charitable, kind, and down-to-earth man they ever knew. Although he was intellectually superior to many people, he was not a snob and he treated everybody equally. Lewis avoided social occasions that had no deeper intent than to socialize but he enjoyed a good intellectual discussion.

To his students he was just as welcoming as he was to his peers. Derek Brewer had Lewis as a tutor when he attended Oxford. He states that Lewis treated him not as a student, but as a man who came to read with him. In tutorials, as in all of his relationships, Lewis never talked down to others. Lewis tried to achieve this familiarity through humor. One of his students, Peter Bayley, tells a humorous anecdote. He wrote a letter to Lewis one day, disputing one of the points that was made during the tutorial. He addressed this letter to "Mr. Lewis." Lewis wrote back, answering the question with a P.S. at the end: "Don't Mister me!" This account shows Lewis' humor and his friendliness. Erik Routley, an acquaintance of Lewis' at Magdalen, says that Lewis hated casual human contact. He felt that if two people were going to interact, no matter how short the interaction would be, it should be meaningful. This attitude came through in the way he treated everybody.

One aspect of this book that was intriguing was that most of the writers commented on Lewis' clothing and appearance. They all told of how he was always wearing an old tweed coat with baggy flannel pants and an old fisherman's hat. One of Lewis' students, Luke Rigby, adds the observation that Lewis always had a pipe and a mug of beer during their tutorials. This seems a trivial thing to comment on, but that is what is so amazing about Remembering C.S. Lewis, a reader gets interesting details he or she would not get elsewhere. This detail of the tweed coat and flannel pants is important to know if a person is to understand how truly unpretentious C.S. Lewis was.

Some particularly funny stories related to C.S. Lewis' appearance had to do with a felt hat that he often wore. Clifford Morris tells of a time when Lewis lost this hat on a picnic. Several months later, they walked by that same spot and found the hat under a bush being used as a home by field mice. Lewis retrieved the hat and was seen wearing it many times after that. This same hat spent a week under the seat of Morris' car. Major Lewis, C.S. Lewis' brother, gives this humorous story about the famous hat:

It is said that Jack once took a guest for an early morning walk on the Magdalen College grounds…after a very wet night. Presently the guest brought his attention to a curious lump of cloth hanging on a bush. "That looks like my hat," said Jack; then, joyfully, "It is my hat." And, clapping the sodden mass on his head, he continued his walk (322).

In addition to his clothing, Lewis was a simple man when it came to other material possessions as well. Derek Brewer, who was tutored by C.S. Lewis, mentioned the lack of books in Lewis' rooms at the college. He mostly borrowed books from others to read and did not buy books for himself. Peter Bayley, another one of Lewis' students, also noticed how simple his rooms were, with a lack of books and elegant furnishings.

According to the people that knew him, C.S. Lewis loved to laugh. He loved to hear and tell funny stories and jokes. Derek Brewer tells of an experience he had that involved Lewis' sense of humor. He recalled that Lewis' students would often get together and play a game where they would read Irene Iddesleigh by Amanda Mckittrick Ross aloud. Each person would read until he began to laugh, then the book would be passed to the next reader. Brewer notes that nobody's turn ever lasted long. Peter Bayley not only said that Lewis laughed a lot; he made a point of mentioning that his laugh was a hearty and enthusiastic one.

There were many bits of information that seemed trivial, but that most of the contributors mentioned them. One was the fact that Lewis never read the newspaper. He reasoned that if anything important happened, somebody would always tell him about it. Another one of these trivial facts that many people mentioned was that Lewis' could not drive. He had tried many times, but just never felt comfortable operating any sort of machine, let alone a car. Lewis loved nature. He also loved to take walks alone and with friends. Many of his friends who contributed to Remembering C.S. Lewis gained many fond memories of him while on walks or picnics.

The previous memories of Lewis were those that were shared by many of his friends. However, each contributor to this book had some very unique and special memories of Lewis. Leo Baker was a friend and fellow student with Lewis at Oxford. They were both twenty-one years old and Lewis was in the midst of his atheism stage in life. The two friends never discussed religion because Lewis would become impatient with Baker's lack of judgment and rationalism. They did, however, both love poetry and it was out of this love that their friendship grew.

Alan Bede Griffiths was a student of Lewis' at Oxford. He saw an interesting side of Lewis that not many other people brought up. He talked of the fact that, although Lewis was a Christian, he did not like church as an institution. He especially despised hymns and organs. Griffiths offers the insight that perhaps the reason Lewis avoided organized religion was because he was clumsy and found any kind of formal procedure uncomfortable. Lewis is quoted as saying the following about his admission ceremony at Magdalen: "English people have not the talent for graceful ceremonial. They go through it lumpishly and with a certain mixture of defiance and embarrassment, as if everyone felt that he was being rather silly and was at the same time ready to shoot anyone who said so" (89).

Erik Routley had a different perspective on C.S. Lewis because he was not a close friend of Lewis'. Routley was a student at Magdalen during World War II. During this time, Lewis preached a few times at the University church. This account seems somewhat contradictory to Griffiths claim that Lewis was not fond of organized religion. Nonetheless, Lewis preached and Routley was deeply touched by it. Routley's impression of Lewis was as follows: "…here was a man who had been laid hold of by Christ and who enjoyed it" (106). Going along with that comment, Clifford Morris says that Lewis wanted others to know what it meant to be a Christian. It was not good enough for him just to be a Christian himself.

Derek Brewer was another student of Lewis'. He had particularly fond memories of Lewis' wonderful memory for literature. In Brewer's tutorials, he would read an essay that he had written the previous week and have it critiqued by his tutor. During one tutorial, Brewer recalls, the phone rang as he was in the middle of reading his essay. Lewis answered the phone, had a five-minute conversation, then came back to Brewer and recited the last line of the essay that he had heard word-for-word. Also, if given any line of Milton's Paradise Lost, Lewis could immediately quote the following lines. Brewer says that Lewis did not enjoy tutorials, but he never treated his students with contempt. Brewer did not find out that tutorials were such a bore to Lewis until much later in his life. Peter Bayley also comments on the fact that one could never tell that Lewis was bored by tutorials. What Lewis really loved was writing. Instead of spending tired nights doing "real work", Lewis wrote. This is what he truly enjoyed.

Richard Ladborough had the most to offer about Lewis. What was most intriguing was not the fact that Lewis broke the ice to begin their friendship, but the manner in which he went about it. Lewis wrote a letter to Ladborough that said, "Dear Dick, May I call you that? Yours, Jack" (192). This was a humorous way to begin a friendship, but it worked and they became good friends afterwards. Richard commented that Lewis was "witty and clever, not elegant and sleek" and this note proves that fact. Lewis enjoyed discussing the works of different authors, but he never discussed his own published works. This is another example of his humility.

George Sayer was a good friend of Lewis' who pointed out many of Lewis' eccentricities. For one thing, Sayer mentioned that Lewis never wore a watch. Lewis' reasoning behind this was that watches did not look good on him and he always forgot to wind them. Sayer offers some insight that the real reason might have been that Lewis felt silly spending that much money on himself. Sayer had many opportunities to drive Lewis to and from the Oxford train station. He tells how Lewis would walk up and down the platform and say his prayers while waiting for the train. This ties in with the observation that Lewis did not like organized religion, for he prayed in a way that was different than others. Sayer also tells an interesting story that illustrates Lewis' love for animals. Once Lewis and Sayer were taking a walk together and they encountered an exhausted fox that was being hunted. Lewis took pity on the creature and yelled to the hunters, telling them that the fox had gone the opposite way. He was very happy that he was able to save this animal's life.

There was one aspect of Lewis' personality that Sayer stated that did not sound believable. Sayer made the statement that Lewis did not naturally like children. This is hard to believe, since the language used in The Chronicles of Narnia is so child-friendly. It sounds as if the author knows and loves children so well.

Roger Lancelyn Green spent many nights having late night talks with Lewis. He quoted his own journal entries which mentioned the topics they talked about. One of the many intriguing topics was whether Joan of Arc was really a witch, instead of a saint. This either shows a great sense of humor or a sense of deep thought. Lewis would also confide in Green about dreams that he had. He would often find inspiration in these dreams for books of his. Green recalls that he mentioned to Lewis that, although he often dreamed, he never remembered his dreams. Lewis told him that he should be grateful for that fact because Lewis himself suffered from nightmares and could not forget them.

Robert E. Havard was Lewis' physician. Havard related some details about Lewis as a person that shed some light on who he was and how he thought as a writer specifically. Lewis was of the opinion that a writer's first duty was to entertain. A writer should avoid embellishment in his writing, especially if it overrides the entertainment value. Lewis said that the passages most valued by the writer usually appeal the least to the reader. Also, Lewis enjoyed the physical act of writing. He did not take advantage of typewriters. According to Havard, Lewis believed that a writer's reputation should come solely from his written works, not from biographical sources. That makes the whole purpose of this book against Lewis' beliefs on the subject.

A.C. Harwood was a contemporary and a good friend of C.S. Lewis. Harwood had two main contributions to the overall picture of the character of Lewis. He commented that Lewis lamented the fact that he had little to do with children. Harwood says that his children loved Lewis, which makes George Sayer's statement on the fact that Lewis disliked children so contradictory. Harwood also says that Lewis never reminisced. When he fell ill, Lewis said that Harwood should not feel sorry for him because of things he could no longer do because Lewis stopped wanting to do things that he could not do.

Remembering C.S. Lewis is a wonderful book that can give a reader insight on who C.S. Lewis really was. After reading it and knowing more about the author, it is much easier to understand where he is coming from in his writing. It is also more interesting to read his works because there is an ability to see the man behind the words.

Works Cited
  • Como, James T., ed. Remembering C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him.
  • 3rd ed. San Francisco: Ignatius P, 2005.
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