Dear Miss Douglas
Thanks for your kind note. Yes autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I'm not sure that old age isn't the best part of life. But of course, like Autumn, it doesn't last.
Letter dated "31 Sep 63"
Today's Guardian essay about C.S Lewis contained all the usual distortions by all the usual suspects. If anyone but me is still interested in the Historical Lewis, the following may possibly be helpful:
Sam Leith (journalist)
Susan appears to be punished for entering adolescence and develping an interest in lipstick by exclusion from what in the Narnia mythos passes for heaven.
"Susan is interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations."
The Last Battle
There was a terrifying moment in the Screwtape Letters where the devil is trying to tempt somebody into thinking milk is disgusting because it comes from somewhere in the cow quite close to excrement. I think that was a personal thing of Lewis's I think he didn't like milk because he didn't like females.
Then I dreamed that one day there was nothing but milk for them, and the jailer said as he put down the pipkin. "Our relations with the cow are not delicate, as you can easily see if you imagine eating any of her other secretions."
"Thank heaven! Now I know you are talking nonsense."
"What do you mean?" said the jailer, wheeling round upon him.
"You are trying to make us believe that unlike things are like. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of things as sweat or dung."
"And pray, what difference is there except by custom?"
"Are you a liar, or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which nature stores up as food and that which she casts out as refuse...?"
The Pilgrim's Regress
He pours scorn on little girls with fat legs....among Lewis's readers will be some little girls with fat legs who find themselves utterly bewildered by this slur on something they cants help and are embarrassed and upset by already.
Then (Miss Pizzle) saw the lion, screamed and fled, and with her fled he class, who were mostly prim, dumpy little girls with fat legs.
For 33 years he shared his life with the woman he called Minto, Jane Moore. She was the love of his life.
Some of those who have written about C.S Lewis regard his living with Mrs Moore and Maureen as odd, even sinister. This was not the view of those of us who visited the Kilns in the thirties...Like other pupils I thought it completely normal in those days that a woman, probably a widow, would make a home for a young bachelor. We had no difficulty in excepting her, even when we came to realise that she was not his mother.
C.S Lewis: His Life and Times
C.S Lewis hated all poets because he was a failed poet. He hated TS Eliot. He hated Louis MacNiece. There's a very bad 'poem' by Lewis about reading The Love Song of J ALfred Prufrock and it just shows how stupid he was about modern poetry.
I am so coarse, the things the poets see
Are obstinately invisible to me.
For twenty years I've stared my level best
To see if evening - any evening - would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn't able.
This 1929 satire is not Lewis's last word on modernism, as Wilson very well knows:
To read the old poetry involved learning a slightly different language; to read the new involves the unmaking of your mind, the abandonment of all the logical and narrative connections which you use in reading prose or in conversation. You must achieve a trance-like condition in which images, associations, and sounds operate without these. Thus the common ground between poetry and any other use of words is reduced almost to zero. In that way poetry is now more quintessentially poetical than ever before; 'purer' in the negative sense. It not only does (like all good poetry) what prose can't do: it deliberately refrains from doing anything that prose can do.
An Experiment in Criticism
Modern poetry is such that the cognoscenti who explicate it can read the same piece in utterly different ways. We can no longer assume all but one of these readings, or else all, to be 'wrong'. The poem, clearly, is like a score and the readings like performances. Different renderings are admissible. The question is not which is the 'right' one but which is the best. The explicators are more like conductors of an orchestra than members of an audience.
In music we have pieces which demand more talent in the performer than in the composer. Why should there not come a period when the art of writing poetry stands lower than the art of reading it? Of course rival readings would then cease to be "right" or "wrong" and become more and less brilliant "performances".
De Descriptione Temporum
I do not see in any of these the slightest parallel to the state of affairs disclosed by a recent symposium on Mr. Eliot's Cooking Egg. Here we find seven adults (two of them Cambridge men) whose lives have been specially devoted to the study of poetry discussing a very short poem which has been before the world for thirty-odd years; and there is not the slightest agreement among them as to what, in any sense of the word, it means. I am not in the least concerned to decide whether this state of affairs is a good thing, or a bad thing. I merely assert that it is a new thing.
if this sort of thing interests you then you could always buy my book on C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and related subjects....