Showing posts with label TOLKIEN and LEWIS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TOLKIEN and LEWIS. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Downfall Meme

Tolkien didn't like pantomimes. He thought that A.A Milne had completely missed the point of Wind in the Willows; he thought that Macbeth was better on the page than on the stage. Fairies and witches and talking toads should, he thought, be left to the imagination.

That said, he sold the film rights to Lord of the Rings in 1968 for the princely sum of £10,000. Cash or kudos, he is reported as saying: if you are going to make a rotten film of my masterpiece, I expect to be well paid; but if it's going to be a good film, you can have it cheap. £10,000 was quite a lot of money in those days.


Game of Thrones has established that we are all prepared to watch seventy-hour TV adaptations of  big-long books, so many big-long books are inevitably going to be adapted. Dune and Earthsea and Watchmen and a new Hitchhiker loom on the horizon. How quaint, how retro, how six-months-ago it now looks of the BBC to have rattled through twelve hundred pages of Les Miserables in hardly more than six hours.

The Lord of the Rings is unquestionably very big and very long. It has dragons and battle scenes and wizards. People who are not specially interested in fantasy have heard of it. Christopher Tolkien has withdrawn from the fray. Tolkien Estate: The Next Generation is less unamenable than he was to enormous cheques  respectful dramatizations of Grandpa's works. A seventy hour TV series is an inevitability.

Speaking for myself, I think some Dragon Fatigue may be kicking in. I watched Game of Thrones: I watched most of it twice and I stayed awake through nearly all of it. I thought it was fabulous; I didn't even specially object to the ending. But, you know, there was a hell of a lot of it. Maybe I'm ready to go away and read Chekov for bit?

Same goes for superheroes. The Eternals and the Fourth World were the two best things Jack Kirby ever did, which is to say, the two best things which have ever been done, but I greet the news that they are both being turned into movie-films with a certain ennui. Darkseid is not DCs version of Thanos; Thanos was Marvel's version of Darksied. So many Tweets.

But there is no avoiding it. Amazon have to make a Lord of the Rings TV series, and I will have to watch it. 

When I heard that Amazon were going to make a Lord of the Rings TV series, I naturally assumed that this meant that Amazon were going to make a Lord of the Rings TV series. But nothing could be further from the truth. What Amazon are actually going to make is a TV series called The Lord of the Rings, in which they will be contractually prohibited from including any scenes or characters from Tolkien's novel.

It's not as mad as it sounds. In fact, the more I think about it, the better I like the idea. 

It is very nearly 20 years since Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring. (Some of the perpetrators are still at large.) It's 5 years since I sat in the back row of the Bristol Odeon whimpering "please, please, make it stop" at Jackson's infinitely prolonged Battle of the Five Armies.

Twenty years is no longer a very long time in popular culture. When Star Wars came out, Forbidden Planet (1956) looked quaintly dated and antediluvian. But the Fellowship of the Ring does not remotely feel like an Old Movie. I suppose it is because of DVDs and Netflix: everyone who is interested in that kind of thing has seen Lord of the Rings, even if they weren't born when it first hit the multiplex.

Jackson has defined what Middle-earth looks like for the foreseeable future. Any new version of Lord of the Rings would be in competition with his imagery. No actor wants to spend seven seasons being not quite as good as dear, dear, Sir Ian, and no special effects guy wants his Balrog to be unfavourably compared with Weta's.

If you are one of the sixteen or seventeen people who still read books, then of course, you would like
to see the Lord of the Rings adapted by someone who isn't Peter Jackson, which is to say, properly. That was my main reaction to Game of Thrones. Every time there was a ten-minute council scene or fifteen minutes of character development or a battle that mostly took place off screen but still felt dirty-nasty-scary-brutal I asked myself why the Lord of the Rings couldn't have been done in that style.

Leisurely pace. Multiple plot lines. Slow burn character development. Naked ladies.

But with the Jackson thing fresh in our minds it makes perfect sense not to rewind and start the whole long slow trek to Morrrrdor all over again.


At the end of the First Age the humans who helped the elves defeat Sauron's boss Morgoth were given a wondrous and improbably star-shaped island called Numenor to live on. But Sauron infiltrated the kingdom in the form of Santa Claus Annatar the Gift-Giver and corrupted the Kings. He eventually persuaded one of them to launch a military invasion of the Undying Lands -- with the intention of stealing immortality from the gods.

This does not go well. The entire island is destroyed. Numenor sinks to the bottom of the sea. They don't even have time for a second referendum. Tolkien tells us that in the Numenorian language, The Downfallen comes out as Atalante, and he swears he didn't do it deliberately.

A few survivors come to Middle-earth ("with seven stars and seven stones and one white tree"). They found Minas Tirith, and defeat Sauron all over again. It turns out that this era -- known as the Second Age -- is going to be the setting for the new TV series. 

And why not? The lord of the rings was a title given to Sauron: the full title of Frodo's book is "the History of the Downfall of the Lord of the Rings". The Second Age is the era when Sauron rose to power and suffered his first defeat. The story of the Second age has much more right to be called the Lord of the Rings than the Lord of the Rings does. 


The Second Age takes about 4,000 years of chronological time. The story takes up about 40 pages of Christopher Tolkien's synthetic Silmarillion; but Tolkien left many other notes and adventure seeds and hints which Chris has spent half a century decoding. The Unfinished Tales contains a few lines about each of the reigning kings of Numenor. [**] 

"Tar-Ciryatan...scorned the yearnings of his father and eased the restlessness of his heart by voyaging east and north and south until he took the scepter. It is said that he constrained his father to yield it to him ere of his free will he would, in this way (it is held) might the first Coming of the Shadow upon the bliss of Numenor be seen."

Cecil B Demille said that he could get a movie out of any two pages of the Bible: it wouldn't be hard to spin a 45 minute TV episode out of that one paragraph. Tolkien left us reams and reams of this stuff. 

No-one thinks that there is anything odd or funny about historical fiction. If they weren't allowed to make long, dull T.V shows about Thomas Moore and Anne Lister BBC 2 would pretty much go out of business. At one level, historical fiction is all about making stuff up: we don't know what Thomas Moore said to Henry VIII on the fifth Tuesday of 1531, so someone who is a good historian and a good storyteller has to imagine it. But we do know lots of facts about Harry and Tom and lots of facts about the world they lived in; and a decent historical novelist sticks to those very closely indeed. So the instructions "make a TV series about an era which Tolkien only sketched out; without deviating from the historical notes he left behind" seems entirely comprehensible. Pseudo-historical fiction; historical pseudo-fiction.

(Yes, there is some historical fiction which pretty much dispenses with the facts and just spins a yarn about that time Queen Elizabeth I dressed up as a boy and traveled along the Spanish Main with her lover Francis Drake. That's the kind of historical fiction which the Tolkien estate has not commissioned.)

Apparently, Amazon have strict instructions to keep their hands of the First and Third Ages. This also makes a great deal of sense. Doubtless the rights to make pseudo-historical drama about other sections of the Legendarium are going to be separately parceled out. An epic movie about the doomed love of Beren and Luthien is entirely feasible, although I still think it would go better into an opera. Who wouldn't want to see Turin Turanbur do his dragon-slayings-sister-screwing routine on the big screen? I am less convinced that the story of Feanor and the holy gems -- the backbone of the Silmarillion -- is adaptable. The early First Age material is too much about gods and immortals and millennia flying past between paragraphs. A big special effects scene in which Satan and the Cosmic Spider drink the light from the Two Trees before the Creation of the Sun and the Moon risks turning into mere spectacle with UltraMagnus and Godzilla riding in at the last minute to save the day. It's the difference between Mr Demille making a movie out of Judges chapters six and seven and thinking he can film the book of Revelation. 


Once a scene has been visualized, it can't be unvisualized.

When a film gets it disastrously wrong, not much harm is done. Probably no-one finds Peter Jackson's winged Balrog interposing itself between them and a re-reading of Tolkien's text: Jackson's creature had pretty much nothing to do with Tolkien's description. But when a film-maker gets it right, or, worse, nearly right, then film and book are entangled for all time. Jackson's visualizations of Hobbiton and Minas Tirith and maybe even Lothlorian are very good; so that's what Hobbiton and Minas Tirith and Lothlorian look like from now on. Gollum is Andy Serkis and will always be Andy Serkis even though Peter Woodthorp did it better.

So. If Amazon's visualization of the Second Age is silly and dull and camp then we can ignore it and the Akallabeth will be the same as it always was. But if it is very good indeed then the lives and the histories of the Kings of Numenor, which Tolkien only hinted at ,will be fixed and crystallized in the form Amazon Prime gives them. When we re-read the Unfinished Tales we will always be thinking "oh, that was the one played by Sean Bean; that was the Kenneth Brannagh cameo; that was the really cool special effects sequence..." The better and more faithful it is, the more likely we are to end up with a secondary canon, consistent with, but distinct from, the words which Tolkien actually wrote.

Does the Legendarium weave its spell because it is so fragmentary? Is the point of the Second Age that it is four thousand years which Tolkien gallops over in a few pages? Are those kings and queens with strange names fascinating just because we know so little about them? Is Atalante a powerful idea just because it isn't embodied in a proper narrative?

We have asked the same question about the Phantom Menace and Before Watchmen and Doomsday Clock and Christopher Tolkien asked the same question about the Silmarillion itself.

And yet: the Silmarillion is very condensed; very dense; very inaccessible; a book which is often said to be unreadable, especially by those who haven't read it. 

And it is full of this kind of thing.

And Isildur said no word, but went out by night and did a deed for which he was afterwards renowned.

For he passed alone in disguise to Armenelos and to the courts of the King, which were now forbidden to the Faithful; and he came to the place of the Tree, which was forbidden to all by the orders of Sauron, and the Tree was watched day and night by guards in his service.

At that time Nimloth was dark and bore no bloom, for it was late in the autumn, and its winter was nigh;

And Isildur passed through the guards and took from the Tree a fruit that hung upon it, and turned to go.

But the guard was aroused, and he was assailed, and fought his way out, receiving many wounds; and he escaped, and because he was disguised it was not discovered who had laid hands on the Tree.

But Isildur came at last hardly back to RĂ³menna and delivered the fruit to the hands of Amandil, ere his strength failed him. Then the fruit was planted in secret, and it was blessed by Amandil; and a shoot arose from it and sprouted in the spring.

But when its first leaf opened then Isildur, who had lain long and come near to death, arose and was troubled no more by his wounds.

It may be a disaster of Hobbit trilogy proportions. But surely no ageing fan-boy can fail to be excited by the thought of a 45 minute end-of-season cliffhanger based on that paragraph?

[*] Jackson's Lord of the Rings was a moderately unsuccessful attempt to film Tolkien's unfilmable novel but, if you ignore some lapses of taste, it was a very good fantasy movie. I place it roughly in the same category as the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, speaking as someone who really, really likes the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. The Hobbit, on the other hand, was a bad adaption, a bad movie, a bad computer game, a bad theme part ride, bad, bad, bad. It makes Jackson's sacrificial butchering of King Kong look like a masterpiece. I have not yet seen the one in which world war one soldiers are chased across the landscape by sentient cities.

[**] And also linear measurements. 5000 ranguar make 1 lar, apparently.

I'm Andrew. I write about folk music, God, comic books, Star Wars and Jeremy Corbyn.

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

C.S Lewis or Winnie the Pooh?

The following quotations are widely disseminated on the interwebs.

Some of them are attributed to the Cambridge Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, where some of them are attributed to a Bear of Very Little Brain.
Can you spot which are which?

And for extra points, can you work out their actual sources?

"You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream."

"You're braver than you believe, and stronger then you seem, and smarter than you think."

"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."

"Life is too deep for words, so don't try to describe it, just live it."

"The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed."

"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem."

"Resolutions are real things. They are things that, when you make them, you hope they will make you a better person in the future"

"Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different."

"Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?"

"We are what we believe we are."

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard!"

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That's why we call it the present."

"Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours."

I wrote a book about C.S Lewis, you know, although admittedly, so did everybody else. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do Not Let Your Happiness Depend On Something You Have Quoted Out of Context

What the internet says C.S Lewis said

"Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose."
C.S Lewis

"Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away."
C.S Lewis

What C.S Lewis actually said.

In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him. Then he draws a moral. This is what comes, he says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.

Of course this is excellent sense. Do not put your goods in a leaky vessel. Don't spend too much on a house you may be turned out of. And there is no man alive who responds more naturally than I to such canny maxims. I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love, none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as "Careful! This might lead you to suffering."

To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to this appeal, I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less. And who could conceivably begin to love God on such a prudential ground -- because, so to speak, the security is better? Who could even include it among the grounds for loving? Would you choose a wife or a friend -- if it comes to it, would you choose a dog -- in that spirit? One must be outside the world of love, of all loves,  before one calculates. Eros, lawless Eros, preferring the Beloved to happiness, is more like Love Himself than this.

I think that this passage in the Confessions is less a part of St Augustine's Christianity than a hangover from the high-minded Pagan philosophies in which he grew up. It is closer to Stoic "apathy" or neo-Platonic mysticism than to Charity. We follow One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus, and who, loving all, yet had one disciple whom, in a special sense, he "loved". St Paul has a higher authority with us than St Augustine -- St Paul who shows no sign that he would not have suffered like a man, and no feeling that ought not so to have suffered, if Epaphroditus had died. 

The Four Loves (p110 - 112)

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Is Tolkien Actually Any Good?

Did Gandalf Torture Gollum? 

Did Susan Pevensie Go To Hell? 

Who Wrote The Poems of C.S. Lewis?

Do Balrogs have wings?

Andrew Rilstone answers thirteen important questions about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien -- their lives, their books and their worlds. 

Reviews and critiques of books, plays and those god-awful movies

Every Inklings-related word that Andrew has published since 1999. 

Never-before published material, including

* a detailed response to Planet Narnia
* thoughts on Jack's Life and Lenten Lands
* a new, definitive essay on the trillemma
* a commentary on the internet furore which engulfed my essay Is Tolkien Actually Any Good

Lost Usenet essays and other rare fragments of Rilstonia.  

Thirteen or so years in the making
About 300 pages
Around 100,000 words

Available from Amazon and in E-Book format in due course.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" by C.S Lewis a critique of American education?

1: Summary

2: Chronology

3: Education in the 1950s

4: English Education or American Education?

5: The Provenance of the Preface

6: English English or American English?

7: Lewis on English Education

8: All Must Have Prizes

9: Conclusion: Lack Thereof

1: Summary


2: Chronology

1941, May-Nov: 'The Screwtape Letters' published as a column in The Guardian (UK religious weekly)

1942: Collected edition of The Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis published.

1943, Jun: The Norwood Report recommends the introduction of Grammar Schools and the 'eleven plus' exam.

1943, Aug: 'Equality' by C.S Lewis published in The Spectator (UK)

1944, Feb: 'Is English Doomed' by C.S Lewis published in The Spectator (UK)

1944, Mar: 'The Parthenon and the Optative' by C.S Lewis published in Time and Tide (UK)

1944, Apr: 'Democratic Education' by C.S Lewis published in in Time and Tide (UK)

1944, Aug: Butler education act, reforming English education in line with the Norwood Report, becomes law

1959, Dec: Publication of 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' by C.S Lewis in the Saturday Evening Post (US)

1960: Toast reprinted in 'The World's Last Night' and Other Essays' (US)

1961: Toast reprinted in 'The Screwtape Letters' and 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' (UK)

1963: Death of C.S Lewis

1964: Incoming Labour government states intention to abolish the eleven plus and introduce Comprehensive schools

1965: Toast reprinted in 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' and Other Pieces (UK)

1982: Toast reprinted in 'The Screwtape Letters' With 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' (US)

3: Education in the 1950s

In 1944, English education experienced one of its periodic shake-ups. The school leaving age was raised to 15 (astonishingly, it was not officially raised to 16 until 1972) and secondary schools were restructured in accordance with the recommendations of the Norwood Report. Sir Cyril Norwood, former headmaster of Harrow, believed that there were three different types of mind: those which could deal with pure ideas; those which wanted to apply those ideas; and those which worked more slowly and preferred to deal in facts and the concrete. Owners of these three types of mind obviously required different kinds of education, so the Norwood Report proposed the creation of three new kinds of schools. Grammar Schools would teach traditional academic subjects; Technical Schools would teach arts and applied sciences; Secondary Moderns would teach a more practical syllabus. In the absence of a magic hat, children were to be sorted into the three groups on the basis of an objective intelligence test administered in their final year of primary school: the Eleven Plus.

Astonishingly, this system didn't work terribly well. For one thing, the Eleven Plus exam was based on the probably debunked and possibly fraudulent theories of Cyril Burt. In the second place, very few Technical Schools were ever opened: the system ended up simply splitting eleven-year-olds into the 'clever' and the 'not so clever'. Thirdly, one's chance of getting into a Grammar school depended entirely on how many places were available in a given town: if the school took 200 kids, then the kid with the 201st best mark had blown his chance of having an academic education. Fourthly, and contrary to Sir Cyril's ideals, the Moderns were never as well resourced as the Grammars: the less clever children did not get a different kind of education, but a worse education, in worse schools, with worse teachers. Fifthly, the whole thing ran aground on the rocks of the British class system: when an entirely objective exam was set by middle class psychologists, marked by middle class teachers and administered by middle class civil servants, the children of middle class parents astonishingly and inexplicably turned out to be the ones with the right kinds of minds for the Grammar Schools. Sixthly – and again, contrary to the original idealistic plans the system failed to take into account the possibility that someone could develop intellectually after the age off 11, or indeed, that one might be rather good at French but terrible at Maths. And seventhly, although Norwood believed that his three types of children were equal but different; and that his three kinds of schools should have 'parity of esteem', parents, children and especially primary school teachers came to regard the Eleven Plus as a 'scholarship' which you won a book or a bicycle for 'passing'. Students who, by hypothesis, had the kinds of minds which were better at dealing with concrete facts than with abstract ideas found themselves labelled as 'failures' before their twelfth birthday.

In 1964 the incoming Labour government declared that the Eleven Plus system had failed and that it should be replaced by a Comprehensive system, whereby every child in a particular area, regardless of ability, went to the same school. But due to the complicated balkanization of English education, the old system lingers on in a few parts of the country, where it is allegedly very popular. Whenever anyone suggests that the Comprehensive system be made universal, the cry goes up from Middle England: 'Save Our Secondary Moderns!'

4: Education in 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast'

In 1959, an addition to C.S Lewis's famous Screwtape Letters was published in the U.S magazine The Saturday Evening Post. Where the original letters are about individual morality, the Toast is a social satire. The Devils (who are imagined to feast on the souls of the damned) are disappointed by the low quality of the souls they are getting; but Screwtape points out that they are getting them in great numbers. This glut of low quality souls has, he says, come about through confusing the humans about the term 'democracy'. Although it really only refers to a system of government, it has become bound up with the obvious falsity that everyone is equal, with the happy result that inferior humans say to superior ones 'I'm as good as you!' (which they don't believe) and superior ones actually try to disguise their cleverness – or else become prigs and fanatics. Screwtape points out several methods which the devils have used to bring this about: education, philosophy, the worship of celebrities. He foresees a time when that this love of egalitarianism will have made the 'democracies' so mediocre that they'll be swept aside by Communism. However, mediocre as all these damned souls may be, there is still one source of truly first class sinners – namely, the hypocrites in the Christian Church!

The section on education takes up just less than two pages of a 17 page essay. Screwtape says that the spirit of 'I'm as good as you' makes humans reluctant to allow weak students to feel inferior to able ones. This may have the following results:

1: Everyone will be allowed to go to university, whether they are clever enough or not.

2: Everyone who goes to university will be allowed to pass their exams.

3: Special subjects will be invented so that stupid school children have something to excel at and the pretence will be maintained that these made up subjects are just as good as the real ones.

4: Perhaps children may even be grouped by age rather than ability, so that those fluent in ancient Greek and classical Italian will be held back by the ones who can't read simple English.

5: This will result in 'the abolition of education' – because they'll be no incentive to learn and no disincentive to ignorance. (Humans may even actively prevent the clever ones from learning, the better to maintain the illusion of 'democracy'.)

6: This will apply to everyone, since a socialistic state will monopolize education, and will in any case tax people so hard that they couldn't afford to send their children to private schools even if they want to.

Clearly, this is a social satire: a massively, and comically exaggerated picture of what could happen if certain trends were carried to their logical conclusion.

4: English Education or American Education?

Screwtape prefaces his remarks with the following words:

'My own experience was mainly on the English sector and I still get more news from it than from any other. It may be that what I am now going to say will not apply so fully to the sectors in which some of you may be operating. But you can make the necessary adjustments when you get there. Some application it will almost certainly have. If it is has too little, you must labour to make the country you are dealing with more like what England already is.'

On the surface, this seems pretty clear. Lewis is a British writer, writing for an American audience. So he adds, in Screwtape's persona: 'I only know about England: it's for you to judge whether what I'm saying also holds true in your country. If not, be careful that it doesn't ever become so.'

However, in a preface to the Toast first published in 1982, Lewis says that the opposite is the case. He is really talking about American education; but since he felt it would be bad manners for an Englishman to criticize America in an American paper, he pretends he's talking about England:

'I resorted to a further level of irony. Screwtape is in fact describing American education; he affects to be holding English education up as the awful example. The most intelligent of my American readers would, I hoped, see the game I was playing and enjoy the joke....'

This is surely a rather peculiar approach. An Englishman, fearing that America was going to be overrun by Communism as a result of its terrible obsession with baseball might, I suppose, write a comical piece describing the terrible English obsession with cricket, and adding: 'I don't know if anything similar is happening in your country. You'll have to tell me.' But it would be rather odd to come along three years later and say 'Oh, and by the way, I was really talking about baseball all the time': particularly if the majority of what you had to say about 'cricket' (meaning baseball) turned out to be things which were, in fact, perfectly fair comments about cricket itself. It would be even odder to reveal that cricket means baseball in the preface to an English edition of the satire.

5: The Provenance of the Preface

At the last count, there were four different Screwtape prefaces:

1941: The original preface to the Screwtape Letters ('I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.') (Hereafter 'P1'.)

1961: The preface to the combined UK edition of the letters and the Toast ('It was during the second German war that the letters of Screwtape first appeared in (now extinct) The Guardian.') (P2.)

1965: Brief preface to the Toast in the UK collection Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces. This is in fact an excerpt from P2 ('I was often asked or advised to add to the original Screwtape Letters'). Nothing in the text indicates that this is an excerpt from a longer piece, although it is in no sense taken out of context or misrepresented. (P2a )

1982: New preface to the Toast, in the US combined Screwtape Letters With Screwtape Proposes a Toast. (P3)

In a brief note to the 1982 edition someone – presumably Lewis's editor and acolyte Walter Hooper states that:

'This critique of American education was written in 1962 as a preface to a collection of which the Toast was to be the title essay. After Lewis died, his publisher gave the book a new form, one result of which was that Lewis's preface was lost. Now recovered, it is published here for the first time.'

However, in his 1974 biography of Lewis, Hooper had stated that in 1962:

'Lewis was putting together another volume which was to be called A Slip of The Tongue and Other Pieces. which did not appear until 2 years after his death, shorn of his Preface and of two essays – "Historicism" and "The Vision of John Bunyan"– and renamed Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces.'

And Hooper's 1991 bibliography contains the following rather cryptic and carefully worded paragraph. The 1982 combined edition:

'contains a hitherto unpublished piece by C.S Lewis, which here serves as a Preface to "Screwtape Proposes A Toast".'

In summary, Hooper has at different times made the following statements:

1974: In 1962 Lewis wrote a preface to a book that would have been called A Slip of the Tongue, but it was renamed Screwtape Proposes a Toast and the preface was dropped.

1982: In 1962 Lewis wrote a preface to a book which would have been called Screwtape Proposes a Toast but the preface was dropped when the 'form' of the book change.

1991: A 'piece' from 1962 'serves as' the preface to the Toast in the 1982 combined volume.

It's stuff like this that makes studying Lewis's minor works such fun, and by 'fun' I mean 'like hitting your head repeatedly against a brick wall'.

P2a (the excerpt) and P3 (the diatribe against American schools) both run to around 500 words - a page and a half. P3 would have fitted neatly into the 1965 Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces without any changes to the typesetting of the rest of the book. Therefore a change to the form of the book cannot possibly explain the absence of P3. If Hooper is correct when he says that Lewis wrote P3 for what became the 1965 UK collection, it follows that the editor rejected the new piece, and replaced it with a previously published excerpt of exactly the same length. Why was P3 rejected? How did this result in its being lost? And how and when was it recovered?

Answer: we don't know.

One possible explanation is that it was rejected because it had never existed in the first place. According to Kathryn Lindskoog, whose facts are generally accurate even if her conclusions tend towards the lunatick, says that while P3 is dated to 1962, the publishers did not have sight of it until 1965 (three years after Lewis died). She further claims that three versions of the piece – two typescripts and one handwritten were deposited in the Bodlien by Hooper between 1974 and 1980. That is: we have only Hooper's word that it was intended for what became the 1965 edition; and indeed, only Hooper's word for the provenance of the three MSS. If you give any credence at all to Lindskoog's conspiracy theory about Hooper having forged some of Lewis's posthumous work, this information would be very worrying.

Lindskoog points to the style and quality of the preface, suggesting that some of the phrases 'don't sound like Lewis.' I agree: I doubt that Lewis would have written 'without distinction of race, colour, class and religion'. Since I also think that writers often produce inferior work, particularly when they are seriously ill and, as it turns out, have less than 18 months to live, I don't attach much significance to this doubt. I'm much more worried that the preface seems to be written by someone who has either not read, or not understood, the essay it's attached to.

The authors of the preface thinks that the main subject of the Toast is education. It isn't: it's democracy and equality. Screwtape thinks that the true meaning of democracy is 'a system of voting'. Lewis agreed. In this true sense, Screwtape dislikes democracy:

'Like all forms of government it often works to our advantage, but on the whole less often than other forms.'

(Surely an echo of Churchill's 'Democracy is the worst system of government, apart from all the others.') But the meaning that he, the Devil, wishes to attach to the word is 'I'm as good as you' artificial egalitarianism. Lewis in the Toast is careful to distinguish between the two usages: Screwtape talks about democracy 'in the incantatory sense' and in the 'diabolical' sense. But the author of the preface uses 'democracy' as if it meant 'equality': it is good for education to be democratic in the sense that it is available to everyone regardless of race or religion. And more bizarrely, he writes that some less clever American readers might take his irony literally and think that 'democratic education (in the true sense) had gone further in England' than it had in America. This only makes sense on the assumption that 'true' is a slip of the pen for 'diabolical'.

6: English English or American English?

The text of 1982 (US) version of 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' differs slightly from the 1965 (UK) version.

UK 'Here is a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs. Thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox – he must be one of those highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were the right sort of chaps they'd be like me.'

US 'Here is a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs. Thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox – he must be one of those goddam highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they'd be like me.'

Now, there is nothing particularly surprising about a writer suiting his language to his audience; and nothing particularly surprising about an editor gently changing a writer's words to make them fit in with the house style of their paper. In the essay 'The Seeing Eye', Lewis remarks that Christianity is cheaper than psychoanalysis 'in dollars' (rather than 'pounds'). In 'Rejoinder to Dr Pittinger' he asks the American liberal theologian how he would set about converting the 'storekeepers, realtors and morticians' (rather than 'shopkeepers, estate agents, and undertakers') in his own city.

So, who is editing who? Did Lewis write 'highbrows' and an American editor change it to 'goddam highbrows'? If Lewis himself wrote 'goddam', was it he, or a British editor, who deleted it for the UK edition?

Answer: we don't know.

The editing, in either direction, hasn't been done very consistently. Rather British sounding phrases like 'la-di-dah' and 'municipal authority' are retained in the American edition. And while I realise that people had probably had the idea of putting sausages between pieces of bread even before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, I think that most English people think that 'hot dogs' are a characteristically American food. In the original Letters, when Lewis wanted an example of a rather lower class, unpretentious meal that an honest to god all right Joe might like, he used 'Tripe and Onions'. Is it possible that in the Toast he might have written 'Here is a fellow who says he doesn't like tripe and onions; if he were the right sort of chap he'd be like me'; that a US editor changed it to 'doesn't like hot dogs, if he was an honest-to-god all-right-joe'; and that a subsequent UK editor dropped 'honest to god' but left in the self-consciously American 'hot dog'?

I certainly can't believe that Lewis would ever have written 'the scholar never says it to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum.' That simply isn't what the word 'bum' means in English English. (The thrice sainted Mrs. Mary Whitehouse still, in the 1960s, regarded it as a Very Rude Word.) And it is very hard to believe that Lewis would have allowed Screwtape to use the words 'god' (twice) and 'damn' in this context. Screwtape calls god 'The Enemy'. Damnation is, from his point of view, a good thing. If Lewis had intended the devil to swear, wouldn't he have made up some funny inversion like 'dishonest-to-Satan'?

I do not think that a single one of these changes affects the tone or the meaning of the piece to any significant degree. But it is extremely interesting that someone – Hooper, the 1965 editor, the Saturday Evening Post sub, or Lewis himself has at some time fiddled with the piece to make it sound either more (or less) American.

7: Lewis on English Education

In the year before the Butler Act became law, Lewis wrote four essays which cover substantially the same ground as the Toast.

'The Parthenon and the Optative' and 'Is English Doomed' are explicitly critiques of the Norwood report – which contained the bonkers recommendation that English Literature should be taught but not examined in schools, and that there was no need for specialist English teachers. Lewis gruffly explains that if there were neither examinations nor teachers, then all the university English departments would close and the subject would cease to exist. (It is of passing interest that Lewis felt that a system that was going to divide children into Philosopher Kings, Artisans and Slaves would also result in the banishment of the poets. Truly, it is all in Plato.) 'Equality' makes out the case that legal democracy (a good thing) should not be confused with actual equality (an obvious falsehood). He uses some of the same language that Screwtape is going to use in the Toast: 'Every intrusion of the spirit that says "I'm as good as you" into our spiritual life is to be resisted. '

But the important essay for our purposes is 'Democratic Education', published in 'Time and Tide' in April 1944. The essay begins:

'Democratic education says Aristotle, ought to mean, not the education which democrats like, but the education which can preserve democracy'

Screwtape has also studied Greats:

'Nor, of course, must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle's question: whether "democratic behaviour" means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy.'

Lewis says that a system in which clever 'boys' were given no advantage over stupid ones, or hard working 'boys' over lazy ones, would in one sense be 'democratic', but that a society organized in that way wouldn't survive for very long. Screwtape also predicted that the 'democracies' which encouraged mediocrity would soon fall to Communism. Lewis admits that 'such total egalitarianism has not yet been openly recommended' but thinks that we, the English, have begun to move in that direction. He affects to believe that the reason that Latin has ceased to be compulsory in most schools is that it's the kind of subject that some 'boys' excel at and some do badly at: he claims (on the basis of 'a letter in one of the papers') that maths may soon cease to be taught for the same reason.

He says that if this approach were to be applied consistently:

'Even the boy who can't or won't learn his alphabet can be praised and petted for something – handicrafts or gymnastics; moral leadership or deportment; citizenship or the care of guinea pigs... Then no boys, and no boys' parents need feel inferior.'

Now: this is not what he thinks is happening. It is a reducto absurdium of what would happen if the logic which has banished Latin were applied consistently. It is, of course, almost word for word what Screwtape says:

'The children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the expression – "parity of esteem." '

Again, Screwtape does not claim that this has happened: only that he hopes that it will.

'How far operations there have gone at the present moment, I should not like to say with certainty. Nor does it matter. Once you have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future developments; especially, as we ourselves will play our part in the developing. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers are not to be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils.'

As we've seen, it was the Norwood Report that said that Secondary Modern Schools and Grammar Schools should have 'parity of esteem'. Lewis's supposed attack on the American system of education is based on things which haven't happened yet: his one concrete example of something which has already happened is taken from the English system.

Lewis is very clear about what makes the 'boy' who is making mud pies different from the 'boy' who is reading The Divine Comedy:

'In drawing up the curriculum one should always have chiefly in view the interests of the boys who wants to know and who can known. (With very few exceptions they are the same boy. The stupid boy, nearly always, is the boy who does not want to know.)

Similarly. in 'The Parthenon and the Optative' he argues that it is much better to teach difficult grammar than vague literary appreciation: even if some 'boys' don't understand the grammar:

'When the first [kind of education] fails it has, at the very least, taught the boy what knowledge is like. He may decide that he doesn't care for knowledge, but he knows he doesn't care for it and he knows he hasn't got it.'

Similarly, in 'Democratic Education', he thinks that it is positively to the advantage of the dull 'boy' to sit in the back of Latin classes that he doesn't understand, not paying attention and sometimes getting into trouble:

'This priceless benefit he will enjoy: he will know he's not clever.'

It is also to the advantage of society, because boys who know they are not clever are pillars of democracy in the true, elective sense, but don't run away with any ideas about democracy in the bad, egalitarian sense.

'A mild pleasure in ragging [=fooling around in class]; a determination not to be much interfered with is...a valuable curb on the meddlesome of minor officials: envy, bleating "I'm as good as you" is the hotbed of fascism.'

'Democratic Education' (definitely about England) and 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' (allegedly about America) both present grotesquely exaggerated pictures of what would happen if a particular tendency which Lewis has observed were extended to it's logical conclusion. They resemble the technique used in The Abolition of Man in which it is shown that if we applied the teachings of a particular English text book consistently, it would result in the destruction of the human race. ('The Abolition of Education' would be a good sub-title for the Toast. So, come to think of it, would 'Democratic Education'.) In case we miss the point, there is one reform which even Screwtape admits is far-fetched:

'An even more drastic scheme is not impossible: children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back because the others would get a trauma – Beelzebub, what a useful word! - by being left behind.'

This 'even more drastic scheme' which Screwtape thinks may possibly happen one day is, of course, the one in force in Lewis's time: English schools have always been organized by age, rather than ability. (Am I right in thinking that the American system is more likely to advance a clever child into a higher 'Grade' or keep back a less able one?)

8: All Must Have Prizes

I think it is fairly clear what Lewis's ire, in both the earlier 'Democratic Education' and the later Toast is directed at – and, I have to say, it isn't particularly pretty.

To this day, Grammar Schools and Comprehensive Schools remain a totemic issue for both the political left and the political right. For Old Labour, the Grammar schools represent an elitist system that reproduced and legitimized a previously existing class structure and which effectively wrote-off two-thirds of the population before their twelfth birthday. Plus, they were posh. To the Tories, Comprehensive Schools represent a near Stalinist experiment in social engineering in which all notions of excellence was sacrificed on the alter of spurious inclusivity. Plus, they were common.

However, when the tripartite system was introduced, it was widely regarded as progressive by the Labour Party; and as too progressive by the Tory Party. Labour liked the idea that a poor child who could never afford to go to private school might earn the right to a Grammar school place; Tories were horrified at the idea that their voters' children might have to be educated alongside ghastly people with common accents simply because they weren't very clever. But today, pratically everyone would agree that Grammar schools were part of an 'elitist' system: any debate is between those who think that elitism is a good thing and those who think that it is a bad thing.

So it is disconcerting to realise that Lewis was objecting to the Norwood reforms on the grounds that they were too egalitarian. Norwood seems to have believed in Platonic essentialism; in psychological determinism. People have different kinds of minds; they are born that way; there is nothing you can do about it. The job of education is to find out what kinds of minds people have, and then train them appropriately. You can't be proud of having a Gold, Silver or Bronze mind, any more than you can be proud of being tall or having blonde hair. The three groups have parity of esteem.

Lewis, on the other hand, believes that academic ability is an act of will; almost a moral choice. 'Boys' who want to learn, learn; 'boys' who don't want to learn, don't. 'Boys' are clever if they work hard and stupid if they are lazy. A lazy 'boy' may be a pillar of society and the salt of the earth in other respects but there's no point in pretending that he's the academic equal of the clever one; and there's certainly no point in inventing some new kind of school for his benefit.

Lewis's satirical exaggeration ends up with a future where children are given 'A' levels in playing with plasticine and we are all overrun by the Communists. But the starting point is the idea that Secondary Modern kids should have Parity of Esteem with those at the Grammar School. A British phenomenon.

9: Conclusion, lack thereof

I like conspiracy theories. They are neat, simple and plausible, where real life is messy and unlikely. I do not know why Lewis, having re-cast a fifteen year old essay on English education into a diabolical after dinner speech, then wrote a preface claiming that he was talking about the America all the time, when he plainly wasn't. I don't know why his publishers posthumously rejected this new piece and replaced it with a previously published excerpt of the same length. I don't why he would, in Lindskoog's words, write a muddle headed preface to explain a clear essay. The conspiracy theory, in which a well-meaning acolyte, wanting to make Lewis seem more interested in and relevant to America, and possibly wanting to drum up sales for a new edition of his work, whips up an essay in handwriting that looks quite similar to his master's and then claims to have discovered a long-lost work removes all the difficulties, and is really very attractive.

But that's all it is: a conspiracy theory.

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