Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More seasonal highjinks from the the worlds greatest newspaper

In 2008, the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox will fall on March 13th. This is quite early. It has been suggested that it might be convenient for school kids to have a long weekend over Good Friday / Easter Monday and then a fortnight's holiday for the first two weeks of April, as usual. Breaking the school up ain mid-March because of the vagaries of the Gregorian calendar would put the whole academic year out of sync.

Did the Pope give even a moment's thought to this kind of thing when he suppressed the quartodecimanists, that's what I often wonder.

In the nightmare future envisaged by the fascist Daily Express "Some kids may go back to school on the Tuesday after Easter Monday and get another holiday two weeks later" equates to NOW THEY WANT TO BAN EASTER. YES, IT'S A NEW ATTACK BY THE P.C BRIGADE.

Mind you, there is some disagreement about who is to blame. One contributor to the funky revamped forum on the fascist Express's website is chillingly specific about the culprits.

"Those that feel most hatred toward religion are the 'gay' lobby, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the latest assault on our religious festivals was led by those of them with the ear of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair."

Well, queers, Scotsman and the P.C Brigade: all the same thing, innit. The point is that Our Way of Life is Under Attack.

"The move to change the Easter break follows recent claims that Christmas is being downgraded in importance. Birmingham City Council caused controversy by naming its seasonal celebrations Winterval. "

Did they really? Good heavens. I'm surprised no-one has ever mentioned that before.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Daily Express celebrates Easter one week early


New research shows everyday pill really can work miracles

A small daily dose of aspirin can reduce a woman's risk of dying by 25 per cent, research has revealed."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Best. Question Time. Ever.

But wasn't it depressing that when the man asked "Has the War made the world a safer place?" all the panellists somehow heard it as "Do you think Saddam Hussien was a nice man?"

None of them did, surprisingly.

Worth the price of admission for the American Moustache simply refusing to talk to Comrade Benn, though. A former world leader on the panel and two ambassadors in the audience. This is what we pay the licence fee for.

Well, this and "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue", obviously.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

'The Collected Letters of C.S Lewis Volume 3 (1950 – 1963)'

A few brief comments

So. The final volume of C.S Lewis's unpublished writings. 2,000 pages; an awful lot of letters. And that's only the tip of the iceberg: Lewis is always apologising for being so brief, explaining that this is the eighth or tenth letter he has had to answer this morning.

'Had to answer.' Lewis hates Christmas because he 'has to' reply to the hundreds of letters he gets during the season. He 'has to' send detailed hand-written thank-you letters to all the Americans who send him parcels during the post-war shortages (even when they send him things that no civilised man could want, like headed note-paper.) Some people might think that the only duty a writer has to his readers is to write; that what the people who sent him fan letters and even the ones who send generous gifts really deserve in return is a new novel; a new radio-broadcast, a new volume of pithy religious essays. Instead yet he spends his time trying to act as an agony aunt to the Mary van Deusen's and Vera Gebbert's of this world. It isn't always clear exactly what personal problems they are actually experiencing; but clearly, Lewis is the only person on earth who can help with them. Lewis seems to find it a chore to write these pastoral letters, and he isn't always very good at it; so he assumes that it must be his duty.

This is a sad book. Sad, because it is the last time we will be able to read a 'new' book by C.S Lewis. Sad, because the first time he mentions that he's met up with a nice American poet called Joy Gresham, we know how the story is going to end. Sad, because, by the age of 60 Lewis already regards his life work as finished and is quite looking forward to dying. (If he had lived to be 80, then he might have told us what he thought of the hippy movement, Mrs. Thatcher, Star Wars; there might be TV footage of him speaking; he might have appeared on 'Question Time.') The world weariness of these letters seems almost paranoid. It was a good joke to say that he was a caveman or a dinosaur; maybe there really was some kind of historical continuity with classical world that was only broken by the Great War; maybe he really did feel like a man out of his time. But it isn't funny to hear him telling Tolkien that a recommendation by C.S Lewis will damage his new book; or telling Dorothy Sayers that he doesn't know enough about Dante to write a preface to her translation, and anyway, such a preface would make her look ridiculous; turning down a CBE because it would give ammunition to people who think he is turning out Tory propaganda; and over and over again, warning people that he has so many enemies that his name on a book will probably only harm it. Tolkien accepted his MBE, and was very moved by his meeting with the Queen. Lewis would have been too, but he somehow preferred the persona of the fossilised dinosaur churning out homely wisdom from a badly heated cottage.

And sad because of a sense of, well, waste. Oscar Wilde put his genius into his life, and his talent into his books. Lewis's life's work was to mark essays by bored public school boys; his spare time he devoted to answering letters from total strangers. He slogged away for 20 years at 'The Oxford History of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama': has anyone read it? Is it even in print? Did he successfully prove that the renaissance never happened in England (or if it did, it had no importance?) The 'excluding drama' part is particularly pathetic. The one really interesting thing about sixteenth century literature is the drama; but someone other than Lewis was commissioned to do the Shakespeare volume.

And yet. Lewis's blurb for 'Till We Have Faces' says that he first thought of a novel based on Cupid and Psyche while he was an undergraduate, so he had in a way been working on it for his whole life. That's probably true of most of his work: he dashed off the 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' in a few weeks, but only because he had been thinking about fairy tales and medieval allegory for decades. (He first read 'The Fairy Queen' as a schoolboy. He is probably unique in the whole history of literary criticism in that he wished that it had been twice as long.) So perhaps the fact that he spent every morning reading and answering letters from ordinary, and sometimes rather silly, members of the public was what enabled him to write so cleverly, and often cruelly, about ordinary human stupidities in 'The Four Loves' and 'The Great Divorce'.

Several times in the 50s, Lewis says that he wants to write a book about praying; but each time he gives up: he knows what he wants to say, but he can't find a form in which to say it. Right at the end of his life, he works out how to overcome the problem. He composes a series of letters to an imaginary correspondent.

In Letters Vol 3, Lewis mentions or alludes to a number of interesting subjects, including:

A correspondent asks Lewis if social planning by governments (rationing in time of war, free health care, and so on) is a bad idea because it 'removes the natural consequences of sin'. Lewis says that removing the natural consequences of sin is a perfectly Christian thing to do, provided 'the means by which you remove them are not in themselves another sin'.

'It is merciful and Christian to remove the natural consequences of fornication by giving the girl a bed in a maternity ward and providing for the child's upkeep and education, but wrong to remove them by abortion and infanticide.'

Since Lewis was certainly a Christian and arguably a conservative, it is curious that this is the only reference to abortion in his letters. One might almost think that he didn't regard it as the single most important issue facing Christians today.

Fifty pages of Lewis's side of a debate with Owen Barfield about 'anthroposophy' were omitted from volume 1 but are added as an appendix to volume 3. I couldn't make head nor tale of them.

In volume 1 and 2 Lewis went to see 'Snow White' (liked the animals, hated the dwarves) and 'King Kong' (liked the island, hated New York). According to Douglas Gresham, he also saw 'Fantasia' (hated the cherubs.)

In this volume, he goes to see 'Forbidden Planet' but is unimpressed:

'A post-civilisation version of 'The Tempest' with a Robot for Caliban, a bitch for Miranda, all sympathy for Alonso against Prospero. The contrast between the magnificent technical power and the deplorable level of ethics and imagination in the story was what struck me most. But the modern 'serious fiction' -- E Waugh and all that – seems to me equally deplorable.'

I think that would look pretty good on the cover of any DVD version of the movie: 'As deplorable as Evelyn Waugh' – C.S Lewis

Incidentally, the introduction to the current Penguin edition of the 'The Tempest' mentions that Hollywood produced a science fiction version of the play called 'The Silent Planet.' Lewis might have been amused.

In 1956 'The Last Battle' won an award for children's book of the year. Illustrator Pauline Baynes wrote to congratulate Lewis on his medal.

Lewis replied:

'Is it not rather 'our' medal? I'm sure the illustrations were taken into account as well as the text.'

However, when Lewis's publisher asked him how he would feel about an omnibus edition of Narnia without any pictures at all, Lewis replied:

'I am not greatly enamoured of the illustrations. (Faith, 'twould be easier to be enamoured of her that made them.)'

He tells George Sayer that Baynes is 'completely ignorant of animal anatomy' and tells his publisher 'I wish you would take an afternoon off and conduct Miss Baynes around the zoo.' But he is extremely tactful to Baynes herself about her shortcomings. He says things like 'You do each book a little better than the last' and 'If only you could take six months off and devote them to anatomy, there's no limit to your possibilities' and 'I say, you have learned something about animals in the last few months, where did you do it?'

The reason Lewis can't bring himself to criticise Baynes is that she is a 'timid, shrinking young woman' – only 27 when he first meets her.

'When criticised (she) looks as if you'd pulled (her) hair and given (her) a black eye. My resolution was exhausted by the time I'd convinced her that rowers face aft and not, as she thinks, forward.'

'Criticism could only be hinted at, and approval had, on a second shot, to be feigned. At any real reprimand she'd have thrown up the job: not in a huff but in sheer, downright, un-resenting, pusillanimous dejection.'

And anyway, he has heard that she badly needed the job because she had an ageing mother to support.

Lewis is similarly tactful to a girl named Jane Gaskell whose fantasy novel ('Strange Evil') was published when she was only fourteen years old. Lewis says that the book is 'a quite amazing achievement'; but adds 'On the other hand there is no reason why your next book should not be at least twice as good,' before gently tearing it to shreds.


A regular correspondent is sad over the death of her cat. Lewis says it's okay to love an animal.

'No person, animal, flower or even pebble has ever been loved too much – i.e more than every one of God's works deserves.'

And she shouldn't feel guilty about having had the cat put to sleep:

'Rather rejoice that God's law allows you to extend to Fanda that last mercy which (no doubt quite rightly) we are forbidden to extend to suffering humans.'

Which is an interesting take: euthanasia may be a good thing in itself, which God for some reason prohibits. In July 1963, Lewis nearly died, and said several times over the next few months that he regretted having been brought back from the point of death since he would presumably have to go through it again before too long.

If you can both kill a beloved pet and regret your own survival, would Lewis have been open to persuasion on the subject of, say, assisted suicide for the desperately ill? (Lewis is capable of surprising us on these kinds of issues: he once wrote an essay in which he argued that vivisection was only probably wrong.)


In 1948, G.E.M Anscombe and C.S Lewis had a public debate about Lewis's book 'Miracles' at the Oxford Socratic Club. Anscombe, who herself believed in God, famously tore Lewis's arguments to pieces.

A.N Wilson thinks that this encounter caused Lewis to abandon the whole idea of a rational defence of Christianity. Certainly his post-1948 religious essays are much more inclined to be devotional and even mystical than his pre-1948 writings. In this volume, he is always being asked to give religious talks, and always replies that 'the well is dry'. He does have rather an odd idea that you can't speak twice on the same subject: he even declines to re-record the 'Mere Christianity' broadcasts – which were transmitted live and never committed to vinyl -- because it would be too obvious that he was repeating himself. But even taking this into account, it is clear that he thinks that Lewis-the-apologist represented a brief period in his life, which is now over.

He is modest about his evangelistic powers. You or I might think that someone who quotes so much Aquinas and Augustine is something of an expert, but Lewis saw himself as very much an amateur: in his 40s he said that it was 'too late' to become an expert in Biblical studies. (This, from a man whose approach to writing a book on 16th century English Literature was to set down and read 16th century English literature. All of it.) Being relatively ignorant, a perfectly ordinary Anglican helping other perfectly ordinary Anglicans is the role he prefers to play. He thinks that, because he is a teacher, he has the knack of explaining things; and he thinks that there is a need to translate religious ideas into the language of ordinary people.

In 1950 writes to the secretary of the Socratic Club with a list of possible speakers for the next terms meetings. He suggests asking Miss Anscombe to give a paper on 'Why I believe in God'.

'The lady is quite right to refute what she thinks bad theistic arguments, but does this not almost oblige her as a Christian to find good ones in their place: having obliterated me as an Apologist, ought she not to succeed me?'

It is very easy to mock editor Walter Hooper for his obsession with adding footnotes to Lewis's letters. If a schoolgirl writes to Lewis to tell him how much she liked the Narnia stories, Hooper considers it vital for us to know which school she went to, what university she subsequently attended, who she married, where she is living now, and her address at the time of the letter. If Lewis alludes to the Bible or Shakespeare, Hooper is on hand to tell us that the phrase 'one flesh' comes from Genesis 2.24; that 'Miranda is a character in 'The Tempest'.

I am glad to say that he has now learned the difference between the ontological argument and the cogito.

I sometimes wonder if Hooper thinks that we will be reading the Letters of Saint Jack long after we stop reading Shakespeare and Milton. Or does he think that, with the demise of Great Western Man, Shakespeare has already been forgotten?

However, Hooper's pedantry sometimes pays off. In a letter to the Church Times, Lewis draws a donnish distinction between 'invocation' and 'devotion'. Just because the Church of England permits the 'invocation' of saints, it doesn't follow that it permits 'devotion' to them. If it did then it would also follow that you should 'approve devotions to stars, frosts and whales.'

I have always thought that Lewis simply meant that if you can pray to one of God's creations (exceptionally good humans) then what logical objection is there to praying to any other of God's creations: a fish or a snowstorm, for the sake of argument. But Hooper points out that he is in fact making a clever reference to the Book of Common Prayer, which quotes a passage from the Apocrypha: 'Oh ye stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord...Oh ye Frost and Cold, bless ye the Lord...Oh ye Whales and all that move in the water, bless ye the Lord...'


A correspondent wants to know how we should think about God. Lewis says that the Bible depicts a God who can be compassionate and furious, who can change his mind, and who feels things in his gut. This is clearly a mythological, imaginative picture which cannot literally be true. But the more philosophical version of God, -- absolute being, first cause, that which sustains all things in being by his love -- is an abstract concept, and that can't literally be true either. We can't imagine what God is really like; but we can't conceptualise it either.

Lewis adds, devastatingly, that if we decide that the abstract symbol for God is superior to the mythological symbol then we 'think that the symbol we have made is better than the symbol he has made.' This is a brilliantly Lewisian manoeuvre: to first accept that the Bible-God is 'only' a symbol, and then to assert the primacy of that symbol. It's what makes Lewis worth reading; it sends us back to the Bible with a slightly changed perspective.

Lewis wrote this letter only 10 days after his wife had died. It is worth pondering that in 'Grief Observed' he rejects the idea of God as a sadist because it is 'too anthropomorphic.'

One day, someone will write a short play about William Gresham, the first husband of C.S Lewis's wife. They could call it 'Penumbra' or 'Eclipse' or some other word that doesn't quite mean the same as 'shadow.' He's the almost invisible presence in the story of Lewis's last years, and it is uncomfortable to think of him too much.

William Gresham seems to have wanted his divorce from Joy to be amicable. He suggests that he and Joy should live close together so that both parents could maintain contact with their sons. But Joy takes David and Douglas to a foreign country, while she is still legally his wife, at least partly with a view to meeting a famous author to whom she has been sending fan-mail. Bill can't have been indifferent when he hears that she has cancer; and it isn't completely unreasonable for him to think he might get custody of his sons should she die. The two letters which Lewis writes border on emotional bullying:

'Your letter reached Joy after a day of agony. The effect was devastating. She felt that the only earthly hope she now has had been taken away. You have tortured one who is already on the wrack, heaped extra weights on one who is being pressed to death.'

Bill gives in. He doesn't try to get custody of his children. He hears of his ex-wife's death in a two line letter from Lewis. When he visits his sons in England they are (according to Douglas Gresham) strangers to him. He returns to America. He finds out that he too has cancer. He takes his own life.

By all accounts, he behaved very badly: he openly cheated on his wife while they were married, and was violent towards his sons. But he paid a very heavy price. And when all is said and done, he did introduce the word 'geek' into the English language.

It's very painful to watch Lewis's relationship with Joy as it emerges here in 'real time'. 'Shadowlands' has made the story uplifting: Lewis knows that he will only have a limited time with his wife but accepts that 'the pain then is part of the happiness now.' After a short grey afternoon of the soul, he gets over it, to the extent that he can teach Doug to dive, or revisit heavenly places he visited with Joy, depending on whether you run with Joss Ackland or Anthony Hopkins.

But in these letters, it seems that Lewis believed, or persuaded himself to believe, that the laying-on-of-hands by Rev. Peter Bide had facilitated a genuine miracle; that Joy, although lame, was cured; and that God had given him in later middle-age a kind of happiness that he had missed out on when he'd been younger. When he realises that, despite a three year remission, Joy still has cancer, it doesn't feel at all like Job's Sufferings. It's more like watching a small child having its only toy taken away. Letters to strangers, which always finished 'I will of course have you daily in my prayers,' start to say 'Please pray for Joy'. But we know, and Lewis must have known, that this time it isn't going to make any difference.

Lewis writes to his regular correspondents about his bereavement; and naturally, some of what he says anticipates insights from 'A Grief Observed': grief is a process, not a state; it feels like being afraid; he remembers Joy best when he misses her least. But nowhere in these letters is there any hint of the 'crisis of faith' which the book describes. He doesn't remotely suggest that he is being tempted to think that God is evil. If this was a real crisis, and not just a thought experiment, then it must have been very brief indeed.

Several years before, Lewis had tried to help Sheldon Vanauken after the death of his wife. He suggested that he re-read Dante's 'Paradiso', and directs him to the passage where 'Beatrice turns her eyes away from Dante 'to the eternal Fountain' and Dante is quite content.' This is, of course, the passage Lewis quotes at the end of 'Grief Observed': Poi si torno all eterna fontana.

The editor and provider of footnotes knew Lewis for three months and thirteen days, during most of which time, Lewis was seriously ill.

They first meet on June 7th 1963. On July 12th Lewis was taken to hospital, and on July 16th he was thought to be dying. On July 26th, Hooper moved into a spare room at Lewis's home. There was also a full time nurse in residence, but Lewis's brother Warren was being treated for alcoholism in Ireland. (At no time was there a Walter/Jack/Warnie household: so far as I can tell, Hooper didn't meet Warren until Lewis was dead.)

On July 18th, Lewis told his ex-pupil George Sayer that he had 'engaged Hooper as his secretary'. This may have meant no more than 'he is helping me out with my correspondence'. During his illness, Hooper certainly wrote several letters on Lewis's behalf, which would have been Warren's job had he been present and sober. Hooper left the Kilns at some point before September 20th.

Lewis is always very kind to his friends, but he does seem to write an unusually affectionate letter to Hooper. 'Don't ever doubt that the day of your return, whenever and on whatever condition, will be one of rejoicing to me. Your absence makes a cavity like a drawn tooth.' After an exchange of letters, it was agreed that Hooper would come back to England in the new year (1964), work full time as Lewis's secretary and receive a modest salary.

In the event, less than two months after Hooper left the Kilns, C.S Lewis was dead.

My favourite letter in the canon remains the one to the mum who's little boy is worried that he loves Aslan more than Jesus. Lewis reassures them that 'God knows quite well how hard we find it to love Him more than anyone or anything else, and He won't be angry with us as long as we are trying' and that in any case, since Aslan and Jesus are, in a sense, the same, it doesn't make much sense to worry about loving one more than the other.

He concludes:

'If I were Laurence I'd just say in my prayers something like this: 'Dear God, if the things I've been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don't like and aren't good for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love you more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imagination, by doing what you want and growing more like you.' That is the sort of thing that I think Laurence should say for himself; but it would be kind and Christian-like if he then added 'And if Mr Lewis has worried any other children by his books or done them any harm, then please forgive him and help him never to do it again.'....He must be a corker of a boy: I hope you are prepared for the possibility he might turn out a saint. I dare say the saints mothers have, in some ways, a rough time.'

Never fails to bring a tear to my eye.


C.S Lewis enjoys 'Winy ille Pu'.

'Could anyone but an Englishman have conceived a Latin version of a children's book in such extremely advanced Latin that only an adult could possibly read it? I like that absurdity.'

And he corresponds with an Italian priest, Don Giovanni Calabria, in Latin, even managing a pun:

'Vestri sinistrales (ut ita dicam) athiesmum suum confitentur, immo jacant, lupi sunt et lupi esse videntur.':

('Your leftists/Sinisters (to put it like that) declare their atheism. Even boast of it. Wolves they are an wolves they are seen to be.')

'We got the letter from Las Vegas all right, and thought that between gambling (the most uninteresting of all vices: wine, women and murder I can understand, but roulette – the vapidity of it!) and the glaring hideousness of the decorations and surrounding desert and its neighbouring explosions, L.V was about the nearest thing to a nightmare we'd ever heard of. Did you like it'?

Several letters to Lindskoog, (nee Stilwell) are reproduced in this volume.

Walter Hooper is not completely infallible as an editor and annotator. In the biographical appendix Hooper mentions that Lindskoog wrote two books about Lewis: 'The Lion of Judah in Never-Never Land' and 'C.S Lewis: Mere Christian' as well as 'Creative Writing: For People Who Can't Not Write', and 'A Parent's Guide to Books For Kids.' But for some mysterious reason, he omits 'The C.S Lewis Hoax', 'Light in the Shadowlands', and 'Sleuthing C.S Lewis' from the list.

These books allege that Lewis's biography was falsified, and some of his posthumous papers forged, by, er, Walter Hooper.

In 1956 an American suggested to him that 'masturbation being a very pressing concern for very many young people (if no others) should be dealt with more frankly.' (According to a footnote, the same writer thinks that it has now been dealt with a good deal too frankly.)

Lewis takes the line that what he primly calls 'the act' is not a sin, and certainly not injurious to health, but that sexual fantasies are a bad idea. This isn't simply a case of committing adultery in the heart. The point of sex is that it encourages you to get out and interact with people of the opposite gender – and, in the natural course of events, positively forces you to interact with children and grandchildren! Masturbation, on the other hand, provides 'a harem of imaginary brides' which 'works against (you) ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.' Worse, if you misuse the imagination in this way, you will be encouraged to misuse it in other ways: for example, you'll also end up daydreaming about what you would do if you were rich 'instead of earning and saving.'

This is very good sense on the assumption that masturbation is, (like watching 'Doctor Who') an esoteric hobby practised only by a few pathetic recluses. If, on the other hand, nearly everybody does it, then it can't really cut everybody off from human society. Did Lewis think that he was unusual because he had masturbated as a teenager? Was this what he had in mind when he told Barfield that his boyhood had been unusually depraved?

Lewis is writing in 1956, when he has a close friendship with Ruth Pitter and when his relationship with Joy Gresham is about to turn into a full-blown romance. He's got much more freedom to interact with women, and indeed people, since the death of Mrs. Moore. Is he looking back regretfully on 20 years of life as Mrs. Moore's surrogate son; realising that during this time he turned in on himself sexually and imaginatively, and wishing that he had got a life much earlier?

'After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we were born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be which retard this process. The danger is of coming to love the prison.'

Can anyone read this and not think of the poem, addressed simultaneously to God and Joy Gresham?

' I cannot crawl one inch out of my proper skin:
I talk of love – a scholars parrot may talk Greek –
But self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.'

Lewis's adopted mother: her son, Paddy, was a friend of Lewis who died in World War I.

In the early days, they may have been lovers, but by the time of this volume, Mrs. Moore is old and sick. In 1950 she goes into a nursing home suffering from Alzheimers. Lewis visits her every day, turning down speaking engagements so as not to disappoint her. But in 1951 he reports frankly:

'There has been a great change in my life owing to the death of the old lady I called my mother. She died, without apparent pain after many months of semi-conscious existence, and it would be hypocritical to pretend that it was a grief to us.'

A poet. Lewis once said that she was the kind of woman that he could have imagined marrying, an oddly Gilbertian way of putting it.

Lewis tells Pitter frankly that he didn't get on with a poem of hers in which an earwig conceives a sort of courtly love for a fine lady. He says this is prejudice on his part:

'a: My imagination goes easily to humanised mammals but stops dead at humanised insects. b: I can't bare the least suggestion (however sportive) of love affairs between different species or even between children. It is one of the many things which for me sinks 'Tom Sawyer' so far beneath the divine 'Huckleberry'. But as I can't give you any reason for the second – I think I could for the first -- this doesn't help you very much.'

His reason for not liking anthropomorphic insects is, presumably, the one he gives in 'Surprised by Joy': he has a phobia because as a toddler he was terrified by a picture of a giant spider in a children's book. But what could possibly be the reason for his dislike of stories of child-love; and for him thinking them as unnatural as stories about inter-species romance? Obviously, it couldn't be related to his memories of the combination of paedophilia and bullying at his boarding schools, because that had no long term effect on him whatsoever...

There's an article called 'Delinquents in the Snow' in which Lewis regrets the fact that he isn't allowed to thrash the boys who vandalized his shed, in the course of which rant he remarks that, of course, he has less to complain about than Mr. Pilgrim. In 'Reflections on the Psalms', he tries to mitigate the terrible cursing passages by asking us to imagine what had been done to the Psalmists by their oppressors.

'Take from a man his freedom or his goods and you may have taken his innocence, almost his humanity, as well. Not all the victims go and hang themselves like Mr. Pilgrim; they may live and hate.'

I think I had assumed that 'Mr. Pilgrim' was a character in Bunyan. In fact, in one of his really quite helpful footnotes, Hooper explains that Lewis is talking about one Edward Pilgrim. In 1954 Romford Council slapped a compulsory purchase order on this Mr. Pilgrim's garden, basing the price on its value to a farmer (nil) rather than to a property developer (lots and lots). Mr. Pilgrim didn't know about the plans until the deadline for lodging an appeal against them had already passed. He was so miffed that he hanged himself, and was turned into a symbol of resistance to socialist tyranny by, er, the 'Daily Express'.

When Lewis's publisher said that the reference in 'Psalms' might be a bit obscure, Lewis replied: 'If my book dies soon the memory of Pilgrim will outlive it and no note will be needed: if, on t'other hand, it prove aere perennius , school editions will explain him and we shall have done our bit towards eternising the infamy of his persecutors.'

Today, this text is fulfilled in your hearing.

Lewis was a professional pedant about language, so it is surprising to find him opposing spelling reform, not because it is newfangled, but because there is no particular reason why we should all spell words the same way.

'Who would be a penny the worse if though and tho, existence and existence, sieze, seize and seeze were all equally tolerated....This would save children and teachers thousand of hours' work. It would also force those to whom applications for jobs are made to exercise their critical faculties on the logic and vocabulary of the candidate instead of tossing his letter aside with the words 'can't even spell.'

Lewis calls it scientifiction, which was already very anachronistic by the 50s.

He doesn't like science fiction stories which turn out to simply be spy stories or gangster stories set in space. He is very much a purist on this point. He objects to story by one Kris Neville set in a brothel on Mars because:

'In a work of art all the material must be used; if you write a historical novel, the period must be essential to the effect; what's the excuse for locating one's story on Mars unless Martianity is through and through used?'

He goes so far as to say that 'human interest' is only permissible if it arises from the emotional reaction of the characters to their strange situation: he tells Arthur C Clarke off for introducing a sub-plot about a hoax and a theft into a story about an alien marooned on earth. I guess he has a point: lots of 50s sci-fi was basically just cowboy stories with ray guns instead of six shooters. But Lewis he is surely wrong to say:

'Bigness itself is of no imaginative value: the defence of a 'galactic' empire is less interesting than the defence of a little walled town like Troy.'

E.E Smith is probably not such a good writer as Homer. But don't the Lensmen stories depend on their scale for their dramatic effect? Kim Kinnison's adventures would feel quite different if he chased enemies across America instead of across The Universe.

Still, Lewis is pretty good at spotting a winner. In one of the few extant letters to his wife, he raves about Arthur C Clarke's 'Childhood's End'.

'It is quite out of the range of the common space-and-time writers, away up near Lindsay's 'Voyage to Arcturus' and Wells 'First Men in the Moon'. It is better than any of Stapleton's... It is rather like the effect of the 'Ring' – a self-riching work, harmony piling up on harmony, grandeur on grandeur, pity on pity...'

Which some people might think was overdoing it a bit.

He also likes 'The Silver Locusts', although there is a sense of damning with faint praise:

'Most of the genre is abysmally bad...But Bradbury has real invention and even knows something about prose.'

Lewis declines an invitation from Clarke to speak at the Interplanetary Society.

'Probably the whole thing is only a plan for kidnapping me and marooning me on an asteroid. I know the sort of thing.'

C.S Lewis published the diary he wrote in the weeks after the death of his wife as 'A Grief Observed'. He submitted it to Faber (not his usual publishers) under the pseudonym 'Dimidius'. Anyone at all familiar with Lewis's writing could have spotted the style at 20 paces, and Faber director T.S Eliot deserves some kind of award for his letter to Lewis's agent:

'We are of the opinion that we have guessed the name of the author. If, as you intimate, and as I should expect from the man I think it is, he does sincerely want anonymity, we agree that a plausible English name would hold off enquirers better than Dimidius. The latter is sure to arouse curiosity and there must be plenty of people amongst those who know him, and perhaps even among the readers of his work who do not know him, who may be able to penetrate the disguise once they set their minds working.'

The book was eventually published under the name N.W Clerk (N.W = Nat whilk, 'I know not whom.') Lewis didn't try very hard to keep his identity a secret: when his publishers forward a letter addressed to Mr. Clerk, Lewis signed his reply C.S Clerk before crossing out the C.S and changing it to N.W.

Since I started this last April Fools, I should probably note that Lewis complains that an elvish flying contraption in Jane Gaskell's fantasy book feels too modern because it contains, among other things 'restaurants' and 'lavatories'. Since what Gaskell wrote was 'a sort of stall where food could be purchased' and 'bath-houses' I think this confirms that Lewis used 'lavatory' in a non-euphemistic sense – a place for washing, not a latrine.

In recalling a walking holiday with Barfield, Lewis refers to having used a 'quirinal'; and when Joy is bedridden, they refer to her 'invalid female urinal' and her bedpan as 'Ariel' and 'Caliban' respectively (which is actually quite funny).

It has sometimes been said that Lewis was not interested in politics. ('Jack was about as apolitical as it is possible to be...his politics were Christianity' – Douglas Gresham, on the Lewis usenet group.) In these letters, Lewis takes a consistently party-political stance about the post-war Attlee government and the welfare state. He is inclined to think that the Labour Party kept food rationing going after the war, not because of any actual shortages but because they wanted to control what people ate 'for their own good'. Although he is bored by the '51 election campaign ('everything possible seems to have been said by every possible candidate, and the reiteration becomes wearisome') he takes an unashamedly pro-Tory line:

'There seem to be good prospects of putting Labour out, in spite of the fact that they are promising the earth, whereas Churchill, with his usual good sense, is promising nothing but hard times.'

That Christmas, he thanks an American friend for a food parcel, which is particularly welcome:

'coming as it does at a moment when the new government – very properly, by the way – has refused to woo the electorate by playing Father Christmas with a food bonus.'

When another American tells him that she may come and live in the UK, he warns her that she won't like the weather, and adds:

'And we live under the constant threat of a socialist government, which would finish us off completely.'

However, in 1959 – when both he and his wife have been seriously ill – he comments to an American who has been struggling with medical bills:

'What you have gone through begins to reconcile me to our Welfare State of which I have said so many hard things. 'National Health Service' with free treatment for all has its drawbacks ...but it is better than leaving people to sink or swim on their own resources.'

This is a curious turn-around. Lewis has never disputed that the Welfare State genuinely alleviated poverty. But he thought that the a fear of poverty, and a state solution, had made people too willing to hand over their liberties to the government: if everyone's educated by the state and nearly everyone works for the state, who will dare to criticise the state? And in any case isn't power of that kind always abused? It isn't obvious why these arguments are trumped by the realisation that health care free at the point of need is a really, really good idea.

If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider buying a copy of Do Balrogs Have Wings?, which contains all my essays on Lewis and Tolkien, including some previously unpublished.

Alternatively, please consider making a donation of £1 for each essay you have enjoyed.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Cap died the day Jack stopped drawing him. I give it two months at maximum.

Oh, for crying out loud....

...either show us Harry Potter's prick or don't show us Harry Potter's prick, but for goodness sake stop this infantile media streaptease. Even bloody "Newsnight" is at it ("showing off his dramatic range on the westend stage, fnar fnar.)


"It is unfair that foriegners come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits."

Where did this quote come from?

a: A leading article in the Daily Express

b: A campaign leaflet by the British National Party

c: A campaign leaflet by the English Nazi Party

d: A leading article in the Daily Mail

e: My paranoid imagination

f: A speech made by the Labour home secretary and deputy prime ministerial hopeful, John Reid.


Jack Straw: "One of the things we should be looking at is the subject of Asian women speaking English and whether we need to engage them and require them to speak English before they are given a settlement visa.”

Daily Express; "Muslims Must Learn English"

"I'm thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. It's cold and it's mean spirited and I don't like it here anymore." Alan Moore

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Completely Unfunny Posting

If you enjoy this essay, please consider purchasing a copy of Where Dawkins Went Wrong and Other Theological Blockbusters from this address - a collection of  some of the best and most-linked-to essays from this blog and its predecessor. It contains my five part assault critique of 'The God Delusion', along with essays on gay bishops, the 'gospel' of Judas, the 'legend' of the three wise men.

Phil Masters writes: Andrew recognises that the question of "Who is going to decide what's a reasonable compromise?" is difficult, but (being British) gets around this by making jokes about it.

So, three clergymen of different faiths are discussing the problem of evangelism. They agree that converting human beings to their respective credo is far too easy, and, by way of a challenge, they are going to preach to the animals, after the fashion of St Francis of Assisi. First, the Catholic goes out into the forest. He comes back terrible claw-marks on his face. "Sure, and that was a mighty difficult thing," he says."The first animal I met was a wild bear, to be sure, to be sure, and when I started to talk to it about the true faith, it jumped on me and started to maul me, so he did, to be sure." Did I mention that he was an Italian? "So I prayed to the blessed Virgin and all the saints not excluding Saint Theresa, and sure, the bear came and laid his head in my lap. We had a little talk, and he made an oral confession of his sin, and he has asked for instruction in the catholic faith." Next, it is the turn of the Baptist. He too goes into the forest, and he comes back with claw marks on his face, blood on his shirt, and tooth marks on his right arm. "Hallelujah!" he explains "Praise the Lord! He led me also unto a wild bear, and when I started to explain the doctrine of total depravity and the need for repentance unto the Lord, it leapt on me and started to maul me. But I laid my hands on its head, and ordered the spirit of disobedience to leave it. And the bear was convicted of sin there and then, and when it had finished speaking in tongues, we had an all night prayer meeting, and it is going to be baptised at the gospel meeting next Sunday." So finally the Rabbi goes out into the forest, only he doesn't come back at all. The other two wait and wait, and eventually they get a call from the hospital. They rush right over, and find the Rabbi with his leg in a cast, claw marks all over his face, plugged into a drip and a heart monitor. When he sees the Pastor and the Priest he opens one eye and murmurs "Have you ever tried circumcising one of those beasties?"

Which is as much as to say, being interpreted, sorry for attempting to inject levity into the subject of multi-cultural education in a post nine one one world. Because obviously, the readers of this website, all seventeen of them (well, eighteen if you count Eric; but I always feel he looketh and looketh and undestandeth not) come here primarily because of the value of my gnomic wisdom and not at all because they find it amusing. God knows, there are few enough places to read about religion and politics on the web.

Is gnomic wisdom the sort of wisdom that spends all day in the garden with a fishing rod in its hand, do you think? Or is it just very small wisdom? I may be straying from the point. The Archdruid thinks that there should be more laughter during Lent, apparently.

At any rate, I shall try to be as unfunny as possible.

"Andrew also slips into the complacent assumption that children have religions and beliefs of their own. I'm not sure that this is true, for practical purposes; at the risk of sounding D*wk*ns**n, parents have religions and beliefs, which they tend to want schools to inculcate. And there has to come a point where schools, being run primarily for the good of the children and partly for the good of society, may have to say "No, we won't help you brainwash your offspring, and we won't help you shield your offspring from contrary opinions to yours".

I am seriously – and not at all jokingly or complacently – considering announcing that if anyone uses the D-word, I shall consider all threads in this forum to have been Godwinned. Unless and until I get around to actually writing a review of his ruddy book, but I guess in fairness I'd have to read it first. (It's on my Amazon wish-list if anyone thinks this would add to measurably to the sum of human merriment.)

I also wonder, in an unfunny and not at all complacent way, whether the otherwise inexplicable lack of outrage that the fascist Daily Express engenders is a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. (Have I got that right? "My father's son" is me, so if "That man's father" is "my father's son" then that man's father is me so that man is my son. But it doesn't work if the barber is a woman. I'm wandering again.) So, for example, members of the Blairite junta may say "We can't help feeling a little sympathy for the the fascist Daily Express. After all, they are stirring up hatred towards and fear of Muslims, and the more people hate and fear Muslims, the easier it will be for us to bring in identity cards, increase surveillance, go to war with Iran, abolish Magna Carta, etc." And equally, members of the Dawkinsite cabal may say "We can't help feeling a little sympathy for the fascist Daily Express. After all, they are slagging off god botherers."

If I've understood this properly, then I have a large number of tiny little midichlorians in my head; and when I think I'm expressing an opinion or a point of view, what is actually happening is the little midichlorians are telling me what to think. (Or maybe there is no actual "me" at all; just a sort of sock puppet that the midichlorians live in. I seem to think that Descartes addressed this kind of problem as well, but presumably, what I mistook for the cogito is actually the midichlorians whispering sweet nothings to me.) I realise it's nothing personal: everyone is controlled by their midichlorians. Except Richard Dawkins, oddly.

I wasn't going to mention this -- the suspicion that some people may tolerate anti-Muslim writing because Islam is a religion and they don't like religions -- but I felt that Phil's use of the term "brainwashing" implies that we aren't using the Queensbury rules any more. "You gave yourself away very carelessly just then," as Frodo said to Gollum. Come to think of it, the "Noldor" were originally called "Gnomes", so perhaps it means "Elvish wisdom"?

Some people – the Archbishop of York, for example – have suspected for a while that people who are reluctant to accommodate Muslims in state schools have a hidden agenda: they would really like to use the state education system to further their agenda of suppressing the open expression of religion of any kind, which is presumably the first part of pincer movement with a view to suppressing religion altogether. I don't say that Phil has gone this far. I merely point out that there is an interesting slippage from "I would like my child to be excused from cross-country runs, because cross-country runs are taboo in my religion" to "Parents want schools to inculcate their beliefs" and from "We will not necessarily accommodate your religious prohibitions under all circumstances: it depends on on how important the "no cross-country" taboo is to members of the First Church of Christ, Smoker, and how essential cross-country runs are to our educational objectives" to "Schools are run for the good of society and won't help parents brainwash their children."

Oh, and the buried assumption that "run for the benefit of the child" and "inculcating their parents religious beliefs" are necessarily in conflict.

We could, at this point, discuss whether "sport" is in fact an essential part of "education"; and even if it is, whether "sport" necessarily involves taking group showers; and even if it does, whether gym teachers have to be recruited only from among the paedophile community. But we aren't going to.

Dawkins major fallacy – one of Dawkins major fallacies – one of Dawkins many major fallacies – is his belief that "religion" is primarily an opinion; indeed, that it is primarily an opinion about the process by which different species arose on earth. If this were correct, then it would follow that no-one under the age of, say, nine and three-quarters could have an informed and valid opinion, and therefore that it is meaningless to talk about a "Christian Child", a "Darwinist Child" or a "Jewish Child." A child isn't quite a person in the required sense, but more a sort of squidgy pool of potential personhood: an hommlette as Lacan so memorably put it. (That's a French joke, and not funny, so it doesn't count.) The specifics I am unclear about: do we give children no information about life on earth, or indeed Life on Earth before their tenth birthdays, and then give them unbiased accounts of Darwinism and Young Earth Creationism, let them make up their own minds, and then ship them off to the Granny Goodness Home For Philosopher Kings? Or is the idea that if you meticulously shield them from the midichlorians they will spontaneously become Darwinists without anyone needing to teach them? (Come to think of it Pascal worked out Euclid from first principles in his bedroom, having been been banned from studying geometry by his father for presumably good reasons, but then Pascal was infested with the mind virus and doesn't count.) I mean, I'm taking it as red that teaching young children about Darwinism --or indeed anything else-- would be a form of child abuse? I think I've wandered off the point again.

Five minutes of actual thought would demonstrate that we use terms like "Christian", and "Jewish" in a variety of different ways. "Jewish cooking" doesn't mean cooking which is descended from Abraham down the maternal line. "A Christian action" isn't necessarily one in accordance with the idea that the Son is of the same substance as the Father. Christian art isn't necessarily art which has a tendency to facilitate the feeding of the sick, the clothing of the naked, the visiting of those in prison and which ever one I've forgotten. If I say "I think you should arrange your time table so that Muslim children can pray at Muslim prayer times", and "I think you should arrange your canteen so that there is something that Jewish children are allowed to eat"; then "Jewish child" is a shorter way of spelling "child who is being raised in accordance with Jewish traditions."

We could ask interesting philosophical questions about what it means for a small child to have "beliefs" of any kind. A child might say that she believed in Santa, and be very, very sad if she were not allowed to hang her stocking up (to the extent that taking the stocking away would constitute mental cruelty); but if you pressed her, she would probably not think that Santa has the same ontological qualities that Mummy and Daddy do. She might also have a belief that there is such a place as New York, even though her reasons for believing it may be philosophically weak. Road to Larissa and all that.

Even in an adult "being Jewish" or "being C of E" may be very important, but not actually imply the existence of a philosophical or theological opinion. One quite often meets people who say "No, I don't really believe that there is such a person as YHWH; but that doesn't mean that I'm going to allow any son of mine to have a foreskin." The archbishop of Canterbury appears to be in this category. (About God, I mean, not foreskins.)

We could have an interesting discussion about whether doctors ought to perform irreversible cosmetic surgery on young children even if their parents think it is very important. But we aren't going to.

In practical terms, we don't need to bring Nobdaddy or Galactus into the equation at all. I am, by conviction, a vegetarian. My five year old, by hypothesis, has no convictions one way or the other, although he has habits and expectations, and might be very, very sad if he though he was eating baa-lambs and moo-cows. I hand my child over to The State for part of each day: is it reasonable of me to say "I require that my son be given no meat, because that is my conviction and it will make him very very sad." I used to naively think that everyone thought the answer was "Yes, provided it isn't actually harming the kid or making it impossible for us to educate him." It appears that a reasonable body of opinion now thinks: "If you are going to live in England, you must live exclusively according to a English customs, which have always included the consumption of large ammounts of roast beef." (Well, they have.) And just possibly a less reasonable body which says "Provided you dislike meat in a secular way, then we are prepared to give your baby lentil stew; but if you think that a Supreme Being agrees with your opinions, then we are giving the brat turkey twizzlers."

Granted, some people think that any kind of religious belief whatsoever is "harming" children; and any kind of religious belief whatsoever makes education impossible. I don't propose to have the argument all over again. I merely point out that actively using schools as tool to suppress religious belief is just as much an ideological decision as using them to promote a particular religion and, in my view, wrong for the same reasons. Perhaps ideologically neutral schools are, in fact, impossible and "state education" necessarily implies "the abolition of the church." But I haven't heard anyone making this case.

(NOTE: To say that "suppressing religious" and "promoting religious" are both ideological positions is not the same as saying "atheism is a faith position". The latter is a rhetorical device sometimes used by Christians; very entertaining if you like watching secularists foam at the mouth with rage, but not actually true.)

Actually, the difficult question isn't "What if the children don't have opinions and beliefs?" but "What if they do?" What if the parent wants the child to be given veggie food, but the kid wants beefburgers? What if the parents have a philosophical objection to corporal punishment but the kid would just as soon be slapped and get it over with? How does a child with a relatively limited vocabularly put his ideological opinion across to adults in authority? Would we pay any attention to him if he did? Should we?

"There's also the problem that accommodating one group's rules and beliefs could be offensive or harmful to another, in a very practical way. For example, we're lucky in Britain in that - I think - most people recognise that creationism is a bit silly, and would say that Young Earth creationism is goofy to the point of justifying vulgar abuse. However, there are places in the rest of the world where people take these things seriously, and not only claim the right to withdraw their sprogs from lessons in which Darwin is mentioned (which is close enough to abuse in my book), but want creationism taught in schools. Whereas, if I had children, I'd regard any school which so much as mentioned the bloody idea in science classes as flatly unacceptable for them. That makes it impossible for any school to act in a way that's acceptable to both sets of people; one lot regards science lessons without creationism as immoral, and one lot has the exact opposite position. And merely permitting parents to withdraw their offspring from specific science lessons isn't going to work, because (a) it generates problems about the nature of truth, and more importantly (b) it generates problems when exams come around with questions about what was taught during the previous term."

I don't see what you've done here except demonstrate that as well as hard cases, there are very easy ones. "On non-essential matters, parents have a right to have their religious beliefs respected. It is impossible to teach biology without teaching evolution. Therefore, the teaching of evolution is not a non-essential matter. Therefore, the religious opinions of parents are in this case irrelevant."

To summarize.

I have a position which involves the belief in non-subjective morality, a personal God, and the mythology of the Incarnation. I wish to encourage people to believe in that position, because I happen to think – oh dear I am beginning to sound like Tony – because I happen to think that it is true. But I have -- what many people seem to lack and some even find hard to conceive of -- a meta-position. My meta-position says says "Not everyone agrees with me; and I would sooner find ways of accommodating the people who don't agree with me than go for some kind of Hegelian absolutism where the person with the biggest stick decides what is true that week."

I also note that a lot of what we are talking about are not so much ideologies or beliefs but taboos, cultural practices, customs; traditions. I know that it can be very painful when someone makes me break one of my taboos. So I think we should be very, very careful about forcing other people to break theirs.

And the most important point is this. If we excuse religious kids from P.E lessons and let them keep their knickers on in the shower, it will really piss off all the P.E teachers. Which is surely the most important test for any educational policy?

But, of course, I'm infected with midichlorians so there is no reason to listen to anything I say.

You've been a wonderful audience. Thank you and good night.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I think that what absolutely clinches it for me is the way that Josh and Madge called their kid "Judas". Because, like, that name had such positive associations for them.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, commented....

'It is undeniable that all those who set up paedophile groups in the 1970s were leading homosexual activists, which makes sense, as paedophilia is really only a logical extension of homosexuality.'

Friday, February 23, 2007

First they came for the Jews...


Schools Should Accomodate Muslim Needs

State schools should avoid sex education classes and swimming lessons during Ramadan to cater for the needs of Muslim pupils, says the Muslim Council of Britain. The recommendations, issued today, are included in a 72-page document of Muslim-friendly guidelines on topics such as uniform, halal meals, issues relating to Ramadan, physical education and sex education....The MCB claims Muslim pupils may consider it too risky to swim during Ramadan as 'the potential for swallowing water is very high' and they may break their fast....Another suggestion is to avoid teaching sex and relationship education, including aspects that are part of the science curriculum, because Muslims are not permitted to engage in sexual activity during the month of fasting and they are also expected to avoid sexual thoughts and conversation.


Muslims Tell Us How To Run Our Schools

DEMANDS for a ban on “un-Islamic” activities in schools will be set out by the Muslim Council of Britain today. Targets include playground games, swimming lessons, school plays, parents’ evenings and even vaccinations. And the calls for all children to be taught in Taliban-style conditions will be launched with the help of a senior Government education adviser.

HAVE YOUR SAY: SHOULD MUSLIMS TELL US HOW TO RUN OUR SCHOOLS? "If they want to live in our country I firmly believe they should follow our laws and culture. Bringing thier own culture and laws over is an invasion on britain which I believe should be stopped at all costs." "Who are you to dictate to us in our western Christian country.If you don't like know where you can go....." "I cannot believe that the MCB are stupid enough to think that they can take over this country and bend it to Muslim culture."

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Rise of the Silver Surfer


Stan Lee and Jack Kirby both have conveniently bad memories. People who knew Kirby say that he rarely knew precisely where he was going with a story until he sat down and drew it. So we can really only speculate about how The Silver Surfer came into being. But we do know for certain that several pivotal elements of the Galactus so-called Trilogy were introduced by Kirby at the pencilling stage. If my speculations are right, then Lee had further ideas after he saw those pencils, which caused Kirby to go back and re-think his interpretation of the story. And if the comic shows signs of cutting and pasting, then surely we should say that the final version was partly created by the editor?

The romantic idea that Jolly Jack was simply the illustrator of stories that were created by Smiley Stan has been thoroughly debunked. But some people have swung the other way and said that Lee's role was simply to provide copy for stories that were conceived, written and drawn by Kirby alone. Some people even yearn for a 'pure' Kirby, unadulterated by Lee's interference.

The published Galactus so-called Trilogy is unquestionably a masterpiece. Partly, this is down to Galactus himself. He's become such a familiar and over-used part of the Marvel brand that it takes a bit of effort to imagine what readers must have felt in 1966 when the face of 'god' stared out from among the ads for sea-monkeys. Similarly, we need to make a conscious effort to ignore the 40 years of bad stories with which the Silver Surfer has been overlaid to see the elegant simplicity of the character that Lee and Kirby originally presented us with.

But the real genius of the story resides in its structure; the way several different plots are interleaved; the way we jump between the mythological story of the the Surfer and Galactus; the 'operatic' story about the Surfer and Alicia; the straight super-heroics of the Fantastic Four themselves, and the 'realistic' sub-plots about the panic in the streets and Reed and Sue's minor domestic tiffs.

Kirby without Lee never had this much breadth, this much discipline, this much suspense; Lee without Kirby never had – well, anything very much at all. Is it really so surprising that the story which is most obviously a collaboration between the two men is also the one which fans have generally regarded as their best work?


The first thing we can say for certain about the the Galactus Trilogy is that it isn't. As published it consists of the following:

Fantastic Four #48 7 pages wrapping up the 'Inhumans' storyline from the previous issue; 13 pages build up to Galactus arrival on earth.

Fantastic Four #49 20 pages about Galactus and the Silver Surfer.

Fantastic Four #50 13 pages wrapping up the Galactus storyline; 7 pages setting up 'This Man, This Monster' (issue #51) and a soap opera about the Human Torch at college.

That is, the story of Galactus and the Surfer runs to 46 pages – six pages too long to be a two-parter, but shorter than the 60 pages an actual 'trilogy' would need to be.

A summary of the story would go something like this:

# 48: The F.F return to New York. There are weird phenomena in the skies, and the people are panicking. It turns out that the phenomena have been created by the Watcher, who is trying to hide the earth from the Silver Surfer. The Surfer is not fooled: he arrives on earth, lands on top of the Baxter Building and signals to Galactus. A brief fight ensues, and the Thing punches the Surfer off the building. Then Galactus arrives, and announces his intention to consume the planet.

49: Ironically, the Thing's punch propelled the Surfer to the roof of Alicia's apartment. Alicia is kind to him, and he starts to pity the human race. The Fantastic Four make various futile attempts to fight Galactus who sets a robot called The Punisher on the Thing. The Watcher transports the Torch through space to Galactus's 'home planet', which contains a weapon that can be used against him. The Surfer resolves to intercede with his master on humanity's behalf, to the consternation of the Watcher.

50: Galactus isn't interested in the Surfer's pleas, and there is a big fight, during which the F.F can only stand and watch. The Human Torch returns to earth with a weapon called The Ultimate Nullifier. Galactus is afraid that the the weapon could destroy the universe, and agrees to leave earth in return for the weapon. Before going, he removes the Silver Surfer's 'space time' powers. Alicia thanks the Surfer and Ben is left with the impression that she loves the noble alien more than she loves him.'

Let's call this 'G'.

Here is Stan Lee's account of how it was created: .

'Well, having written so many of them, I can tell you in confidence that stories aren't so difficult to create. All you have to do is loose weight, worry yourself sic, develop ulcers, become a nervous wreck, torture yourself unmercifully and go slightly out of your mind -- all this, of course, while watching the clock and realizing that if you don't come up with an angle in the next few minutes, you'll never be able to pull the whole fushlugginer thing together in time to make the printer's deadline! But I know how sensitive you are. I don't want to worry you any more than is absolutely necessary. So let's skip over the sheer anguish and misery involved in formulating our Galactus plot. Let's get to the good part.'

It seems to me that if a witness, in reply to a simple question, spends 200 words saying absolutely nothing, there is probably something that he doesn't want to say. Stan Lee's public persona has always been that of a fair-ground huckster or a wrestling promoter ('Step right up! The battle of the century!'). He's a past master of this kind of evasion. Look at his account (in Origins of Marvel Comics) of the creation of Spider-Man -- a character who no less than three other creators lay claim to. He says that he wanted to produce an unorthodox comic – a teenaged hero; a hero who 'loses as often as he fact more often', a story which avoided super-hero formulas. He then spends 500 words explaining that the idea of calling him 'Spider-Man' came from a 1930s 'Shadow' clone called 'The Spider'; and that publisher Martin Goodman was dubious about the idea. ('He patiently informed me that people didn't like spiders, that Spider-Man was an unlikely name for a hero...' This makes perfect sense on the assumption that neither Stan nor Uncle Martin had ever heard of Batman.) He spends a further 500 words describing how Kirby's heroic style was unsuitable for the character and how the project was given to Ditko instead. He concludes 'I asked Steve to draw Spider-Man. And he did. And the rest is history.' We've magically gone from 'A teenaged hero with 'Spider' in his name' to 'the rest is history'. This makes me think that Lee would rather not discuss the actual process by which Amazing Fantasy #15 came into being.

By his own account, Stan Lee used to present Jack Kirby with 'an outline of a story'; or 'discuss the basic plot with him, turn him loose, and wait until he brought me the penciled drawings'. A lot could happen between Stan's 'basic plot' and Kirby's 'finished drawings'. In 1966, a journalist recorded the conference between Lee and Kirby for F.F. # 55 (the second Silver Surfer story).

'Suppose Alicia is in some kind of trouble. And the Silver Surfer comes to help her...But the Thing sees them together and he misunderstands. So he starts a big fight with the Silver Surfer. And meanwhile the Fantastic Four is in lots of trouble. Doctor Doom has caught them again and they need the Thing's help. The Thing finally beats the Silver Surfer. But then Alicia makes him realize he's made a terrible mistake.' (Reproduced in Jack Kirby Collector #18)

Anyone can see that this is a very thin summary for a 20 page comic: Lee has left lots of things for Kirby to make up. (What kind of trouble is Alicia in? How did Doom capture the F.F?) But we can also tell that Kirby deviated from his brief in several respects. In the published comic, Alicia isn't in trouble: instead, the Surfer has gone to her to learn more about the human race. It is Reed, not Alicia who convinces the Thing that he's made a mistake. Doom isn't in the story at all. Towards the end of their professional relationship, Lee seems to have become (understandably) irritated with Kirby's habit of turning in work which was different to what he'd been asked for. At this stage, it seems to have been a positive part of their creative process.

So: what 'brief' did Stan Lee present to Jack Kirby as the basis for the Galactus / Surfer storyline? We have a surprising amount of information.

1: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby jointly came up with the character of Galactus.

A literal reading of Stan's evidence suggests that he came up with the name and Kirby thought up a character to go with it. Again we have to cut through the huckster persona, but the meaning is fairly clear:

'After hours of head scratching, gazing at the ceiling, stretching, yawning, bending paper clips, staring into space, then staring out of space, we finally got it. It suddenly all came together. 'Galactus!' we shouted. I didn't know what it meant, but it sounded real zingy to me. Jack, as usual, puffed his cigar and managed to look as if he definitely knew what it meant, and that was good enough for me. Galactus it was. Galactus it would be. We had our villain. Now all we needed was a story.'

2: Lee's original concept did NOT include the Silver Surfer.


'When Jack brought back the drawings, I saw a guy on a flying surfboard and I said 'Who's this?' Jack said Galactus ought to have a herald who flies ahead of him, and I thought it was a wonderful idea...'

3: Lee's original concept was NOT for a three part story.


'We didn't originally plan to make our Galactus / Surfer epic three separate stories It just seemed to happen that way.'

Unless Lee thought he could introduce and dispose of Galactus in 13 pages, it follows that the 7 page 'Inhumans' prologue was not part of the original story. Maybe they planned to fill out issue #48 with some other material – say, the beginning of Johnny's search for Crystal that was going to ramble on for the next dozen or so issues – and give Galactus issue #49 to himself. They presumably changed their mind when Kirby found that his story was too big for one issue, but not long enough for two; they must have originally intended to do a 13 page build up in #48, and to wrap the story up in #49.

The link between the two sections of issue #48 is rather clumsy: when the F.F realize that New York is in a state of panic they fly to see what is going on in their jet-cycle. A caption reads: 'Having retrieved their jet cycle which they left at the airport before flying to the great refuge...'. This suggests to me that in the first version of #48, the F.F set out from the Baxter Building (where their jet-cycle lives); that this was pasted directly after their return to America by passenger jet; and that Lee, spotting the inconsistency, wrote a caption saying they left the jet-bike at the airport. (For comparison, see how carefully the epilogue to #50 is tied in with the main story: there are newspaper headlines which say 'Galactus vanishes'; Ben is still jealous of Alicia and the Surfer; the Torch is still thinking about his journey through space.)

It may also be significant that issue #48 ends with a big, nearly full page panel of Galactus (2 small panels of his ship opening up and one big one of Galactus emerging from it.) This 2 /1 grid is used fairly often by Kirby (on page 16 of #49, for example) although he is much fonder of putting the big panel first and the two small ones underneath. But I can't off-hand think of another example of him ending an issue on this kind of spread. However dramatic the situation, the 'To be continued...' is usually a small caption at the bottom of the last panel of a three-by-two or three-by-three grid. Note that letterer Rosen has had to place the caption in a starburst (another relatively rare devise) that partially obscures the Watcher's head. Because of this, it's easy to miss the fact that the Watcher is in this panel at all. I can't believe that Kirby drew a page intending one of the main characters to be covered up; but if 'To be continued...' had been placed more conventionally, in a box at the bottom of the page, then we'd lose the heads of Johnny, Sue, Ben and Reed. All this suggests to me that page 20 of F.F # 48 wasn't originally intended to end the comic. Once Kirby or Lee realized that they weren't going to finish the story in a single issue, they must have looked for a place to split the material which they had, and realized that this dramatic spread was the perfect place to end the episode. It was an inspired decision, creating one of the best cliffhangers in comic history. (Again, only Spider-Man #32 comes close.)

4: Lee's original concept did NOT give the Watcher a major role.

Lee writes:

'The mysterious Watcher plays a rather important role in the the Galactus Trilogy. He's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. I originally expected that we'd use him for a panel or two in the first portion of the story, just to add a little drama. But did it work out that way...Suddenly it seemed that the Watcher had become a totally pivotal character and much of the plot development was dependent upon his crucial role in the gathering drama.'

It is hard to see how a character could run away with itself if Stan was providing such pared down summaries as we have seen that he gave Kirby for issue #55. It's much more likely that he said '....and what if the Watcher was there to help them?' and Kirby took the hint and ran with it. In other words, when Lee says 'The Watcher became a totally pivotal character' he must mean 'Jack Kirby made the Watcher a totally pivotal character.'

Based on this, can we reconstruct Stan Lee's original, Surfer-less, Watcher-free, single issue 'Galactus' story?

It's easy to picture the story without the Silver Surfer in it. In truth, he sits un-easily in the published version. His sub-plot has very little effect on what is going on; his rebellion doesn't actually achieve much. Galactus is defeated, not by his herald's defection, but by the Watcher's perennial violation of the Prime Directive. Cut the Surfer out of the story, and you are left with 'Galactus invades earth; Human Torch fetches Ultimate Nullifier; Galactus goes away again.' The Watcher talks some melodrama at the end of #49 about how the Surfer's defection has spoiled his plan and may end up causing the end of the world, but this idea isn't developed in #50. Galactus says he will defeat the Surfer by threatening the human race but since he's planning to destroy the world anyway, this doesn't make much sense. Possibly the Surfer's rebellion delays Galactus until Johnny can get back with the weapon, but this isn't made explicit in the story. It would have made more dramatic sense if the F.F had thrown everything they had at Galactus, and when they were utterly defeated, the Surfer saved the day. As it stands we get the impression that it's Mr. Fantastic who saves the Surfer. (Galactus: 'Now by my hand, the Surfer must perish' Reed: 'No Galactus, it is you who will perish...')

A Watcher-free Galactus trilogy is rather harder to imagine. In the story we have, everything turns on the Watcher giving Johnny Storm the Ultimate Plot Device. Yet Lee is clear that the Surfer was originally only going to appear at the beginning to give Galactus a dramatic build up. Perhaps, in Stan's conception, the Nullifier is simply a weapon created by Reed; or perhaps Reed works out where Galactus home world is and sends Johnny to fetch it?

So, the brief which Lee originally gave to Kirby may have looked something like this:

'The F.F return to New York. The Watcher warns them that Galactus is going to destroy the earth and feed off its energy. Galactus arrives. The F.F plead with him and then make futile attempts to fight him. Galactus shrugs these attacks off. Reed disappears into his lab, and designs a weapon so awesome that Galactus fears for the universe. Reed agrees to hand over the weapon if Galactus leaves earth.'

We'll call this 'L'. It would not be unlike many F.F tales from the period, and would fit nicely into a single issue.

Now, a lot of Kirby fans would like to say that Kirby took this brief and expanded it into the comic we now have pretty much on his own. They reason that since, by Lee's account, Kirby introduced the Silver Surfer into the comic and since the Silver Surfer is pivotal to the story, the story as it stands must be Kirby's kreation. But two very clear gaps in the text indicate that life is more complicated than this.

In #49 there is a two-page sequence in which the Watcher transports Johnny Storm into 'the center of infinity'. Johnny has to fly through 'the celestial barriers known as un-life' (which takes him a panel) and arrives at Galactus 'home planet', one of those rambling abstract geometrical thingies that only Kirby could draw. The Watcher says that it contains 'the device with which you will battle earth's greatest menace.' When we next see the Torch in #50, he is already on his way home. 'The watcher has done it, I'm heading for earth again, I can feel it.' It is very strange to show Johnny's journey to Galactus' home, and his journey back, but not to show what happens while he was there. Surely Kirby would have loved to have drawn the interior of Galactus space station? It looks distinctly as if a page or two has been cut here, or at any rate, as if someone changed their mind about the focus of the story.

The Silver Surfer appears for a total of 13 frames in #48. He doesn't get a single word of dialogue. I don't think people have paid enough attention to how strange this is. When talking about the Surfer, Lee always puts great emphasis on how much care he took over the dialogue for this very special character. But when he first appears, he doesn't give him any dialogue at all. Why write ''On and on he soars, dodging meteors, skirting around asteroids, rocketing from planet to planet, being paid by the word...' where he could perfectly well have given him a soliloquy? The reason must be that at this point, neither Lee nor Kirby had realized just how special the Surfer was going to be.

Once he has signaled to Galactus, Ben clobbers the Surfer, and he falls from the Baxter Building. He is very clearly shown plummeting downwards, head first. Ben tells Johnny to catch him before he hits the ground; Ben says that he 'bounced back like he wanted to fall off the roof'. The Watcher says that the fall won't hurt the Surfer; that the Surfer let the Thing punch him out of the way 'because it was the easiest way for him to depart.' However, in #49, we discover that the Surfer has been rendered unconscious ('shocked into insensibility') by Ben's blow. The caption, indeed says that 'a being who straddles the starways can hardly be injured by a single blow no matter how powerful it may have been' – but this contradicts Ben's remark that 'I didn't hit him that hard.' Further, while he was clearly shown falling from the Baxter Building, he has somehow ended in Alicia Masters apartment -- which we know is some distance away. Clearly, between issue #48 and #49, Lee and/or Kirby have changed their mind about the direction of the story. The Surfer didn't allow himself to fall from a skyscraper – he was punched across town, hard enough to stun him.

The Surfer appears in #49 for only 3 pages (7, 11, 20): an extended scene between him and Alicia in which the F.F do not feature. There is also a two panel lead in on page 6, and a 1 panel lead out on page 12. Page 7, 11 and 20 can be read consecutively as a single scene: on the last panel of page 7, Alicia offers the Surfer food; on the first panel of page 11, he turns the food into energy. As page 7 begins the Surfer is discovered lying on Alicia's couch. The two panel lead in on page 6 show him unconscious on the skylight of her apartment; which falls open, causing him to land on the couch. This is surely very contrived. Similarly, page 20 could be placed straight after page 11 -- Alicia is still standing behind the Surfer, continuing to plead with him to save the earth. In the additional panel on page 12, the Surfer has gone over to the window, but on page 20, he is again standing in the center of the room. It looks very much as if Kirby had a near complete version of #49 into which he inserted a stand-alone 3 page cameo about the Surfer.

If this is correct, then there was an intermediate stage between Stan Lee's summary brief (L) and the completed comic (G). Let's call it 'K'. 'K' represents Kirby's take on Stan's brief, with the addition of the Surfer and an expanded role for the Watcher.

'The F.F return to New York, and are warned by the Watcher that Galactus is coming, and that he will consume the planet for energy. The Silver Surfer travels through space to earth. The Watcher tries to hide the Earth, but the Surfer sees through his ruse and signals to Galactus. The F.F first try to plead with him not to destroy earth, and then try to use their powers against him. Galactus shrugs these attacks off. The Watcher sends Johnny into space; Johnny, after many cosmic adventures, returns with the Ultimate Nullifier. Galactus agrees to leave rather than risk Reed destroying the universe.' (K)

So why did Kirby add three pages about the Surfer to his almost complete saga? The answer, surely, is because Stan Lee told him to. Lee spotted that the Surfer in #48 was (if nothing else) a design classic, and must have demanded that Jack make greater use of him. 'Maybe some human – no, maybe Alicia – convinces him that human are okay.' It is very hard to believe that Stan looked at the inhuman Surfer in #48 and thought that he had 'a spiritual quality, a sense of nobility, a feeling of almost religious fervor in his character and demeanor '; but this description fits the pencils of #49 perfectly. It must have been at this point, when looking at those pencils that Lee conceived of the hippy poet character that has become the 'received' Silver Surfer.

In summary, I think that the creation of Fantastic Four # 48 – # 50 must have gone something like this.

1: Lee briefs Kirby for a one issue story (L)

2: Kirby expands the plot, adds the Surfer and gives the Watcher a bigger role. (K)

3: Kirby finds that the story is too long to fit into a single issue. Either he or Lee decide to split the story when Galactus arrives on earth, and to preface it with the conclusion of the Inhumans storyline. (G, #48)

4: Kirby begins work on #49, which is going to focus on the Human Torch's quest.

5: Lee is impressed with the design of the Surfer in #48, and tells Kirby to give him a role in #49. Kirby draws 3 additional pages and adds them to the issue he is working on. As a result, part of the Human Torch's adventures are either deleted or never drawn. This makes the published version of #49.

6: After discussion with Lee, Kirby draws #50, presumably utilizing some material that would have been in #48, drawing the different threads (Galactus and the F.F; the Human Torch and the Watcher; the Surfer and Alicia) more or less seamlessly together. Since it is clear that this won't take the whole issue, the final 7 pages are used to 'trail' two future storylines.


No comic book has ever been admired – not to say revered – in the way that 'The Coming of Galactus', 'If This Be Doomsday' and 'The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer' -- Fantastic Four #48, #49 and #50 – have been. It was comic book fans who dubbed the three stories 'The Galactus Trilogy'; but Stan Lee enthusiastically adopted the label. 'It sounds like it should be required reading, up there with the Harvard Classics and War and Peace. And for all I know, it is.' Page 2 of #49 has been called the best page, of the best issue, of the best comic of all time. Only Spider-Man #33 (by Lee and Ditko) has anything like the same reputation. So naturally, the authorship of these three comics has been the subject of more heated debate among comic fans than almost any other subject.

Writers are always being asked 'Where do you get your ideas?' People think that if they had a source of this mysterious commodity, then they would be writers too. They think that if the four words 'Boarding School For Wizards' had jumped into their head first, they too would currently be richer than the Queen. Once you have the idea, the process of actually writing the book is donkey work which practically anyone could do.

Writers, on the other hand, will tell you that someone with sufficient skill, talent and craftsmanship can work up almost any idea into a successful book. If you can produce the kind of prose, the kind of convoluted plot, the funny names and the silly jokes that children want to read (and can produce hundreds of pages of it by the deadline) then you'll become a best-selling children's writer, 'idea' or no 'idea'. We hear a great deal about how Paul McCartney woke up on emorning with the tune 'Scrambled eggs / Oh my darling how I love your legs' running round and round his head. We hear less about the weeks of work to produce a sensible lyric, a middle eight, an arrangement, to say nothing of the decade of jamming and improvisation that preceded this moment of 'inspiration'.

Yes; but. We happily talk about 'Walt Disney's Bambi' and 'Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings'. Yet Peter Jackson doesn't act, or compose music, or create special effects, or perform stunts. Perhaps we think that 'actually editing footage together' and 'telling people where to point the camera' is the key, creative role in producing a motion picture. Or perhaps 'Peter Jackson' is simply a code-word, meaning 'The man who co-ordinated all the people with the actual talent who made the movie.' But when we think of directors and conductors as creative auteur, we seem to be getting perilously close to saying 'Oh, the creative part is sitting in an arm chair and imagining what the finished product will look like. Then, it's just a matter of hiring more or less interchangeable technicians to put your idea on the screen.' We see this idea in its most extreme form in some kinds of modern art. The 'artist' is the person who has the idea of a bisected shark or a plaster cast of a bed. They then hire students to do the actual work. (I can't write computer code or produce computer art, but I am the 'designer' of two computer games. I was sometimes told that this means that I was the 'vision keeper' of the project. What, I ask in all seriousness, did that mean?)

Everyone, apart from Marvel's lawyers and a few journalists, now know how Stan Lee and Jack Kirby worked together. Stan came up with a 'concept'; Jack turned the concept into a 20 page comic book; Stan then wrote copy (speech bubbles and captions) that matched the pictures. But what did Stan mean by 'concept'? He neither wrote nor drew the first issues of Thor, but he still claims co-creatorship of the characters. Once you remove the waffle, his account of how he 'created' Thor goes like this: 'I thought I would do a mythological hero. I thought I would use Norse mythology. I thought I would make Thor the main character. I thought he could use his hammer to fly.' In Origins of Marvel Comics he adds 'I thought his secret identity could be a doctor.' I am very happy to believe that this was the brief which he gave to Jack Kirby, and which Kirby worked up into the (lackluster) Journey into Mystery # 83 and which Lee's kid-brother then wrote dialogue for.

But it is taking nothing away from Jack Kirby to say that it was Stan who spotted that there was a place in the market for a mythological hero; and that Stan was proved to be quite right. Practically all the characters who were launched under Lee's editorship – Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Thor, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Nick Fury, Gi/Ant Man – everyone apart from the solo Human Torch and Millie the Model -- are still being published 40 years later. That's a pretty impressive hit-rate. This may explain why Lee was courted by Hollywood, where Kirby, right up to his death, was employed as an ideas-gerbil by toy and animation companies. Lee had a knack for saying 'Here's a one-line concept for a character that will sell'; Kirby had a genius for saying 'Here are ten pages of sketches of interesting characters – I'm not sure who they are or what they do yet.'

If Stan Lee is one of those who thinks that the hard part about writing is coming up with 'those crazy ideas' and that all the rest is donkey work that can be contracted out then, according to his own lights, Lee is the onlie begatter of the Marvel Universe. But some of us think the creative process is a bit more complicated than that. What can we say about the process by which the first Galactus story came into being?