Bogus Lewis Letter?

A UK paper is reporting that a new letter C.S. Lewis wrote to a child has been found by literary advisor to Lewis’ estate, Walter Hooper. It supposedly puts to rest any doubt that The Chronicles of Narnia are explicitly Christian.

As soon as I read the first line of the letter, "Supposing there really was a world like Narnia…", I knew for certain that I’d read it before. To make sure I wasn’t just experiencing deja vu, I did a little digging.

I was right. I had indeed heard that line before.

First of all, this "new" letter has been known to exist since at least 1999, and at the time was suspected to be a forgery. I won’t get into it now, but this isn’t the first time Mr. Hooper has been accused of forging Lewisian works. The letter:

Magdalen College, Cambridge
5 March 1961
Dear Ann,

What Aslan meant when he said he had died is, in one sense plain enough. Read the earlier book in this series called, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" and you will find the full story of how he was killed by the White Witch and came to life again. When you have read that, I think you will probably see that there is a deeper meaning behind it. The whole Narnian story is about Christ. That is to say, I ask myself, "Supposing there really was a world like Narnia and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?" The stories are my answer.

Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He would become a Talking Beast there as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called the "Lion of Judah" in the Bible; (c) I had been having strange dreams about lions when I began the work. The whole series works out like this:

"The Magician’s Nephew" tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" tells of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. "Prince Caspian" tells the Restoration of the true religion after a corruption. "The Horse and His Boy" tells the calling and conversion of a heathen. "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" tells of spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep). "The Silver Chair" tells of the continued war against the powers of darkness. "The Last Battle" tells of the coming of the Anti-Christ (The Ape) the end of the world and the last judgement.

All Clear?

C. S. Lewis

The criticism:

"The name Ann Jenkins seems to echo some of the previous Lewis forgeries. In ‘Forms of Things Unknown’ the protagonist’s name is John Jenkin. In Ed Brown’s manuscript version of ‘The Man born Blind’ the wife’s name is changed from Mary to Anne. And in the bogus opening of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on the back of page 1 of the Dark Tower manuscript, the name Susan has been changed to Ann: ‘This book is about four children whose names were Ann, Martin, Rose and Peter.’"

More criticism:

"Unfortunately, I can’t believe that this letter was really written by Lewis; it doesn’t sound anything like his real letters to children in style or sentiment. If a little girl had written to ask about Aslan dying, Lewis would not have wasted her time and his writing ‘What Aslan meant when he said he had died is, in one sense plain enough." (In what sense?) He would not have spoiled the suspense of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by telling her in advance that the White Witch kills Aslan and he comes back to life. He would not have spoiled the series by recounting the didactic purpose of each of the books. And he would never have dumped the following ‘simple language’ on a child: the Crucifixion and Resurrection. the calling and conversion of a heathen. spiritual life, war against the powers of darkness. and the coming of the Anti-Christ, the end of the world, and the last judgement."

There’s more to this, though. The version of the letter that I remembered reading is more likely one written on December 24, 1959 to a Sophia Storr.

""When I started The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe I don’t think I foresaw what Aslan was going to do and suffer. I think He just insisted on behaving in His own way. This of course I did understand and the whole series became Christian."

"But it is not, as some people think, an allegory. That is, I don’t say ‘Let us represent Christ as Aslan.’ I say, ‘Supposing there was a world like Narnia, and supposing, like ours, it needed redemption, let us imagine what sort of Incarnation and Passion and Resurrection Christ would have there.’ See?""

I can’t seem to find the full text of that letter, but that’s OK, because it’s consistent with the following, which can be found in Letters to Children, published in 1985 – hardly new.

The Kilns, KilnLane
Headington Quarry,
8 June 1960

Dear [Patricia],

All your points are in a sense right. But I’m not exactly "representing" the real (Christian) story in symbols. I’m more saying "Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the ‘Great Emporer oversea’) went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?" Perhaps it comes to much the same thing as you thought, but not quite.

1. The creation of Narnia is the Son of God creating a world (not specially our world.
2. Japis plucking the apple is, like Adam’s sin, an act of disobedience, but it doesn’t fill the same place in her life as his plucking did his. She was already fallen (very much so) before she ate it.
3. The stone table is meant to remind one of Moses’ table.
4. The Passion and Resurrection of Aslan are the Passion and Resurrection Christ might be supposed to have had in that world – like those in our world but not exactly like.
5. Edmund is like Judas a sneak and a traitor. But unlike Judas he repents and is forgiven (as Judas no doubt w[oul]d. have been if he’d repented).
6. Yes. At the v.[ery] edge of the Narnian world Aslan begins to appear more like Christ as He is known in this world. Hence, the Lamb. Hence, the breakfast – like at the end of St. John’s Gospel. Does not He say "You have been allowed to know me in this world (Narnia) so that you may know me better when you get back to your own"?
7. And of course the Ape and Puzzle, just before the last Judgement (in The Last Battle) are like the coming of Antichrist before the end of our world.

All clear?
I’m so glad you like the books.

Yours sincerely
C.S. Lewis

Whether the letter to Ann is a forgery, by Hooper or anyone else, I do not know and am unqualified to even guess. Perhaps Lewis simply got tired of answering the same question about allegory over and over again and had developed a boilerplate response. I don’t know. What I do know is that the Sunday Times got fooled. The "new" letter isn’t any more unpublished or conclusive than any previously known letter on the subject. This is non-news.

Any guesses how many news outlets pick this up anyhow?

This entry was posted in arts and entertainment, essays, editorials, fisks, and rants and tagged , , , on by .

About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

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