Book Review: The C.S. Lewis Hoax

The C.S. Lewis Hoax, by Kathryn Lindskoog

When I was in college, among the many books I read for my amusement was a volume on English history that was written by someone who wanted to rehabilitate the reputation of Richard III and argue for some sort of royal ancestry for Perkin Warbeck and engage in all kinds of other revisionist speculation about the Plantagenet and Tudor royal families, with all kinds of conspiracy theories and the like. This book has that feel to it, in that it plays on the lack of trust that people might have about the behavior of someone who edits the text he handles and engages in petty dishonesty about the level of intimate friendship he had with C.S. Lewis [1], and it has certainly erupted a firestorm within studies of C.S. Lewis. I do not know, personally, nor do I consider myself well-equipped to judge, as to how much of what the author of this book claims is actually true. The necessary skills involved would require handwriting analysis, archival research, and the like. Nevertheless, the author in this short book, under 200 pages, takes aim at the cottage industry of C.S. Lewis’ writings, and the way that many of them have been edited in mostly subtle ways, with Lewis’ marginalia and juvenilia being under the care of those who are less than scrupulous in their honesty and integrity. The combination of big money and low trust creates an environment where the claims of the author must be taken seriously even if they are not to be believed automatically.

In terms of its structure and contents, this book consists of various controversies and conspiracy theories about C.S. Lewis, especially the way his writings have been handled after death, since the number of posthumous works under his name is the literary equivalent of a Tupac Shakur or Biggie Smalls, to use the example of rappers whose discography grew dramatically after death. The first chapter examines the dodgy process by which Lewis’ writings have been repackaged after death. After this the second chapter makes the most controversial claim, that the supposed lost C.S. Lewis novel “The Dark Tower” was a fraud perpetuated by someone, which leads to the third chapter, which examines the bonfire story as being potentially fraudulent as being one of William Hooper’s exaggerations and lies about his role in preserving C.S. Lewis’ literary legacy. The fourth chapter comments on the inaccuracies and troublesome tone of a documentary on Lewis’ life, followed by some of the odd and unfortunate revisions of Lewis’ works after his death. The the author turns her attention to the troublesome nature of C.S. Lewis’s romantic life [2], which included a woman who he treated as a wife after the ardor of their relationship cooled, other women who pretended to be his wife, and an American divorcee who he married only a brief while before her death, contrary to the rules of the Anglican church. The author turns her attention at this point to the fraudulent claims of William Hooper to have been a longtime friend and collaborator of C.S. Lewis, having only met him, apparently, for a short period before his death. The author closes the main section of the book with a discussion of claims of stolen manuscripts, followed by appendices that address the concern of Lewis’ Juvenilia as well as three letters to Sheldon Vanauken that mirror much of his general thought expressed in places like Mere Christianity [3].

So, what is one to make of this book? As a critical and often suspicious reader, but one who tries to be scrupulously just, I am both impressed by the passion of the author and more than a little bit displeased at the way in which this book creates a great deal of controversy and dispute over Lewis’ literary legacy. The author does not represent herself as being an insider, except in that she is a very close textual critic of Lewis’ writings and was complimented in a seemingly typical way by Lewis for her insight about Lewis’ work in her own graduate research. Even so, this book is the sort of matter that makes it difficult for different camps of scholars within a larger canon of literature to get along well and to politely hash out their differences over banquet dinners. This is a discussion for insiders to C.S. Lewis studies, and as someone who is not an insider, I find it as distressing as Lewis found the internecine squabbles among Christians at large. It is unlikely that Lewis would have been pleased about being turned into a cottage industry, nor would he be pleased about his personal life becoming the subject of gossip and rumor and innuendo. But dead people are not generally able to do anything to protect their own legacy, but depend on others being faithful trustees of that legacy. This book is a sign that there is definitely some failure to be found there.

[1] See, for example:

[2] Which appears to bear a strong relationship to my own:

“But perhaps C.S. Lewis would not be mortified now; perhaps he would smile ruefully at the joke fate played on him. Throughout his entire life and ever since, his private love-life has been one long story of tall tales, white lies, discretion, denials, temptation, mistakes, and apparent timidity. Yet he has emerged as a romantic figure in spite of himself (86).”

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Book Review: The C.S. Lewis Hoax

  1. Pingback: Book Review: C.S. Lewis: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet: A Life | Edge Induced Cohesion

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