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CS Lewis and The Inklings: The Memories of Lewis' Secretary, Walter Hooper

Updated: Jun 1

C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis

Introduction by Solomon Schmidt

In November of 2020, Walter Hooper only had a few weeks left to live. This limitlessly kind and unassuming man was spending his last days in an Oxford nursing home, his body and mind weakening each hour. I gave my friend a call, and a frail voice answered the line. When I offered to read him something by C.S. Lewis, though, Mr. Hooper verbally perked up and listened for several minutes to words written by his dear friend.

That was one of the very last times I talked to Walter Hooper, after nearly two years of weekly phone conversations that sometimes lasted two hours. He was the kindest and most humble man I have ever known, and also one of the most fascinating. Having been C.S. Lewis’s secretary, friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, and an acquaintance of Pope John Paul II, Mr. Hooper had plenty of interesting (and occasionally funny!) memories to share that no one else alive today would be able to.

After C.S. Lewis died in 1963, Walter Hooper decided to devote the rest of his life to preserving Lewis’s legacy. Fast-forward fifty-eight years, and today, we can look back and see that is exactly what he did. As literary executor of the C.S. Lewis Estate, Mr. Hooper edited a multitude of previously unpublished books and essays by Lewis, wrote several reference and biographical books on Lewis, and also made sure that none of Lewis’s works ever went out of print.


January 8, 2021, was a sad day. England had just been hit by a second wave of the coronavirus, and the country was in lockdown. Gray clouds blanketed the skies over Oxford, and a gentle rain fell as a handful of mourners gathered at St Aloysius Gonzaga Church, where J.R.R. Tolkien and Walter Hooper used to attend daily mass. As I looked at the stained-glass surrounding me and shivered inside the cold church, I thought of how sunny it was in England the last time I had visited. It was the summer of 2019, and Mr. Hooper was still alive. We visited for a while at his apartment, where pictures of him with Lewis and John Paul II adorned the walls, and then had a wonderful dinner together at The Trout, a 400-year-old Oxford pub.

On the day of his funeral, though, I felt lonely and very far away from 2019. But then, I was reminded of a wonderful story about Mr. Hooper, which one of his godsons told during a moving eulogy at the funeral. Many years back, a college student disparagingly asked Walter Hooper how he felt about having lived his life in another man’s shadow. The student was referring to C.S. Lewis, but in his reply, Mr. Hooper transcended the student’s spite and pettiness. “It feels wonderful,” he said. “And I would do it all over again, because it was a Bright Shadow.” The student did not realize it, but Mr. Hooper was referencing a phrase that C.S. Lewis used to refer to Jesus Christ. For at the end of the day, as I was reminded, Walter Hooper was first and foremost a devout, passionate Christian, whose faith fueled his entire life and work.

After the requiem mass finished, everyone filed out of the church and drove in a slow procession to Wolvercote Cemetery. My friend’s body had been placed in the ground just a stone’s throw away from where the remains of J.R.R. Tolkien lie.

Even though Walter Hooper is no longer with us, I believe that his work will live on for many generations. The paper you are about to read contains priceless memories of the time he spent with two great men who were lions of the Christian faith and dramatically changed the course of literary history. Mr. Hooper gave me this document a few years ago, and it has never been published for free access online before. I hope you enjoy reading it and basking in the bright shadow that was Walter Hooper’s life and work.

— Solomon Schmidt, December 2021


The Transcript of Walter Hooper's Oxford Lecture

"I keep telling myself that I should apologise for the amount of autobiography this talk contains. That is because my friendship with Lewis, compared to that of many others, such as his brother Warnie, Professor Tolkien, and Owen Barfield, was of very short duration. Even so, each of Lewis’s friends saw him from an individual and particular angle, and while I wish for your sake you could have had Warnie or Owen or Tolkien as your speaker, those men are in Heaven and I am grateful to you for accepting my individual and particular angle instead.

My introduction to Lewis’s writings goes back to May 1953 when I was nearing my final term at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This was the time of the Korean War and all young men were worried whether they’d be allowed to finish their degree before they were drafted into the army.

The draft board had promised to leave me alone for a few months, and in that happy place during a happy time of my life, I was introduced to J.B.Phillip’s Letters to Young Churches: A Translation of the New Testament Epistles (1947). It contained an Introduction by C.S. Lewis. I’d never heard his name before, and I read the Introduction simply because it was there. It made a total conquest of me. [[I’ve been trying ever since 1953 to explain to others why that brief article – now published as ‘Modern Translation of the Bible’ in God in the Dock – had such a powerful impact. What came through the introduction was not simply information about the Epistles but something about Lewis.]] I believe now, and I think I sensed it in 1953, that I’d stumbled upon someone whose faith was as certain as that of the Apostles. Lewis believed – or so it seems to me – with the certainty of St Peter and those who had been with Jesus.

After a number of deferments I finished my degree and I went straight into the army and Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Days before I was drafted I found a copy of Lewis’s Miracles, and this went with me. During basic training I kept Miracles hidden beneath my shirt, which made for a good deal of discomfort during callisthenics and bayonet practice. However, in those little ten-minute breaks between firing bazookas and throwing grenades, I managed to read a page or so. If a book can hold your interest during all that excitement, and while you’re crawling under barbed wire in a muddy trench, it is a very, very good book.

I began corresponding with Lewis shortly after this. In that first letter from Lewis, dated 30 November 1954, he emphasised this very thing. I don’t think he wanted me to think too highly of him because he began by saying, ‘I am glad if I have been the instrument of Our Lord’s help to you: in His Hands almost any instrument will do, otherwise none. We should, I believe, distrust states of mind which turn our attention upon ourselves.’

We continued to correspond, and it was while I was lecturing on English Literature at the University of Kentucky at Lexington in the early 1960s that I began writing an academic book about Lewis – never completed. This led Lewis to invite me to come and see him if I should come to Oxford. Up until this time I would have been a very happy and contented young man if I could but see Lewis. But this was a chance to actually meet him.

I went to Oxford in June 1963. I had an appointment with Lewis at the house – The Kilns, Kilns Lane in Headington Quarry – on Monday the 10th June. However, I’d been warned that his house, some five miles from Oxford, was very difficult to find, and on Friday afternoon, the 7th June, almost as soon as I’d arrived in Oxford, I went out to see if I could find his house. No one in Kiln Lane could tell me where he lived, but someone showed me where his housekeeper lived, and I went there. The housekeeper, Mrs Miller, said she’d just seen him arrive back from Cambridge, and she urged me to go and call on him.

I arrived at The Kilns about 4 o’clock. The house face uphill, and when I walked round to the front door I saw a man with his back to the window reading. I rang the bell and regretted bitterly that I was bothering Lewis. Never had I seen myself in so unfavourable a light – an ignorant, provincial Tar Hell calling on this great man! But it was too late to flee. Someone was unlocking the door, and there stood C.S.Lewis.

It turned out that I’d arrived at tea time, a favourite time of the day for Lewis who was a great, a monumental tea drinker. ‘You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,’ he said one time. I too was a lover of tea, but my intake had never been as gargantuan as his. As soon as we’d finished one pot of tea, Lewis would go to the kitchen and make another, and another. I was quite a shy young Southern American at that time, but after what seemed gallons of it, I asked if I might be shown the ‘bathroom.’ Remember, I’d only just arrived in England, and I did not then know that in most homes the bathroom and the toilet are separate rooms.

With a touch of mock formality Lewis conducted me to what was really the bathroom. He flung down several towels, produced several tablets of soap, and before closing the door on me he asked if I had everything I needed for my ‘bath.’ ‘Oh, yes!’ I said with some alarm. By this time I was very uncomfortable, and I finally got up enough nerve to go back in the sitting-room and say that it was not really a ‘bath’ I wanted. Lewis was roaring with laughter, and he said, ‘Now that will break you of those silly American euphemisms. Let’s start over again. Where do you want to go?’

There I was, catapulted right into a far more interesting life than I’d imagined was to be had, and pretty soon we were talking about everything under the sun, Lewis constantly making verbal distinctions, and catching me out on logical points. I remember a valuable distinction he made that afternoon. I asked which of his books he thought ‘best,’ and his answer was Perelandra. He then asked which I ‘liked’ the most. Thinking we were talking about the same thing, I said, ‘Well, I agree with you that Perelandra is the best of your books.’ ‘I didn’t ask which you thought “best”,’ said Lewis, ‘but which you like most.’ ‘Oh, in that case, I said the one I like most, and indeed more than any book, is That Hideous Strength.’ ‘Don’t you see the difference? said Lewis. ‘You may think one thing better than another, but you might like something else better.’ The effect of all this clear talk was that by the time I had to leave I liked Lewis so much that I foresaw a life ahead of me that would be very dull compared to the few hours I’d just had.

Lewis walked with me to the bus stop, with a visit to his local pub, the Ampleforth Arms, which was just beside it. I remember that on that brief walk I was surprised that Lewis had turned out to be so much more than I imagined he would be. I remember thinking, ‘I love this dear man.’ We’d just finished our pint when the bus arrived. I assumed this meeting had replaced the one on Monday and I thanked Lewis for giving me so much of his time. He looked surprised, and said, ‘you’re not getting away! You’re coming to the Inklings meeting on Monday.’

As you probably know, the Thursday evening meetings of the Inklings ended in 1949, but the Tuesday morning meetings continued, with one alteration. After Lewis became a Professor at Cambridge in 1955, he came home for the weekend and went back to Cambridge on Monday afternoon. For this reason, the meetings were changed to Monday mornings. In 1962 they moved the venue from the Bird and Baby across the street to the Lamb and Flag.

Professor Tolkien was not at the first meeting I attended, but his son Christopher was there, along with most of the other Inklings, [[Colin Hardie, Public Oratory of the University, Fr Gervase Mathew, Dr Humphrey Havard, Commander James Dundas-Grand, R.B. McCallum, Master of Pembroke College, John Wain (not the cowboy) and Roger Lancelyn Green.]] I’d never witnessed anything like the conversation on that occasion. Lewis by no means did all the talking, or even much of it. He picked up on something I said, and threw it like a ball around the room. The subject was commented on by others, and pretty soon I was saying things that certainly did not represent my usual way of talking. We all know people who make us feel insecure and around whom we sound like fools. Lewis was the opposite. He brought you out. He encouraged you. You were your best in his company. By the time we’d had our pints and pork pies, and the meeting was ended, I was stunned at what had happened. To paraphrase Shakespeare, Lewis was not only ‘witty in himself’, but the ‘cause of wit’ in other men. Remembering that first Inklings meeting, I believe it was the first time I detected in Lewis what he once defined as love of one’s neighbour – ‘a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.’

Lewis invited me back to the Kilns on Wednesday. He then suggested I come out on Sunday so we could go to Communion together at Holy Trinity Church. After the service that Sunday we returned to the Kilns for breakfast. Lewis enjoyed cooking breakfast, and there was excellent conversation over fried eggs, bacon, sausage and toast.

After this we settled into a regular routine of thrice-weekly meetings: Monday at the Lamb and Flag, Wednesdays at The Kilns, and Sundays when we went to Church together. Lewis’s brother, Warnie, was at this time in Ireland. One of his stepsons, Douglas, was at home, and the other who I soon met, David, was in a College in London. The others who made up the ‘Kilns family’ were Lewis’s house-keeper, Mrs Miller, who lived in Kiln Lane, and his gardener and general factotum, Fred Paxford, who had been with Lewis since 1930. He remains in my memory as a man of immense integrity, completely dedicated to ‘Mr Jack’ as he called Lewis.

Lewis’s marriage has recently been made the subject of a film, Shadowlands. But at the time I found it hard to remember that Lewis had been married, and I said that he didn’t strike me as a marrying man. ‘That’s because we were together such a short time,’ he said, ‘and besides, I’ve always been a bachelor at heart.’ It was, however, indirectly through Joy that I came to understand something important about Lewis – his relish for what he called ‘rational opposition.’

One day after the Inklings meeting, Dr Havard - or ‘Humphrey’ as Lewis called him - drove three of us out to the Trout pub at Godstow. This beautiful old 14th century pub was one of Lewis’s favourite places, and while having our sandwiches outside, beside the river, Lewis told me what Joy had said about Southern men – which was that they dominated women. He asked what I had to say about the matter. I felt trapped. I didn’t agree with Joy, but I was afraid of saying so lest he be offended. I’d been brought up to think that if you didn’t agree with someone’s likes or dislikes you didn’t like him. Absurd as this may be, I think it is true of many people on this side of the Atlantic. It was certainly true of me, and up until this occasion it prevented me from enjoying ‘rational opposition.’ I tried to avoid a straight answer, but Lewis was persistent. ‘Do you agree with her?’ he asked. ‘Well, no,’ I said, ‘Then, what do you disagree with?’ he asked. ‘Everything,’ I said finally, ‘She was totally wrong.’

While Humphrey and I were inside getting more beer, I asked if he thought I had offended Lewis. ‘Good heavens, No!’ he said. ‘He loved his wife, but he didn’t always agree with her!’ I soon came to realise that for Lewis conversation was always about something, that the purpose of it was to argue towards truth. Furthermore, I sensed that this arguing towards truth has been one of the things Lewis enjoyed about Joy, perhaps was one of the main reasons they became friends in the first place.

[[Dr Havard was Lewis’s doctor and it was his bad luck to diagnose the aches and pains in Joy’s leg as fibrositis – rather than the cancer it actually was. Whether his wrong diagnosis made things worse in the end I don’t know. But, not surprisingly, it turned Joy totally against Humphrey, and during the period of the marriage Lewis rarely saw his old friend. After I’d been with Humphrey a number of times Lewis told me how sad he was he had to stop seeing him. ‘But,’ he said, ‘after Joy died we met up again and have continued as always. Wasn’t that good of him?’ He went on to say: ‘He was not a good doctor – but he was a good friend.’ ]]

Ever since I’d read Miracles during basic training I’d wondered what Lewis’s conversation would be liked. It was first and foremost very like his books: not that his conversation sounded ‘bookish’, but that his books are like his conversation. You know, don’t you, that nearly all Lewis’s works are written in the first person? Even Lewis had to repeat himself occasionally, and I remember him saying several things exactly as they appear in his books.

The main difference was that, whereas his books say what they say and that is it, his conversation was, to quote Hebrews, ‘alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit.’ It was as if the words in his books came alive, expressing far more than print is capable of. Lewis had no ‘small talk’ so far as I could tell, and one would never have used around him such a lazy expression as ‘Whatever.’ As I said, he was always arguing towards truth. That was both the terror and the joy of conversation with him. But I loved every minute of it. His arguments were so impersonal, in a very good sense, that I began thinking of the subject under discussion as something visible there on the table in front of us. It wasn’t about Lewis; it wasn’t about you; it was about it – the subject under discussion. Because his conversation was so ‘alive and active’ it was hard to remember all but fragments. Reading his books is a very close approximation to being in Lewis’s company and hearing his talk. But whereas you can stop reading a book, you had to be on your toes all the time with Lewis. Once when I wasn’t sure how to answer something I said, ‘Well, it’s all very interesting.’ ‘What?’ he said. ‘Have we finished that conversation?’ ‘Oh, no!’ I said, and back to it we went. As one of Lewis’s pupils said to me one time, ‘Arguing with Lewis was like entering a beauty contest. You had to be prepared to be told, ‘You’d damned ugly.’

For many of us everything in the Scriptures is more or less settled, and we quit thinking of what the Scriptures contain. For Lewis nothing in the Bible became trite or dulled by convention. I remember him talking about ‘poor Lazarus,’ who had to die all over again. I wondered who this ‘poor Lazarus’ was. ‘Is Lazarus a neighbour?’ I asked. ‘No,’ said Lewis, ‘he was the brother of Mary and Martha.’ I almost blurted out ‘Oh, you mean a Biblical character,’ as though Lazarus was not real as you and I are. ‘Oh I don’t think he knew he was “Biblical”,’ said Lewis. As it turned out Lewis was writing a poem about Lazarus and he was toying with the notion that, as Lazarus had to die again after Our Lord had brought him back from the grave, he and not St Stephen should be called the Church’s pro-martyr. Thereafter I saw not only Lazarus but everything recorded in the Gospels in an entirely new light.

I have always loved cats, and I soon made friends of the two at The Kilns. There was ‘Snip’ a Siamese that had belonged to Joy and which Lewis called his ‘step-cat’. The other was Old Tom. He had been a great mouser in his day, but he was old now and had lost his teeth. My heart almost froze when I heard Lewis’s housekeeper urging Lewis to have Old Tom ‘put down’. ‘No’, said Lewis, ‘Tom is a pensioner now.’ After that Tom was put on a pension of fish. He had his housekeeper cook fish several times a week and debone it for the old Cat. Once when Lewis and I were walking down the lane we met Old Tom coming our way. As we passed, Lewis lifted his hat. ‘He’s a pensioner’, he whispered to me.

I don’t remember Lewis ever bringing up any of his books, but if one came up in the course of the conversation he would talk about it. I don’t think Lewis had any opinion of himself or his writings. Of course he was interested in what was in the books or they would never have been written. But he was without conceit. I think if someone, who didn’t know either of us, heard us talking about Lewis’s books he would get the impression that I had the greater knowledge of them. On one occasion I quoted the whole of my favourite poem, Lewis’s ‘Scazons’ published in The Pilgrim’s Regress. He listened very carefully, and when I finished he asked if I’d make him a copy. ‘But it is your poem!’ I explained. ‘Is it?’ he said. ‘Well, it’s not half bad is it?’

This should not, perhaps, surprise us for, as I’ve said Lewis had no opinion of himself, and he more than once said to me, ‘You think too highly of my books!’ If asked what I thought the main difference between Lewis and the average modern man I would have to say that Lewis was interested in almost everything outside himself, modern man is mainly interested in himself.

Lewis did not particularly like talking about his own books, but when he did it was because the subject of those books were of interest to both of us, and not because he had written them. It would be odd if a man could not retain an interest in something he had spend years writing about. I found that Lewis liked the Narnian books almost as much as I did, and for the same reason. When he discovered that my favourite character was Puddleglum the Marshwiggle in The Silver Chair, he revealed that Puddleglum was modelled on his gardener, Fred Paxford, whom I had come to know well.

Paxford was like Puddleglum in being outwardly very pessimistic, but inwardly very optimistic. Once Lewis mentioned the resemblance I saw it at once. Paxford had been marvellous to me since I first visited The Kilns, and there was nothing he would not do for ‘Mr Jack’ as he called Lewis. Although I never knew him to go to church, he was forever signing hymns, sometimes so loud he had to be quieted down. When I asked if he were married, and he gave me what I learned was his standard answer to that question. Some of you ladies may not like it, but Paxford always quoted this little poem when he was asked why he didn’t marry:

A little puff of powder,
A little touch of paint,
Makes a woman look
Just like what she ain’t!

Lewis gave me a perfect example of why Paxford and Puddleglum were so much alike. Joy’s great ambition was to go to Greece, and in 1959, before they realised that her cancer had returned, Roger Lancelyn Green and his wife June had urged them to join them in a trip to Greece. However, by the time of the trip, April 1960, Joy’s cancer had returned, and Lewis was very apprehensive about the trip. He told me that he and Joy were in the taxi, about to leave for the airport to fly to Greece, when Paxford came to see them off. Leaning through the window of the car, he said, ‘Well, Mr Jack, there was this bloke just going on over the wireless. Says an airplane just went down. Everybody killed – burnt before recognition. Did you hear what I said Mr Jack? – burnt beyond recognition!’ ‘And on that note,’ said Lewis, ‘we flew to Greece.’

While Lewis looked in robust health to me, he had been ill for several years with an infected kidney and prostate gland. The surgeon wouldn’t operate on him because his heart was too weak. Now, suddenly, his health began giving him trouble. When I went out to The Kilns on Sunday morning, 14 July, I found him in his dressing gown, looking very ill. He could hardly sit up, and after asking for tea, he could not hold the cup. He told me he was going into the Acland Nursing Home the next day for a blood transfusion, and he asked if I would stop in England and act as his private secretary, beginning immediately. I accepted with the understanding that I’d go back to the States in the autumn to teach another term in my college, after which I’d return in January 1964 to resume my job with him.

The next day, 15 July, Lewis went to the hospital for an examination, where he had a heart-attack and went into a coma. The doctors did not expect him to regain consciousness, but to everyone’s surprise Lewis came out of his coma – and asked for his tea!

By the next day he wanted to catch up with his letter writing, and I was with him most of the day over the next two weeks taking dictation and helping in various ways

It was during the time he was in the hospital that I became familiar with one of the most surprising things I learned about his private life. I learned of it through answering his correspondence with his lawyer-friend, Owen Barfield. From the time Lewis began making money from his Christian writings, beginning with the serialisation of The Screwtape Letters in 1941, and later the radio talks which were published at Mere Christianity, Lewis refused to touch a penny of it. Instead he sent the publishers and the BBC a list of widows and orphans and directed that the money be sent to them. Lewis did not understand the difference between gross and net profit, and in the spring of 1942 he discovered to his horror that he owed a hefty tax bill on monies he’d given away. Before things got out of hand, his friend, Owen Barfield, a lawyer, intervened and helped Lewis set up a charitable trust – called the Agape Fund or ‘Agapargyry’ as they called it. Thereafter, and until Lewis’s marriage in 1957, Lewis had two-thirds of his income pay into the ‘Agapargyry’ for the supplying of anonymous gifts to various people in need, but especially widows and orphans. The Agape Fund was restored after Joy died in 1960 and was continuing. I learned about it from the letters I was writing to Owen Barfield about the present state of the Agapargyry.

Two things flashed across my mind. One was the poorness, almost the poverty, of the way Lewis lived at The Kilns. When I arrived there I discovered that almost everyone smoked, but that there was only one ashtray in the house. I had to beg Lewis to allow me to buy several cheap ones to litter about the place to avoid the house catching fire. The new ashtrays went unnoticed. Lewis nearly always flicked his ashes across the rug in his study. ‘Ashes are good for rugs,’ he said, ‘but only men believe it!’ I learned too that when the new housekeeper, Mrs Miller, moved to the Kilns in 1952 she found the blackout curtains still up. These coarse black curtains had been necessary during wartime, but the war had long been over, and Mrs Miller asked Lewis if they couldn’t be replaced. He saw no reason to waste money on curtains. In that case, asked Mrs Miller, would he mind if she washed them? Luckily, in the course of being washed the blackout curtains dissolved into ink, and had to be poured out. The Kilns got new curtains.

In talking with Lewis about the Agape Fund, I realised that he was not altogether comfortable about ending it when he married. But Owen Barfield assured him that it had been necessary. I, for my part, knowing what a plain, almost threadbare, life he lived, was stunned that he had been so extremely generous. ‘Why,’ I asked plainly, ‘did you give away so much?’ The simplicity of his answer took my breath away. ‘God was so good in having me,’ he said, ‘that the least I could do was give away most of what I made in His name.’ When was the last time we said, ‘God was so good in having me’? When was the last time we said that?

Lewis had me move into The Kilns while he was in the hospital, and after he got home we settled down to some of the most interesting weeks of my life. Lewis the champion of reason was still very much in evidence, but I sensed more gentleness in his manner. Lewis usually had a cup of tea or coffee after lunch, and following this I usually left him alone in his study sitting in his easy chair. I suspected that he had a nap when I was out of the room, and one day, before I closed the door behind me I said, ‘Jack, do you ever take a nap?’ ‘Oh, no!’ he exclaimed. ‘On the other hand,’ he went on, ‘sometimes a nap takes me!’ When you think about it you see how right he was. Get into your pyjamas in the middle of the afternoon, close the curtain, get into bed - and nothing happens. But relax in your easy chair with a good book, and when you wake you realise the nap took you.

At the doctor’s advice, Lewis retired from his Chair of English at Cambridge, and we settled down to a life which seemed to make him happy. Immediately after breakfast, he dictated his letters to me, wanting to have that onerous duty out of the way. He always had me read his letters back to him, commenting that ‘It’s as important to please the ear as the eye.’ We take it for granted that his writing is both beautiful to read and beautiful to hear, but this was hardly a matter of chance. He told me that when he was writing something – nearly always with a nib pen – he ‘whispered’ the words aloud to himself.

Now that Lewis had retired from his Chair in Cambridge, and had a little unaccustomed leisure, he spent his time writing, meeting his Inkling friends, enjoying a pint in his local, discussing the books he hoped to write, and enjoying his time at The Kilns. If his brother had returned from Ireland he would have been perfectly content.

Expecting that we’d be together for years, after I returned from teaching one final term in the States, Lewis wanted me to get to know all the Inklings. The one I hadn’t met was J.R.R.Tolkien, and Lewis had me ring the Professor and invite him to tea. Mrs Tolkien was ill and he couldn’t join us.

I will return to Lewis in a moment, but let me say that I didn’t meet Professor Tolkien until I’d returned to Oxford after Lewis’s death. He invited me to his house in 76 Sandfield Road, and this was to be the first of many meetings over the next ten years.

To this day I don’t understand why some of Lewis’s biographies, namely Humphrey Carpenter and A.N.Wilson, insist that the friendship between Lewis and Tolkien ‘cooled’ near the end of Lewis’s life. Lewis had already complained to me that he saw less of Tolkien because his wife insisted on his spending more time at home. Now here was Tolkien complaining about the same thing – seeing so little of Jack. He explained, however, that he’d given up the Thursday evening meetings in Magdalen College some years before because he felt he ought to spend, not only more time with his wife, but his children. He made two important points about Jack during our first meeting. He sensed that I didn’t understand what I’d heard about Jack being unpopular with many of his colleagues at Magdalen College, Oxford, and he explained it to me:

‘In Oxford,’ he said, ‘you are forgiven for writing only two kinds of books. You may write books on your own subject whatever that is, literature or science, or history. And you may write detective stories because all dons at some time get the flu, and they have to have something to read in bed. But what you are not forgiven is writing popular works, such as Jack did on theology, and especially if they win international success as his did.’ He went on to say that Jack was ‘driven to write his theological books by his conscience.’

Tolkien loved Lewis very much and I always got the impression that he acted very much like an older brother to Lewis. After we got to know one another he said, ‘Jack was always been “taken in” by someone. First it was Mrs Moore – the mother of Lewis’s friend who was killed in the war – then it was with Charles Williams. And then it was Joy Davidman.’

What they meant to one another as Inklings is incalculable. You are probably wondering what part Lewis played in Tolkien’s works of Middle Earth. When I was editing Lewis’s letters I found one in which he told his Belfast friend, Arthur Greeves, of a visit Tolkiien paid to his Magdalen rooms in 1929. ‘Tolkien is the man I spoke of,’ he wrote to Arthur, ‘when we were last together – the author of the voluminous unpublished metrical romances.’ When I asked Tolkien if what they were reading was The Lord of the Rings, he explained that this was long before the Ring, and the work referred to was The Simarillion. He went on to say that at that time his interests were not in stories but in the material that eventually made up the Appendices to the Ring, history, languages, and genealogies. ‘But you know what a boy Jack was,’ said Tolkien. ‘He had to have a story – and that story, The Lord of the Rings – was written to keep him quiet!’ He said Lewis’s great contribution to him was encouragement. [[Many have asked about Lewis’s ‘influence’ on Tolkien, and Lewis made that matter very clear. ‘As for anyone incluencing Tolkien,’ he said, ‘you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.’ Tolkien paid me the compliment of introducing me to his family, and in all my fifty years in England no one has been as marvellous to me at the Tolkien family.]]

Now to return to Lewis and the summer of 1963. Sometimes I was the occasion of Lewis’s humour. It was evident to everyone I knew, and now even C.S.Lewis, that I could hardly speak without making use of Lewis’s thought, and giving full credit to Lewis with my constant refrain of ‘As C.S. Lewis has said.’ After we’d come to know one another he invited me to call him ‘Jack,’ and for a while he was almost like two people to me: the author of my favourite books, and Jack Lewis the friend who would never speak of his own work unless pressed. Quoting one of his books one day, I suddenly realised how it must sound to him. ‘As C.S. Lewis has said,’ I said, ‘Oh, but you are C.S. Lewis!’ Thereafter he made it a joke between us, and whenever he wanted anything done, he might say, ‘As C.S. Lewis has said “I would like a pot of tea.” As C.S. Lewis has said, ‘You will go and make it.” As C.S.Lewis has said, “I will drink it!”’

During this time Lewis sent me to Cambridge to sort out his belongings in Magdalene College. It was inevitable that I meet the Librarian of the Pepys Library, and when I got home Lewis asked what I thought of him. The Librarian had the reputation of being a sensational bore, and I told Lewis the man succeeded in interesting me by the sheer intensity of his boringness. ‘Yes,’ Lewis admitted, the man is a great bore. ‘But let us not forget,’ he said, ‘that Our Lord might well have said, “As ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bores you have done it unto me.’

Lewis told me many times that I valued his writings too much, and he was always amused when he saw me scribbling something he said in my little notebook. ‘I know what the divine joke on you would be,’ he said near the end of the summer. ‘I might utter my last words and you won’t be here to write them down!’

As it turned out, I wasn’t. I was in between classes at the University of Kentucky on 22 November 1963 when a colleague told me President Kennedy had been shot. Later that day we learned that the President was dead. Horrible as that was, I was still looking forward to joining Lewis in January. I was just drifting off to sleep in my bed that night when Lewis’s step-son, Douglas Gresham, rang to tell me that Jack had died the same hour as President Kennedy.

I was very depressed for a while. But some of Lewis’s friends persuaded me to return to Oxford anyway, and almost as soon as I came to know Lewis’s brother Warnie, he invited me to begin editing his brother’s literary remains. So in a sense I really have been working as Lewis’s secretary these last fifty years. In any event, when I see what has happened to his writing I think we all have reason to be joyful. Over the years since Lewis’s death so many of his works have been discovered, collected, and talked about that if you dropped me down onto a desert island with copies of Lewis’s works my life would be almost as rich as it is now.

In conclusion, I hope you will allow me to make this boast. I have waited fifty years to tell the world that I won an argument with Lewis. Not many can make that claim. Lewis was worried about what his brother would live on when he - C.S.Lewis - died, and this because he was sure that upon his own death his books would stop selling. ‘No!’ I exclaimed. ‘What’d you mean, “no?”’ he said. ‘This happens,’ he said, ‘to nearly all authors. After they die their books sell for a while, and then trail off to nothing.’ ‘But not yours!’ I said. ‘Why not?’ he asked. ‘Because they are too good - and people are not that stupid.’

Well, you see who won that argument. And yet, if Lewis was wrong about anything, wasn’t this precisely the one thing he ought to have been wrong about. But such was his humility, his attention always turned away from himself. And if Lewis got one thing not only right, but terrifically right, it was his prediction that I was stuck forever with the phrase even he could not cure me of - ‘As C.S. Lewis has said.’"



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