Article rescued from bonfire reveals the beliefs behind Narnia

Tilda Swinton in a film adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia
Kobal Collection
  • Tilda Swinton in a film adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia Kobal Collection
Jack Malvern Arts Correspondent
Published at 12:01AM, November 22 2013

C. S. Lewis’s ruminations on God and truth in an essay that was rescued from a bonfire will be published for the first time as part of commemorations of the 50th anniversary of his death.

The author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe set out his thoughts in 1931 in an article that was probably intended for The Criterion, a literary magazine edited by T. S. Eliot. The essay will be published for the first time on Monday by Cambridge University Press as part of a collection of work.

Warren Lewis, the author’s brother, had planned to add the work to the bonfire of papers he made after the author died in 1963, but it was rescued at the last minute.

Walter Hooper, 82, the author’s secretary, recalled that when he arrived at Lewis’s house in January 1964 the bonfire had been burning for three days. “Warren was moving to a smaller place, so he began burning up the family papers,” he said. “He loved his brother dearly, but he wasn’t interested in anything except things of a family nature.”

Mr Hooper asked to take away 50 notebooks, he said. “I think I probably took away the largest share of things, but we don’t know what was lost. One of Lewis’s friends thought that he had written a sequel to Surprised by Joy, his autobiography, but if he did it must have been lost in the fire.”

The untitled essay, which attacks the ideas of the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, will be published under the heading Image and Imagination. Mr Hooper said that it provided an insight into Lewis’s philosophical beliefs, which influenced works such as his Narnia series.

“What you see is the Lewis who had read philosophy at Oxford University. He could think very clearly, as a philosopher could, and he could put things very logically. He says, ‘Reason is the organ of truth. Imagination is the organ of meaning’.”

Lewis believed that imagination must have meaning because human minds were fashioned by God,  Mr Hooper said. “Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien both said the only one who could be the primary mover is God. We can only be sub-creatures.”

Mr Hooper met Lewis in the summer of 1963,and began to work as his secretary. “I stayed there about three months and then went to America to resign my job and come back, but he died while I was away, on the same day that President Kennedy was killed.”

He became Lewis’s literary executor, publishing all of his correspondence.

“There have been times when I’ve thought, oh Jack [Lewis’s nickname], I’ve spent more time editing your letters than you spent writing them,” he said.

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