Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lo! Beowulf and Other Topics

Just a quick acknowledgement of the long-awaited publication this week of Tolkien's translation of Beowulf, with such interesting extras as "Sellic Spell" and "The Lay of Beowulf". It's very good to see all of these available for scholarly study at last.

I'd also like to call attention to a new venue for the scholarly study of Tolkien, The Journal of Tolkien Research.  This is a peer-reviewed, online, open-access (FREE to all) scholarly journal. I'm serving as Book Reviews Editor, and am pleased to be working with Brad Eden (Editor) as well as other members of the Editorial Board, including Dimitra Fimi, John Holmes, John Houghton, Robin Reid, and Ed Risden.  And I look forward to working with other colleagues as essayists and book reviewers.  Please explore the site to get an idea of what we're planning and doing, and to watch it grow.

I'm also pleased to announce that Tolkien On Fairy-stories, a critical edition of Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-stories" and its associated manuscripts, edited by Verlyn Flieger and myself and originally published by HarperCollins in 2008, is coming out in an affordable trade paperback edition on August 14th.  Order via Amazon.com by clicking here, and via Amazon.co.uk by clicking here.



Monday, November 25, 2013

Five Notes on C.S. Lewis



I.  With the fiftieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death, there has been a lot of media coverage about Lewis, and in the midst of which there has appeared one new book collecting writings by Lewis that I’d like to call attention to, lest its publication be drowned out by other coverage.  This is Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews, a trade paperback original and a Kindle ebook, edited by Walter Hooper, published by Cambridge University Press as a kind of companion to the volume of Lewis’s Selected Literary Essays that they published over forty years ago. Image and Imagination contains six essays (two of which, including the title essay, are published for the first time), some forty-two book reviews, as well as some obituaries and prefaces to other books. It is pleasing to see Lewis’s reviews of Tolkien’s books collected for the first time, as well as his reviews of a few books by Owen Barfield and his writings on Charles Williams. And there is much more.  Recommended.


II. I’d also like to call attention to what is (I think) a previously unrecorded Lewis publication.  This is a short piece of just under two hundred words (probably taken out of a letter, sent in reply to a solicitation for comment), headed “Comedian of Highest Order”, published in The Mark Twain Journal, volume 9 no. 4 (Summer 1954), page 10.  It concerns not (as one might think) Mark Twain, but George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950):  
“Shaw was a very great man indeed. The danger is that when all the froth and nonsense about his being a philosopher has died down (as it must) a reaction should set in and lead people to forget  his real genius. He was a comedian, in his own time, of the very highest order. . . .  He was a humorist of the more intellectual kind, a master of satire, art and fantasy like Gilbert, Wilde and Aristophanes. In that class no one had more continuous vitality. He is also, in his prefaces, one of the great masters of plain prose. I have often, in that capacity, held him up as a model to my pupils and have learned much from him myself. Peace to his ashes!”


III. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Lewis contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the title is often given merely as F&SF) four items, comprising two short stories and two poems (one published posthumously).  Through the courtesy of Gordon Van Gelder, editor of the magazine since 1997 and owner since 2000, I can give some new details about Lewis’s submissions. 

“The Shoddy Lands” (short story). The contract is dated 30 June 1955, and was signed by Lewis, which suggests that he made the submission himself. The story was published in the February 1956 issue. “Jap ed.” is noted on the contract suggesting that the story also appeared in the Japanese edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

“An Expostulation” (verse). The contract is dated 25 June 1957, and was again signed by Lewis. The poem was published in the June 1959 issue, and thus sat in inventory for nearly two years. Lewis’s Oxford address, “The Kilns, Headington Quarry”, is penciled at the bottom along with the notes “Fr. edition #70” and F&SF 9th, suggesting that the poem also appeared in the French edition and the book The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: 9th Series (1960), edited by Robert M. Mills.

“Ministering Angels” (short story). The contract is dated 8 August 1957, again signed by Lewis. The story was published in the January 1958 issue. An appearance in the “Jap. ed” is also noted on the contract. Interestingly, in the editorial headnote to the first publication in F&SF, Anthony Boucher describes Lewis's story as a repercussion of Dr. R.S. Richardson's controversial article "The Day After We Land on Mars" published in the December 1955 issue of F&SF

“The End of the Wine”  (verse). The contract dates from February 1964, three months after Lewis’s death. The poem appeared in the July 1964 issue. It had originally appeared in Punch for 3 December 1947, and rights for reprinting were arranged through the Ben Roth Agency, who handled North American rights for Punch.  

I had also inquired whether the story “Forms of Things Unknown” (published posthumously in 1966 in Of Other Worlds) might have been submitted, but Gordon Van Gelder could find no information as to whether or not that had happened. 



IV. Here is a quotation that A.N. Wilson gives in his C.S. Lewis: A Biography (1990):

“William Empson (no ally) believed, Lewis was ‘the best read man of his generation, and one who read everything and remembered everything he read’ …” (p. 160)
This statement attributed to Empson has resurfaced in various places (in fact, I used it in the introduction to my anthology Tales Before Narnia), but I’ve been unable to find the original source where Empson said or wrote it. Wilson, though he quotes it, does not cite the source, and his book is the earliest appearance of the quote that I can find  Can anyone supply an earlier source?   


V: The following is a letter I wrote that was published in Mythlore #111/112 (2010), pages 161-162, which is worth reprinting here: 

A Footnote to Tales Before Narnia

I recently learned of an uncollected C. S. Lewis letter. Had I known of it when I was compiling my anthology Tales Before Narnia (2008), I would have included an additional author in my list of recommended reading at the rear of the book. While the content of the Lewis letter is of minor significance, it is worth some attention.
            The letter appears in Ferguson on Shiel, an unpaginated micro-published documentary volume edited and produced in 1998 by John D. Squires from his Vainglory Press in Kettering, Ohio. Ferguson on Shiel collects various documents—articles and correspondence—that pertain to the writer M.P. Shiel (1865-1947) as written by (or to) the American bookseller and librarian, Malcolm M. Ferguson (b. 1919), who met the elderly Shiel in 1944 when stationed in England as an American serviceman. Ferguson, who later published a handful of short stories in Weird Tales in the late 1940s, wrote to Lewis on 2 February 1953 (the ellipses are in the original):

            I would like to have read a book which your late friend Mr. Charles Williams did not write, nor did my late, elderly friend M. P. Shiel . . .
            I would like, then, to read a book which I would like you to write. (Like Andrew Lang, I’ve been thinking up books which ought to be) . . .  
            The book which I fancy would concern itself with the discovery of THE BOOK OF JUDAS.  Men of good will would welcome the revelation of such a book’s contents, after confirming its authenticity. Many Churchmen and the Communists would see in such a discovery an opportunity for furthering their own doctrines by seizing this volume and seeing to it that it was distorted according to their ideas. 

Ferguson concluded, “Now I’ve given you my idea, and you are welcome to it. It doesn’t fit in with my other literary luggage.”
            Lewis’s brief response is dated 20th February 1953, and reads in full:  “What a good idea!  It would have suited Shiel (whose books I like) better than me. Like you, I want someone else to write it, you see.  But very many thanks.” 
            The only significant content of Lewis’s letter is the parenthetical mention of his liking Shiel’s books, a fact which I believe is recorded nowhere else.  Shiel was a prolific writer of novels and stories, so from this general statement it would be pure speculation to suggest any particular works by Shiel that Lewis might have read. However, after Lewis’s death in 1963, the Wroxton College Library in Oxfordshire acquired a significant portion of his personal library (the majority of these books are now held in the Wade Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois), and from the listing “C. S. Lewis: A Living Library” made by Margaret Anne Rogers in 1969, we know that Lewis owned at the time of his death two editions of Shiel’s most famous novel, The Purple Cloud (1901), one dated 1946, the other 1963.  The edition from 1946 is likely an American one, published by The World Publishing Company of Cleveland; it may possibly have originally been owned by Joy Davidman, the American woman whom he married in 1956 and who predeceased him in 1960, for some of the books found in his library after his death are known to have been hers. The 1963 edition was apparently that from the nine volume series of “Rare Works of Imaginative Fiction” published by Victor Gollancz in 1963-64.  The Purple Cloud was the first in the series, which also reprinted two other Shiel titles, no. 6 The Lord of the Sea (originally published in 1901) and no. 8 The Isle of Lies (originally 1909). Still, unless the 1946 edition of The Purple Cloud was Lewis’s, we cannot single out which Shiel books Lewis might have read before writing his letter to Malcolm M. Ferguson in 1953.
            The entry I would add to the recommended reading at the rear of Tales Before Narnia follows: 

Shiel, M[atthew]. P[hipps]. (1865-1947)

British writer, born in the West Indies.  In a single letter, Lewis mentioned that he liked Shiel’s books, but gave no specific titles.  From a listing of books from his library made after his death, we know Lewis owned two editions (1946 and 1963) of The Purple Cloud (1901), a scientific romance of a post-apocalyptic world. It is probably Shiel’s most lasting work. His other writings include a collection of lyrical and luxurious short stories Shapes in the Fire (1896), and the stories of the decadent armchair detective, Prince Zaleski (1895).