C.S. Lewis

Wittgenstein And Philosophy As Fiction


“I say that it will form an important part of the training, because it is so with human beings; not because it could not be imagined otherwise.”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein, from Philosophical Investigations. Written in the context of exploring the nature of how humans learn basic language and communication.

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After so many references to Wittgenstein’s monumental contributions to religion, language study, and philosophy from the venerable J.R. Benjamin at The Bully Pulpit, I began to feel at a loss without knowing more of the man first hand. More recent explorations of poets like Charles Bernstein led me back to Wittgenstein’s monumental philosophical contributions on linguistics, and I decided to buckle down and prioritize at least a cursory look at his work. After only a few pages each from Wittgenstein’s Lectures and Philosophical Investigations, I am realizing that the emphasis on logic in language and communication which I have long annoyed other with is something I have in common and more to learn about at Wittgenstein’s feet.

This little quote above impressed me so because I made an immediate link to the value of speculative fiction. Much of Wittgenstein’s genius and discernment comes from his distinct ability to hone in on what can be logically validated and what is not verifiable by a human in the given universe. He often illustrates his lofty and meticulous conclusions with practical analogies and, although he rarely indulges in distinguishing the possibilities, a major and intrinsic component in his process is understanding and exemplifying what does not fall within our sphere of possible knowledge and what would change with alternative reality.

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All of this brings to mind the transcript of a conversation between Kingsley Amis, Brian Aldiss, and C.S. Lewis on the value of science fiction as a format for exploring the state of the world as we can perceive it. They speak of their personal favorite concepts among alternate reality and space exploration stories and the ideas they’ve found in science fiction which have most drastically affected the way they perceive the world around them. Their discussion frequently returns to science fiction’s place in literature.

 

“Lewis: Oh, yes, do, I beg your pardon. . .But probably the great work in science-fiction is still to come. Futile books about the next world came before Dante, Fanny Burney came before Jane Austen, Marlowe came before Shakespeare.

Amis: We’re getting the prolegomena.

Lewis: If only the modern highbrow critics could be induced to take it seriously. . .

Amis: Do you think they ever can?

Lewis: No, the whole present dynasty has got to die and rot before anything can be done at all.

Aldiss: Splendid!

Amis: What’s holding them up, do you think?

Lewis: Matthew Arnold made the horrible prophecy that literature would increasingly replace religion. It has, and it’s taken on all the features of bitter persecution, great intolerance, and traffic in relics.”

Of course, Lewis is right and we see that, by and large, culture and even academia have begun to embrace or at least tolerate speculative fiction, although the attitudes toward all forms of fiction have drastically changed as well.

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Finn The Human, as genius in repose

Obviously, most philosophers would scoff with a genius Finn The Human “What Quaint Notions!” at the idea of finding value in a science fiction paperback. Many Star Wars geeks would roll their eyes and begin to feign snoring if you attempted to start a linguistics conversation that wasn’t on Elvish or Klingon. The point is not that one equals the other, or that most will find them mutually fascinating. The wonder is simply that such externally different interests can and usually do actually come to the point of overlapping. Most great writers of speculative fiction address very real psychology in human struggles and moral and social concepts. Philosophers like Wittgenstein are constantly creating small fictions to both illustrate the real and the impossible. And then there are those of us who are equally fascinated by each in turn, constantly seeking to learn and to create. This makes sense, according to Wittgenstein, for living life is simply “an intellectual problem and a moral duty.”

 

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Further Reading

 

 Rod Serling On Speculative Fiction And Censorship

Non-Fiction Should Change You For The Better

C.S. Lewis On Writing For Children

C.S. Lewis And Lilith: What Does Blending Myths Do For You?


Last fall, I was reading The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe aloud to my wife. We reached the passage in chapter 8 when the beavers are explaining the nature of things in Narnia, when we hit a snag. I read this.

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“That’s what I don’t understand, Mr. Beaver,” said Peter. “I mean isn’t the Witch human?”

“She’d like us to believe it,” said Mr. Beaver, “and that’s how she is trying to call herself Queen. But she’s no Daughter of Eve. She comes from your father Adam’s first wife, Lilith. She was one of the Jinn. On the other side she comes from the giants. No, there isn’t a drop of real human blood in the Witch.”
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My wife stopped me. She was frustrated. She was confused. She couldn’t understand where this Lilith reference came from, and it annoyed her immensely.

Curious for details myself, I looked it up and found that Lilith was a type of female demon in Hebrew literature. “Lilit” was originally used to mean “night monster” or “screech owl.” In Isaiah the term is used in a listing of animals. Medieval Jewish mysticism popularized the idea that Adam had had a wife before Eve, who was created out of dust at the same time he was. She wouldn’t submit to Adam, left the Garden Of Eden, and started dating angels and what not. Lewis has her mating with a Jinn or genie.

Personally, I like these sorts of things. I love mythology mash-ups that create entirely new fantasy realms. My wife, on the other hand, was not satisfied by this information. She was more annoyed to hear this alternative version of the popular Biblical account. The idea of changing the foundation story and even adding new cast members was disruptive rather than inventive.

By all accounts, Tolkien felt the same way about his friend’s books. While they agreed more than most on many things, the flavors of the two men’s writings show clear distinctions in their personal tastes in how myths and fairie should be approached. Lewis was constantly getting creative energy from smashing together ideas from various sources for new sensations. The man was an omnivorous reader and you can see shadows of thousands of older ideas in his fiction works.

Tolkien also finds much inspiration for his work in the great pieces he cherishes. Gandalf is occasionally a mirror of the older, more obscure mythical creations Tolkien loved. The big difference is really the level of perceived coherency and the depth of pursuit. Tolkien, like many others, seems to find the willful suspension of disbelief in Lewis too great. He is equally enamored by magic and dragons and even silly children’s stories, but mixing characters from preexisting universes seems too much to be enjoyable for him. What is Father Christmas doing in Narnia? How did the descendant of Lilith, the original mother of our world, end up as the Queen of Charn?

I can understand these frustrations well. I find The Magician’s Nephew to be the most satisfying of the Narnian books in large part because it ties so many origin stories and loose ends together in such a neat fashion. Lewis writes like many authors, so that the stories can feel almost stunted at times in their openings and closes. Everyone is suddenly rushed into alternate realities at break neck speeds.

On the other hand, a large part of what makes Tolkien’s legendarium so fulfilling and believable is the expansive way in which so much untold backstory is expanding in every direction. Tolkien himself was constantly fleshing out his worlds throughout his lifetime. Perhaps he thought pulling so directly from previous material was too quick and cheap, unsatisfying to him as a creator and suspicious in others.

There is something enjoyable in both the whimsical adventure of being swept away by foreign magic and in the adventure of fulfilling a long forgotten destiny in a mythical world of unspeakable beauty and impending evils.

Which one thrills you more?

 

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Further Reading

 

C.S. Lewis’ Literary Essays

Dave Eggers On The Fear Of Publishing

Jules Feiffer Encouraged Us To Fail

Wanglung Children’s Book Sale!


Recently, I used Kickstarter to self-publish my children’s book Wandlung. You can read and share the book here. Soft cover copies of the book are available through Amazon and my publisher’s site and copies of the limited edition hard back version are available from local Oklahoma City vendors Collected Thread, Blue Seven, and Full Circle Books.

As of this publication, I still have a small stack of the limited edition hard back version in my possession and I’m ready to get these out into little hands! There were only 65 hard back copies ever printed, and most of those have already been shipped to Kickstarter backers, placed in local storefronts, or sold by me personally. To make sure that the last few get to be read, I’m going to be selling the remaining books at $15 a piece. That’s a 40% discount, making them cheaper than the soft cover copies currently on sale online!

If you do not live in the Oklahoma City or Cincinnati metro areas, you can still get a copy! Shipping inside the U.S. is an additional $4. These will be sold on a first come, first served basis until they run out! To grab your copy, contact me through the contact form below.

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Further Reading

C.S. Lewis On Why Kids Need Fantasy Literature

A Review Of “In The Night Kitchen” By Maurice Sendak

Thoughts On “The Railway Children” By E. Nesbit

 

55 Classics Review #6 – On Stories And Other Essays On Literature by C.S. Lewis


When it comes to popular spiritual epigrams, C. S. Lewis has G.K. Chesterton, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and maybe Jesus himself beat in terms of popular quotability. It seems impossible to browse any social media outlet without coming across a line from Narnia or The Screwtape Letters. That is what intrigues me the most about Lewis. A huge quanitity of the most enlightening statements he ever made came from the mouths of characters in fiction, rather than from any articles of non-fiction.

On Stories is therefore one of the greatest resources for getting behind this veil. In it we discover bits of the frame of mind capable of creating such original and timeless stories that seamlessly imply his deepest ideas about being human.

The book is a simple collection of essays, author dedications, op-ed pieces, and even a transcript of a conversation between Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss about the nature and value of science fiction as a genre. Many of the articles were never published, some merely scraps, unedited and unfinished.

On Stories cover a lot of ground, seeing Lewis address concepts and wrestle with idea which many of his popular quoters might find questionable or reproachable. He expresses interest in seeing good science fiction proposing a third gender, proposed that children’s literature shouldn’t shy away from being frightening, and emphatically endorses a lot of literature which some people might prefer to be banned. Overall, you are getting a much more rounded picture of the author’s ideas than you ever can from any piece or body of fiction.

The themes that come through most clearly are his strong opinions about fantasy and science fiction being absolutely valuable endeavors for both children and adults and his general rebuttals against the overwhelming academic ideas on literature from his day. He proves himself extremely well-read in everything from the classics (no surprise here as he was a world-class medievalist) to the science fiction paperbacks which were just gaining a huge foothold. He holds firmly that each has its own place of legitimate value to the reader.

One of my personal favorites was A Reply To Professor Haldane. A posthumously discovered response to the multiple, brutal assaults on his intellect by a professor of theoretical biology, this essay is at once precisely factual and sterile of any character assassinations. A discovered rough draft like this only highlights the immensity of logical preparation he puts into his ideas. He explains himself theoretically and through example while completely tearing down his opponent’s ideas without ridiculing the man. Indeed, it is easy to feel that Lewis has no emotional response to those who continually abused his character. Like Chesterton, one cannot help but admire his ability to let accusations roll off his back while taking the ideas involved quite seriously.

Overall, I highly suggest this title to any Lewis fan or general fan of science fiction and fantasy. If you’ve ever felt frustrated at those who don’t get why fairy tales or space travel stories are legitimate, you will find a friend in Lewis. I would also highly recommend this book if you’re interested in reading the more obscure works that have influenced modern fantasy, adventure, and sci-fi writing. Lewis is constantly referring to what he considered the classics of these genres.

Though you may not always agree with his conclusions on the issues he tackles, it is hard to fault the man for lack of thorough contemplation or sincerity in wrestling with all forms of literature.

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I’ll leave you with this delightful transcribed dialogue between Lewis and Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss.

 

“Lewis: Would you describe Abbott’s Flatland as science-fiction? There’s so little effort to bring it into any sensuous–well, you couldn’t do it, and it remains an intellectual theorem. Are you looking for an ashtray? Use the carpet.

Amis: I was looking for the Scotch, actually.

Lewis: Oh, yes, do, I beg your pardon. . .But probably the great work in science-fiction is still to come. Futile books about the next world came before Dante, Fanny Burney came before Jane Austen, Marlowe came before Shakespeare.

Amis: We’re getting the prolegomena.

Lewis: If only the modern highbrow critics could be induced to take it seriously. . .

Amis: Do you think they ever can?

Lewis: No, the whole present dynasty has got to die and rot before anything can be done at all.

Aldiss: Splendid!

Amis: What’s holding them up, do you think?

Lewis: Matthew Arnold made the horrible prophecy that literature would increasingly replace religion. It has, and it’s taken on all the features of bitter persecution, great intolerance, and traffic in relics.”

 

Related Reading

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C.S. Lewis and Common Core Logic

C.S. Lewis On How Words Die

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien On Our Connection To The Land

Author Quotes: C.S. Lewis and Common Core Logic, Part II


“These well-meaning educationalists are quite right in thinking that literary appreciation is a delicate thing. What they do not seem to see is that for this very reason elementary examinations on literary subjects ought to confine themselves to just those dry and factual questions which are so often ridiculed. The questions were never supposed to test appreciation; the idea was to find out whether the boy had read his books. It was the reading, not the being examined, which was expected to do him good. And this, so far from being a defect in such examinations is just what renders them useful or even tolerable.

. . .What obsequious boys, if encouraged, will try to manufacture, and clever ones can ape, and shy ones will conceal, what dies at the touch of venality, is called to come forward and perform, to exhibit itself, at that very age when its timid, half-conscious stirrings can least endure such self-consciousness.”

– C.S. Lewis, excerpt from the Essay “The Parthenon And The Optative”

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In Part I of my comparison between C.S. Lewis critique of 1940’s British educational reformers and the modern Common Core logic, I discussed the areas in which we would possibly disagree. Now I strike on the overarch philosophy on which I believe we agree.

Lewis was fighting against a beast which is mostly foreign to us today. While some of his ideas sound more in favor of something like a Common Core standard, I would argue that his underlying assumptions were totally opposed to it and his expressed ideal circumstances were a call for a middle ground between a logical foundation and a passionate pursuit.

We should start by noting the four cultural ideals involved in our conversation. They are Lewis educational ideals, the reforming ideas of the 1940’s, the current ideas of the Common Core reform, and my own perspective.

1. Lewis is old school. While he highly values the emotions involved in enjoying literature, he starts (in all things) with logical undergirdings. From true understand appreciation can grow. He says that even when a student dislikes the material, we have “at the very least, taught the boy what knowledge is like. He may decide that he doesn’t care for knowledge; but he knows he doesn’t care for it, and he knows he hasn’t got it.”

2. The period reformers were attempting to shift to test students on their capability to appreciate rather than comprehend the materials at hand, and to do so by judging them on localized standards with educator peer reviews. Their goal was to give educators the freedom to make attempts revealing what the Norwood Report called the “sensitive and elusive thing” in appreciating literature instead of testing the “coarse fringe” that is testing for detailed comprehension. “The teacher’s success can be gauged by himself or by one of his immediate colleagues who knows him well.”

Lewis stands against both educating for appreciation and in-house assessments. He believes that students would be more hindered by trying to sound appreciative of the works for test performance than they would be by having to evaluate the actual materials for answers. He also questions whether anyone can learn the materials for their own merit if the testing is based on the professor’s interpretations of the material rather than its content. You have to agree with the professor’s preferences to do well.

3. “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.” If you read this mission statement the wrong way it might sound like nationalist propaganda. We will tell the teachers and parents what to say. The students will be proud to make their nation great.

Common Core is based on a couple of nearly-standard American cultural premises. The first I would describe as a fast food standardization. You can get the exact same Big Mac at any McDonalds across the globe, and our industrial society sees this as a golden rule for progress, including within our education system. Leave a 5th grade class in small town Connecticut on Monday, pick up where your left the standard text in a classroom in San Francisco on Tuesday. Everyone should learn the exact same things at the same age, and this is automatically good for them. To personalize the system is to devote too many resources.

The second problematic idea behind modern education theory is that simple, blue collar work is less valuable than jobs requiring higher level expertise. Obviously, from a monetary perspective, many positions requiring an education pay better, but often a trade school education or specialized machinist skills can pay just as well with much less irrelevant education involved. We live in a culture that looks down on less intellectually charming roles. We have outsourced our manufacturing because we believe that we have transcended the lowly skills involved in creating our own things. Most people used to spend their time growing food, but now the idea of farming tends to conjure up images from The Grapes Of Wrath.

Common Core functions based upon the faulty cultural presuppositions that everyone needs to know everything equally and that higher education is automatically valuable to everyone. It is partially spurred on by similar hopes to those of the old educators who wanted people to really be engaged by and in love with what they were learning, but it also refuses to believe that a basically educated and simply enjoyed life is actually valid. “Ignorance is bliss” becomes not simply an unwise axiom, but a moral heresy.

4. Lastly, I come to my own ideas. I do not wish to lay a claim as an authority on education. I have had a handful of very illuminating conversations with educators and educational theorists, but those don’t hold much weight. What I have had is the pleasure of knowing and truly enjoy a lot individuals of all passions and education levels; the opportunity to see so many diverse people learning to explore their own giftings and interests makes the idea of an extreme and mechanical standardization of education a dystopian prospect. Education should pour out of relationships. Relationship most importantly of student to materials, and secondary of student to instructor.
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All four perspectives hold in common, as some level, some authentic desire for people to learn and to utilize and enjoy what they learn. There is no contradiction in that aspect of their goals, it is in execution where the distinctions become radical.

The old reformers push for a common modernist idea of focusing on interpretation almost to the exclusion of the source material. Their desire is overtly to pursue interest and response over basic understanding. The Common Core logic takes this idea and requires it of everyone. Every student must be equally interested in and capable of all things. Not only can we enforce interest, but we can standardize it.

Here we finally come to the points on which to take Lewis very seriously. Lewis proposes that we simply give the students the most basic materials and make sure that they are comprehending what they are given, then allow them to determine their own interest level beyond that point of understanding.
Revolutionary.

Lewis’ perspective on educating is like throwing seeds of knowledge and waiting to see what sprouts up when they find ample mental sustenance. Who are we to force things to grow were they are not wanted or sustained? Everyone benefits from being able to multiply, but is geometry valuable to all? I believe that passionate teachers (something Lewis seems to assume regardless) who can foster their interests should be the second goal.

The truth is that we should become as comfortable as Lewis seems to be with relequishing control and allowing a student to shun what we hold sacred. If the son of two Master’s degree parents wants to be a farmer, who should hold him back from it? If the daughter of a poor miner wants to become a neurosurgeon, who can hold her back?

Our system has made some great headway in making education available to all via public libraries and public schooling. We should continue to pursue greater excellence in these. But the innate desire to learn is often too valuable and fragile a thing to withstand years of training on arbitrary information. Great opportunities should always be available, but idealists shouldn’t be horrified when students don’t share their passions and industrialists shouldn’t be dismayed when students don’t desire their level of personal productivity.

Author Quotes: C.S. Lewis and Common Core Logic, Part I


“These well-meaning educationalists are quite right in thinking that literary appreciation is a delicate thing. What they do not seem to see is that for this very reason elementary examinations on literary subjects ought to confine themselves to just those dry and factual questions which are so often ridiculed. The questions were never supposed to test appreciation; the idea was to find out whether the boy had read his books. It was the reading, not the being examined, which was expected to do him good. And this, so far from being a defect in such examinations is just what renders them useful or even tolerable.

. . .What obsequious boys, if encouraged, will try to manufacture, and clever ones can ape, and shy ones will conceal, what dies at the touch of venality, is called to come forward and perform, to exhibit itself, at that very age when its timid, half-conscious stirrings can least endure such self-consciousness.”

– C.S. Lewis, excerpt from the Essay “The Parthenon And The Optative”
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When we look at education from such changed standards as those 75 years later, it is almost difficult to follow Lewis’ line of reason because education philosophies have shifted around so greatly. Even still, I can’t help but find immense application of Lewis’ timeless theories to critique the Common Core standards and modern education paradigms. Some of the things he expresses also seem to contradict my own thoughts and experiences. Before I explain our overarching agreements and what I believe he would think of the Common Core, let me discuss our possibly disagreement.

Lewis goes on to end the article by saying “Of course we meet many people who explain to us that they would by now have been great readers of poetry if it had not been ‘spoiled for them’ at school by ‘doing’ it for examinations of the old kind. It is theoretically possible. Perhaps they would by now have been saints if no one had ever examined them in Scripture. . .It may be so: but why should we believe it is. We have only their word for it; and how do they know?”

I confess that I am one of these people. I am now as a man an eager omnivore of a critical and enthused reader, but I was long dormant in my desire to learn. I felt very dull toward learning throughout high school and for almost five years after college. I would not say that this has as much to do with being tested as it did with a lacking of inspired teachers.

I had some apathetic teachers and some great teachers who cared deeply for their student’s well-being, but none of which were inspired by their course subject matter. I can only think of three teachers I have ever sat under whose own inspirations on the subject matter were palpable in the classroom, and these have stuck with me. I can only imagine what my education would have been like if my teachers had all been hired based on their response to the question, “tell me what you love about (_subject_matter_)?” In my mind, education on all fronts should always be 3x as concerned about inspiring a desire to learn as it is with any other aspect of how to teach.

I think C.S. Lewis would have appreciate the fine distinction between a student turned off by being tested and a student turned off by a bored teacher, although I cannot assume that he would necessarily agree with the justification of the one if he ridiculed the other. I can say that he himself, the professors who taught him, and those whom he surrounded himself with seemed always to have a lust for critical and impassioned learning. I have yet to read anything by him distinguishing between those in education who are passionate and those who seem disingenuous. It seems that most whom he agreed and disagreed with were at least passionate about their ideas, and perhaps the problem rarely arose in his own circles.

He is right when he says that literary appreciation (and all kinds of deep appreciation) is a delicate thing. I once had a roommate who could only really enjoyed reading instruction manuals. I understand and love that different types of people learn differently and enjoy things differently. That’s why we should all be exposed to passionate car mechanics, starry-eyed scientists, and enthusiastic book worms. Our system should not be so heavy-handed as to disengage the teacher from his materials. Every student should have the opportunity to see a dictionary, instruction booklet, and novel used appropriately and passionately. Then perhaps we could all start getting out of our comfort zones and appreciating our own natural passions and foreign ones at the same time. I have met numerous educators who are being disrupted from engaging with student’s minds by the Common Core. Some have even quit teaching after 30 years of service.

I can’t imagine that Lewis would have been eager to see a teacher’s materials handed down to them from on high with a big brother figure in the classroom a couple times a month, but I can say that I would love to sit and chat with him about this circumstance more than almost any other subject.

Stay tuned for the ways I think we agree in Part II.

Author Quotes: C.S. Lewis and How Words Die


“A skillful doctor of words will pronounce the disease to be mortal at that moment when the word in question begins to harbour the adjective parasites real or true. As long as gentleman has a clear meaning, it is enough to say that So-and-so is a gentleman. When we begin saying that he is a ‘real gentleman’ or ‘a true gentleman’ or ‘a gentleman in the truest sense’ we may be sure that the word has not long to live.
. . .The vocabulary of flattery and insult is continually enlarged at the expense of the vocabulary of definition. As old horses go to the knacker’s yard, or old ships to the breakers, so words in their last decay go to swell the enormous list of synonyms for good and bad. And as long as most people are more anxious to express their likes and dislikes than to describe facts, this must remain a universal truth about language.

– C.S. Lewis, excerpt from the essay entitled The Death Of Words.

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A great example of this happened to me just a few days ago when I asked my wife a question which offended her. She was not offended by the question itself so much as the fact that I accused her of having a “scheme”. She, like many, automatically assumed a “scheme” to have negative connotations when, in fact, its original meaning is simply to have a coherent and consistent plan of action.

I have frequently seen commentary on the way that English language usage has evolved to use words like “love” so broadly as to describe both affections for a grandmother and desire for a cheeseburger, but rarely have I heard a discussion of what we do to allow the changes to take place. While I enjoy slang as much as the next person might, Lewis’ point is driven home for anyone who is familiar with buzzwords from various time periods. Often a word (or whole sets of words) that had specific meanings to generations before are effectively rendered general, then banal, then obsolete. I am constantly stumbling onto new antique words or phrases with fascinating origins that often provide unique clarity when they are properly understood.

Lewis goes on to say,

“It is important to notice that the danger to the word. . .comes not from its open enemies, but from its friends. It was not egalitarians, it was officious admirers of gentility, who killed the word gentleman. . .when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say.”

On this line of logic, perhaps we could save ourselves some history lessons if we spent more time preserving an understanding of our language.

55 Classics Review #3 – “Brothers And Friends: An Intimate Portrait Of C.S. Lewis” by Major Warren Hamilton Lewis


Upon reflection it seems a very gracious decision for The Classics Club to allow me to include my 55 list among the ranks. This book in particular is, beyond any stretch of the imagination, definitely not a classic. There is simply no way to spin it as such. It is the diary of a mostly obscure man who was the brother of a famous author. It is really a very great read, but it is more a specialty reading for certain enthusiasts.

Warren Lewis and his brother “Jack” (C.S. Lewis lifelong nickname) were inseparably close. They purchased a house together when they were in their 30’s and spent the rest of their lives under the same roof. While Jack was undoubtedly a devoted brother, it seems that Warren was far more attached to Jack as the only person he really felt he had maintained a deep connection with throughout his life.

The book is broken into 3 oddly-timed, untitled sections, but I would break it into 4 chapters based on the various lifestyles and tones portrayed in seasons.

Early Adulthood – Warren stayed in the army after WWI as a career soldier. He did not enjoy army life but felt it would be an easy way to retire as an early pensioner, which he did before his 38th birthday. The first section of the book covers his tours of duty in China, weekend visits to the home called the Kilns which he was already jointly purchasing with Jack and the old Mrs. Moore (Minto, as they called her, was the mother of Jack’s dead WWI brother-in-arms, Paddy Moore) in Oxford, and general army life.
Pre-WWII Retirement – From the end of 1932 to the start of World War II probably marked the highlight of W.H. Lewis’ lifetime. He had retired young, moved into the Kilns with Jack, was able to start taking annual “walking tours” with his brother, and was not yet plagued by alcoholic tendencies. He found delightful ways to keep himself busy both at home in Oxford and in frequent and long holidays. He owned a river boat, which he lived on for seasons at a time. At this time all his earlier plans had come together.
Post WWII – Lewis was called back to duty during the Second World War. He did not see combat but was promoted to the rank of Major. He stopped writing in his journal for the majority of the war and there are a number of subtle differences in the way he writes afterward. He frequently makes discouraged remarks about food rationing, destruction, and rebuilding efforts. He begins to really loath the housing situation at the Kilns. While he expresses constant dissatisfaction about his and Jack’s home life with Minto, the group of friends known as the Inklings really flourishes in this era. In these days he begins to have a very serious and sometimes de-habilitating alcohol problem.
Post Minto – The brothers lived with Mrs. Moore for nearly 40 years and while everyone else seemed to universally acknowledge that she was a singularly unfair sapping and discomforting force in Jack’s life, he seems never to have complained or swayed in his devotion. They endured domestic horrors that taught Warren to stay away for months at a time. By the time she passed the brothers were getting to be old men themselves and the post-Minto years are marked by C.S. Lewis’ short and painful marriage to Joy Gresham Lewis and by general decay. This section is defined by the sicknesses and deaths of many friends and eventually Jack himself, whom Warren feared outliving his entire life. He lives beyond his younger brother by nearly a decade, and his loneliness without him is highlighted by his entries about technological modernizations, spiritual shortcomings, and thoughts on his own weakening and coming death.

I would really highly recommend this book to a few certain groups of people.

The title itself is misleading because huge portions of the entries have nothing to do with Jack Lewis. It is much more of an honest insight into the mind of his brother regarding all aspects of his own life. That being said, it is still one of the best texts I have read for intimate thoughts on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings in general. Any scholar can write a thousand pages on a man’s life and a group’s dynamics, but to have one from among them providing a small collection of situational anicdotes and circumstantial ponderings on the men themselves is far more revealing as to their personalities. Anyone who enjoys their works will probably find this a worthy endeavor.

I would also recommend this book to fiction lovers, war history buffs and Anglophiles. The book is full throughout of W.H. Lewis’ thoughts and mini-reviews of the books he was reading (constantly and voraciously) and descriptions of wonderful places he has been visiting in China, both U.S. coasts, Scotland, England, Ireland, and his own back garden. The man loved books (reading and re-reading everything from Homer and Wordsworth to Dorothy Sayers), walking, and the seaside, and his descriptions of landscapes in both wonderful and rough weather can be quite poetic. As I mentioned before, his general attitudes and thoughts here and there give the reader a very interesting and unique insight into the life of a middle class, British man whose adulthood was forged by WWI and rocked to its core by WWII. These things obviously are peripheral, but they are some of the most consistent material throughout.

Overall, this book does provide a thoroughly unexplored side of C.S. Lewis’ life, but, to a greater extent, it displays the admirably honest reflections of a man growing, sometimes poorly, in a world in total upheaval. It ends in gradual and extensive loneliness and decay, perhaps not easy reading for the faint-of-heart.

I have summarized a couple of the most fascinating entries here:

What the Lewis’ bros. knew about Hitler’s Nazi Germany and when they knew it.

What is most likely the first review of The Lord Of The Rings ever written.

Author Quotes: W. H. Lewis’ First Impressions of Lord Of The Rings


Long before The Lord Of The Rings reached publication it was read aloud, chapter by chapter as completed, to Tolkien and Lewis’ little band of creatives, the Inklings. A group of mainly scholars and professors from the Oxford area, the Inklings met on Tuesday mornings and Thursday nights for a pint of beer or cider, a good debate over whatever subjects came to minds, and often a reading of someone’s poem, essay, or story. It was to this group that Tolkien, or more often his son and fellow Inkling Christopher, first read what was then referred to simply as “The new Hobbit”.

Here is the diary entry of Major Warren H. Lewis following his reading of the completed manuscript.

Saturday November 12th, 1949

“I have just finished the MS. [of Tolkien’s] sequel to The Hobbit, Lord Of The Rings. Golly, what a book! The inexhaustible fertility of the man’s imagination amazes me. It is a long book, consisting very largely in journeys: yet these never flag for an instant, each is as fresh as the one before, new colors available in profusion, whether the journey be beautiful or terrible. Some of the scenes of horror are unsurpassed, and there is wonderful skill in the way which the ultimate horror–the Dark Lord of Mordor–is ever present in one’s mind, though we never meet him, and know next to nothing about him. The beauty of Lothlorien, and the slightly sinister charm of Fangorn are unforgettable. Frodo’s squire, Sam Gamgee and the dwarf Gimli are I think the two best characters. What is rare in a story of this type, is that there is real pathos in it; the relationship between Sam and Frodo in the final stages of their journey moved me greatly. How the public will take the book I can’t imagine; I should think T will be wise to prepare himself for a good deal of misunderstanding, and many crits. on the line that ‘this political satire would gain greatly by compression and the excision of such irrelevant episodes as the journey to Lothlorien’. Indeed, by accident, a great deal of it can be read topically–the Shire standing for England, Rohan for France, Gondor the Germany of the future, Sauron for Stalin: and Saruman in the ‘Scouring of the Shire’ for our egregious Mr. Silkin, the town planner (and destroyer)! But a great book of its kind, and in my opinion ahead of anything Eddison* did.”

*Referring to E.R. Eddison, author of The Worm Of Ouroboros(1922), a similar mythological work. Eddison met Tolkien and Lewis before his death in 1945.

Author Quotes: W.H. Lewis and What The Germans Knew


One of the biggest gut-wrenching questions asked by the world in the aftermath of World War II was simply,

“How much did the German people know?”

Perhaps the most natural question one asks when confronted with human atrocity on such a scale is simply “How?” How can the people of German claim to have no knowledge of genocide in their backyards, committed by their relatives and neighbors?

It’s telling then, to say the least, to read this entry from the diary of Major Warren H. Lewis, brother of C.S. Lewis, and to recognize the date of the entry and the thoroughly eery foreboding it carries in hindsight. It also begs the heavy question, if an English visitor was able to get this clear a picture this early in history, how could the residents claim to not know anything after things got so much worse?

Saturday 17th November, 1934

“J’s friend and former pupil Pirie Gordon came to tea this afternoon: he is just back from Germany, and talked interestingly about his experiences there. He told us–on authority of the Times correspondent–that in a concentration camp near Munich (?) 40 persons have dies by torture since the camp opened, and 150 of ‘natural’ causes. He notices a distinct falling off in the Nazi enthusiasm, as contrasted with his previous visit in the summer, but admits that in the summer he mixed chiefly with students, and this time with the middle aged. The Term still continues, and people are constantly being arrested and vanishing. He doubts if Hitler is fully aware of the cruelties which are being practiced in his name. A Herr Himmler is head of the Ogpu or whatever it is called, and is the most sinister figure in Germany. There appear to be rumors that Hitler is mentally deranged: it is common knowledge that Goering was in a private lunatic asylum at the time of the Nazi coup–his insanity being caused by excessive drug taking.”