Approximately 30 letters to children, replete with references to his writings, his advice on schooling, and his views on religion
Never before offered for sale; acquired from the family of the children
“You must have often wondered how the old Professor in The Lion, W.W. could have believed all the children told him about Narnia. The reason was that he had been there himself as a little boy....
Never before offered for sale; acquired from the family of the children
“You must have often wondered how the old Professor in The Lion, W.W. could have believed all the children told him about Narnia. The reason was that he had been there himself as a little boy. This book tells you how he went there, and (of course that was ages and ages ago by Narnian time), how he saw Aslan creating Narnia, and how the White Witch first got into that world and why there was a lamp-post in the middle of that forest….”
Clive Staples Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement.
Lewis wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. C. S. Lewis’s most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics in The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.
The Kilmer family of eight brothers and sisters lived in Washington, D.C. A family friend to whom they referred as their “Aunt Mary Willis” first suggested that they write to Lewis. Mary (American poet, Mary Willis Shelburne [1895-1975]), was a longtime epistolary friend of Lewis’, and their correspondence was collected and published as C.S. Lewis’ Letters to an American Lady, edited by Clyde S. Kilby. Ultimately Lewis was to arrange a stipend for Mary through his American publisher, which provided financial security for her even after his death.
The series of correspondence which unfolded between Lewis and the Kilmer children is considered to be so significant that many of the letters were collected and published within C.S. Lewis Letters to Children, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead (1985). “As Lewis was writing the first of his Narnian tales, he was certainly aware that Christianity had begun to slip quietly into his story. But it was only after reflection that he began to see ‘how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood. ‘Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. . . . But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.’ These concerns that filled Lewis’s mind when he wrote his children’s books were evident when he answered his letters from children. A kind man, he was never more compassionate than when he wrote to young people. He remembered well the fears, questions, and joys of childhood, and he understood his young correspondents. Lewis met them on ‘common, universally human, ground’ and they responded.” (excerpt from the Introduction, C.S. Lewis Letters to Children).
Extraordinary series of letters written over nine years to the Kilmer children, dedicatees of the sixth volume in the Narnia series, The Magician’s Nephew. A remarkable and rich archive comprising 23 ALsS and 6 TNsS, 41pp, 4to and 8vo, Magdalen College, Oxford, The Kilns, Kiln Lane, Headington Quarry, Oxford and Magdalene College, Cambridge (some on printed letterheads),19 March 1954 through 26 March 1963, with most of the original mailing envelopes.
Lewis offers thoughtful and warm advice to the siblings, encouraging them in their creative endeavors, offering linguistic and study advice, critiquing creative writings and drawings by the children, revealing details of his Narnia series, discussing characters and concepts from Lewis’ other publications, musing on religious themes, following the children’s courses through academics, and commenting on family health, pets and other domestic matters.
Excerpts from a selection of the letters follow:
Autograph letter signed, March 19 1954. “Your story, Martin, is good and keeps one right to the end guessing what is really happening. In Hugh’s picture of the Dufflepuds what I like best (though the D’s themselves are quite good) is the ship, just the right sort of ship, and the shadow of the ship, and the windiness of the sky. I mean, I like a picture of out-of-door things to look as if it was really out of doors – as this does. But you all seem able to do that. Nicky’s Reepicheep shows the sunlight splendidly by the shadows of the trees. But what I like best of all is the ‘spirit of a tree’. It is so beautifully wavy and graceful and is moving so. Bravo! The typescript of your book went off to the publisher last week, though it will not be out till next year. It is called The Magician’s Nephew. You must have often wondered how the old Professor in The Lion, W.W. could have believed all the children told him about Narnia. The reason was that he had been there himself as a little boy. This book tells you how he went there, and (of course that was ages and ages ago by Narnian time), how he saw Aslan creating Narnia, and how the White Witch first got into that world and why there was a lamp-post in the middle of that forest….”
Autograph letter signed, January 22, 1957. “The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end — in her own way. I think that whatever she had seen in Narnia she could (if she was the story that wanted to) persuade herself, as she grew up, that it was ‘all nonsense.’ Congratulations on your good marks. I wish I was good at Maths!.”
Autograph letter signed, March 26, 1963. “I didn’t say ‘it is wiser never to daydream’. I said we needn’t discuss whether it was. The whole passage is much more ironical than you allow for. The brutal plain English is ‘You academic literary Pharisees make demands on humanity which neither you nor anyone else has ever met or can’. The sacred heart icons can’t ever be beautiful, can they! For their very [purpose] is to take heart (metaphysical) and equate it with heart (anatomical). [Imagine] as if you show a picture of Our Lady as literally an ivory tower with battlements etc? I come as near this as possible when I make ‘The Lion of Judah’ is to Adam. But I’m working in words and you can do all sorts of things with these which can’t be done with pictures.”
Autograph letter signed, January 24, 1956. “Dear Hugh, Anne, Noelie (there’s a name I never heard before: what language is it and does it rhyme with oily or mealy or Kelley or early or truly?), Nicholas, Martin, Rosamund, Matthew and Miriam – Thank you very much for all the lovely letters and pictures. You don’t say who did the clouded one of Random being paddled by the Hross. Hugh? I liked it. That’s very much what a Hross is like but a bit too fat. And I don’t know who did the one of the Price fighting the Serpent: but it’s a fine snaky snake. (I was born in Holy Ireland where there are no snakes because, as you know, St. Patrick sent them away). And I think Nicholas’s picture of the Price and Jill and the Chair very good – especially the prince’s legs for legs aren’t too easy to draw, are they? Noelie’s white witch is superb! – just as proud and wicked as I meant her to be. And Nicholas’s other one of the L, the W and the W (I can’t write it all out) is a nice deep picture, going away into the distance. Thank you all….
Autograph letter signed, July 10, 1957. “. . . The eldila are meant to be angels, not fairies. Haven’t you noticed that they are always about Maledil’s business? I admit I made the birth-rates of the Hrossa a bit too low: but of course you must remember I was picturing a world in its extreme old age — like an old man tranquilly and happily proceeding to his end. . . .” ;
Autograph letter signed, August 7, 1957. “The view that angels have no bodies of any kind has not always been held among Christians. The old idea (early Middle Ages) was that they had bodies of aether as we have bodies of gross matter. . . . I just took, for purposes of a story, the one that seemed most imaginable. I have no scruples about this because, religiously, the question seems to me of no importance. . . . I am so glad you both like TWHF. I think it is my best book but not many agree. . . . To be able to read Latin easily . . . is an enormous advantage later on. Practice on the Latin New Testament where you know the story already. . . . The dragon in Beowulf certainly has wings. Shooting stars were often called fire-dragons in the Middle Ages. . . . There might be a wingless variety as well, no doubt. Why do I not care for Plutarch, I wonder? I’ve tried him many times, but I somehow don’t get on. I think . . . the 3 sisters are not v. like goddesses. They’re just human souls. Psyche has a vocation and becomes a saint. Orual lives the practical life and is, after many sins, saved. As for Redival — well, we’ll all hope the best for everyone! My bones feel a bit better now that I’ve got what they call a ‘surgical belt.’ It’s really like your grandmother’s corsets. It gives me a wonderful schoolboy figure!” ;
Autograph letter signed, April 24, 1958. “It is always nice to hear of anyone really enjoying Perelandra. I don’t think the pleasure on my part is merely vanity. I enjoyed that imaginary world so much myself that I’m glad to find anyone who has been there and liked it as much as I did — just like meeting someone who has been to a place one knows and likes in the real world. . . .”
Religion and Literature
Autograph letter signed, November 18, 1959. “I meant only to deal with that particular argument, which, as you rightly say, has been used by Fundamentalists (and Calvinists) as well as by Rome. I was not postponing a discussion on the Roman position in general. Indeed if faith in the Church of Rome only comes by supernatural gift, there is not much room for discussion.”
Autograph letter signed, August 18 1959. “Don’t bother about Alanus. The prophecies of Merlin are much the least interesting thing about him. The fullest source for the Merlin story is the prose Merlin. The medieval English translation of this (several volumes) was published by the Early English Text Society. You are not likely to find it except in a university library. You have Geoffrey. A v. good source, if you can get hold of it, is Arthurian Chronicles from Wace and Layamon by Eugene Mason, published by Dents of London many years in a series called the Everyman Library. The Layamon part is the part worth reading….”
Autograph letter signed, September 29, 1958. “. . . Congratulations . . . on escaping Cicero, who, to my mind, is the greatest bore (except possibly Ben Jonson, Launcelot Andrewes, and Mrs. Humphrey Ward) of all authors whether ancient or modern. You seem to be doing a pretty wide curriculum; too wide in my opinion. All schools, both here and in America, ought to teach far fewer subjects and teach them better.“
Autograph letter signed, March 27, 1959 “. . . I think your proposed metre is far too rollicking and comic for any original in so solemn a metre as the Virgilian hexameter. To such a time as yours I would put only words like ‘A pound of that cheese and an ounce of the butter,’ Aeneas replied with his usual stutter. I’d like to do the Aeneid into rhyming Alexandrines . . . but without a regular break in the middle as classical French has. This wd. give them the v. Virgilian quality of sounding almost like prose in the middle while the end of each line keeps them in order — e.g. I 32-3 Leading them far, far-wandered, over alien foam — so mighty was the labour of the birth of Rome. . . .”; and
Autograph letter signed, February 15, 1961. “If I had time to re-read my own book . . . I’d be able to answer you better, meanwhile: 1. Can we assume that whatever is true of the glorified body of our Lord is equally true of the glorified body of each Christian? I doubt it. His natural body did not undergo dissolution. 2. I don’t quite accept the implication of your phrase ‘restricted by external quantity’, for restriction suggests imperfection. But to be in one place (or therefore not in another) seems to me possibly hard on the perfection of a finite creature — as it belongs to the perfection of a statue to end where it does or of a musical note to be just so loud (neither more nor less) or of a metrical verse. 3. I am not at all sure that blessed souls have a strictly timeless being (a totum simal) like God. Don’t some theologians interpose aevun as a half-way house between tempus & aeternitas. In general, I incline to think that tho’ the blessed will participate in the Divine Nature, they will do so always in a mode which does not simply annihilate their humanity. Otherwise it is difficult to see why the species was created at all. Of course I’m only guessing.”
Letters such as these by Lewis are very uncommon, particularly those that relate to his thoughts about Narnia. These were acquired from the family of the recipients and have never been offered for sale before.
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