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Posts Tagged ‘Warnie Lewis’

C. S. Lewis Malvern College

Cherbourg School was connected to Malvern College at the time Lewis attended.

Finally got the chance to look through Jack’s letters from Cherbourg School today.  I need to take some time to examine them in more depth, but I did notice a number of general themes/issues that stood out right at the beginning and most of them have to do with his relationship to his father.

In Surprised By Joy, Lewis noted that he was mortally ashamed of the way he had treated his father, Albert.  He said that as time passed he intentionally put on a more and more elaborate mask with Albert.  Jack hid his true thoughts and real self from Albert while keeping up a pretense that he really was his father’s best friend.  While I’m not sure that it was intentional at this point in his life, the letters from Cherbourg appear to lay the groundwork for that later pattern:

  • There is almost a formula to Jack’s letters.  He seems to have a list of non-revealing discussion points that he moves through–the weather, the geography, local points of interest, trips to see the theater or hear a musical performance, and then finally requests for things he’s forgotten/needs.  None of this reveals anything in particular about Jack, what he’s experiencing, or what he’s thinking.  None of the important changes and revelations from Surprised By Joy make an appearance.
  • In his one letter to Warnie, he is already referring to his frustrations with his father’s company–“Rows after tea and penitentiary strolls in the garden are not pleasant…” (25), even as he later entreats his father to “pour out all your troubles” onto Jack’s young shoulders.  He said that he would bear the burden “as you know, very gladly.” (27)  There is clearly already a bit of a dual life story being written.
  • More than one Lewis scholar as noted the paucity of letters from Jack during his time at Cherbourg, and Hooper in particular takes this as evidence of the “personal renaissance” that Jack was undergoing.  While I do agree with that, there seem to be hints in the text that there were a number of other letters that simply haven’t survived (something Hooper does allow for, though he emphasizes the other explanation).  For instance, Jack specifically mentions to Warnie, “Please write soon (how often have I made that request and received no answer to it)…” (25).  He later mentions to Albert that Warnie “seems to consider the answering of letters a superfluous occupation” (26) implying of course that he was a regular attempted correspondent.
    • I think it worth noting that though there are a few possible inferences to draw from this, it would be a fallacy to attempt to do so.  We would be, obviously, arguing from an absence of evidence.

Finally, a quick note on Hooper’s chronology.  He dates LP IV: 49-50 (Jack’s letter to Warnie asking about Warnie’s getting the boot from his position as prefect)  to “1? July 1913” and LP IV 44-5 (Jack corresponding with Albert about Warnie’s demotion) to “6 July 1913.”  This seems to be out of order, for what that might be worth.  In 44-6 Jack specifically mentions that “shortly after I wrote my letter to you, I decided to write him…. [emphasis added]”  From the subsequent description of the letter’s contents, it is clear that Jack is describing 49-50.  Therefore, if 44-5 is correctly dated to 6 July, 49-50 must have been written on the same day.

No biggie, but there it is.

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"Jack" Lewis as a child

I picked a sorry time to start a blog.  I’m approaching the busiest point of an already unreasonably busy semester.  But hey, I need to start some time, so I’ll start slowly; just a couple of short letters to get the ball rolling.

The 1905 letter is the very first that Jack wrote to Warnie, and is the first contained in the published collected letters.  Warnie is away at Wynyard School and Jack is about eight years old.  Jack is talking about the adventures of his canary and some Halloween celebrations.  One point that I found interesting is how plain and straightforward his language is.  He’s reporting on events truly and completely, even if some of the evens must have been exciting (the fireworks) or even terrifying (his dog going into spasms and foaming at the mouth).  Everything is told in plain, straightforward style.

The second letter is shorter, and is full of news from Jack’s imaginary world of Boxen.  I know that Jack later said that Boxen was a rather dry, unmagical place, but I must say that I find his level of detail in demography and political intrigue to be a bit mind blowing.  A short quote speaks for itself:

The colonists (who are of course the war party) are in a bad way:  they scarecly leave their houses because of the mobs.  In Tararo the Prussians and the Boxonians are at fearful odds against each other and the natives.

A couple of things strike me about these two letters.

  • First, I find it ironic (and scary) that Lewis at eight years of age is writing more creatively and coherently than a significant number of my college students do at eighteen or even twenty.  I’d like to say that it was simply due to Lewis’s innate genius, but I’m afraid its probably not that simple….
  • Second, I’m amazed to see Lewis’s detailed knowledge of Boxen.  I know that we might be tempted to write that off quickly because, after all, it is his own imaginary world that therefore we should expect him to know quite a bit about it.  Then I remind myself that he’s only nine flippin’ years old!  How many modern nine year olds have you heard talking like that?

Of course, I wonder sometimes if that isn’t simply because we, as a civilization, haven’t simply become lazy in our thinking.  Coming up with that level of detail is  hard work for most of us, and we’d rather let someone else do it for us and then just present us with the results.  We certainly have become lazy in our writing.  Becoming a decent writer is difficult, and we want to be able to skip the practicing part and and expect instant gratification.  If we can’t have that, many of us just give up.  Quite sad really.

Ah well.
Lewis, C. S. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis Walter Hooper, ed.(San Francisco:  Harper San Francisco, 2004), 2-3.

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