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Monday, October 23, 2017

The Dark Tower by CS Lewis

Jack Lewis, Maureen Moore and the infamous Mrs. Janie Moore

Okay, by way of full disclosure, I'm a huge fan of CS Lewis.
So when I saw The Dark Tower,  a collection of unpublished short stories of his on Kindle, I snapped the book up. I was all set to enjoy the book. These stories, only a couple of which are complete, were saved from the burn pile by a friend of the family. After Lewis' death, his brother Warnie was cleaning out their home and busily burning papers in the backyard. Fortunately, several friends were helping him and managed to save some of Jack's papers including these stories.

That Jack, himself didn't seek to publish these stories tells you something. In reading these, I found myself looking at the kind of thing a graduate student would dive into while writing a doctoral thesis about some literary figure.

The stories are interesting. They impress me as a kind of personal unburdening by the highly logical and deliberate writer/professor/theologian he was. I understand why he didn't release these stories. I think they reflect a side of Lewis that he wasn't really happy with. Many of them were abandoned after his brief marriage to Joy Davidman Gresham and afterward, I don't think Jack felt quite the same way about women that he did before.

Joy Davidman Lewis and CS Lewis
His female characters in this story do not come out well. Some of them are truly horrific and the males in the stories seem put upon by the females in their lives. Given the situation in most of his home life, the stories seem to be a way for Lewis to valve off his resentment at Mrs. Moore, his housekeeper/dungeon master who made Lewis' life something of a misery by all accounts.

Lewis had promised a friend and fellow soldier that should he not return, Jack would "take care" of his mother. Jack did so until she died in 1951. He refused to talk bad about Mrs. Moore directly, even with his brother Warnie who describes her as a bully and generally unpleasant woman. It appears that the only complaint Lewis ever made about the domineering virago who made his home a kind of torture chamber for him was to cast terrible women as characters in his books and short stories. Mrs. Moore appears vividly in The Screwtape Letters as the woman about whom Screwtape says, “She's the sort of woman who lives for others - you can tell the others by their hunted expression.”

In almost every one of these unpublished stories, Lewis makes women out to be relatively shallow and unpleasant characters. In one it gets so bad that crew members abandon two of them on Mars to escape their attentions. I suspect Lewis knew he was perhaps being unfair to women in general. Lewis' tendency to self-examination may have prevented him from finishing or publishing these stories. I suspect he'd rather have had them left on the burn pile.

Not everything a writer writes is meant to be published. It's interesting to look at Lewis as he struggles with the concept of time and space, no doubt a subject of much discussion among Lewis and his fellow Inklings - a kind of men's club and refuge from Mrs. Moore that Lewis belonged to with JRR Tolkein and other notable scholars in his circle.

It's interesting to note that while Lewis was always a strong advocate and admirer of a kind of idealized traditional womanhood, he really didn't write much about romantic spousal love relationships in his work until he fell in love with Joy Davidman near the end of his life. The book is a nosey kind of peek into Jack Lewis' maturation as a writer complete with echoes of his personal life throughout. Graduate students desperate for a thesis subject may find this book illuminating. The comments by the books editors will be helpful. One thing, however, can be gained from this volume. If you're a well-known writer, there are some things you should probably go ahead and burn before you die.

I've decided to reread Lewis' other published works and kind of flush out this one. I feel like I've rifled through Lewis' desk drawers and dug around in his private journals. I've always been uncomfortable doing that.

© 2017 by Tom King

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