| || ||
Remembering C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who
Knew Him | An Interview with James T. Como | December 1, 2005
The world soon will be captivated by the blockbuster film release, "Narnia: The
Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," and will want to know more about
the man who wrote it.
C. S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him, just released
by Ignatius Press, is a collection of twenty-four reminiscences and impressions
from friends, students, and acquaintances of C.S. Lewis, the famed creator
of the Narnia tales. The book is edited by James T. Como, founding member
of the New York C.S. Lewis Society.
The book provides a glimpse of how C.S. Lewiss own experiences
provided snippets that grew into a beloved classic, and most recently into
the Narnia movie to be released by Disney on December 9, 2005. This volume
is for both the casual reader and the serious student of Lewis because its
readable essays take a step beyond biography to original sources with personal
anecdotes and thoughts. Lewis died in 1963, on the same day as President
John F. Kennedy and Brave New World author Aldous Huxley.
"The singular authority of this collection derives from one central
fact all but two contributors (one of them being the editor) were
personally acquainted with Lewis," notes Como, a professor of rhetoric
and public communication at City University of New York.
"The man who created Narnia" would have been quite at home in
his mythical world, because as friends recall in the book, C.S. Lewis cut
an "egg-shaped" figure who managed to dress quite shabbily even
in a new suit, loved country rambles and wild creatures, and detested artifice
Como, the editor of this valuable perspective on Lewis and his life, recently
chatted with IgnatiusInsight.com about the book and its genesis. Como himself
came to edit the book from a love of Lewis and his friendship with Lewis
posthumous editor, Walter Hooper. He relates that finding Lewis was such
an epiphany for him that he was happy to find a way to share perspectives
of Lewis by collecting these essays.
Among the essays are one by Lewiss car-hire driver who picked Lewis
up shortly after his wife, Joy Davidman, died, students who recalled his
weekly personal tutorials with great pleasure, drinking buddies, and rambling
buddies. They include people who had distinguished careers of their own
and others whose lives were less acclaimed.
IgnatiusInsight.com: How did you come to edit this collection?
James T. Como: There had been some talk in publishing circles and with
Walter Hooper, who was Lewis last secretary and continues to be his
posthumous editor for forty years, about a book. Hooper and I have been
friends going back forty years. When publishers were talking about something
like this with Hooper, Hooper thought I would be the person best to do it.
This thrilled me because I wanted to know what people who knew Lewis thought
of Lewis. If there is anything that can be called an inspiration it was
a real desire for familiarity with the man. I had never met him and there
were not many people around who had who had talked about him in print. But
there were still many people who knew him who were alive (at the time of
the books original publication in 1979).
The idea comes from this real desire to know Lewis as well as possible from
the inside. Since I did not know him, having never met him, the next best
thing was to get people who did know him to write for the book.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What did Walter Hooper write in the book?
Como: Walter Hooper wrote two things in the book. One was the bibliography.
He is the definitive bibliographer of Lewiss works. It is useful to
know in the background just how prominent Walter Hooper is in the world
of C.S. Lewis. Hooper was his last secretary, not for very long but at the
end there and has edited his works since then. Others have done this or
that book but Hoopers been with the papers for four decades. So he
wrote the bibliography, which has been updated for this edition, and he
also has an essay called "C.S. Lewis at the Socratic Club."
The Socratic Club was a very, very important debating society at Oxford
and Lewis was one of the founders of that. Every week they met and they
published the results. Lewis would give a paper very often. And that would
pose some kind of thought or dissent or disbelief about Christianity. Its
quite a famous society and its bulletins and the thought that comes from
that society and from those years of the society are very important to understanding
Lewis. Hooper wrote a study of that society and Lewis contribution
to it for the book as well.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What contributors to the book had met C.S. Lewis?
Como: Out of the twenty-four people, twenty-three met C.S. Lewis. My
colleague at the New York C.S. Lewis Society, Eugene McGovern, did not.
He has a wonderful essay, "Our Need for Such a Guide." Almost
all of these are people who knew C.S. Lewis for some period of time or from
a certain angle that is unique. Most have never written anything else about
C.S. Lewis but what they have written for my book
This is rare stuff. First of all, its authentic. These people knew
him. The second is, well never hear from these people again because
with very few exceptions, theyve died. Third, there are very few people
left C.S. Lewis would be 107 years old now for heavens sake
who knew C.S. Lewis. So this stuff is unduplicatable.
IgnatiusInsight.com: So the contributors were different people and they
knew him at different times and in different ways. But the reader comes
away with a sense of Lewis thats very coherent, dont you think?
Como: Yes, I just let people speak for themselves. Some of them knew
him very early and fell out of touch. Some of them knew him early and stayed
in touch. Some came into his life and left his life after just a few years.
So I decided to put this before the reader, these brushstrokes, so to speak,
as part of a bigger portrait and let them work it out for themselves.
For example, his pupils Derek Brewer and Peter Bayley have gone on to distinguished
careers of their own. They knew him in a friendly fashion when they left
Oxford and grew up and became men of letters themselves. But their acquaintanceship
was really limited to that one point of view as Lewis students, which
is the perspective they relate in the book.
And its interesting if you compare the two of them. They both very
vividly remember a certain painting on the wall of Lewis room where
they would go for their tutoring. Except theyre different paintings!
Theyve kept in touch themselves and theyve joked about this!
Memory is a tricky thing.
In spite of that, what comes forth from this book is a multi-faceted man
humor here, melancholy there, deep learning here, religious service
someplace else. In no given instance do the contributors contradict the
basic elements of Lewis character and personality and I find that fascinating.
He wasnt a simple man. He was multi-faceted. You know, drinking and
smoking here, maybe cursing there, praying here and yet he is
a whole guy. I think thats what made this book valuable the
different views add up to a consistent whole.
T. Como holds advanced degrees in medieval English literature (Fordham
University) and in Language, Literature and Rhetoric (Columbia University)
and is Professor of Rhetoric and Public Communication at York College of
the City University of New York, where he has taught for over thirty-five
A founding member of the New York C. S. Lewis Society (1969) and former
editor of its bulletin, CSL, he has published C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast
Table and Other Reminiscences and articles on Lewis in such journals
as National Review, Seven, and The Wilson Quarterly. In 1993
he visited the closed set of Richard Attenboroughs Shadowlands
and interviewed the principals, after which he commented (not entirely favorably)
on that film. Dr. Como also lectures widely on Lewis and other Christian
authors, including Moral Learning In and Out of Narnia, the
Thomas More Lecture on Learning, for St. Thomas More College in Fort Worth,
Texas, and, most recently, Congruent Christians, one of a number
of public of lecture series he had given at the Center for Christian Studies
of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and elsewhere.
He has also written on the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and, more generally,
on the political culture of Peru, where he has lived and visited with some
frequency. He has also published Branches to Heaven: The Geniuses of C.
S. Lewis (Spence). A Catholic and native New Yorker, Dr. Como (and his Peruvian
wife) have two grown children and live in Westchester County.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
The Relevance and Challenge
of C. S. Lewis | Mark Brumley
An Hour and a
Lifetime with C.S. Lewis | An IgnatiusInsight.com Interview with Dr.
Case for Christianity | An Interview with Richard Purtill | By Gord
the Conversion of C.S. Lewis | Clotilde Morhan
Love, Beauty and Reason | An Interview with Joseph Pearce
The Measure of
Literary Giants | An Interview with Joseph Pearce
C. S. Lewis | Ignatius Press resources:
By C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce, A Grief Observed, Mere Christianity,
Miracles, The Problem of Pain, and The Screwtape Letters)
Lewis and the Catholic Church | by Joseph Pearce
C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him
Lewis for the Third Millenium | by Peter Kreeft
Lewis' Case for the Christian Faith | by Richard Purtill
Complete Chronicles of Narnia | by C.S. Lewis (single, hardcover
Chronicles of Narnia
Set | by C.S. Lewis (7-volume set, softcover in case)
Set (3 tapes)
Life of C.S. Lewis: Through Joy and Beyond (DVD)
(BBC edition; DVD)
Magic Never Ends (DVD)
Giants, Literary Catholics | by Joseph Pearce
Converts | by Joseph Pearce
| || || |