Though much is taken, much abides



We are now two months into the throes of the pandemic in America.

Trips are cancelled, ceremonies are postponed, loved ones are succumbing to the illness. Are we crouched among the helpless, groping and weeping like characters in the pages of a dystopian novel? Out of toilet paper, out of disinfectant, scouring the store six feet apart with concealed mouths, like C.S. Lewis’s Orual in Till We Have Faces. I keep thinking the skies will clear one day. But today is not that day.

Although I am a unapologetic introvert, I have found that compulsory quarantine is far worse than the voluntary kind. On the rare occasion that I do speak with another human being whom I don’t live with, I find myself meandering on, seeking new avenues of conversation. And when my friend finally begins to pivot and step away, to wind down the talk and shift to more pressing matters, I am adrift in sadness. Again, in this same old rut. Of waking and eating and completing tasks like my character on Animal Crossing and watching the last amber rays of a spring sun sink below my office window. And then I am summoned to sleep again. Survival is not at all romantic. It is, instead, colored with an emotional uneasiness in the fluctuation between uncertainty and reassurance. “I am tired” is mingled with, “I have a headache” or “I am depressed.” At the beginning of all of this, I was sure that I would tackle my ever-growing list of responsibilities and writing duties with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm. No job to distract and exhaust me. No endless squeak of the hamster wheel of obligation. Liberation at last. But with that liberation is an especial kind of malaise. I had no idea that routine functioned as a kind of balm to my soul, that the comfort of the ordinary was so essential to my existence.

You blink and there is no normal, just the familiar presence of purgatory. There is no new normal, as the experts are predicting. Not yet.

Please be certain that I am not juxtaposing my privilege, my warm meals and comfortable home, with those in third-world countries (or even my own) shivering beneath tyranny and limited medical resources and hunger. I am well aware that I “have it pretty good.” This does not, however, diminish or dismiss the struggle of those who have dealt with mental illness, financial stress, or the loss of someone dear during this pandemic. Even in the global superpower that is America. F. Scott Fitzgerald shows us that misery is nothing if not democratic. It visits weak and strong alike, the poor and rich, the optimist and the pessimist. Wealth and privilege do not, surprisingly, make us immune to calamity.

But humans are fairly resilient. Our close ancestors survived the Spanish flu, a similar malady. They survived two world wars. They held their collective breath for loved ones to return from foreign battlefields, for job vacancies to appear in the post during an hour of certain fiscal ruin, for their empty bellies to cease aching, for relief in the midst of an angry, oppressive government. Further back they endured a bloody civil war that pitted brother against brother. Plagues and famine. Some of these perils were of our own making, humans inventing atrocities with an unparalleled fervor. History books are full of these disasters. And yet, they fell in love and had babies in dark hours, they indulged in laughter and joy, seeking common ecstasies in the crevices of life. This should rally and inspire us to move forward, yes?  Be patient with me, reader. I am working all of this out, just like you. I have stared at the half-full glass until my vision is blurred a bit. How fitting that my watch battery is low as I type this. Even time itself is weary.

But we will be okay. I know we will. I have a great faith in God and in you, in all of us. Even those who splatter their vitriol all over social media, who hate and troll and engineer a new kind of sadness. There are those who choose enmity because it is easy, automatic. David Foster Wallace declared this as our “default setting.” What a wretched race we are when our natural setting is hatred. Or is it? Perhaps this time of quarantine will be one of reflection and change. Perhaps it won’t. But I’m still hopeful.

I took piano lessons as a child, and there is something lovely about minor chords. Not because I relish the dissonance or celebrate straying from uniformity like some crazed iconoclast. I enjoyed them because I knew that, eventually, they would resolve. The notes would hover indistinct and, with this enigmatic beauty, would settle into a much-anticipated dissolve. There was a darkness to it, a darkness even a musical novice would recognize, but then you wait. Your eyes scan the next couple of bars as your fingers stay obedient to the rhythm of the metronome. There is it. In just a few beats…the great mercy of a resolve. A hope restored.

But for now, we wait. We breathe. We realign…and we write.

The Young Lewis Series: Aunt Lily, the Suffragist


Flora Lewis

In my last post, I discussed C.S. Lewis’s parents: Albert and Flora. Today, we will examine the role of one particular family member in Jack’s early life – Aunt Lillian “Lily” (Hamilton) Suffern. Lillian Hamilton (1860-1934) was Flora’s older sister and the first child of Thomas and  Mary Hamilton. Lily, unlike Flora, was considered a “favorite” child by her parents. She was married to William Suffern. In 1886, William was sent to an asylum in Peebles, Scotland. Later, in 1900, he was declared insane and spent the rest of his life there, dying in 1913 and leaving Lily a widow with no children. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Aunt Lily was her prodigious intellect, which allowed her to wax philosophical on varied subjects. Many people would be surprised to know that Lily was a suffragist, consistently speaking her mind (even if one didn’t care for her opinion). She was known as rather cantankerous. She moved several times after her husband’s death, and was incredibly fond of her nephew Jack, whom she called “Cleeve.” Aunt Lily was something of a character; while she spoke out against women’s rights (including birth control) and animal rights, she never hesitated to cross anyone who dared to contradict her. In the letters and diary, Jack discusses how smart and engaging she was. Warren provides a portrait of her in Volume 2 of The Lewis Papers, included with the following description:

“Lily was a clever, but eccentric woman, handsome in her youth. Her cutting insolence and her extremely quarrelsome disposition made her the stormy petrel of the family, with all or several of whose members she was perpetually at war. Albert [Lewis] never forgave her for the arrow she launched at him in writing to another member of the clan on a legal problem, when she observed of him in an airy parenthesis, ‘for poor Allie is so ignorant.’ The good nature of her nephew Clive Lewis…enabled her for many years in later life to conduct a pseudo-metaphysical correspondence which bears melancholy evidence of a good brain run to seed” (AMR 471). Jack writes that Aunt Lily “talked all the time, with her usual even, interminable fluency, on a variety of subjects. Her conversation is like an old drawer, full of both rubbish and valuable things, but all thrown together in great disorder” (CL, I, 127).

Jack continues, “She has been here for about three days and has snubbed a bookseller in Oxford, written to the local paper, crossed swords with the Vicar’s wife, and started a quarrel with her landlord” (AMR 127).

Indeed, Aunt Lily didn’t mind to get in a scuff with any clergyman nor did she attend church, despite the fact that she grew up the daughter of Reverend Hamilton: “Being asked why, she said she had vowed never to enter any church until the clergy as a body came out in defense of the Dog’s Protection Bill. ‘Oh!’ said the priest’s wife in horrified amazement. ‘So you object to vivisection?’ ‘I object to all infamies,’ replied Aunt L. Nevertheless the Vicar and the wife came to her all humble at the journey’s end and said, ‘Even if you don’t come to church, will you come to our whist drive?’ She says all parsons look like scolded dogs when you challenge them on this subject” (CL, I, 127).

Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions

Title page for Spirits in Bondage – 1919

Jack also found Aunt Lily a fine judge of literary works. He often shared drafts of works in progress with her. After publishing his poetry collection Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics, Jack writes that Aunt Lily “put several people on” to it, “recording many nice things said” (AMR 21). However, she had strong opinions about Jack’s drafts of Dymer: “She strongly disapproved of ‘Dymer’ which I had left with her last week. She called it brutal. She said, ‘Where has all your old simplicity and rightness of language gone?’ She said I seemed to be deliberately slipshod and wrong in my words…She also said I ‘must not describe.’ When she came to a description of a wood in a poem – whether in Keats or me!! – she gave it up. She didn’t mind a man writing a poem just about a wood: but to have a wood flung in your way when you were reading about a man – !…I asked her if she disliked Dymer himself: she said, no, it was me: Dymer was just a young animal let loose” (AMR 132).

Jack continued to take poetic criticism from Lily, who adored poet Robert Browning: “The coarseness of ‘Dymer’ depended apparently  on the word ‘wenched’ in the first canto. She took this very seriously: excused me on the ground of having no mother or sisters and because Oxford men were notoriously coarse – coarser than those of Cambridge. I reminded her that it was the Cambridge undergraduates  who had torn down the gates of women’s colleges and jeered at them. She replied without hesitation, ‘The young men are quite right to defend themselves.’ She then told me a very disgusting story of two medical students here in Oxford, who she had seen dragging off a dog into the laboratories: and they were laughing together as they talked of the old man who had sold it making them promise to give it a good home and be kind to it. After that, I no longer defended Oxford  again not ever shall” (AMR 143).


A copy of Dymer. Like Spirits in Bondage, it was published under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton

Lily and Jack often exchanged their work. Jack read an essay by Aunt Lily in 1922 and “thought it was great literature.” He continues, “You can see at any rate that she’s a real, convinced prophet and not a bit of a quack. Her absolute inability to take in anything that cannot be used as fuel for her own particular fire is also a prophet’s characteristic fault” (AMR 131).

Aunt Lily, as a suffragist, fought tirelessly for women’s rights, including reproductive rights. In one story Jack recalls in his diary, Aunt Lily argues with a woman over her children and then vows to distribute “leaflets issued by the C.B.C. (Constructive Birth Control”:


Dr. Marie Stopes was called an “early sex reformer who devoted herself to birth control” (CL 557).

Jack makes a passing (and rather comical) reference to her in a letter to Warnie on 1 July 1921

“There was one inexplicable anecdote. She had been held up by a crush of prams at Carfax and had asked one obstructive woman to take her pram off the pavement. The woman replied that she had a right to be there. Aunt Lily retorted that she had no right to bring these children into the world for other people to look after and still less to block up the pavement. The woman said she was shopping. Aunt Lily said it was bad for the child to be taken shopping and the only good thing was that it killed some of them off.

“I asked her why on earth she said such a thing. ‘I was angry,’ she answered. I replied, quoting Plato, that anger was an aggravation, not an excuse. She added that she had a lot of leaflets issued by the C.B.C. (Constructive Birth Control): and she was going to drop one into every pram the next time she went into Oxford” (emphasis added, AMR 153).


“Pram” = baby carriage

Additionally, Aunt Lily, speaking of a wife who had left a bad husband, claimed, “Her consolation is that she stopped a bad heredity from perpetuating itself: her strain and her bringing up has made good the children, so that particular man is done with – biologically” (AMR  131-132).

Due to Lily’s frequent moves, Jack had to often find her new residence. On a bus ride to her new cottage, he gave the bus driver her address: ‘The conductor did not at once understand where I wanted to stop, and a white bearded old farmer chipped in, ‘You now, Jarge – where that old gal lives along of all them cats.’ I explained that this was exactly where I did want to go. My informant remarked, ‘You’ll ‘ave a job to get in when you DO get there.’ He was as good as his word, for when I reached the cottage I found the fence supporting a wire structure about nine feet high which was continued even over the gate. She does it to prevent her cats escaping into the main road” (CL, I, 626-627).

Interestingly enough, Aunt Lily often told Jack family stories. Jack admitted to her that the reason he wished to finish his degree in English in one year (as opposed to three) was to save his father’s expenses, as Jack’s scholarship had expired (as noted in my last post, Jack’s budget, coupled with his strange living arrangement, was a cause of disagreement with his father): “I remarked, in answer to some question, how rushed I had been by the shortened time in wh[ich] I had taken this School. She said, ‘Why did you?’ and that it wasn’t fair either to my father or myself, who had nothing to do with his money and only wanted to keep me there. I said that, on the contrary, he wanted to retire: she said that W and I had been provided for and my father had been in a position to retire long ago before my mother’s death but she (my mother) had persuaded him to continue his police court work and make more. Who knows?” (AMR 246)

Jack continued to visit Aunt Suffern when his studies and domestic responsibilities permitted it. It is important to note that Aunt Lily never visited Jack at his home, and was thus ignorant of the living arrangement he had with Mrs. Moore. Perhaps Jack felt that in his aunt he could recover a small piece of his mother.

Aunt Lily died in 1934.

The Young Lewis Series: Mammy and Papy

Albert and Flora

Albert and Flora Lewis, with Warnie

Photo courtesy of C.S. Lewis: Images of His World  – Douglas Gilbert and Clyde S. Kilby

Text Key:

CL – Collected Letters

AMR – All My Road Before Me

SBJ – Surprised by Joy

LP – Lewis Papers

There are many biographies detailing the young life of C.S. Lewis. The general impression is that he was particularly close to his mother, but she passed away of cancer when Lewis was only nine. Also widely acknowledged is that Jack Lewis had a contentious relationship with his father. In today’s post, we will examine the Collected Letters, as well as other various texts, to explore these individuals in greater detail. The life of Flora Lewis was the inaugural post for my Women and Lewis series (in 2013) which you can read here. Today’s post will include more general information about Flora. For more specific reading on how Flora influenced Jack, check out the chapter that I contributed to the book Women and C.S. Lewis.


Florence “Flora” Lewis was a woman before her time. While many of her friends were starting families, Flora instead chose to attend college at the Methodist College in Belfast, as well as Queen’s University (then Royal University). She achieved first class honors in Geometry and Algebra in 1881. In 1885, she earned first class honors once again in Logic and second class honors in Mathematics. She earned her B.A. degree in 1886, one of small selection of women who were not only college-educated, but earned degrees in a field deprived of females. Flora had already denied the proposal of Albert’s brother when Albert began to approach her about a relationship. However, Flora denied his advances also, saying she only sought him for “friendship.” Albert then altered his approach, exchanging letters about the works of John Ruskin and other authors, highlighting their mutual love for good literature. Flora’s short story, “The Princess Rosetta” was published in The Home Journal in 1890 (no copies survive). Albert wrote asking for a copy. Flora reluctantly sent it to him, figuring that he was too accomplished a man to think much of her writing. To her great surprise, Albert responded with nothing but high praise, extolling the work for its brilliance. Flora eventually warmed to Albert, and the two married in 1894. Warren was born in 1895; Jack followed in 1898. Flora was the daughter of clergyman Thomas Hamilton, who served at St. Mark’s Dundela in Belfast (after serving four years in a church in Rome). The Lewis brothers attended this parish as children, and later, installed stained glass windows there honoring their father and mother. To view these beautiful memorials, please visit St. Mark’s website here and click on “Photo Gallery.”

Flora was so used to the ecclesiastical life that church learning was second nature. Interestingly enough, Flora believed that she was among the “least favorite” of the four Hamilton children, and perhaps this is why she refused to take a “traditional route,” refusing to adhere to her parents’ (and society’s) expectations. Warnie admits that his grandfather Hamilton utilized “outworn literary cliches” and possessed “intense religious bigotry” for Catholics as seen in some protestant circles in late 1800s Belfast (Flora Hamilton and ‘A Miracle at Firenze’ – Journal of Inkling Studies). In Volume 1 of the Collected Letters, Walter Hooper includes a piece by Flora titled “Modern Sermon,” which is essentially a parody of a sermon written in 1892 satirizing the curate Mr. Palmer (or perhaps, Hooper suggests, her own father):

“‘Old Mother Hubbard, she went to the cupboard

To get her poor dog a bone.

But when she got there, the cupboard was bare,

And so the poor dog got none.’

“Mother Hubbard, you see, was old; there being no mention of others, we may presume she was a lone, a widow – a friendless, old, solitary widow. Yet did she despair? Did she sit down and weep, or read a novel, or wring her hands? No. She went to the cupboard, and here observe, she WENT to the cupboard, she did not hop or skip or run or jump, or use any other peripatetic artifice; she solely and merely WENT to the cupboard.

“We have seen that she was old and lonely, and we now see that she was poor. For, mark, the words, THE cupboard; not ‘one of the cupboards,’ or the ‘right hand cupboard’ or the ‘left hand cupboard’ or the one above or the one below, but just THE cupboard. The one humble little cupboard the poor widow possessed. And why did she go to the cupboard? Was it to bring forth golden goblets or glittering precious stones, or costly apparel, or feast on any other attributes of wealth? IT WAS TO GET HER POOR DOG A BONE. Not only was the widow poor, but the dog, the sole prop of her age, was poor too. We can imagine the scene. The poor dog, crouching in the corner, looking wistfully at the solitary cupboard, and the widow going to the cupboard in hope, in expectation…” (CL, 1009-1010)Flora2

Flora and Albert had a happy marriage. Jack writes in Surprised by Joy that he had “good parents.” Flora often took her children to the sea to escape the damp Belfast climate. She would encourage them to be curious, to strongly develop their intellects by teaching Latin and French, as well as teaching them to play chess. Warren Lewis writes that these trips were “the highlight of our year” yet they were rarely joined by their father: “Urgent business was his excuse  – he was a solicitor…I never met a man more wedded to a dull routine, or less capable of extracting enjoyment from life…I can still see him on his occasional visits to the seaside, walking moodily up and down the beach, hands in trouser pockets, eyes on the ground, every now and then giving a heartrending yawn and pulling out his watch” (Letters of C.S. Lewis, 16).

Yet Flora often begged Albert to join them by the sea. Below is a letter published in C.S. Lewis and the Island of His Birth by Sandy Smith, a prominent Lewis scholar residing in Belfast:

“Quay Road [Ballycastle]

16 August 1900

My dearest Bear

I am sorry you are not coming down this week, but of course it is much better to wait till the middle of the week and have more time with us; remember Thursday will be the 23rd [Albert’s birthday]. you must try to get down for that…Babsie [Jack] is not sleeping very well the last few nights; he is not cross, but wants to get up and talk and play. I suppose it is the heat. He talks about his pappy and wants to go and meet him when he goes out…Always your loving wife, Flora” (101)


Jack as a baby

As many know, Flora would later develop abdominal cancer. Her first surgery in February of 1908 was performed on the dinner table at Little Lea. Flora had been sick with headaches and had become exceptionally weak for some time. Jack remembers having a toothache and that he was told his mother “couldn’t come” to him (this was not necessarily during the surgery, but during the darkest depths of her illness). Flora rallied for a few months, but the second surgery revealed that the cancer had worsened. Albert lovingly attended her sickbed. Her final words, in response to a comment on the goodness of God were, “What have we done for Him?” Flora died on Albert’s birthday – 23 August 1908.

Lewis compares Flora’s death to the “sinking of Atlantis.” All of his childhood innocence was stripped away in an instant, and the trio of men were left to inhabit Little Lea. Jack discusses “viewing the body” of his mother in Surprised by Joy:

“Grief in childhood is complicated with many other mysteries. I was taken into the bedroom where my mother lay dead; as they said, ‘to see her,’ in reality, as I at once knew, ‘to see it.’ There was nothing that a grown-up would call disfigurement – except for that total disfigurement which is death itself.  Grief was overwhelmed in terror.  To this day I do not know what they mean when they call dead bodies beautiful. The ugliest man alive is an angel compared with the loveliest of the dead. Against all the subsequent paraphernalia of coffin, flowers, hearse, and funeral I reacted with horror…To my hatred for what I already felt to be all the fuss and flummery of the funeral I may perhaps trace something in me which I now recognize as a defect but which I have never fully overcome – a distaste for all that is public, all that belongs to the collective; a boorish inaptitude for formality.”  (19-20)

Flora’s academic and spiritual influence is evident. Certainly her loss echoed throughout Jack’s adult life, but the lessons she taught, and the love she gave, made a deep impression on him. We now know where Lewis inherited his penchant for logic!

Now, we will move on to the Lewis patriarch – a compelling and controversial figure – who, I argue, shaped Lewis in various ways. His death also left a lasting impression on his sons, but the death was experienced with a mixture of conflicting emotions.


 ALBERT LEWISalbert-lewis

“I could show you, I think, the very point in St. Albans where, just as I was posting a letter, it occurred to me that when my father said X I despised it, and when any one of my friends said X I thought it was extremely intelligent. It is in our blood; we are furious with our parents before we know it”

Charles Williams (The Third Inkling – Lindop, 23)

Many biographers believed that Albert Lewis was a pushover who carried his bravado home from the courtroom. Among the traits that the Lewis brothers found repulsive were his tendencies to change information and claim that his version is correct, to eat heavy meals at mid-day (2:30 P.M.), to philosophize loudly, to talk politics to his young sons (now we know the inspiration for Boxen!), to use various catchphrases or “wheezes,” and to strictly control the business of others. He was called a “bully” and a “snob” by some family members. Yet there are positive aspects we recognize in Albert’s character, good and admirable qualities. A promising politician in his youth, Albert had all the markings of a shooting star in the Conservative Party. However his conscience kept him from obtaining such political status. Warnie recalls that Albert would remove people from his office who would “make use of [his] legal knowledge” to “help…commit a swindle”(Lewis Papers, II.65).  However noble, Albert’s character continues to be diminished in biographies and academic articles. From where does this less-than-flattering caricature originate? Why Jack himself, in Surprised by Joy:

*”I am sure it is not his fault, I believe much of it was ours; what is certain is that I increasingly found it oppressive to be with him” (SBJ 124-125)

*“You will have grasped that my father was no fool. He even had a streak of genius in him. At the same time he had – when seated in his own arm chair after a heavy midday dinner on an August afternoon with all the windows shut – more power of confusing an issue or taking up a fact wrongly than any man I have ever known. As a result it was impossible to drive into his head any of the realities of our school life, after which (nevertheless) he repeatedly enquired. The first and simplest barrier to communication was that, having earnestly asked, he did not ‘stay for an answer’ or forgot it the moment it was uttered. Some facts must have been asked for and told him, on a moderate computation, once a week, and were received by him each time as perfect novelties. But this was the simplest barrier. Far more often he retained something, but something very unlike what you had said. His mind bubbled over with humor, sentiment, and indignation that, long before he had understood or even listened to your words, some accidental hint had set his imagination to work, he had produced his own version of the facts, and believed that he was getting it from you…What are facts without interpretation?” (ibid, 120-121)

*”I should be worse than a dog if I blamed my lonely father for thus desiring the friendship of his sons; or even if the miserable return I made him did not to this day lie heavy on my conscience…It was extraordinarily tiring. And in my own contributions to these endless talks – which were indeed too adult for me, too anecdotal, too prevailingly jocular – I was increasingly aware of an artificiality. The anecdotes were, indeed, admirable in their kind…But I was acting when I responded to them. Drollery, whimsicality, the kind of humor that borders on the fantastic, was my line. I had to act. My father’s geniality and my own furtive disobediences both helped to drive me into hypocrisy. I could not ‘be myself’ while he was at home. God forgive me, I thought Monday morning, when he went back to his work, the brightest jewel in the week” (ibid, 125-126)

*”At home the real separation and apparent cordiality between my father and myself continued. Every holidays I came back from Kirk with my thoughts and my speech a little clearer, and this made it progressively less possible to have any real conversation with my father. I was far too young and raw to appreciate the other side of the account, to weight the rich (if vague) fertility, the generosity and humor of my father’s mind against the dryness, the rather death-like lucidity, of Kirk’s. With the cruelty of youth I allowed myself to be irritated by traits in my father which, in other elderly men, I have since regarded as lovable foibles. There were so many unbridgeable misunderstandings (ibid, 160-161).

*”Once my brother had left Wyvern and I had gone to it, the classic period of our boyhood was at an end…All began, as I have said, with the fact that our father was out of the house from nine in the morning till six at night. From the very  first we build up for ourselves a life that excluded him. He on his part demanded a confidence even more boundless, perhaps, than a father usually, or wisely, demands. One instance of this, early in my life, had far-reaching effects. Once when I was at Oldie’s [Wynyard] and had just begun to try to live as a Christian I wrote out a set of rules for myself and put them in my pocket. On the first day of the holidays, noticing that my pockets bulged with all sorts of papers and that my coat was being pulled out of all shape, he plucked out the whole pile of rubbish and began to go through it. Boylike, I would have died rather than let him see my list of good resolutions. I managed to keep them out of his reach and get them into the fire. I do not see that either of us was to blame; but never from that moment until the hour of his death did I enter his house without first going through my own pockets and removing anything I had wished to keep private. A habit of concealment was thus bred before I had anything guilty to conceal” (emphasis added, Ibid, 119-120)

Indeed, Joan Murphy, a cousin of Jack, spoke about the fact that Albert seemed to suffer from control issues. In a speech to the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, she stated, “Uncle Al was a very dominant man…[he] was a man who, I think, had no idea how to deal with young people. Uncle Al died in 1929, and that is my first real memory of Jacks…When Uncle Al’s funeral was over, all the family had come. Brothers and aunts from Scotland – the lot – came to our house, because they were all going to go to the boat, and Uncle Bill went out of the room for something and apparently I said, ‘Well, I’m glad that old man is gone because he was horrid,’ I can remember Jacks picking me up and putting me on his knee saying, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings comes the truth'” (C.S. Lewis and His Circle – White, Wolfe, and Wolfe, 171).

YET, Jack offers us some benefits of living with Albert:
“…I must not leave the reader under the impression that all the happy hours of the holidays occurred during our father’s absence. His temperament was mercurial, his spirits rose as easily as they fell, and his forgiveness was a thorough-going as his displeasure. He was often the most jovial and companionable of parents. He could ‘play the fool’ as well as any of us, and had no regard for his own dignity, ‘conned no state.’ I could not, of course, at that age see what good company (by adult standards) he was, his humor being of the sort that requires at least some knowledge of life for its full appreciation; I merely basked in it as in fine weather” (SBJ, 41)

 Long story short: the relationship is rather complicated.

Albert was certainly a heavy presence for young boys, but in truth, he was still crippled by the loss of his wife and worked long hours (sometimes with whiskey) to temper the enduring loneliness. He desperately wished to connect with his sons, but failed in many respects. Sending the boys to public school so soon widened the chasm between father and sons. Albert assumed his sons would simply adopt his ideals, out of respect or obligation. This made him seem insensitive to their various stages of development as individuals, separate from him and his own experience (Albert wished for both of his sons to attend university, but Warnie chose to join military. Albert made condescending statements about this choice for several years). Albert simply wouldn’t adapt to his children, but rather expected them, in their young age and vulnerability, to adapt to him. It appears that Albert struggled to see an event outside of his own perspective. Warnie writes in The Lewis Papers:

“In reading the correspondence which follows, it is easy to see that both his sons must have grown up with an inarticulate resentment against a treatment whose injustice their immaturity prevented them from defining. It was not only that Albert did not understand boys – “he was born old” as his brother in law once said of him – it was that his correspondence forces one to the conclusion that he had not only defined in advance what should be his attitude towards his sons, but had also defined what should be their attitude towards him. Once again we see the clash between the shifting, expanding point of view of youth, and that apparently ineradicable mid-Victorian tendency to regard children not only as static, but actually as a portion – a detached residence as it were – of their parents’ ego” (II. 65 – from the Introduction of “The Pudaita Pie: An Anthology”).



His civic work, which caused him to be away from the family for extended time, was significant indeed. Albert was police court prosecuting solicitor for the Belfast Corporation, but represented a large number of municipal and professional organizations, including the Belfast City Council, the Belfast and County Down Railway, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, the Post Office, the Ministry of Labour, and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.After his death, the Belfast Telegraph published this statement: “The death of Mr. Lewis removed from our midst a strong upright man, a faithful friend, a keen and able advocate, a cultured and educated gentleman, and by his death the city in which his brilliant professional career was spent is appreciatively the poorer” (CL, I, 822)

Why such a division of opinion? Volume 1 of the Collected Letters reveals that Jack kept a secret from his father for years: the fact that he was living with, and helping to support, a divorcee and her daughter.

Let’s briefly return to the emphasized quote from Surprised by Joy mentioned earlier:

“I do not see that either of us was to blame; but never from that moment until the hour of his death did I enter his house without first going through my own pockets and removing anything I had wished to keep private. A habit of concealment was thus bred before I had anything guilty to conceal.”

This, of course, continued without fail when Jack truly did have something to conceal: the fact that he was living with and supporting, a woman and her daughter on his meager income after the war. Jack had trained alongside Paddy Moore at Oxford. Both of Irish descent with similar personalities, the two had become great friends but Paddy would not survive the war; he died at the Battle of Pargny as one of the “first to go” of Jack’s training unit. It is widely known that Jack and Paddy exchanged promises to “look after” the parent of the other if he did not survive. While this is admirable, Jack become rather fixated on Mrs. Moore and even spent furlough with her instead of returning home to see his father. Jack essentially moved in with Paddy’s family and remained that way until Mrs. Moore’s death (The Kilms was jointly purchased by the Moores and Jack). Warnie learned of the domestic arrangement after a visit. Warnie didn’t like Mrs. Moore, but felt that, with the vast difference in their age, there was no possibility for a romantic attachment.

When Warnie wrote to Albert about the “Mrs. Moore business” on 10 May 1920, he seemed confused:

“The Mrs. Moore business is certainly a mystery but I think perhaps you are making too much of it.  Have you any idea of the footing on which he is with her?  Is she an intellectual?  It seems to me preposterous that there can be anything in it.  But the whole thing irritates me by its freakishness.”

Albert replies with consternation and concern,

“I confess I do not know what to do or say about Jack’s affair.  It worries and depresses me greatly.  All I know about the lady is that she is old enough to be his mother – that she is separated from her husband and that she is in poor circumstances.  I also know that Jacks has frequently drawn cheques in her favour running up to ₤10 – for what I don’t know.  If Jacks were not an impetuous, kind hearted creature who could be cajoled by any woman who has been through the mill, I should not be so uneasy.  Then there is the husband whom I have been told is a scoundrel – but the absent are always to blame – some where in the background, who some of these days might try a little amiable black mailing. But outside all these considerations that may be the outcome of a suspicious, police court mind, there is a distraction from work and the folly of the daily letters. Altogether I am uncomfortable.”

For this post, I will not go into details about Mrs. Moore (she already has a Lewis and Women post here), but I wish to underscore that Albert was exceedingly generous during Jack’s young life. Not only did he finance Jack’s personal tutelage with Kirkpatrick, he wrote letters to prominent people in order for Jack to avoid conscription during World War I. Albert also financed the three firsts that Jack eventually achieved. Jack earned a scholarship awarding £80 a term, with tuition costs at £60. In addition, Albert was providing £67 plus expenses. However, Jack was always writing and requesting money. Many of his student letters to his father begin with, “My dear Papy, thank you for the _____________.” Albert was becoming suspicious that so much of Jack’s money was evaporating, and he suspected that Mrs. Moore may be contributing to the problem. Albert had every right to be concerned; he felt that this fly-by-night divorcee was taking advantage of his son. Some of the letters, and the diary, show a rather strange and unorthodox attachment to her, a woman nearly thirty years his senior. Albert was too coy to approach the topic with his son, but he did bring up the constant financial distress which plagued Jack at Oxford. In his diary, Albert wrote, “Wrote Jacks a long letter in reply to one from him asking for an increased allowance: ‘What I [should] know where I am and what I must provide for. If instead of lodging £67 a term to your account I lodged £85 a term to cover everything, would that be sufficient? You must be quite frank with me…” (LP, VIII, 186).

jack-maureen-mrsmooreJack, Maureen, and Mrs. Moore

Yet even with hesitations about the nature of the relationship , Albert wrote to Mrs. Moore after the death of Paddy to express his condolences:

“Dear Mrs. Moore,

Two days ago, I heard from Jacks that all hope of Paddy’s safety must now be abandoned. I hope I may write of him as ‘Paddy’ for I felt as tho’ I had known him intimately for a long time. I shall not offer you the commonplaces of consolation – about duty and patriotism. When all that is said – and truthfully said – the terrible fact remains – the irremediable loss – the bitter grief. I do however offer you with intense sincerity my true and earnest and deep sympathy and sorrow in your great loss. For all your kindness to my son which I here again ask permission to acknowledge, I am deeply grateful. Believe me, with much sympathy,

your most sincerely,

Albert” (CL, I, 402)

The tension hit a climax on 6 August 1919 while Jack was home. Albert writes in his diary:

“Sitting in the study after dinner I began to talk to Jacks about money matters and the cost of maintaining himself at the University. I asked him if he had any money to his credit, and he said about £15. I happened to go up to the little end room and lying on his table was a piece of paper. I took it up and it proved to be a letter from Cox and Co stating that his a/c was overdrawn by £12 odd. I came down and told him what I had seen. He then admitted that he had told me a lie. As a reason, he said that he had tried to give me his confidence, but I had never given him mine, etc., etc. He referred to incidents of his childhood where I had treated them badly. In further conversation, he said he had no respect for me – nor confidence in me” (CL, I, 461-462)

A month later (6 September), Albert was still stinging from the exchange:
“I have during the past four weeks passed through one of the most miserable periods of my life – in many respect the most miserable. It began with the estrangement from Jacks. On 6 August he deceived me and said terrible, insulting, and despising things to me. God help me! That all my love and devotion and self-sacrifice should have come to this – that ‘he doesn’t respect me. That he doesn’t trust me, and cared for me in a way.’ He has one cause of complaint against me I admit – that I did not visit him while he was in hospital [during wartime convalescence after the Battle of Arras]. I should have sacrificed everything to do so and had he not been comfortable and making good progress I should have done so. The other troubles and anxieties which have come upon me can be faced by courage, endurance, and self-denial. The loss of Jacks’ affection, if it be permanent, is irreparable and leaves me very miserable and heart sore” (CL, I, 402).

In many ways, the rift never fully healed. Jack wrote to Arthur shortly after that stating that Albert “still insists on occupying the position of joint judge, jury, and accuser, while relegating me to that of prisoner at the bar. So long as he refuses to acknowledge any faults on his side or to attribute the whole business to anything but my original sin, I do not see how he can expect a real or permanent reconciliation” (CL, I, 465). In truth, Jack struggled with his inadequacies, perhaps never feeling “good enough” for his father: “I had a curious feeling that my father has ‘given me up’: I feel that he has ceased to ask questions about me as a hopeless enigma. The strain of conversing with him, the hopelessness of trying to make him understand a position, are of course old news: but this time one felt – rather pathetically – that the effort was over for good on his side. I can truly say I am sorry I have contributed so little to his happiness” (AMR – 1922, 106)

Slowly, Albert and Jack began to restore their relationship. Jack still couldn’t quite understand his father, but in between 1922 and 1924, Warnie and Jack began to collect the sayings or “wheezes” uttered by Albert. This shows some appreciation – even if through satire – of their father’s robust personality. Jack tarried for several years grading examination papers while waiting for an opening at Oxford. He attempted to apply for teaching positions at various schools, but each opportunity seemed to dissipate. Jack struggled to keep the household afloat on his small income, subsidized greatly (and secretly) by Albert’s continual support.

Albert supported Jack even after his scholarship expired. Jack completed his final first in English thanks to the generous support of his father. This accomplishment, along with his background in philosophy, helped to earn his spot as a tutor. Albert received a telegram on 20 May 1925 from Jack exclaiming that he was elected as a fellow at Magdalen (and finally financially secure). Albert wrote in his diary: “I went up to his room and burst into tears of joy. I knelt down and thanked God with a full heart. My prayers had been heard and answered” (CL, I, 640).


Young Jack Lewis

In his next letter, Jack gives his heartfelt gratitude to his father for the long, faithful support he had provided, even in the midst of personal speculation and job uncertainty:

“First, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for the generous support, extended over six years, which alone has enabled me to hang on till this. In this long course, I have seen men at least my equal in ability and qualifications fall out for the lack of it. ‘How can I afford to wait’ was everybody’s question: and few had those at their back who were both able and willing to keep them in the field so long” (CL, I, 642).

Four years later, Jack tended to the bedside of his ailing father, sick with cancer. Albert’s endured treatment and an operation which Jack said he “is taking it like a hero” (CL 819). Jack laments that the “watercloset [toilet] element in his conversation rose from its usual 30% to something nearly like 100%” (CL 808). Jack was doing all of the heavy lifting during Albert’s illness (Warnie was in China on assignment), which caused him great frustration at times. Like when he was a boy, Jack felt like his father was crowding him, desperately trying to win his affection and nurse old wounds while Jack continued to feed his bitter resentments. Jack writes to Warnie, “The patient is rather better…Another thing almost too good to be true is that someone in town advised him, as a cure for rheumatism, to carry a pudaita [“Pudaitabird” was the boys’ nickname for Albert, stemming from his low Irish pronunciation of “potato”] in each pocket – which he actually tried. Oh, and another interesting thing, he was talking as often, about the insolence of Uncle Hamilton [Flora’s brother Augustus] and said, ‘You know, what I don’t like about Gussie is that he never says these desperately insolent things when we’re alone. It’s always to raise a laugh from you boys at my expense.’ I wonder does he regard ‘that fellow Gussie’ as the origin of the whole anti-Pudaita tradition” (CL, I, 817). Albert’s temperature (and temper) fluctuated much to Jack’s dismay. Jack found Little Lea rather suffocating, as he did when he was a young boy under the domestic tyranny of a “bossy” father. Jack was assured that Albert would continue to improve, and left to tend to Oxford business on 21 September 1929. Three days later, Jack received a telegram stating that his father had taken a turn for the worst. Jack immediately began his return journey, but Albert died before he arrived on 25 September of cardiac arrest. Although Jack admits to Barfield that he couldn’t salvage any real love for Albert during his illness (CL 820), Albert’s death leaves an indelible mark on him. The quiet house, the empty rooms devoid of the “booming” voice, the stacks of unread tomes, the tangled garden – all of these attested to the death of the patriarch. Jack wrote to Warnie: “How he filled a room! How hard it was to realise that physically he was not a very big man. our whole world…is either direct or indirect testimony to the same effect. Take away from our conversation all that is imitation and parody (sincerest witness in the world) of his, and how little is left. The way we enjoyed going to Leeborough [Little Lea] and the way we hated it, and the way we enjoyed hating it as you say, one can’t grasp that that is over. And now you could do anything on earth you cared to in the study at midday or on a Sunday, and it is beastly” (CL, I, 827).


Warnie, Albert, and Jack

While he was making final decisions with his uncles, Jack realizes that maybe he has misunderstood his father all along: “The chief adventure is the quite new light thrown on P. [Pudaitabird] by a closer knowledge of his two brothers. One of his failings – his fussily directed manner… – takes on a new air when one discovers that in his generation the brothers all habitually treated one another in exactly the same way” (CL, I,  846). This is illustrated vividly during a time in which Jack and his uncles chose Albert’s casket:

“Limpopo [Uncle Bill]  – and even Limpopo came as a relief in such an atmosphere – put an end to this vulgarity by saying in his deepest bass ‘What’s been used before, huh? There must be some tradition about the thing. What has the custom been in the family, eh?’ And then I suddenly saw, what I’d never seen before: that to them family traditions – the square sheet, the two thirty dinner, the gigantic overcoat – were what school and college traditions are, I don’t say to me, but to most of our generation. It is so simple once you know it. How could it be otherwise in those large Victorian families with their intense vitality, when they had not been to public schools and when the family was actually the solidest institution they experienced? It puts a great many things in a more sympathetic light than I ever saw them in before” (CL, I, 847).

In later years, Jack admitted that he felt horribly about the way he treated his father. He learned to appreciate Albert, all his chuckling and strange habits and rather domineering demeanor. Yet he was a man loved and respected. Jack wanted to please his father; Albert would be pleased with the contribution made by his sons.

George Sayer writes in his biography Jack,

“Albert’s death affected Jack profoundly. He could no longer be in rebellion against the political churchgoing that was part of his father’s way of life. He felt bitterly ashamed of the way he had deceived and denigrated his father in the past, and he determined to do his best to eradicate the weaknesses in his character that had allowed him to do these things. Most importantly, he had a strong feeling that Albert was somehow still alive and helping him. He spoke about this to me and wrote about it to an American correspondent named Vera Matthews. His strong feeling of Albert’s presence created or reinforced in him a belief in personal immortality and also influenced his conduct in times of temptation. These extrasensory experiences helped persuade him to join a Christian church” (133-134)

Jack admits to feeling “humiliation” for treating his father so poorly. Fighting in the war and studying at Oxford taught him that Albert was far superior to “other people’s parents” as Jack wrote. Unfortunately, the lengths that Jack would go to conceal his connection to the Moores put a heavy strain on the father-son relationship. In 1930, Jack admits to Arthur that he had a dream about Albert:

“The most interesting thing since I last wrote is a dream I had about my father…I was in the dining room at Little Lea, with all the gasses lit and talking to my father. I knew perfectly well that he had died, and presently put out my hand and touched him. He felt warm and solid. I said, ‘But of course this body must be only an appearance. You can’t really have a body now.’ He explained that it was only an appearance, and our conversation was cheerful and friendly, but not solemn or emotional, drifted off onto other topics. I then went over to fetch you [Arthur Greeves] and we came across together in a closed car. As we drove I told you of his return in order to prepare you for meeting him: and I think (tho’ this may be a waking intervention) that at that point I was looking forward to seeing him come to the door and say ‘Well Arthur’ and offer you your drink. We were exactly at that place where an increased crushing under the wheels tells you that you have passed off the cinders onto the gravel at the study corner: when you, in a voice of suppressed anxiety, said ‘Oh no, Jack. Its just that you’ve been thinking about him and you’ve imagined he’s there.’ Till that moment everything had been pleasant and homely: but suddenly , as your words made me see the whole adventure from outside, as I realised how it would sound if repeated that I had been TALKING TO A DEAD MAN, the thing wh[ich] had been SO normal in the experiencing it, rose up with such retrospective horror that the nightmare feeling flared up and I woke in terror” (CL, I, 937-938).

Jack had called the mistreatment of his father, the “darkest chapter of my life” (CL, II, 340). When the The Irish Digest wishes to publish paragraphs about Albert titled “My Father’s Eloquent Mistake”(a section included in Surprised by Joy, chapter 2) in 1956, Jack asked to delete a section. “Too like the sin of Ham,” Lewis wrote (CL, III. 681-682). This passage refers to Genesis 9:20-23 in which Ham’s father is naked and the sons refuse to “cover his father’s nakedness.” Thus Jack wishes not to condemn his father and expose all of his flaws to the world. In the end, Jack loved and respected his father, a sensation which he sadly did not experience until after Albert’s death:

“The hard thing is that (after childhood) parents seem usually to be most appreciated when they’re dead. I find so many terms of expression etc of my father’s coming out in me and like it now – I’d have fought against it as long as he was alive” (CL, III, 709-710).

Introducing the “Young (C.S.) Lewis” blog series!

Hello all!

I have been on summer break for several weeks, researching while finishing up some house projects. I’m working now on the C.S. Lewis and Leadership book, which I hope to have sample chapters for by the end of the summer.

As many of you know, I have had a prolonged interest in patriarch Albert Lewis for several years. This interest initially originates from dissertation research, while analyzing various forms of leadership that Lewis had encountered during his lifetime, including Albert’s controversial parenting style. I discussed this in some detail in my chapter on Flora Lewis in Women and C.S. Lewis. During a 2014 trip to the Wade Center, I was introduced to the previously-unpublished manuscript “Padaita Pie,” 100 assorted “wheezes” collected by the Lewis brothers about their father Albert (many thanks to Charlie Starr for this!).  I was privileged to transcribe this document for VII (Volume 32) last year.


“I think the [photo] of you looking at me is excellent” (Volume 1, 344)

In preparing for a longer work on Albert, I recently reread Volume 1 of the Collected Letters as well as the diary All My Road Before Me, and they were (as always) poignant and illuminating. The letters basically contain correspondence from Lewis’s early life – letters from childhood and adolescence, his time as a WWI solider and student at Oxford, to the first six years as tutor at Oxford. A majority of these letters were written during his pre-conversion years (including his time as an atheist), which may prove uncomfortable for some to read when juxtaposed against the clear, optimistic tone of Narnia and Mere Christianity. Indeed, although imbued with the same high intellect and powerful reasoning Lewis illustrates in his apologetic works, Volume 1 tackles some disheartening and disturbing aspects of Lewis’s character, aspects which would later be redeemed with maturity and a deeper understanding of Scripture. Lewis talks of “prigs”; Lewis was himself a young, rather arrogant young man by his own admission:


“Was led somehow into a train of thought in which I made the unpleasant discovery that I am becoming a prig – righteous indignation against modern affections has its dangers, yet I don’t know how to avoid it either”  All My Road Before Me (383)

Yet, these works also display his precociousness. His budding intellect was further nourished in his time with tutor Kirkpatrick (the “Great Knock”). He digested a steady diet of Greek classics, Norse Mythology, and Victorian novels, among other great works. This provides Lewis with training as an exceptional literary critic, and the letters and diary give us an intimate glimpse into Lewis’s prodigious knowledge through his various interactions with literature.

Along with this impressive education, Lewis faced a multitude of challenges. Early in life, Lewis was devastated by the loss of his mother at age nine, as well as the torment of “Oldie” Capron’s poor leadership at Wynyard School in addition to a yawning distance between him and his father. As an adolescent, he experienced a brief reprieve from preparatory school when he studied with Kirkpatrick, but found his late adolescence fraught with problems. There was his poor math performance on Responsions (Oxford Admission Exams), his time as a soldier on the front lines in WWI, the loss of his friend Paddy Moore, the blossoming of a rather unusual relationship with Paddy’s mother Mrs. Moore, the co-habiting with the Moores which stimulated all kinds of domestic turmoil, and his struggle to obtain employment after achieving an unprecedented three firsts – one in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin literature), one in “Greats” (Philosophy and Ancient Literature), and one in English (this final honor was achieved in one year – an astounding accomplishment considering the issues he was experiencing at home, but more on that later). Perhaps his most distressing challenge in these early years was the rivalry between the religious beliefs he possessed as a child and the nagging doubt which his blooming rationality tended to dismiss.


The Collected Letters and the diary give us significant insight into Lewis’s spiritual and intellectual development. We see him grow into a man sobered by struggle, but we also witness the steady progress leading to his academic success, as well as the nurturing of his imagination and his acceptance of the Christian faith.

After reading both books simultaneously, I thought, what a great idea for a blog series!

I haven’t completed a blog series since 2013 (YES, FOUR YEARS!) when I completed the 12-part series on Lewis and Women. This series will feature six posts. Unlike last time, I will NOT reveal the topics until they post. *cue suspense*

The six blogs will post over the next two weeks. Check back tomorrow for the first installment!

Reflections on St. John’s The Dark Night of the Soul

The following is a paper I wrote in my MFA program concerning The Dark Night of the Soul. It explores the benefits of pain of suffering on our spiritual lives, and further examines how suffering and conflict catalyze character development in fiction.


 The Dark Night of the Soul: How Turmoil Produces Character Development

“Pain provides an opportunity for heroism; the opportunity is seized with surprising frequency”

–          C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (433)

James 1:2-4 states, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials; knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” The idea of finding joy in suffering is a familiar concept to parishioners of many faiths. Yet, it seems counterintuitive. Why would one choose suffering? Perhaps one perseveres through suffering because there is a promise of a greater reward. To mystics, this suffering is a gateway, a “transition” as Evelyn Underhill titles it, to an expansion of self only discovered through intense contemplation. This contemplation brings us into a period of darkness necessary for spiritual growth. It is the stripping away of the material self, an unmasking of our desires and carnal instincts which, like a baptism, washes away the former to reveal a much improved individual, one synchronized with a higher power. St. John of the Cross called this transition “The Dark Night of the Soul” and deemed it a prerequisite to a full union with God. Only through tribulation can we learn to fully depend on God, because all of our natural powers fail us. It is when we die to the self that we truly live, a paradox fully illustrated throughout St. John’s work. In a similar manner, character development also travels the same avenues of conflict, character alteration, and eventual resolution. In essence, a good story chronicles the personal changes a character makes through various trials, and illustrates how the character emerges better – stronger, smarter, nicer, wiser, more open-minded. Thus, the dark night of the soul not only has spiritual implications, it also applies to fictional aspects as well.

St. John of the Cross describes a period of darkness which is required to draw closer to God. In the beginning, he quotes these lyrics: “Oh Night, that led me, guiding night, / Oh Night far sweeter than the Dawn; / Oh Night, that did so then unite / the Loved with his Beloved, / Transforming Lover in Beloved” (540). St. John then explains, by analyzing the poem by stanza, how the darkness functions as an “education” while also “purging” an individual of all human aspects. In other words, one cannot approach God before acquiring a deeper understanding of His holiness. That understanding, St. John remarks, is only gained through enduring the “Dark Night.” It is only through difficulty that we can graduate to this new mindset, thus deprivation and loneliness (a temporary “absence” of God) are used to develop a keen awareness (and certainly, at times, despair). St. John writes,

We must then know that, after the soul resolutely converts herself to serve God, God generally sets to work to educate her spiritually and to regale her, as does a loving mother her tender child, whom she warms at the heat of her breast, and rears with sweet milk and soft and delicate food and bear about in her arms and cherishes; but, by degrees, as it waxes in growth, the mother begins to wean it and hiding from it her soft breast, anoints it with bitter aloes, and putting the infant from her arms, teaches it to walk with its feet, to the end that, losing its childish ways, it may become used to greater and more real things. (544)

This separation is not God’s punishment, but rather, a form of instruction. When we are dependent upon the spirit, we are as spiritual “infants.” We must mature to a greater understanding of God by traveling through the dark night. The process is laborious and difficult. St. John admits, “For, when the savour and relish in spiritual things is at an end, they naturally find themselves without force and spirit, and this uneasiness makes them bring their ill humour into their ordinary occupations, and wax angry at trifles, and at times, even they become insufferable…Like to the child, when he is taken away from the breast he was enjoying to his heart’s desire” (555). It is when the source of pleasure is removed, when the individual is placed in a situation of pain or inconvenience, that God begins his lesson: “In the which physical satiety, if they do not give way thereto there is nothing to blame, only an imperfection which must be purged in the aridness and conflict of the obscure night (555).

Through this lens of bitter anguish, we begin to understand how God uses the “dark night” and can thus “rejoice” in the suffering. We are, then, to view the difficulty not with resentment, but rather with anticipation (“Oh Night, that did so then unite / the Loved with his Beloved”). It is an opportunity to be educated, to draw closer to an omnipotent Power. From an intellectual perspective, education of any quality requires commitment, discipline, and perseverance. From a spiritual level, the same expectation of surrender and compromise are required. The individual must commit to contemplation, an exercise which brings him/her deeper, beyond the physical world and the physical body. Through this difficulty, we grow and mature. It is, to put it colloquially, our awkward teenage experience played out on a spiritual level (minus the zits and torment of middle school dances). St. John assures us that the process is valuable:

God unswathes the soul from out her swaddling clothes, and lowers her from His arms, making her to walk on her own feet, and weaning her form the mild and soft and honeyed food of children, gives her to eat of bread with crust, so that she may begin to relish the food of grown up men which, in these drynesses and darkness of the senses, He begins to give to the spirit empty and barren of the substance of the senses; which is the infused contemplation… (575)

Indeed, as physical maturity shapes who we are, the dark night influences our spiritual growth and development. One cannot graduate to genuine maturity without this experience. If the experience is avoided, those individuals will remain in a state of arrested spiritual development, groaning like the hungry child as his mother’s breast, unable (through his own fear or stubbornness) to digest solid foods. Evelyn Underhill agrees with such an analysis. In her text Mysticism, she states, “This divine necessity of pain, this necessary sharing in this travail of a World of Becoming, is beautifully described by Tauler in one of those ‘internal conversations’ between the contemplative soul and its God…” (Underhill 222). Underhill suggests that contemplation is a method of communicating with God, thus prayer and meditation (in the orthodox sense) and contemplation (of the mystic sense) are avenues to God. This is perhaps why parishioners are encouraged to “pray unceasingly,” as prayer is an infinite conversation with the Almighty. The absence of prayer, meditation, or contemplation can leave one dry and unfulfilled. Such contemplation requires, I believe, an open mind, a welcome reception to God and a suspension of disbelief which must override the rational mind. Without this allegiance, one is essentially limiting his/her opportunities to experience God. One must embrace the mystery. Underhill posits that the whole man cannot be transformed unless he travels through the dark night:

The Dark Night, then, is really a deeply human process, in which the self which thought itself so spiritual, so firmly established upon the supersensual plane, is forced to turn back, to leave the Light, and pick up those qualities which it had left behind. Only thus, by the transmutation of the whole man, not by a careful and departmental cultivation of that which we like to call his “spiritual” side, can Divine Humanity be formed. (388)

In a similar vein, Underhill states that a dark night experience is necessary to transition “from multiplicity to Unity” (Underhill 401). Thus the reward for difficulty is Unity, a consummation of the spiritual self with the Infinite. The dark night cleanses one from the impurities of humanity and readies it for union, like a bride preparing for her wedding. She must accept the coming changes – the loss of her last name (if she so chooses), the sharing of a home and life, the possibility of creating children together, ultimately the dissolving of self into the collective. These are changes she can only understand if she fully contemplates them.

And these changes are for greater improvement. If we are not prepared for our union with God by traveling through a dark night, we cannot fully comprehend or appreciate the changes taking place. Apologist and children’s author C.S. Lewis once wrote on a similar theme in his book The Problem of Pain. In it, Lewis echoes St. John’s theme on the necessity of darkness as preparation for something richer and greater. Lewis, who wrote the book as a guide for laymen to understand troubling aspects of their faith, compares the “Dark Night” experience to the training of a dog:

Now just because the dog is by human standards one of the ‘best’ of irrational creatures, and a proper object for a man to love – of course, with that degree and kind of love which is proper to such an object, and not with silly anthropomorphic exaggerations – man interferes with the dog and makes it more lovable than it was in mere nature. In its state of nature it has a smell, and habits, which frustrate man’s love: he washes it, housetrains it, teaches it not to steal, and is so enabled to love it completely. To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts of the ‘goodness’ of man: but the full-grown and full-trained dog, larger, healthier, and longer-lived than wild dog, and admitted, as it were by Grace, to a whole world of affections, loyalties, interests, and comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny, would have no such doubts. It will be noted that the man (I am speaking throughout of the good man) takes all these pains with the dog, and gives all these pains to the dog, only because it is an animal high in the scale – because it is so nearly lovable that it is worth his while to make it fully lovable. (386-387)

Of course, Lewis is not suggesting that parishioners are seen as “dogs” to the Almighty. Certainly we don’t desire to become a dog whisperer of sorts, taking great pains to look into Fido’s deepest and darkest aspects of the psyche. Instead, we attempt to acclimate dogs into a more obedient, more loving form of themselves, one that will best benefit the relationship between man and canine. It is because we realize that can have a meaningful relationship with our pets that we attempt to train and raise them. Yet, we must say “no” to puppies who excuse themselves in the floor, or to dogs tempted by an open trash can with freshly-disposed leftovers. At first, this may seem selfish, making a pet bend to personal wishes and requests. However, the human (the “good human” as Lewis distinguishes) knows what is best for the dog. If I were to train a dog to control itself around trash, I can essentially save its life by preventing it from eating foods not appropriate for dogs. In my human wisdom, I must guide the dog to hone his instincts, if not out of pure obedience, out of safety and personal benefit ultimately.

Here we begin to understand the crux of St. John’s argument. Union with God is, in and of itself, a soul’s delight. Yet, we also see how the human can benefit from God’s wisdom. Viewing the Ten Commandments, we understand that these laws are as much about general common sense as about a requirement of simple obedience. A man’s life is far less difficult if he avoids the material pitfalls of his flesh. By flesh, I do not exclusively reference sexual sins, but also equally distressing sins of Pride, Avarice, Envy, and Gluttony. Contemplation leads us further into God, which grants us the wisdom to live out our earthly days with joy and a deep, abiding satisfaction. Contemplation leads us out of the dark night, and into a higher plane of thinking and feeling which surpasses the snares in which humanity often entangles itself.

Yet, such snares are the basis for good storytelling. Good protagonists usually find themselves entangled in such nets, and we watch anxiously as they weave the way out. Many characters experience a dark night, although it may not necessarily pertain to a spiritual crisis. Good characters have both internal and external conflict. Batman, for example, fights a host of antagonists in his mission to protect Gotham. But as the Dark Knight series illustrates, Bruce Wayne is still haunted by his parents’ murder. Batman repeatedly locks away Catwoman, the Joker, Penguin, Two-Faced, and a host of other “bad guys” into prison or Arkham Asylum. Usually, they are released or escape, and the plotline repeats itself, ad nauseam. As more contemporary films have shown, Batman must fight the internal urge to kill the antagonists, only to realize that if he kills them, he has become an antagonist himself. Fiction writer John Gardner mentions such conflicts in his book The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. Gardner writes that the best conflict involves an internal struggle: “… in the relationship between character and situation here must be some conflict: Certain forces, within and outside the character, must press him toward a certain course of action, while other forces, both within and outside, must exert strong pressure against that course of action…All meaning, in the best fiction, comes from…the heart in conflict with itself” (Gardner 186-187).

Indeed, conflict is at the very essence of the story. Many books have been written about the importance of conflict to rouse support (or sympathy) for a protagonist. However, the difficulties are necessary. As St. John writes, a conflict is necessary for growth and enlightenment. In spiritual life, as well as in fictional worlds, conflict brings understanding. Romantic poet William Blake spoke of the importance of conflict in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence” (plate 3). Often, in literature, characters must experience turmoil or tragedy in order to improve. Harry Potter, as an example of the orphan motif, loses his parents to the first encounter with Voldemort. He struggles with this loss throughout the series. It is a point of sorrow for Harry, but also a source of strength as he faces various challenges. When creating a story, it is important to note how turmoil usually catalyzes the action of the plot. Take, for example, the following scenarios:

Scenario 1:

  1. Andrew walks his dog across the street.
  2. A woman busy chatting on a cell phone hits the dog and the dog dies.
  3. Frustrated and sad, Andrew curses the driver.
  4. The driver turns out to be his boss’s wife at a soul-crushing, white-collar job.
  5. Andrew is fired for insubordination.
  6. In his despair, he decides to start an online dog adoption site in conjunction with local agencies. Through ad sales and side work, Andrew can pay his bills.
  7. Now Andrew is happier, has more satisfying work by helping rescue dogs, and has more freedom since he can work from home.

Scenario 2:

  1. Andrew walks his dog across the street. Nothing happens.

In scenario 1, a tragedy paves the way for several difficult events, but eventually leads to a more satisfying life. In steep contrast, nothing happens in scenario 2, so there is no conflict, no character growth. It’s as boring and predictable as tapioca. Thus, conflict is necessary for character growth. Andrew certainly wouldn’t have left his soul-crushing job because of financial obligations and the regular pressures of adulthood. Yet, this one incident causes him immense pain and sorrow and forces him to change. Through the pain, he discovers that he can be happier and more fulfilled than simply collecting a paycheck at his former employer. Now Andrew has a purpose. Now Andrew is doing more meaningful work which is connected with the first two events of the story (honoring his dog). Thus, Andrew has experienced character growth which is very satisfying for the reader. It is through this “dark night” that Andrew is enlightened as to his real destiny, which is helping other creatures.

Turmoil, then, is an essential component of good storytelling. It is through the darkness that we must take our characters through difficulty, paragraph by paragraph, until we reach the higher plane of a satisfying resolution. These difficulties are the defining moments. Like transforming coal into diamonds, we must create pressure in a prescribed timeframe to create a well-rounded character. The diamond cannot emerge without some monumental push, a force which will turn it from its former state to something much better, and much more valued. It the trials and tribulations that make a character one we cherish and admire. A dark night experience is surely required of a parishioner, but is also vital for character development.


 Works Cited

A Kempis, Thomas, et al. Wellsprings of Faith: The Imitation of Christ, The Dark Night of the

Soul, The Interior Castle. Imitation of Christ, Barnes & Noble, 2005.

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. 1793,

Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. New York, NY, Vintage,

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics,

HarperCollins, San Francisco, 2004, pp. 371–433.

The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2008.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: a Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual

Consciousness. 12th ed., New York, New American Library, 1974.

2017 Reads

bookshelvesPhoto courtesy of

Hello gang!

I’m a woman shackled to consistency, so let me begin by (once again) apologizing for my absence. School, work, and family illness have kept me occupied, but I have a resolution to blog more in 2017.

No, I promise.

In other quick news:

**If you haven’t yet, make sure to pick up a copy of the latest issue of VII, which includes my transcription of Jack and Warnie’s previously-unpublished Pudaita Pie.

**Also, I am happy to announce that I am now the review editor for Sehnsucht: The C.S. Lewis Journal. I will have purchasing information available for the 2016 edition as soon as possible!

Now on to the books…

I’ve begun the task of creating my TBR pile for 2017. Although this is subject to change (and I’m certain it will), I like draw a basic outline of my reading life. It will have some alterations as I purchase new books next year, although my plan is to drastically reduce what I buy. I will also have required reading for my MFA coursework. I realize that I have an ambitious TBR. I know that I won’t read ALL of these, but it’s a start. Feel free to follow me on Goodreads and watch my progress!

As I have previously mentioned, I am pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. My application to the program featured poetry, but I am working diligently on improving my prose/fiction writing. Thus, my literary diet is dominated by fiction. I have a small sprinkling of nonfiction, mainly in the “Inking” section. I am breaking books down into three categories: Fiction / Nonfiction / Inklings.  This sums up my reading habits pretty well. The following are in alphabetical order by author, not reading order. The fiction genres are all mixed, and I plan to do thorough rereads on the starred (**) works. Some of these books are chunky, so I’m cautiously optimistic about this list, but I accept the fact that some books may be bumped to next year since I’m in school. ALSO, there is a strong possibility that I will complete some writing (fingers crossed to have my sample chapters ready for a publisher), so this will absorb some reading time.


Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah

Louisa May Alcott – Little Women

Dante Alighieri – The Divine Comedy**

Leigh Bardugo – Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom

Wendell Berry – Jayber Crow

Joseph Boyden – Three Day Road

Geraldine Brooks – People of the Book

Jesse Burton – The Miniaturist (read and loved The Muse)

Willa Cather – Death Comes for the Archbishop

Alix Christie – Gutenberg’s Apprentice

Bill Clegg – Did You Ever Have a Family?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment

Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man

Anne Enright – The Green Road

Louise Erdrich – The Round House

Richard Flanagan –  The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary

Janet Fitch – White Oleander

Jonathan Safran Foer – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Diana Gabaldon – Voyager (finish)

Kristin Hannah – The Nightingale

Homer – The Iliad**, The Odyssey**

Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

Marlon James – A Brief History of Seven Killings

Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Colum McCann – TransAtlantic

John Milton – Paradise Lost**

David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas

Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus (finish)

Kate Morton – The Distant Hours

Sarah Moss – The Tidal Zone, Bodies of Light, Signs for Lost Children

Haruki Murikami – 1Q84 and finish The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (maybe Norwegian Wood and others)

Madeleine L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time quintet

C.S. Lewis – Ransom Trilogy**, The Pilgrim’s Regress (Ed. David Downing)**, The Chronicles of Narnia**

Mario Vargas Llosa – The Dream of the Celt

Joyce Carol Oates – Blonde

Ruth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being

Ann Patchett – Bel Canto

Marisha Pessl – Night Film

J.D. Salinger – The Catcher and the Rye (also maybe Nine Stories)

Brandon Sanderson – The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages, The Way of Kings, Warbreaker

Donna Tartt – The Secret History

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings**, Kullervo, Beowulf

Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina

Adriana Trigiani – All the Stars in Heaven

Anne Tyler – A Spool of Blue Thread

Virgil – The Aenid**

T.H. White – The Once and Future King

Meg Wolitzer – The Interestings

Virginia Woolf – Orlando

Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life

Markus Zusak – The Book Thief


Ron Chernow – Alexander Hamilton (maybe?)

John Dewey – Art as Experience

Charlotte Gordon – Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

Jill Lepore – The Secret History of Wonder Woman


Chris Armstrong – Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in the Forgotten Age with C.S. Lewis

Owen Barfield – Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning

Bradley Birzer – J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle Earth

Marsha Diagle-Williamson – Reflecting the Eternal: Dante’s Divine Comedy in the Novels of C.S. Lewis

Justin Dyer and Micah Watson – C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law

C.S. Lewis – Reread and annotate (again) – Poems, An Experiment in Criticism, Selected Literary Essays, The Discarded Image, A Preface to Paradise Lost, Studies in Words, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Joseph Pearce – Tolkien: Man and Myth, A Literary Life

Jerry Root and Mark Neal – The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis: An Introduction

Stephen Thorson – Joy and Poetic Imagination: Understanding C.S. Lewis’s “Great War” with Owen Barfield and its Significance for Lewis’s Conversion and Writings

Tom Shippey – The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology

K. Alan Snyder – America Discovers C.S. Lewis: His Profound Impact

Roger White, Judith Wolfe, Brendan Wolfe (Eds) – C.S. Lewis and His Circle: Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society


There it is: my intended list for 2017. Just reading it makes me dizzy, but it also gives me some direction for the next twelve months. If you would like to buddy-read any of these works, email me at

C.S. Lewis Tour and Festival in Belfast-

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I’m excited to share a wonderful opportunity with my readers!

Back in 2011, I took a whirlwind tour of England, Wales, and Ireland as part of my doctoral research on C.S. Lewis as Transformational Leader. In addition to a tour of The Kilns in Oxford, I traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland, the place of Lewis’s birth. While there, I took a tour of the city with Lewis scholar Alexander “Sandy” Smith and loved every minute of it. Sandy is the author of the invaluable book C.S. Lewis and the Island of His Birth. The book is now beginning its second printing (so don’t sweat when you see how much third-parties are selling it on Amazon!). The tour provided me with rich experiences that greatly enhanced my research, and eventually inspired my contributing chapter on Flora Lewis in the book Women and C.S. Lewis: what his life and literature reveal for today’s culture.   

Ireland did much to shape Lewis into the man he would become; so much of his personality and proclivities are “ulster” in origin. That is why I urge friends and fans of Lewis to visit Belfast. Lewis was inspired by his childhood in Ireland; he placed many hints of his life throughout his fiction and nonfiction works. Here are some highlights of my time there (all photos are property of Crystal Hurd):



Sandy Smith leading the tour





Place of Lewis’s birth near the Belfast shipyards


I preserved flowers from the yard surrounding the apartments where Lewis was born

The C.S Lewis Belfast tour gives you the opportunity to walk in Lewis’s shoes. One can view Little Lea and the residence of long-time friend and correspondent Arthur Greeves, drive around the docks where his grandfather operated a successful shipbuilding business, view the school of his youth, and even step foot inside St. Mark’s Parish where Lewis’s grandfather Reverend Hamilton preached many wonderful sermons as his grandchildren sat in the sanctuary (also there are stained glass windows honoring Albert and Flora Lewis there).




Campbell College

St. Mark’s Dundela






The famous “lion’s head” doorknob which some believe inspired the character of Aslan (P.S. St. Mark’s symbol was the lion)



“The Searcher” Statue

Since my visit, Belfast Tourism has erected a dozen statues inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia!









It was a trip I will remember for the rest of my life. Belfast is a fabulous city.

If you have ever wanted to go, now is the time.

This fall, Sandy is hosting a week-long tour of Belfast and surrounding counties connected to Lewis’s life and heritage.

More details of the tour are available at

Highlights of the tour include (per the website):

  • 7 Nights accommodation and breakfast in the centrally located Jurys Inn, Belfast
  • Tours of Lewis’s Belfast, the stunning North Antrim coast, the County Down that Lewis loved and to historic Lissan House in County Tyrone. All tours will be lead by Sandy Smith – Author of C S Lewis and the Island of his Birth.
  • Dinner on 4 evenings, leaving 3 for dining as a personal choice.
  • Lunch will be provided on two of the days as part of the programme leaving flexibility for the others.
  • A visit to Titanic Belfast.
  • Participation in the festival events. ( to be advised when the 2016 programme is finalised)

Click here to hear an interview with Sandy Smith on the All about Jack podcast.

Sandy tells me that they have many wonderful events planned, including lectures, stage pieces, and a talk on Lewis’s poetry in addition to the marvelous sights of Belfast which shaped the writer, apologist, and thinker we respect and admire.


C.S.Lewis – The Island of his birth from Authentic Ulster on Vimeo.

Click here to watch a video about the tour and festival. A full itinerary is available now on the website. There are several videos which introduce the tour experience located at the page.

Friends, this promises to be a trip of a lifetime.  Please contact Sandy at for more information.



A Much Belated Update

Hello everyone!

Many, many apologies for not posting for some time. It hardly seems feasible that it has been nearly a year since I’ve posted.

This post will be short (I know, sorry!) but I wanted to update you on all of the things going on in my life and work. Also, I plan to resume posting on a continual basis starting next week. Huzzah!

1) Moving


As some of you may know from last year’s posts at All Nine Muses, my husband and I purchased a house last year which required a summer’s worth of renovation. We love the house, but I had to put several projects on hold last year to accommodate the major renovations we completed. I promised to return to writing this summer, and so far (fingers crossed), I’m sticking to that promise!

2) MFA


My first year of coursework in the MFA is complete. I couldn’t be happier with the aspects of writing I have learned and the progress I’ve made. UTEP is a fantastic institution. I look forward to my next three years with much enthusiasm (and lots of improved drafts!). Earlier this year, a short story I composed won second in a contest and was later published in The Origin Project compendium assembled by New York Times Best-selling author Adriana Trigiani (All the Stars in Heaven, Big Stone Gap). I still have not determined whether I will tackle a prose or poetry thesis, but I have time to decide. Meanwhile, I am enjoying this degree immensely.

3) Women and C.S. Lewis



For those who have acquired a copy of Women and C.S. Lewis: What his life and literature reveal for today’s culture (Lion Hudson Press, Oxford), you have seen my chapter on the enduring influence of Flora Lewis. Back in 2014, I traveled to the Wade Center at Wheaton College to research Lewis’s parents. The chapter is a result of my time there. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Wade, do stop in. They have Lewis’s original desk and wardrobe (I checked the back and it only has fur coats – boo!) along with other miscellaneous Lewis relics. I was honored to be included among a wonderful collection of scholars assembled by editors Carolyn Curtis and Mary Scott Key. If you attended the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s Fall Retreat in Navasota last fall, you received a copy of the book plus had the opportunity to hear several of us speak on a panel. Such fun! Please pick up a copy if you haven’t yet.

4) Pudaita Pie: An Anthology


Also, while at the Wade, Lewis scholar Charlie Starr informed me about an unpublished manuscript written by Lewis and his brother Warnie detailing impressions of their father Albert. Over the two days I researched there, I typed 32 pages of notes (single-spaced) and ordered lots of photocopies. After obtaining permission from the Lewis Company and the Wade, I began transcribing Pudaita Pie: An Anthology for the next issue of VII: An Anglo-American Review (The Wade Center’s journal). This document contains a small introduction by Lewis (probably written between 1922-1924) about his father Albert. The manuscript also contains 100 numerated “wheezes” or anecdotes that Albert would mutter which the boys remembered throughout their childhood. Although many biographies have not been kind to Albert, I aim to reconstruct this perspective with new and intriguing information. My plan is to write a biography of Albert and Flora and include never-before-published political speeches, short stories, and poems written by Albert. I have already begun the work and I am thrilled with what I have so far. I recently presented a paper on Albert at the Colloquium for C.S. Lewis and Friends at Taylor University where it was warmly received. If you would like to purchase a copy of Volume 32, it will be available soon through the Wade’s website.

Here’s a teaser (with humorous responses to be found in the text of the manuscript):

1) What item(s) did Albert purchase instead of a toothbrush?

2) What was Albert referring to when he said, “I rub it into gaping wounds”?

3) What was Albert’s distinction between the Liberal and Conservative parties?

4) What did Albert believe acted as a “purgative”?

5) What was Albert’s opinion of church music?

6) By what standard did Albert determine that Oxford was a good college?

5) Lewis and Leadership Book


Four years ago, I completed my doctoral dissertation on C.S. Lewis as Transformational Leader. Since then, I have wavered in my decision to write a full-length book about my research. After prayer, consultation, and consideration, I have decided to move forward with the project. In all honesty, I nearly abandoned the idea, but several people have encouraged me to pursue it. I am now outlining and preparing to write the first chapters. I hope to have a full draft to submit by the end of this year.

There’s some other news coming down the pipe, including a poetry update and some exciting information on the Lewis front, but I can’t spill those beans quite yet. For now, I am so happy to be return to regular blogging.

No, I mean it. I’m back.


Continue visiting All Nine Muses and Legendarium for more of my monthly musings and articles!

P.S. For those who have been meaning to contact me for inquiries, to book speaking engagements or share a recipe for good cobbler, the email address is defunct. Please use  Thanks!



Hello all!

First, let me apologize for my long silence on this blog. I strongly desire to make writing a habit, but during the past few months I have been moving. My books and reference materials were packed in boxes (along with research notes) so I haven’t had the access or time to write (or think about what I wanted to write). I have been head-to-toe in paint for most of the summer. I have squeezed more boxes into my tiny car than was probably recommended and carried them in 90-degree heat. BUT, now everything has been placed. I even have a writing loft, full of paraphernalia from Narnia and Lord of the Rings, with a reading corner featuring Wonder Woman and Doctor Who. Yes, my nerd flag is raised and billowing proudly in the breeze. We love our new house, but I am fairly certain that I am never moving again!

Now that we are settled, I am excited to begin writing on a schedule. Although I haven’t blogged in quite a while, I have been writing infrequently throughout the summer. Here is a list of what I’ve been working on:


1) Women and C.S. Lewis, out August 1

Thanks in part to the Lewis and Women series I did on the blog a couple of years ago, I was asked to contribute to a wonderful collection of reflections on Lewis and  Women for a book commissioned by the C.S Lewis Foundation. This work includes a stellar list of Lewis folks and is edited by Carolyn Curtis and Mary Pomroy Key.  Some of the contributors include Monika Hilder, Michael Ward, Devon Brown, Don W. King, Alister McGrath, Kathy Keller (wife of Tim Keller and child correspondent of Lewis), Brent McCracken, Randy Alcorn, Holly Ordway, Kelly Belmonte, Andrew Lazo, Malcolm Guite, Steven Elmore, David C. and Crystal Downing, Colin Duriez, Jeanette Sears, Lyle W. Dorsett, John Stonestreet, Joy Jordan-Lake, Mary Poplin, Kasey Macsenti, Christin Ditchfield, Paul McCuster, and Paul Davis.

Last summer, I traveled to the Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois and conducted research for a couple of projects (more on that coming up). While there, I did some extensive research on Flora Lewis, mother of C.S. Lewis. I was assigned the first chapter of the book, exploring how Flora influenced Lewis intellectually and spiritually. The book released on August 1. Words cannot express how excited and grateful I am to be included in such wonderful company.

Make sure to pick up your copy here!

Also, don’t forget to pick up my e-book Thirty Days with C.S. Lewis: A Women’s Devotional if you haven’t yet.

2) The 2015 C.S. Lewis Foundation Retreat at Camp Allen – Navasota, Texas

I began attending Foundation events in 2012 and it has been a fantastic (and spiritually satisfying) experience. Tucked away from the busy Houston traffic, Camp Allen provides a quiet, contemplative environment to think, read, write, learn, fellowship, and grow. I blogged about my first experience here. The Retreat offers tracks for Writers and Readers, as well as a list of prodigious speakers/authors/writers (Madeleine L’Engle was a past guest!!). This year, the theme is “Of This and Other Worlds: C.S. Lewis and the Call of Deep Heaven.” We will explore Lewis’s Space Trilogy which is an important (and often undiscovered) portion of his fictional works. I will be teaching courses for attendees, and also serve on a panel for the Women and C.S. Lewis book. I am thrilled to be a staff member this year. If you wish to attend (and you should!), visit the Foundation’s website for registration.

and speaking of Texas…

3) M.F.A. in Creative Writing at UTEP (the University of Texas at El Paso)

I’m going back to school. Yes, I already have a doctorate. Yes I know I’m crazy.  🙂

The M.F.A. is a degree that I have secretly wanted for years. I currently teach three sections of Creative Writing at the high school. The program has grown from nine students to nearly sixty this year. I feel immensely blessed to teach this every year, and it absolutely warms my heart to see students excited about writing. One of my first students attended the Young Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa and is currently now a student there. Iowa has the best Creative Writing department in the country (graduates include Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and a bunch of other cool people). My student has been selected the last two semesters to attend the fiction workshop, a class for which only fifteen students are chosen. I am BEYOND proud of him. Usually we catch up on writing projects when he is in town. Last Christmas, he came in for break and we grabbed coffee at Dunkin Doughnuts. He inquired about a draft for a novel I was considering. I told him that I had a page and I thought the idea was all rot. He encouraged me to write and send him drafts to keep me accountable, then the conversation turned to an M.F.A. I admitted that I wanted to go back to school, but I thought I was too old to pursue it and that the degree wasn’t “practical.” First, he vehemently disagreed about hesitation with my age, and secondly, he strongly urged me to apply.

So I took his advice. I gathered together some of my best poetry, crafted a letter of interest, and applied to two schools: Sewanee and UTEP. I was incredibly nervous to send it out. I feared rejection. I prayed fervently for God’s direction. Then I waited.

Within a few weeks, I was accepted into both programs! I was surprised, relieved, and thankful, but now I had a hard choice ahead of me. Sewanee is an excellent program, but requires a move to campus for six weeks every summer. Unfortunately, with all of the moving mess, that wasn’t possible. The UTEP program is completely online with an online residency workshops. This would allow me to pursue the degree without missing weeks of work. I was informed that only six were chosen for admission. I knew it was meant to be.

This fall, I will begin taking courses. My goal is to sharpen my skills in both poetry and prose. I really want to write fiction. I enjoy writing nonfiction, but I cannot shake the impulse to compose fiction. I kept waiting for the desire to pass, but it was nagging and persistent. So, so, so persistent.

But I am ready now. In the words of Lewis, “Further up and further in!”

and finally,

4) Publishing the “Pudaita Pie” manuscript

As mentioned earlier, I went to the Wade last summer to conduct research on Lewis’s mother and father, Albert and Flora. While there, my friend and fellow Lewis scholar Dr. Charlie W. Starr was dating manuscripts. Charlie has extensively studied Lewis’s handwriting and can determine the date of manuscripts with impressive accuracy. While at the Wade, Charlie introduced me to an unpublished manuscript titled “Pudaita Pie: An Anthology” which chronicled (and numerated) the anecdotes or “wheezes” uttered by Albert and collected by his sons. It has been long believed that Lewis and his father had a strained relationship. This is perhaps true for a young, adolescent Lewis. However, time and experience softened Lewis’s early impressions of Albert. Both C.S. Lewis and his brother Warren scribbled remembrances of their father in a notebook, and nearly all of the entries were recorded while Albert was still alive. After obtaining permission from the C. S. Lewis Company, I am publishing this manuscript in the upcoming issue of VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review.  I am conducting additional research on Albert for two upcoming projects. More on that soon!

As usual, I am still writing for All Nine Muses and Legendarium. I also have forthcoming book reviews in Sehnsucht and Mythlore.

It’s good to be back in the blogosphere!


Happy Birthday Joy! A Talk on Joy Davidman Lewis


  Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Joy Davidman’s birth. Joy was the inimitable wife of C.S. Lewis. It was a privilege to speak on Joy for the Inklings Fellowship Retreat held at Montreat College in Montreat, North Carolina. The Fellowship is organized by two prodigious scholars: Dr. Harry (Hal) Poe of Union University and Dr. Don King of Montreat College. Both Poe and King have published extensively on the Inklings.

Surprised by Joy: How Joy Davidman Shaped C.S. Lewis

Dr. Crystal Hurd

Given on April 18th, 2015 at the Inklings Fellowship Retreat in Montreat, North Carolina

In 1922, a young Oxford scholar named C.S. Lewis scribbled some verses to a narrative poem that he would later title “Dymer.” The poetic reinvention of “Dymer” was based upon a prose version originally written in 1916 (when Lewis was a mere eighteen years old) called “The Redemption of Ask.” The poetic version, which was published in 1925, chronicles the odyssey of a young man out of the territory of his youth and into a dense forest where he meets a mysterious and enchanting woman.

“He entered into a void.

Night-scented flowers

Breathed there – but this was darker than the night

That is most black with beating thunder showers,

A disembodied world where depth and height

And distance were unmade.

No seam of light Showed through.

It was a world not made for seeing.

One pure, one undivided sense of being

Though darkness smooth as amber, warily, slowly

He moved. The floor was soft beneath his feet.

A cool smell that was holy and unholy,

Sharp like the very spring and roughly sweet

Blew towards him

The same night swelled the mushroom in earth’s lap

And silvered the wet fields: it drew the bud

From hiding and led on the rhythmic sap

And sent the young wolves thirsting after blood,

And, wheeling the big seas, made ebb and flood

Along the shores of earth: and held these two

In dead sleep till the time of morning dew…”

After having an intimate encounter with his enigmatic lover (marked by a sensation he calls “holy and unholy”), she disappears and Dymer, over the next several cantos, searches for her. Eventually, he is killed by his own offspring, a product of that evening together, and becomes a god.

Let us now go forward several decades. Lewis’s final book of fiction, and one he considered his best work, is published as Till We Have Faces. In this exceptional retelling of the Cupid and Psyche romance, Lewis narrates the story from the perspective of Psyche’s sister, the queen Orual. Psyche informs Orual that the god Cupid has fallen in love with her, and that he comes to her under cover of night.

“He comes to me only in the holy darkness. He says I mustn’t – not yet – see his face or know his name. I’m forbidden to bring any light into his –our – chamber.”

“This thing that comes to you in the darkness…and you’re forbidden to see it. Holy darkness, you call it. What sort of thing? Faugh! (124)

Here we find the same scenario, but two very different characters experiencing the same “holy” coupling. In the first, a male operating on adrenaline and hormones, has a complicated encounter with a mysterious female. In the second, the female encounters a secretive male who is her husband. Before Orual’s insistence on discovering his identity, Psyche is comfortable leaving his face in darkness. Dymer becomes a god, while Orual eventually forfeits her selfish appetite for power to the one true God. Dymer reflects an earlier version of Lewis, a version contaminated by the “Christina Dreams,” in which fantasies corrupt real love and companionship. Till We Have Faces not only illustrates Lewis’s talent of narrating outside gender, but also illuminates the importance of humility in revealing our true motivations and intentions. So what significant force provided such a shift in tone?

Enter Joy Davidman.

Joy served as the “midwife” for Till We Have Faces. In fact, the book is dedicated to her, as the creative collaborator behind the book. Lewis nurtured the idea of retelling the romance for many years, and with Joy’s encouragement and assistance, Lewis was able to complete it. So who is this mysterious woman, who emerged from the dense “forests” of New York to alter the life and works of confirmed bachelor C.S. Lewis? Essentially, she was a divorced ex-communist ex-patriot poet. Sounds like a great match for England’s beloved children’s author and most famous lay theologian, yes?

But Joy Davidman was much more than that. In the past, certain scholars have accused Joy of exploiting Lewis, of being “gold digger,” only marrying Lewis for the financial stability while he financed the educations of her two sons, with writer Bill Gresham. Some feel that the clandestine civil marriage between Lewis and Davidman, completed simply for extending his British citizenship so Davidman would not be deported, was an attempt to steal his fame or tarnish his reputation. More often, she is framed as the literary death knell, removing him from the company of his Inkling friends, while absorbing his time and attention. And all this from the woman whose death inspired the richly written lamentation known as A Grief Observed, in which Lewis calls her his mistress and muse.

As Lyle Dorsett writes in his work chronicling Joy’s life, And God Came In, Joy came of age in the turbulence of New York City in the 1920s.  Her mother Jeanette descended from affluent Jewish merchants who had abandoned their home in the Ukraine, migrating like thousands of others to the “promised land” of America.   Jeanette, essentially, was historically Jewish.  However, her husband Joseph Davidman was an atheist who restrained his untraditional views to ensure peace in his household; Dorsett identifies it as a “tepid indifference” to Judaism.  As educators and voracious readers, Joy’s parents fostered an appetite for knowledge into Joy and her younger brother Howard.  During the summer, it was not uncommon for Joy and Howard to visit the library nearly every day, although her parents maintained an impressive library in their home. Among the works that Davidman read was George MacDonald’s Phantasies.

However, Joy’s early life was extremely difficult.  Her father was cantankerous and overbearing.  Some family members recall Joseph blowing a whistle to summon his children “in the fashion of trained dogs”.  Joy, forever the doting daughter, attempted to win her father’s affection.  A bright, receptive student, Joy excelled in academics. Although she suffered from a crooked spine, Graves Disease and hyperthyroidism, which contributed to excessive school absences, her grades were largely unaffected. She was soon recognized as a poet with the publication of her poem “Resurrection” (a poem shaped by religious themes, although Joy described it as a “private argument with Jesus”). In addition to a demanding father and nagging illnesses, Joy and her brother Howard endured the “demons of anti-Semitism” which plagued them nearly everywhere they went, even when they travelled throughout the United States on holidays and vacations.

Joy eventually matriculated to Hunter’s College, a tuition-free women’s college located in the Bronx.  Joy thrived there; she quickly found her youthful love of books had matured into an abiding love of literature and language.  Joy was already “proficient” in German and Latin, learned French in college, and taught herself Greek in her spare time.  She also began crucial friendships with other students of the literary persuasion, including novelist Bel Kaufman.  While at Hunter’s, Joy served as associate editor of the literary magazine Echo while participating in the English club and Sigma Tau Delta, the national English studies honorary society.  Joy published a story in Echo titled “Apostate” in which a young Jewish woman elopes with a Christian to avoid an arranged marriage to a “weak man”. The woman is baptized into the Christian faith so she may wed, but the wedding is disrupted by her family who violently beat her as her “husband” looks on and the pastor escapes. The story won the Bernard Cohen Short Story Prize that year. After graduation, she obtained employment as an English teacher at Walton High School.  She also decided to pursue a Master’s degree in English at Columbia University.


Her towering academic achievements were unfortunately overshadowed by major cultural shifts.  The Great Depression ravaged the overcrowded, unemployed residents of New York.  Some predicted a slow, yet steady pace of national rehabilitation, but the hopelessness, for some, was too much to bear.  One afternoon before her graduation in 1934, Joy watched in horror as a young woman on an adjoining building plunged to her death. The girl had leapt to her demise after struggling unsuccessfully with depression and hunger. Joy interpreted this as a byproduct of the growing capitalistic society upon which many staked the precarious recovery of the American economy.

Although Joy had never experienced the pangs of hunger and poverty, she felt a deep compassion stirring for those less fortunate. Dorsett writes that “…her anger grew increasingly at the insanity and callousness of a society that dumped potatoes in the ocean, burned wheat, and poured lime on oranges, while millions of people were unemployed, malnourished, and forced to stand in soup lines and sort through refuse in garbage cans for sustenance” (21). These images, coupled with her increasing animosity toward greedy corporations, eventually led Joy to join the Communist party. Joy resigned from her teaching position in 1937 to devote more time to writing. Earlier, in 1936, some of Joy’s poems were published in Poetry magazine.  This connection would eventually lead her to a friendship with celebrated novelist and poet Stephen Vincent Benet.  Benet headed the Younger Poet Series for Yale University Press. When Joy submitted nearly fifty poems for the competition, she won and found a quick admirer in Benet. These works were published by Yale University Press as Letters to a Comrade in 1938. The following year, Joy won the Russell Loines Award for Poetry, a prestigious award that she shared with Robert Frost. During this time, at the behest of Benet, Joy spent time at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.  This colony utilized the concept of collaboration and encouragement among writers and artists to produce and refine good art.  It served as an artistic catalyst as well as a retreat from the tumultuous society surrounding them.  Much like the Romantics of the nineteenth century, these artists sought repose and restoration through nature as anodynes for the treacherous stranglehold of modern life. Former members of MacDowell include author Willa Cather and poet Sara Teasdale.  If writers and artists were selected for the colony, they were expected to pay their own expenses, although impoverished ones could still attend with the assistance of philanthropic donations provided by wealthy businessmen and politicians such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and President Grover Cleveland. Ironically, Joy used her time at MacDowell to rail against the evils of capitalism (although she was not a sworn Communist yet) while some of her associates attended only through the generous sponsorship of corporations!  MacDowell Colony proved to be artistically beneficial for Joy.  She published a novel, Anya, in 1938. A second novel, Weeping Bay, followed later in 1950. Joy soon became a sworn communist and spent much creative energy contributing to the communist publication New Masses; she also worked a stint in Hollywood writing scripts. Joy eventually met and married fellow writer William (Bill) Lindsay Gresham.


The couple lived in utter poverty, struggling to make ends meet through literary endeavors. Joy had two sons – David and Douglas – but Bill’s alcoholism and unfaithfulness were wearing on Joy. With no coping mechanism for the increasing strain on his family and finances, Bill Gresham began to spiral out of control.  One fateful night, Bill called Joy exclaiming that he was having a “nervous breakdown”.  He  “couldn’t stay where he was” but “couldn’t bring himself to come home”.  Then he hung up the phone.  Joy was frantic.  She calmly put her boys to bed, then spent the evening on the phone attempting to locate Bill to no avail. She writes in her essay “The Longest Way Round”:

By nightfall there was nothing left to do but wait and see if he turned up, alive or dead. I put the babies to sleep and waited.  For the first time in my life I felt helpless; for the first time my pride was forced to admit that I was not, after all, “the master of my own fate” and “the captain of my soul”. All my defenses – the walls of arrogance and cocksureness and self-love behind which I hid from God – went down momentarily.  And God came in.  – From Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman (Ed. Don W. King).

Joy writes that she felt “a Person” in the room with her that night. She also admits that, a year or so prior to this occurrence, she had begun reading fantasy works which had led her to C.S. Lewis; Joy specifically cites The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, and The Great Divorce as particularly influential. These works provided Joy not only with entertainment, but with intellectual stimulation in a curious, new direction – the rational argument for faith, a faith she had previously dismissed.  That night, overwhelmed by the lack of control over her family life, Joy felt the philosophical foundation shifting beneath her feet.  The fortifications of her atheism were collapsing, and the origin of her wanderlust was being revealed to her. The towering presence of Truth was educating her at this moment.   She could no longer deny that God didn’t exist. After several days, Bill returned home and found a new woman. Joy renounced atheism and began attending church. She indulged her interests in religious philosophy and Christian dogma, seeing it not as a complicated enigma teeming with restrictions and empty litanies uttered to concrete gods, but as an unnamed pulse of life surging through mankind offering liberation and a renewed appreciation for beauty. She befriended professor Chad Walsh, who maintained a robust correspondence with none other than C.S. Lewis.  Fascinated and grateful to Lewis, Joy began a correspondence with him in 1950Joy mentions in “The Longest Way Round”:

“I went back to C.S. Lewis and learned from him, slowly, how I had gone wrong. Without his works, I wonder if I and many others might not still be infants “crying in the night’” (95).

The experience influenced her next novel, Weeping Bay.  Although Joy was ecstatic over the spiritual changes occurring within her, it did little to repair her marriage.  Bill was still drinking and began to dapple in Buddhism while Joy was exploring and practicing orthodox Christianity. In August 1952, she sailed to England “to consult one of the clearest thinkers of our time for help”. She stayed with a friend, Phyllis Williams, while in London and arranged to meet Lewis in Oxford at the Eastgate Hotel.  The visit was a rousing good time.


Warnie loved Joy – her quick wit, her boundless sense of humor, her keen intellect.  Joy returned to stay at The Kilns during Christmas. The Lewis men immensely enjoyed Joy’s visit.  Joy and Lewis discussed her upcoming book Smoke on the Mountain. That Christmas, Lewis gave Joy a copy of George MacDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul with an initial inscription from George MacDonald, followed by “Later: from C.S. Lewis to Joy Davidman, Christmas 1952″.

Joy had a rapturous time at The Kilns, but the tone changed significantly when a letter arrived from Bill. Joy’s cousin Renee was looking after her sons during her voyage and English holiday.  Bill admitted that he had fallen in love with Renee and recommended that he and Joy file for divorce. Distressed and confused, Joy asked Lewis for guidance; Lewis ultimately agreed with Bill and suggested a divorce. In late November, Joy moved, with her sons in tow, to England.  Her marriage was dissolving but Joy was happy to be “a transplant”. She struggled to provide for her family, as Bill’s child support checks were insufficient and often unpredictable. She maintained her friendship with Lewis, even later obtaining a residence in Headington, near The Kilns. Lewis would visit “every day” with many visits lasting “until eleven at night”.

Although many maintain that Joy “forced herself” on Lewis because she needed financial assistance, these visits were prompted by Lewis, not by Joy. In the summer of 1955, Chad and Eva Walsh visited Lewis and Joy and “smelled marriage in the air”. However, Lewis endorsed the Church of England edict which claims that marriages are holy unions and cannot be dissolved, and thus remarriage was impossible. Nonetheless, Lewis eventually fell in love with Joy.  Some of his friends disapproved of the union, partially because of the Church’s views concerning divorce and partly because Joy was known to be brassy and outspoken, an often unwelcomed contradiction to the more reserved British personality. For example, Joy describes attending a debate along with detective novelist Dorothy Sayers in a letter dated October 29, 1954. She writes,

“Dorothy Sayers was at the debate too; she’s enormously witty and a very eloquent speaker, a forthright old lady who wears rather mannish clothes and doesn’t give a damn about her hairdo. Mother said if brains made a woman look like that she was glad she wasn’t intellectual” (223)

Despite this propensity for brutal honesty, it was obvious that Joy was passionately in love and that Lewis was developing mutual feelings for her.  Joy composed love sonnets, most likely written in 1952 during her initial visit to England.  According to the poems, Lewis at first rebuffs Joy’s advances by claiming that he preferred blondes. Perhaps it was the humor of an old bachelor, but Joy is deeply distraught by this dismissal. The theme emerges in several of the sonnets.


 As many now know, thanks to the romantic yet hyperbolic film Shadowlands, Joy’s residential permit was not renewed by the British Home Office.  To extend his British citizenship, Lewis generously married Joy in a civil ceremony on April 23, 1956.  Lewis kept the affair quiet, fearing criticism and disapproval from his colleagues and friends. Joy was then diagnosed with cancer (originating from radium treatments for her thyroid condition when she was young).  She began evasive cancer treatments.  The illness proved to be a turning point for Lewis; he realized that he truly did love Joy.  Furthermore, he wanted to seal a commitment before God.  There were married at her hospital bedside on March 21, 1957.  After this, Joy experienced a period of brief but wonderful convalescence. They honeymooned in Wales and Ireland.  Later they spent twelve glorious days in Greece with Roger and June Green. Although viewed as coy and intangible to Joy at first, Lewis finally warmed to Joy and a beautiful romance blossomed.


Joy writes in a letter dated February 28, 1957: “All I really care about is having a bit of life with Jack and getting adequately on my feet for it. He has been growing more attached to me steadily – is now, I think, even more madly in love with me that I with him, which is saying plenty – and give dear Georgie Sentman my love and tell him he was wrong about the intellectual Englishman’s supposed coldness. The truth about these blokes is that they are like H-bombs; it takes something like an ordinary atom bomb to start them off, but when they’re started – Whee! See the pretty fireworks! He is mucho hombre, my Jack!” (308-309) Joy quickly transformed The Kilns from a bachelor pad complete with ash burns on the carpet and black-out drapes to a habitable abode. Not only did Joy busy herself with redecorating, she also engaged in home security measures by brandishing a shotgun.


Perhaps Lewis admitted that he was not a pacifist, but he certainly was a reluctant marksman. Lewis was opposed to using weapons in threatening trespassers, yet Joy proudly purchased a shotgun to protect the property. Douglas Gresham tells us in Lenten Lands that on one occasion when stubborn poachers refused to leave, Joy retrieved her gun immediately. Lewis stepped in front of her to offer protection (as any chivalrous man would do), to which Joy emphatically yelled, “Damn it Jack, get out of my line of fire!” (85).


Unfortunately the shadow of cancer returned. Joy was in a wheelchair, but still gregarious and lively, playing Scrabble and chatting frequently with Lewis. Despite all of the optimism, all knew, including Joy, that the time was at hand. Joy passed away on July 13 1960. Although their marriage had been brief, it was an experience which made Lewis incandescently happy. The loss shook him to his very core.  His reflections on Joy’s death were later published as A Grief Observed. Lewis writes:

“For a good wife contains so many persons in herself. What was [Joy] not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me…There is, hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes till an entire marriage reconciles them.  It is arrogance in us to call frankness, fairness, and chivalry ‘masculine’ when we see them in a woman; it is arrogance in them to describe a man’s sensitiveness or tact or tenderness as ‘feminine.’ But also what poor warped fragments of humanity most mere men and mere women must be to make the implications of that arrogance plausible.  Marriage heals this.  Jointly the two become fully human. ‘In the image of God created He them. Thus, by a paradox, this carnival of sexuality leads us out beyond our sexes.”

As Lewis illuminates, Joy’s influence is undeniable. Joy, along with other female friends such as Dorothy Sayers, Ruth Pitter, and Sister Penelope, assisted Lewis is realigning his perspective on females and feminine depictions.  Notice in earlier Lewis works how women are generally characterized. As we have seen in “Dymer,” she is the mysterious temptress who gives birth to a beast. In Lewis’s first post-conversion work A Pilgrim’s Regress she is both the temptress of the “brown girl” but also “Wisdom” personified. Many have argued that this illustrates Lewis’s strong dislike for women, framing them as “Eves” or intangible ideals. However, if we investigate testimonies of the women Lewis actually corresponded with, we find a very different portrayal.

His friend and poetess Ruth Pitter wrote in a letter to Walter Hooper on 13 January 1969:

It is a pity that he made his first (and perhaps biggest) impact with Screwtape, in which some women are only too well portrayed in their horrors, rather like Milton’s Satan – it is this perhaps that has made people think he hated us? But even here, the insight is prodigious…I would say he was a great and very perspicacious lover of women, from poor little things right up to the “Lady” in Perelandra. I think he touched innumerable women to the heart here – I know he did me…Surely the shoals of letters he got from women (as he told me) must show how great was his appeal to them: nobody’s going to tell me these were hate-letters. (239)  

Additionally, several of Lewis’s female students at Oxford were very complimentary of him. Rosamund Cowan writes in In Search of C.S. Lewis,

It was a joy to study with Lewis. He treated us like queens. I think Pat Thompson and I were the first women students he had. He had perfect manners, always standing up when we came in. And he brought to everything a remarkable original approach. At first we were a bit frightened as he had a reputation of being a “man’s man.” We rather thought he would be a bit down on women. Actually he was delightful. He told me I reminded him of a Shakespearean heroine – a compliment I’ve always cherished. He certainly treated me like one. (62)

We see a distinct change progressing through the space trilogy (composed in the late 30s and 40s). There is a more nuanced, more complex portrait of women, from the “Green Lady” who is full of love and light in Perelandra, to the stubborn Jane Studdock and the ladies of St. Anne’s and extending to Miss “Fairy” Hardcastle, head of the N.I.C.E.  Institutional Police. Later we see major shifts illustrated in each installment of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy, the girl with indomitable faith who leads the group through the Wardrobe to Narnia and later through unfamiliar terrain in Prince Caspian, Susan the queen who eventually get tangled up in the modern day world and forgets about Narnia. Then there is the headstrong protagonist from The Horse and His Boy Aravis, the careful and caring friend to Digory, Polly Plummer from The Magician’s Nephew, and the courageous Jill in The Silver Chair. Lewis provides the reader with a wide variation of female characters. This progression correlates, if unintentionally, with his growing correspondence with women. The later installments of Narnia, as well as Till We Have Faces, illustrate the collaborative benefits of Joy’s expertise. One very notable character from The Magician’s Nephew is Helen, the cabbie’s wife who becomes the first queen of Narnia. Helen is Joy’s name, and this is a sign of her ultimate creative influence as she is incorporated into the fabric of the Narnia stories.


It is also noteworthy to mention that Lewis influenced Joy’s writings as well. Their marriage was one of creative reciprocity. In addition to Smoke on the Mountain, Joy was working on a book concerning “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and thanks to Warnie’s encouragement, a book on Madame do Maintenon. She writes on February 19, 1954… “Warnie keeps suggesting that I collaborate with him on a life of Madame do Maintenon, Louis XIV’s morganatic wife. She’s never been done, and she’s fascinating – a noblewoman born in the workhouse, spending a mysterious girlhood in the West Indies, coming back and marrying a paralyzed poet and wit, later becoming the governess of the king’s illegitimate children and catching the king! She was interested in education for women, founded a girls’ school, and used to pop out of the kind’s bed at dawn to go and get the little ones up and take a few classes herself. Wow!” (179-180). Unfortunately, this book, as well as the book on the Seven Virtues, was never published, with drafts and notes currently housed at the Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois.

Although much evidence exists to prove Joy’s influence on Lewis’s later work, Lewis scholarship has a tendency to diminish, if not completely dismiss, Joy’s contribution to Lewis’s personal happiness and creative trajectory. Joy served as a sounding board, an editor, and literary catalyst. Joy had always considered herself possessing this role. She writes on April 29th, 1955:

“I don’t kid myself in these matters – whatever my talents as an independent writer, my real gift is as a fort of editor-collaborator like Max Perkins, and I’m happiest when I’m doing something like that. Though I can’t write one-tenth as well as Jack, I can tell him how to write more like himself! He is not about three-quarters of the way through his new book (what I’d give for that energy!) and says he finds my advice indispensable.” (246)

Joy has been portrayed as a communist seducer, a comfortable commuter of coat-tails, and one prominent scholar even referenced her as a “gold digger.” But the literature proves that Joy was none of these. Lewis financially assisted Joy, but letters show that she reluctantly accepted the help, and often with much remorse. Many scholars support their arguments by expressing the sentiments of Lewis’s friends, J.R.R. Tolkien among them, who was suspicious of the union.

Perhaps the origin of such irritation for many of Lewis’s friends was that Joy was a rather progressive (some might even say feminist) voice for her time. Much like Lewis’s mother Flora Lewis, Joy was an unconventional female. She was a celebrated poet, as Lewis desired to be. She challenged him and simultaneously inspired him to think in new and diverse ways, which is reflected in the depth of his later work. Her marriage to Lewis was treated with the utmost respect. Joy knew the substantial risk but emotional nourishment that marriage can deliver. She viewed marriage through the lens of Christ and yet with the shrewd consciousness of a modern woman.


In her monumental book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments, she stresses the importance of a marriage in a chapter on adultery, a painful experience that she knew all too well:

“Every statement our Lord made about sexuality works to protect women and to awaken men to their own responsibilities. Condemning adultery, he yet forgave the adulteresses who repented and loved God, and denounced the lustful and loveless men who caused them to sin. Perhaps that, in itself, is enough to prove Him more than a man. For throughout history even the best of men have usually sought to shift the blame for their sexual weaknesses to the women. “the Woman tempted me and I did eat!” cried the father of the tribe, and “The woman tempted me!” has been the cry ever since, whenever someone ate where he should not. True enough, most women try to be as tempting as they can. But what Jesus, and later Paul, pointed out was that, although men are not always free agents in love, they are still on the whole far more free than the women are” (89). But at the heart of Smoke on the Mountain, Joy always returns to the theme of love:  “For many contemporaries God has dwindled into a noble abstraction, a tendency of history, a goal of evolution; has thinned out into a concept useful for organization world peace – a good thing as an idea. But not the Word made flesh, who died for us and rose again from the dead. Not a Personality that a man can feel any love for. And not, certainly, the eternal Love, who took the initiative and fell in love with us.” (132)

That love, one originated from the Creator and contagiously spread throughout humanity has a transformative power. It allows us to express love and compassion for one another, which ultimately changes us:

“The difficulty is to love men for what they are – members of yourself in the eternal body of mankind – and at the same time to make them better than they are, through love.”

An interesting correlation emerges when we examine Joy’s perspective of love. Joy was also an admirer of the works of Lewis’s Inkling friend, Charles Williams. In fact, she was invited to give a speech about Williams to Oxford student on February 26, 1956 (278). Williams had an interesting perspective on theological matters, and perhaps his most unique theory is that of Romantic Theology. Borrowing from the wisdom of poets such as William Wordsworth, Williams extrapolates on various aspects of his theory, as well as establishing a literary precedent in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Williams essentially argues that being united in marriage is an extension of God, and thus reflects God’s love for us to the degree that an individual communes with God during intercourse. For more information on this, please visit Sorina Higgins extraordinary blog chronicling the life and works of Charles Williams titled The Oddest Inkling. She specifically references romantic theology in a post comically titled “Jesus is Your Wife.”

So now, let us revisit the first images we evoked, not of a disillusioned Dymer traipsing through peculiar territory, but of a two spouses, one a mortal, one a god, tucked away in a strange and wonderful palace. Of a love expressed, despite uncertainty, in what Charles Williams would deem and Lewis and Joy would concur as a “holy” union, where God is glimpsed in the joining of two souls. Where perhaps, we can understand God more clearly by loving one of his creatures, and by loving, improve ourselves. This is what marriage was for C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. It was intellectual admiration, then an abiding fondness, and finally a spiritual convergence. And after death has ravaged the body, has torn lovers from their embrace, and the widower commenced his mourning, what then?

Then there is renewal. Then “like cast off clothes” she has left but only to “resume” them bathed in a different, but equally wonderful kind of holiness. Joy writes in what is considered one of her most moving verses, “Yet One More Spring” that there is perennial value in her death.


Yet One More Spring

What will come of me

After the fern has feathered from my brain

And the rosetree out of my blood; what will come of me

In the end, under the rainy locustblossom

Shaking its honey out on springtime air

Under the wind, under the stooping sky?

What will come of me and shall I lie

Voiceless forever in earth and unremembered,

And be forever the cold green blood of flowers

And speak forever with the tongue of grass

Unsyllabled, and sound no louder

Than the slow falling downward of white water,

And only speak the quickened sandgrain stirring,

Only the whisper of the leaf unfolding,

Only the tongue of leaves forever and ever?

Out of my heart the bloodroot,

Out of my tongue the rose,

Out of my bone the jointed corn,

Out of my fiber trees,

Out of my mouth a sunflower,

And from my fingers vines,

And the rank dandelion shall laugh from my loins

Over million seeded earth; but out of my heart,

Core of my heart, blood of my heart, the bloodroot

Coming to lift a petal in peril of snow

Coming to dribble from a broken stem

Bitterly the bright color of blood forever.

But I would be more than a cold voice of flowers

And more than water, more than spouting earth

Under the quiet passion of the spring;

I would leave you the trouble of my heart

To trouble you at evening; I would perplex you

With lightning coming and going about my head,

Outrageous signs, and wonder; I would leave you

The shape of my body filled with images,

The shape of my mind filled with imaginations,

The shape of myself. I would create myself

In a little fume of words and leave my words

After my death to kiss you forever and ever.

This morning, we can answer this question. What will come of you Joy Davidman Lewis? Joy will be rightly recognized as a profound poet, as a creative collaborative, an erudite editor, and most importantly as a beloved daughter of God, whose writings gently remind us that love is a gift and that faith, in eternity and in mankind, is a flame never extinguished.

Further Reading

Joy’s Works

Letters to a Comrade Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments Anya Weeping Bay


And God Came In – Lyle Dorsett (Amazon link)

Out of my Bone: The Letters of Joy DavidmanEd. Don King (Amazon link)

Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis – Doug Gresham (Amazon link)

Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman– Brian Sibley (Amazon link)


Yet One More Spring: A Critical Study of Joy Davidman– Don King (Amazon link)

A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C.S. Lewis and Other Poems – Don King, Ed. (Amazon link)

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis – Abigail Santamaria (Amazon link)

Women and C.S. Lewis: What his life and literature reveal for today’s culture – Carolyn Curtis, Mary Key, Eds. (Amazon link)