Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lewis Loved Being Read To . . .

So, yesterday I had a wicked thought.

I was working on something else, and came across some print-outs from an online discussion I'd taken part in a year and a half or so back about C. S. Lewis's response to the ending of THE HOBBIT. My main point was that we simply don't know what about it he didn't like and can only make more or less well-informed guesses. But in passing I had suggested, somewhat light-heartedly, that maybe Lewis just had trouble reading Tolkien's handwriting and this irksomeness got in the way of his enjoying the final part of the book (that is, the handwritten conclusion to the composite typescript/manuscript Tolkien circulated among his friends between early 1933 and mid-1936) -- forming a barrier between him and full 'secondary belief' submersion in the text.

Re-reading this, and taking into account a new idea I'd had recently regarding the two missing pages from the DARK TOWER manuscript, it suddenly clicked with something Tolkien once said, which I now saw cd be taken in a whole new light. In a 1965 letter to Dick Plotz, Tolkien wrote how

". . . C. S. Lewis was one of the only three persons who have so far read all or a considerable pan of my 'mythology' of the First and Second Ages, which had already been in the main lines constructed before we met. He had the peculiarity that he liked to be read to. All that he knew of my 'matter' was what his capacious but not infallible memory retained from my reading to him as sole audience . . ." (LETTERS p. 361)

What if Lewis's preference that Tolkien read aloud all his works to him stemmed from an aversion to making his way through JRRT's notoriously bad handwriting? Obviously this can't be the whole story -- we know he sometimes borrowed manuscripts, as when he made such detailed commentary on "The Lay of Leithian" and when he inadvertently destroyed the only copy of one of Tolkien's stories. But I know I'll be on the look-out now, reading memoirs of Lewis and the like, for accounts of others besides Tolkien whom he invariably preferred aloud read to him.

--John R.

just finished: NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILROAD by Kenji Miyazawa.

just starting: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOON by Edmond Hamilton.

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