Sunday, 24 November 2013

Walter Hooper on C S Lewis

The second lecture in the series on C S Lewis yesterday was delivered by Walter Hooper (for the first, and a little background, see here).  His topic was Memories of C S Lewis.

It is fair to say that Walter Hooper is a Lewis fan; in fact, he loved Lewis with great affection and devotion.  That came through every word of his talk.

He started by describing his first encounter with Lewis' writing (his Introduction to Letters to Young Churches) and the impact that had on him.  Then he got a friendly bookseller to send him everything that crossed his shelf by Lewis, and read them in the order they arrived; an eclectic order, but one which introduced him to the breadth of Lewis' thinking and writing.

He talked about taking Miracles with him into the army, and how it held his attention right through military training, being whipped out and read in bunkers and in the midst of learning to fire artillery, and so on.  What really struck him was how profoundly Lewis believed in the truths of the faith he was proclaiming.

He remarked that many people, reading the many genres in which Lewis wrote, seem to see him almost as different men; but Hooper's perspective, due in part to reading his books in such a random order, was that he was one man with many geniuses.  He also recalled meeting Bob Jones, the famous preacher, at that time, and asking him what he thought of Lewis. 'That man… that man smokes a pipe…; that man drinks liquor….; But I do believe he is a Christian.'

He then recalled his first meeting with Lewis: he had started to write an academic book on him ('fortunately, never finished…') and wrote to him.  He was invited to The Kilns, and remembers his surprise at Lewis' accent.  He had always read him in an American one (Hooper's accent is actually a lovely soft Southern lilt).

He arrived at tea time, and discovered Lewis to be a monumental tea-drinker. Eventually he needed the loo, but being American, asked for the bathroom. Lewis showed him to the bathroom (which was devoid of a lavatory) and gave him towels and soap, asking, as he left him there, if he had all he needed for a comfortable bath.  Hooper had to summon up his courage to descend to the drawing room, and explain what he really needed.  Lewis laughed uproariously and told him that would teach him not to use euphemisms.

On leaving, he was invited to the Inklings meeting the following Monday at the Lamb and Flag (this was when Lewis had accepted the job at Cambridge, returning to Oxford for the weekend, and staying on on Mondays for this important commitment).  There, he said, Lewis did little talking, but threw things around for others to comment on: 'he brought out the best in you; you were your best in his company.  He was the cause of wit in other men.'

Hooper mentioned that he said to Lewis that he struggled to remember that Lewis had ever been married and Lewis responded: 'I've always been a bachelor at heart.' Hooper, understandably didn't feel that he should criticise Lewis' late wife, but Lewis pressed him on her views of Southern (US) Men, until he had to say he disagreed.  He felt dreadful, but Lewis was delighted.  He saw the purpose of conversation as being to argue towards truth, and loved rational opposition (though he hated to lose an argument).

His conversation was always bracing, it was always 'about something; arguing with Lewis was like entering a beauty contest. You had to be ready to be told you were ugly.'

In his work as Lewis' private secretary, Hooper came to find out about the Agape fund; for many years, Lewis had put all the money from his writing and broadcasting into this fund, and it was distributed anonymously to people in need, particularly to widows and orphans.

He was happy to talk about his own books if pressed, but only because they were a topic of mutual interest.  He took the same approach to discussing them as to discussing any other book. But Hooper learned, for example, that Puddleglum was modelled on Lewis' gardener.  For example, when Lewis was taking Joy (who was very ill) to Greece, this gardener said, as the taxi arrived to take them to the airport: "I just heard on the wireless: an airplane had just come down. Everybody on it was killed, Mr Jack. Every one of them: bodies burned beyond recognition. Every single one of them, Mr Jack. Good bye."

Hooper was so given to quoting Lewis, that between them the phrase 'As C S Lewis has said…' became something of a joke. If Lewis wanted a cup of tea, he might say: 'As C S Lewis has said, it is time for some tea. And as C S Lewis has said, you are going to make it.'

He also recalled a story about the young Jack.  When his father was planning a family holiday in France, in 1907 (so Lewis would have been about 8) Jack marched into his father's study: 'I have a prejudice against the French!' 'Why is that?' his father asked. 'If I knew why, it wouldn't be a prejudice!'  So his critical appreciation of language was evident from an early age. And as Hooper pointed out, it is hard to find a better definition of prejudice.

Listening to Walter Hooper for an hour was a great privilege.  His recollections were both entertaining and thought provoking, and I left feeling I understood Lewis just a little more; and glad that I had met someone who knew and loved him so well.

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