Lewis: Writing to Please the Ear & the Eye

Walter Hooper & KilnsBy now, regular readers of this blog know that I like to fill Saturdays with what I’m gleaning from my study of C. S. Lewis. I just completed writing the fourth chapter in my proposed book on Lewis’s impact on Americans. That chapter looks at the relationship between Lewis and Walter Hooper, an American who visited him in 1963 and became his private secretary for a few months before having to return to America.

Hooper’s remembrances of his time with Lewis make for fascinating reading. They give great insight into Lewis’s character. With your permission (or without it), I would like to share a small portion of that chapter today. This excerpt provides a window into the mind of Lewis as he constantly wrote letters to people who wanted his spiritual guidance for their lives. Hooper was deeply impressed by what he saw in Lewis.

The pattern for those last weeks together was for Lewis to dictate letters right after breakfast, since his correspondence was so constant and voluminous. When dictating, he would have Hooper then read the letters back to him before sending them, commenting, “it is as important to please the ear as the eye.” This gave Hooper even greater insight into Lewis’s mind: “We take it for granted that his writing is both beautiful to read and beautiful to hear, but this was hardly a matter of chance. He told me that when he was writing something–nearly always with a nib pen–he “whispered” the words aloud to himself.

Hooper then concluded,

C. S. Lewis 11I found this when I was with him: that the letters, which he considered one other thing which one must endure about success of a sort, must be answered, if possible that very day. Yet those letters are some of the best. I think they were some of the best things for Lewis in the sense that they were a very pastoral thing to do. They also, I think, are one of the richest mines of his writing. How often he has learned to simply take what others would take ten pages in trying to write and condense to a brief paragraph, and yet in which everything is there. You cannot find an argument put more beautifully and precisely. For many people, this will be the only way they will learn theology: to simply read it in that condensed form.

When Hooper later collected as many of Lewis’s letters as he could find, he published them in a 3-volume set. Those letters are a vast treasure chest of spiritual wisdom. Even when I may disagree with Lewis on certain specific doctrinal matters, I always enjoy reading what he has to say. He’s always worth pondering. And now, with Hooper’s commentary above, we know why those letters are so worthwhile.