Kay Lindskoog, Detective: Not Sherlock Holmes After All?
Kathryn Lindskoog, Sleuthing C. S. Lewis: More Light in the Shadowlands (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2001)
Warning! Some readers have found this review "profane or spurious". Proceed at your own intellectual risk!
For readers interested in the works of, rather than controversies about, C. S. Lewis, this book has an interesting half chapter, describing a 5,300 word novel fragment that Lewis wrote in 1927. Judging from Mrs. Lindskoog’s summary, it is rather reminiscent of a different Lewis, with echoes of Babbitt and Elmer Gantry. (Lots of young men in the 1920's were doubtless writing similarly, whether or not they had ever read Sinclair Lewis.) The other 11½ chapters and 13 appendices of Sleuthing C. S. Lewis consist of a sustained and often venomous attack on the controllers of the Lewis literary estate. The primary villain is Walter Hooper, Lewis’s de facto literary executor, whose skullduggery has allegedly been facilitated by Owen Barfield, Douglas Gresham, the trustees of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College and a bevy of lesser knaves and fools.
The author has legitimate complaints: Hooper has been remiss about establishing a reliable text of Lewis’s poems, has dawdled over finishing a complete edition of the letters and has frequently exaggerated the length and depth of his acquaintance with Lewis. Some of the fund raising carried out in ostensible furtherance of Lewis’ legacy may be poorly managed or worse. A lot of commentary about Lewis is amateurish and inaccurate. Some admirers do tend toward what the poet John Betjeman called “the St. C. S. Lewis Church”.
But valid points are lost or diluted in a discourse that is rambling, digressive and, above all, gossip-ridden. The gossip, attributed only to “rumor”, is frequently nasty. The book claims that Hooper left two teaching jobs “under a cloud”, builds on third-hand information to speculate that he is blackmailing Douglas Gresham and makes repeated insinuations about his sexuality. Others who have crossed pens with the author are treated no better. She goes so far as to allege that a peripheral enemy “intentionally precipitated the massacre of over 900 people” at Jonestown in 1978. At the same time, she complains repeatedly that she herself is the target of unsubstantiated smears by those whom she criticizes.
Mrs. Lindskoog’s central allegation is that Walter Hooper forged many of the works published posthumously under Lewis’s name, most notably The Dark Tower, an unfinished sequel to Out of the Silent Planet, and two short stories, “The Man Born Blind” and “Forms of Things Unknown”. A brief review cannot consider those charges comprehensively, but cautious readers should bear a few points in mind:
1. Hooper claims to have rescued many of the posthumous works from a bonfire of old papers set by Warren Lewis in January 1964, two months after his brother’s death. Sleuthing C. S. Lewis devotes many pages to dissecting the bonfire story and succeeds in showing that it does not stand up under cross-questioning. Hooper seems, at the very least, to have overdramatized the account and to have either misremembered or falsified key details. Nevertheless, Mrs. Lindskoog concedes that a number of the “bonfire works” are genuine Lewis (four juvenile “Boxen” stories, part of one chapter of The Dark Tower, 16 lines of the poem “Finchley Avenue”). If some of the “rescued” materials are authentic, no harping on whether Hooper lied about how he acquired them can prove that others in the same batch, which includes the rest of The Dark Tower and the two disputed short stories, are spurious.
2. Mrs. Lindskoog leans heavily on three computer analyses to demonstrate that The Dark Tower is not in Lewis’s style. Two were performed by amateurs, one using a very old program that is not, so far as I can tell, taken seriously in attribution studies, the other trying out a methodology of his own devising. The third analysis is more substantial, employing the “cusum” (or “QSUM”) program developed by the biblical scholar A. Q. Morton. The sample examined was, however, very limited: Three passages of The Dark Tower, of about 25 sentences each, were compared to four of similar length from other Lewis works. That is adequate for Morton, who believes that the characteristics important to his program (sentence length and the frequency of either very short words or words beginning with a vowel) are absolutely constant, not only over brief passages but throughout an author’s lifetime, across genres and even across speech, poetry and prose. Linguistic scholars have been skeptical, and independent efforts to validate Morton’s technique have failed. The linguist Pieter de Haan, reviewing a book by one of Morton’s acolytes, calls the cusum method “completely unreliable” (5 Forensic Linguistics 69 (1998)). Mrs. Lindskoog ignores all such criticism and gives the impression that cusum is a widely accepted, mainstream tool.
Interestingly, the cusum test could not distinguish one of the three Dark Tower excerpts (the opening of Chapter 7) from the four bits of undisputed Lewis. Mrs. Lindskoog therefore hypothesizes that Hooper did uncover an authentic fragment, then forged 50-some manuscript pages leading up to it.
3. Much of Mrs. Lindskoog’s case against The Dark Tower rests on the supposed pervasiveness of sexual, particularly homoerotic, undertones. Her examples show only that anyone who tries hard enough can find double entendres anywhere. In some instances, she doesn’t seem to know the text very well. The unpleasant Professor Knellie is portrayed not as a flagrant homosexual but as a withered, turn-of-the-century esthete. The Othertime inhabitants who try to grow stings are not retired stingingmen seeking to renew their powers but drones who never had stings. The descriptions of the slaves laboring on the Dark Tower are cursory and devoid of obvious erotic interest.
4. She also claims that the novel’s ideas and literary quality are un-Lewisan, but her judgement seems clouded by preconceived opinions. It is worth noting that a Lewis essay that she identifies as a forgery on comparable ideological and literary grounds (“Modern Man and His Categories of Thought”) has been proved genuine: The World Council of Churches - probably not a Hooper front group - has a copy that it received from Lewis in 1946. (See “Holy War in the Shadowlands”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/20/01.) If our detective got that essay wrong, how acute is her ability to distinguish true Lewis from false?
5. By Mrs. Lindskoog’s own count, seven separate handwriting analyses have confirmed that the Dark Tower manuscript is in Lewis’s hand. Her response is to abuse the examiners and praise Hooper’s skill as a forger. It is possible, of course, that every examination so far has been incompetently handled and that Hooper has a rare knack for imitating handwriting, but the probability does not seem especially high.
As a polemic, “Sleuthing C. S. Lewis” has much of the gossipy appeal of The New York Post’s “Page Six”, but its intellectual substance is just as dubious as that feature’s. There is no reason to doubt the author’s zeal and good intentions, much reason to question where they have led her.
Addendum: Though Amazon.com didn't like my review, it has since published one quite as negative, which points out that in 1981, prior to her discovery that Walter Hooper is a spawn of Satan, Mrs. Lindskoog had quite a different view of the literary merits of The Dark Tower. At that time she wrote, “Lewis unfortunately got only halfway through [The Dark Tower] . . . No one knows why [he] gave up on this innovative story.”
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