Adam’s Blog

That’s my thing, keepin’ the faith, baby. –Joe Friday

Answers in the Dark Tower Mystery

Posted by Adam Graham on February 2, 2007

Christianity Today has a fascinating piece on a C.S. Lewis story long thought to be a forgery may in fact be genuine. The controversey to a large degree rested on a method that has called many things into question:

. In this edition, she reported on a new study by the Rev. A. Q. Morton, which employed cusum (cumulative sum) statistical analysis of the first 23 sentences of chapter one of The Dark Tower, the first 24 sentences of chapter four, and the first 25 sentences of chapter seven, comparing them with similar passages from Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength. This type of style analysis has been used to prove that Shakespeare did not write his plays, that Paul did not write some epistles attributed to him, and that Jesus did not speak some sayings attributed to him. It assumes that a person’s use of language remains constant over one’s lifetime and in all situations. Morton concluded that Lewis could not have written chapters one and four, but that he did write chapter seven. Therefore, The Dark Tower was “a composite work.”

Then a 2003 essay by someone who actually knew Lewis has shredded this whole story:

Enter Alistair Fowler. He has worked for many years as a Renaissance scholar, devoting his life to Milton and Renaissance literature rather than to C. S. Lewis studies—although in 1967, he did edit Lewis’s lecture notes on Spenser and publish them as Spenser’s Images of Life with Cambridge University Press.

In 2003, Fowler wrote an essay for the Yale Review about Lewis as a doctoral supervisor. (I included his article in C. S. Lewis Remembered, a collection of essays by former students of Lewis.) Fowler began studies with Lewis in 1952. In describing how Lewis lectured, read, and supervised, Fowler also discussed how Lewis wrote.

In the Yale Review article, he mentioned that their relationship went to a different level when Lewis discovered that Fowler had writer’s block with a piece of fantasy he was attempting. Lewis helped Fowler through his block and continued to ask how Fowler’s fiction was coming. Fowler then added this about Lewis’s writing habits:

Not that he always wrote without difficulty; sometimes he had to set a project aside for a long period. He showed me several unfinished or abandoned pieces (his notion of supervision included exchanging work in progress); these included “After Ten Years,” The Dark Tower, and Till We Have Faces. Another fragment, a time-travel story, had been aborted after only a few pages.
Lewis told Fowler that getting to another world was a particular problem that had forced him to give up on several stories.

“Lewis certainly talked about TDT [The Dark Tower],” Fowler wrote to me. “He said he had been unable to carry it further. He didn’t say when he had written the fragment. I got the impression that tdt had been meant as a sequel, but I have no idea at what stage in the development of the published trilogy.”

“Like many fantasy writers,” Fowler wrote, “Lewis wasn’t much interested in the question of the literary quality of his writing.”

It is not difficult to imagine how The Dark Tower originally fit into Lewis’s science-fiction corpus. Rather than a fourth novel after That Hideous Strength, it probably began as a sequel to Out of the Silent Planet, with Ransom back on Earth and the space ship destroyed.

This suggests two important things to me. First, as a Christian and traditionalist, it appears we can safely put cusum aside at least as a conclusive tool of evidence.

As a writer, the suggestion is more encouraging is the final note:

Perhaps we too easily idolize an important thinker like Lewis, thinking he never had a bad day, never struggled to write, and never committed a flawed plotline to paper. Fowler’s revelation of Lewis’s struggles to write and his shifting priorities should help us be more realistic in our appreciation of this modern saint.

It’s quite encouraging to me with the large number of unfinished stories I have.

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