Sunday, January 06, 2008

from Lewis

I'm reading C.S. Lewis's Surprised by Joy right now. I like it. I especially like this passage about his father. I find it particularly humorous.

At the same time he [my father] had - when seated in his own armchair after a heavy midday dinner on an August afternoon with all the windows shut - more power of confusing an issue or taking up a fact wrongly than any man I have ever known. As a result it was impossible to drive into his head any of the realities of our school life, after which (nevertheless) he repeatedly inquired. The first and simplest barrier to communication was that, having earnestly asked, he did not "stay for an answer" or forgot it the moment it was uttered. Some facts must have been asked for and told him, on a moderate computation, once a week, and were received by him each time as perfect novelties. But this was the simplest barrier. Far more often he retained something, but something very unlike what you had said. His mind so bubbled over with humor, sentiment, and indignation that, long before he had understood or ever listened to your words, some accidental hint had sent his imagination to work, and he had produced his own version of the facts, and believed that he was getting it from you. As he invariably got proper names wrong (no name seemed to him less probable than another) his textus receptus was often almost unrecognizable. Tell him that a boy called Churchwood had caught a field mouse and kept it as a pet, and a year, or ten years later, he would ask you, "Did you ever hear what became of poor Chickweed who was so afraid of the rats?" For his own version, once adopted, was indelible, and attempts to correct it only produced an incredulous "Hm! Well, that's not the story you used to tell."

...And besides all these confusions, there were the sheer non sequiturs when the ground seemed to open at one's feet. "Did Shakespeare spell his name with an e at the end?"asked my brother. "I believe," said I - but my father interrupted: "I very much doubt if he used the Italian calligraphy at all." A certain church in Belfast has both a Green inscription over the door and a curious tower. "That church is a great landmark," said I, "I can pick it out from all sorts of places - even from the top of Cave Hill." "Such nonsense," said my father, "how could you make out Greek letters three or four miles away?"

One conversation, held several years later, may be recorded as a specimen of these continual cross-purposes. My brother had been speaking of a reunion after dinner for the officers of the Nth Division which he had lately attended. "I supposed your friend Collins was there," said my father.

B. Collins? Oh no. He wasn't in the Nth, you know.
F. (After a pause.) Did these fellows not like Collins then?
B. I don't quite understand. What fellows?
F. The Johnnies that got up the dinner.
B. Oh no, not at all. It was nothing to do with liking or not liking. You see, it was a purely Divisional affair. There'd be no question of asking anyone who hadn't been in the Nth.
F. (After a long pause.) Hm! Well, I'm sure poor Collins was very much hurt.

There are situations in which the very genius of Filial Piety would find it difficult not to let some sign of impatience escape him.

(from Chapter 8 "Release")


Carol said...

You should read Alan Jacob's The Narnian about C.S. Lewis. It's fascinating - not just about facts of his life but about his faith and imagination and so on. Jacobs writes a fair bit about his relationship with his Father. It's possible that Lewis was less charitable than called for when he wrote about his father in Surprised by Joy.
Anyway, I'm just finishing the book and it's well written and very interesting. Read it.

vaisamar said...

I cam across you post after searching a phrase from Lewis's autobiography, which I have translated recently into Romanian. A splendid book. I posted the cover on my blog