Editor's note: The historical fiction pieces in our Namesake series were originally submitted as part of the Namesake Competition at The King's College. As such, they follow certain guidelines used in the competition. One of these requires them to have an annotated bibliography of sources used in the writing of the story. We have reprinted these bibliographies at the end of each piece. This piece received first place in the writing portion of the competition. It was submitted on behalf of the House of C.S. Lewis.
by Fisher Derderian & Spencer Kashmanian
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following correspondence was found in the possession of C.S. Lewis, known as Jack to his friends, following his death. It details Jack’s correspondence with his brother, Warnie, and his wife, Joy. Another set of letters came into our hands that matches according to the dates from a more peculiar duo—the demon Wormwood and his uncle, Screwtape. Their prior experience with Jack—before he converted to Christianity—provoked a special interest in his life from 1960 to 1961, the years surrounding the death of Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman.
June 25, 1960
My Dearest Joy,
I’ve just returned from my visit with you at the nursing home, and already I ache for your presence. The Kilns grow lonelier each day with your absence. Warnie and I try to keep each other distracted throughout the day, and yet no amount of talk, tobacco, or tea can ward off the bleak thought of a future without you. I love you, Joy, and I pray you’ll soon recover and come home to The Kilns. Your dear Douglas will return from school in Wales tomorrow. He misses his mother greatly. I am sure he will want to visit you right away.
Late have I loved you, my Joy! I remember when we first met, after having written each other. The lady I met in the Mitre that day was a brash, witty American—“too coarse for my taste”, Warnie said. You were full of life. What a fool I am to have discovered the true depths of my love for you only when you were on your deathbed the first time. I thank God you recovered. And I have faith that he see through safely this time as well.
Please do return home. Hopefully God will see fit to grant you more time with us.
July 2, 1960
It is with great pleasure I write to inform you of your new assignment. It seems an old patient of ours has had their case reopened by Our Father Below. You may be surprised to hear the name: one Clive Staples Lewis, though he goes by Jack among his friends. Oh yes, yes… that C.S. Lewis. The one who’s written those sappy fairy tales and secondrate drivel in favor of the Enemy. Talking lions and all that rubbish.
First, the facts: Jack’s dear wife is dying, and Jack is grieving. Consequently, our patient is starting to doubt that all things really do work for good in the end. He’s right where we want him. He’s vulnerable. Since you have yet to deal with a patient in this situation, let me give you some advice. The best method forward is to play upon his inexperience. Oh, yes, our patient is well aware that suffering is the lot of the Christian. He knows the Enemy’s Word says, “Blessed are they who mourn.” That’s all very well and good, but it’s abstract and distant. It is “different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”* Our patient is about to discover just how dark his lot can be, and 1 that’s when we’ll strike.
You have to convince him it’s all hopeless—make him think that all joy resided in his Joy. When he loses her, he’ll feel as though he’s lost everything. And that’s when we’ll have him. Happy tempting, my dear nephew.
July 19, 1960
She’s gone, dear brother. She’s left this world, and now it is dark and empty for me. Everything I have ever known—everything I have ever clung to—seems to have been shaken from me.
Where does one turn to? God? Oh, I don’t doubt his existence. But what sort of God takes away a Joy Davidman? What sort of God commands that you seek him and knock—only to slam the door in your face and bolt it shut?
I dreamt the other night of my trip to Greece with Joy only last Spring. We visited places we had read about our whole lives together—the Acropolis in its beauty and grandiosity, and the Grecian hillsides filled with serenity and the music of shepherd’s flutes. The first night at Heraklion we went to a restaurant with dreadful service. My dear Joy flicked her bread crumbs at the musicians and actually hit one! My Joy. How I long to go back to that time. But she is no more.
I can hardly go a day without thinking of her. When someone mentions her name, I burst into tears. “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.” It’s been a week since we’ve lost her and still I am frozen with grief. It’s been a week and still I am lost.
November 12, 1960
It is with mixed sentiments I write you. Your initial work with our patient was laudable. Jack’s attitude and inclinations following the loss of his wife sat quite well with Our Father Below. However, I fear you moved too swiftly and too boldly. The greatest danger with a patient such as Jack is that when he is in his darkest hour, he will decide to entrust himself to the Enemy—that in his hour of greatest need, having nothing else left, he will surrender himself to the Enemy completely. Our patient is in danger of doing just this.
You must be careful. “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” We must keep our patient sluggish, tired, feeling down—not alive to the mysterious workings of the Enemy. We don’t want him to make a leap of faith in the dark, to turn to the Enemy in a moment of desperation. Keep him dwelling on the loss of Joy, not the gift of joy he was given through her by the Enemy. Now is the decisive moment, my nephew.
January 12, 1961
I miss you terribly. Your “absence is like the sky—spread over everything.” It is inescapable and yet, in some strange way, it is also a consolation. My grief is always there—but that for which I grieve is also always there: my memories of you, my love for you. The gift of you is always there, present to my mind. And that cannot be taken away.
Though I have these memories of you, it leaves me wanting the real you. Although I am thankful for the memories, thoughts, and images I have of you, they all pale in comparison to the true Joy I knew. And in understanding this desire for the real you, I’ve come to understand what it is to desire union with our Maker. We have images of Christ, knowledge of Christ, stories of Christ—yet it all grows pale in the glory of the true Christ.
I now realize that even the joy you brought me in this life is but a shadow of the joy that awaits us in the next world. God chose us for one another and brought us together for his own inscrutable purposes. Through you I learned what it is to give myself to another and, through the grief of losing you, to give myself to God. “He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”
Oh Joy, I do not think a day will go by without thinking of you until I die. Yet I am happy to have met you in the Mitre that day, to have married you, and to have enjoyed the time we had together. Through you have I grown and through you have I learned to love. And I will be forever thankful to God for what I learned of Him through you.
Your Loving Husband,
*Although this piece is historical fiction, the authors have chosen to creatively incorporate exact quotes from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed at their discretion. Direct quotes are always within quotation marks.
Hooper, Walter, ed. The Collected Letter of C.S. Lewis, Volume II: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004. Print. Although the time period of this collection does not deal with the time period of the story, this book provided examples of C.S. Lewis’s writing style for letters that he sent.
Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print. A Grief Observed was written as a reflection on the death of Joy Davidman. This book is both a historical and creative source as it gives Lewis’s response to Joy’s death and how he works through it while also providing an approach to his writing.
Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print. The Screwtape Letters provided creative inspiration and style for the letters from Screwtape to Wormwood within the story.
Sayer, George. Jack: C.S. Lewis and His Times. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. Print. This biography was used for dates and stories around Joy’s death and Lewis’s response both leading up to it and after the event. Anecdotes like the one about Joy flicking bread pellets were found here.
Stone, Elaine Murray. C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia. New York: Paulist Press, 2001. Web. This biography was used primarily for stories about Lewis, especially including ones around his response to Joy’s death and interactions with Douglas.
Wilson, A.N. C.S. Lewis: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990. Print. This biography gave stories and dialogue that happened surrounding Joy’s death.