A matter of time: C.S. Lewis's Dark Tower manuscript and composition process

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Date: Spring-Summer 2011
From: Mythlore(Vol. 29, Issue 3-4)
Publisher: Mythopoeic Society
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,228 words

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IF C.S. LEWIS'S RANSOM (OR COSMIC) TRILOGY IS LESS FAMILIAR to readers of the Narnia Chronicles, then the fragmentary novella published after his death entitled The Dark Tower [DT] (1977, ed. Walter Hooper) is virtually unheard-of. Many who have actually read this science-fiction piece find it so bizarre and vulgar that they prefer to let it fade from memory, and some have even doubted whether Lewis could have written something so disturbing and out of character with his other works. What begins in the tale as a theoretical debate among scholars on the possibilities of time travel--a scene somewhat reminiscent of the conversations among Inklings-inspired characters in J.R.R. Tolkien's Notion Club Papers--quickly degenerates as the gathering of men use a device called the chronoscope to observe a series of obscene and inhumane events in another dimension called Othertime. Although the semi-pornographic imagery of the Stingingman has led some readers to suspect DT of being a forgery, several document analysts have examined the original draft and determined that the handwriting is indistinguishable from Lewis's. (1) I too have spent several hours with this manuscript in the Bodleian and agree that the script looks consistent throughout; however, I have not compared it with other samples of Lewis's handwriting, nor have I examined samples of Hooper's. I can only say that this document appears to be the work of a single writer. (2) Due to the inference made by John D. Rateliff from a 1944 letter of J.R.R. Tolkien's (Lost Road 207, 212), and because of other direct statements about this story by witnesses like Mathew and Fowler, one may conclude that Lewis did work on such a story in stages, and that this manuscript contains it. Its lack of polish and its crudity can be explained as the quality one might expect of a rough draft that the author abandoned as not worthy of publication.

The following is a brief report on my examination of the manuscript. This is not an exhaustive bibliographic description, as time limitations did not permit me to record every correction or textual feature, but rather it is a more detailed account of the predominant trends of Lewis's revision throughout the manuscript than has heretofore been available. (3) I limited myself mostly to substantive changes of wording and skipped over the minor spelling or grammar errors. A complete record of its contents will have to await the publication of a critical edition, should the Lewis estate ever permit the release of one. My purpose for now is to provide correctives to some of Rateliff's statements about DT's dating and composition process by elucidating Lewis's large-scale revisions mostly within the second half of the manuscript. (4)

One of the first significant alterations in DT is a detailed phrase on page 4 that was struck out from the Cambridge men's conversation about time travel theory as opposed to the possibility of directly experiencing specific moments in history without having to travel there. Orfieu mentions, as examples, images of Napoleon and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A256864479