Wednesday 9 December 2020

Walter Hooper (the CS Lewis scholar) has died: an appreciation

This year we have seen the death of Christopher Tolkien and Walter Hooper (March 27, 1931 – December 7, 2020) - who were our primary links to those great men JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. 

Christopher Tolkien was, of course, JRR's youngest son; and from early childhood there was a special bond between them. The relationship between Walter Hooper and CS Lewis was very different - they first knew each other by correspondence; but the amount of time they spent together was only a matter of weeks, and too-swiftly terminated by the death of Lewis - before Hooper could take up a job as his secretary. 

What set Hooper apart from other Lewis scholars was his intense and sustained interest in every aspect of Lewis's life. My favourite of the books Hooper edited were Lewis's early diaries (All My Road Before Me), the Companion and Guide, and the three volumes of collected Letters. These all display Hooper's insatiable curiosity.

For example, if Lewis mentioned somebody in his letters, Hooper would not only identify them, and track down some information about them - he would often arrange to visit and speak with them (or, if they had died, with their relatives or friends). 

Hooper is therefore the reason why Lewis's biography is known with a richer and and more detailed context than almost anybody else I have read (perhaps only Ralph Waldo Emerson, among authors I know, has been studied in similar detail; and he had a century's 'start' on Lewis.). To read Hooper's editions of the diaries or letters is therefore an immersive experience: you can really believe you were there!

And this, I presume, is exactly why Hooper spent more than 50 years on his multi-faceted work as a literary executor, editor and introducer; because by doing so he could imaginatively be present all through his hero's life.

We whose lives are shaped by their works; are therefore extremely fortunate that both Lewis and Tolkien, in their different ways, were exceptionally well-served by two younger men who so lovingly curated their legacy. 

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