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Literary Sleuth : Scholar Kathryn Lindskoog of Orange, author of 'Fakes, Frauds and Other Malarkey,' opened a can of worms by claiming a C.S. Lewis hoax.

September 01, 1993|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After the author's death in 1963, Lindskoog maintained a long correspondence with Walter Hooper, the young American acquaintance of Lewis' who had been picked to manage his literary estate. Hooper even authored the introduction to one of her books on Lewis.

And it is Hooper she has since come to regard as the perpetrator of a huge hoax on Lewis' readers.

Her book and the many evidences and rebuttals that have come in its wake make for a huge can of worms in which one could squish around for weeks. For the basics, Lindskoog's book claims that Hooper has greatly misrepresented how long and how well he knew Lewis; that his dramatic tale of rescuing Lewis' manuscripts from a bonfire has been refuted by witnesses and is also circumstantially suspect; that certain of the posthumously issued "bonfire" writings, notably the fragmentary novel "The Dark Tower," are fabrications, and that Hooper has at times distorted particulars of Lewis' life and works.

Given the way the Lewis community has responded to her book, one would think that Lindskoog had been guilty of letting flies into heaven. The book raises questions that would be ugly in any circumstances, but these cast a shadow on the legacy of an author whose books--the most popular of any Christian author of this century, selling 1.5 million copies a year--are cherished for their spirituality and rigorous regard for truth.

Whether Lindskoog's claims are valid, some Lewis followers resent that they have been raised at all.

At times the exchanges seem less like a scholarly debate than a playground brawl. In his 1990 biography of Lewis, noted British author A.N. Wilson described "The C.S. Lewis Hoax" as "one of the most vitriolic personal attacks on a fellow-scholar, Walter Hooper, that I have ever read in print." He goes on to portray Lindskoog as a nut case whom he quotes as regarding herself to be "mentally married" to Lewis, a statement she denies making. She, in turn, says Wilson's scholarship is "absolutely undependable."

Wilson's book holds one concession, stating: "Hooper does, as Lindskoog asserts, like people to believe that he knew Lewis much better and much longer than was really the case."

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Hooper has fostered the impression that he had worked with Lewis for years. He has added some 230 introductory pages to Lewis books, often peppered with warm anecdotes of their time together. He has recounted overhearing the childless Lewis tell his housekeeper that he, Hooper, was "the son I should have had." (Lindskoog says the housekeeper has told her that that conversation never took place).

Lewis experts have generally accepted that Hooper misspoke himself at times, but many feel that his decades of effort on behalf of Lewis' memory place him above reproach.

"For me that proves maybe that he was vain . It doesn't necessarily mean that he went on and did all this hoaxing," says Jim Prophero of San Juan Capistrano, editor of the Lamppost, the journal of the Southern California C.S. Lewis Society. "Why would Hooper want to do that? There's so much true material he's sitting atop that it would be like offering ice cream to an Eskimo, and he'd have everything to lose by it."

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Hooper has avoided involvement in the fray. According to his friend M.J. Logsdon, who publishes the Salinas Valley C.S. Lewis Newsletter, Hooper won't respond to Lindskoog's charges because they are considered beneath the dignity of the Lewis estate. (A call to Hooper in Oxford confirmed this. Other than saying the charges are untrue, he declined to discuss them.)

Logsdon does routinely respond though, and his newsletter is in large part filled by heated exchanges with Lindskoog.

Logsdon says: "We've had on ongoing debate, and I think she's totally off-base in her allegations of forgery. I think much of it is just Walter-bashing. We take some pretty good shots at each other, but it's all in fun. I would definitely say we're friendly adversaries."

Lindskoog, in turn, appreciates Logsdon's willingness to debate her. Most other publications ignore her. She says it's because they regard her as an anathema. Prophero says it's more likely that the journals don't want to get mired in endless argument.

Both sides have trotted out experts--with computerized writing analysis and the like--with proofs of their arguments, and both sides have questioned the credentials and impartiality of those experts. No one, including Lindskoog, has any great hopes of the questions being resolved in this lifetime.

But she goes on researching, firing off letters into the journalistic void and publishing her own newsletter, the Lewis Legacy.

As comic relief, and perhaps a bit of perspective, she began including tales of other hoaxes in her newsletter. After she'd done around 10 she recognized that they'd make a good book, and she created "Fakes, Frauds and Other Malarkey." The volume features a slyly winking Mona Lisa on the cover.

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