…but unfortunately it’s not really that interesting: Lewis’ translation of Virgil’s “The Aeneid.” What is interesting is that the text was allegedly pulled out of a bonfire (along with crates filled with other Lewisian literature) by his secretary Walter Hooper, and fifty years later finally discovered after Hooper started “sifting through the material,” according to the book’s publisher. The Lost Aeneid is coming out next month.
The Independent broke the story last week, and included the fascinating story of how Hooper supposedly came to the work after Lewis’ death:
Another fragment of Lewis’s writing which was published after being thought lost was his abandoned novel The Dark Tower. In the book’s introduction, Hooper describes how Lewis’s brother, Major Warren Lewis, began clearing out The Kilns, Lewis’s former home, “preparatory to moving to a smaller house”.
“Major Lewis, after setting aside those papers which had special significance for him, began disposing of the others,” wrote Hooper. “Thus it was that a great many things which I was never able to identify found their way on to a bonfire which burned steadily for three days.”
According to Hooper, Lewis’s gardener, Fred Paxford, who was instructed to burn the author’s manuscripts, knew that Hooper had “the highest regard for anything in the master’s hand”. The gardener was instructed to burn a number of notebooks, but managed to convince Major Lewis to delay until Hooper could see them.
“By what seems more than coincidence, I appeared at The Kilns that very day and learned that unless I carried the papers away with me that afternoon they would indeed be destroyed,” Hooper wrote. “There were so many that it took all my strength and energy to carry them back to Keble College.” For the past 46 years, Hooper has spent his time sifting through the saved material before it is transported to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Four years ago, he realised that fragments of the famous Aeneid translation, referred to by Tolkien in his own letters, had escaped his attention. Since then he has worked with Reyes to piece together the translation, which exists in fragments spread across several notebooks.
I’m sure Hooper is a well-intended guy, but one has to wonder about some of this. Remember—Hooper is the trustee of Lewis’ literary estate, so he’ll get royalties when the books sell. It seems awfully convenient (and potentially financially rewarding) that Hooper would discover a lost C.S. Lewis manuscript fifty years after the famous author died. How many “lost novels” does Hooper have in those wooden crates?
To be sure, it seems extremely unlikely that this book is a fake, considering (1) that the book is classic literature and isn’t exactly as compelling as, say, an eighth Narnia book would be, and (2) that Lewis apparently read the manuscript to the Inklings during its development. So it’s probably legit.
On the other hand, Hooper has been accused of forging that abandoned novel The Dark Tower, which does not have the historical testimony as the Aeneid translation. He is an ordained clergyman so this conspiracy theory is starting to seem far-fetched. Still…what do you think?