By Tenethia South
Before C.S. Lewis died, he gave strict orders to his brother Warnie to incinerate a pile of old letters and manuscripts which he had stored away some time before. The story goes that Walter Hooper arrived at the Kilns just in time to save a good bit of Lewis’s writings from making their way onto the fire. In some of the writings we discover The Lefay Fragment, early versions of parts of the Chronicles, a scribbling of some early plot ideas, and several ideas that Lewis eventually used in other books. (1, 2)
Perhaps the largest piece of manuscript from the Chronicles saved was The Lefay Fragment. This was hand-written in a notebook, and appears to be an early draft of The Magician’s Nephew. In it, Digory has a special power to speak with trees and animals, but loses it when he is convinced by Polly to saw off one of a tree’s limbs in order to build a raft. Mrs. Lefay, his godmother, comes for a visit and seems to be sympathetic to his problem. Although we would all probably love to find out if this early Digory ever regained his ability to speak to trees, the fragment ends abruptly when Mrs. Lefay begins to give Digory directions to her home. A photograph of one of the pages of The Lefay Fragment can be found at at the following link to an exhibition held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, in 2013.
Two other writings saved from the fire included early drafts of sections of the Chronicles. These aren’t nearly as new to people as The Lefay Fragment is, but are still neat to read when one considers that they are first drafts. The first is several pages of Eustace’s journal from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, including the storm after the company left the Lone Islands, and the water shortage on board the Dawn Treader. The other paragraph, in which Jill’s flight on Glimfeather is described, was published in The Silver Chair. Both of these drafts were modified only slightly. In Eustace’s journal a few facts were changed to be more believable, and the Silver Chair tid-bit had a slight modification for clarity’s sake.
Besides finding The Lefay Fragment and some early drafts of parts of the Chronicles, Hooper discovered what looks like the initial ideas for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader story. Some of the plotting originally included the Dawn Treader sailing back in time, and only two children sailing instead of three. Also, it is possible these children were not originally meant to be Lucy and Edmund. At least, Lewis did not seem to know who these children were, only that they “somehow” got aboard a ship.
Within the salvaged writings there are many ideas that Lewis ended up using in other places. For instance, the character Pattertwig, found originally in The Lefay Fragment, is used in Prince Caspian. In both writings, Pattertwig offers a nut to another character, and in both writings the other character looks away for the reason that it is rude among squirrels to look to see where a squirrel keeps his hoard. Another character from The Lefay Fragment, Aunt Gertrude, seems to be used later as the head of Experiment House, and the idea of having a dwarf narrating was used in Prince Caspian.
The Lefay Fragment, the early versions of Eustace’s journal and Jill’s flight, the early plot sketch of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and all the mentioned ideas that Lewis eventually used can be found in Past Watchful Dragons by Walter Hooper, which is a book about “how they came to be written, how they can best be enjoyed, and how they may be interpreted.” It can be purchased at Amazon.com and other book stores.
For those readers who are writers, do not simply give up on a draft because it seems poorly written. CS Lewis had to write a lot of drafts and charts and brainstorming, so you are in good company.
1. Walter Hooper (1977). Introduction to The Dark Tower and Other Stories.
2. Walter Hooper (1979). Past Watchful Dragons: The Narnian Chronicles of C.S. Lewis.