The Lefay Fragment and Other Such Stuff

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.

3 thoughts on “The Lefay Fragment and Other Such Stuff

  1. always narnianalways narnian

    Good job, Tenny! It is SUCH an interesting subject, isn’t it!?!? To think of MN having a different story!!!

    1. Tenethia BrandybuckTenethia Post author

      Thanks!
      No kidding, Ann! There’s so much information there to be had, and read and absorbed!
      Why didn’t he finish it?!!
      Somebody should finish it, just for fun. Call it fanfiction or something 😛

  2. Benisse

    My son Aaron got to read a facsimile copy of C.S. Lewis’ notebook containing the LeFay Fragment currently housed at the Wade Center (Wheaton College, Illinois), which focuses on 7 authors in the Inklings’ extended circle. Here is his report 🙂
    blessings, Benisse
    —————————————–
    The Lefay fragments were from one of Lewis’ notebook. They were composed sometime before June 14, 1949, when Lewis read them to Roger Lancelyn Green, and they formed part of a prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (is the Oxford comma correct in the title?). It’s about two chapters (27 handwritten pages) and contains many details that were folded into other books.

    Digory, an orphan, lives with his aunt Gertrude, who “became a schoolteacher so she could bully the pupils, then became a headmistress so she could bully the schoolteachers, [became a district administrator] so she could bully the headmistresses, and then she was appointed minister of something or other in parliament and bullied everbody.” (She became the schoolmistress in Silver chair). NB: I read the manuscript almost exactly a week ago, so my quotations are not verbatim, but as close as I can recall. Fortunately, because Digory’s aunt is always out doing parliamentary things, his life is not so bad. The servant Cook has been a part of the family for years and is nice to him, and although Aunt Gertrude dislikes Cook, she cannot fire her because no one would willingly work for her (I would bet good money that one of the events later in the story, had it been continued, would have been Cook getting fired, right before Digory hits rock bottom). Digory occupies his time, when he’s not in school, with going down to the woods on his Aunt’s property, where Digory talks to the trees and the animals. Oak is his solid and steady best friend, Birch is a mercurial dancer, I don’t recall Elm’s personality, and Pattertwig is a frenetic squirrel.

    Much evidence is given for how carefully Digory hides his unique talent because he’s tired of meeting with disbelief. One day, as he’s sitting on Oak’s shoulders and talking to Pattertwig, he is seen by a girl he’d never seen before. Polly introduces herself (the dialogue is almost word for word as it is in The Magician’s Nephew, minus the bit about crying), and Digory tells a fib to explain what he was doing. Polly wants to build a raft, and persuades Digory to assist her in cutting off one of Oak’s branches for a mast. His desire to be liked is overrides his love for his happy tree friends, and he saws off one of Oak’s branches. (something about the style or the setting makes this whole piece feel more like a Nesbit book, or an Edward Eager book than a Narnia book).

    End Chapter 1.

    Chapter 2 begins with Aunt Gertrude informing Digory that his godmother, Mrs. Lefay, is oming to visit. This surprises Digory as he had never heard of his Godmother. Aunt Gertrude gives a very nice demonstration of the teaching style Lewis critiqued in the experimental school in The Silver Chair. Paraphrasing heavily: “I’ll not tell you what she’s like, because I want you to think for your self,” his aunt said, “but if you observe me carefully, I’m sure you’ll see why I think she’s rude, unmannered, and slovenly.” While waiting for Mrs. Lefay to arrive, Digory discovers that his treespeak is gone. Heartbroken, he comes back inside to await Mrs. Lefay.

    Mrs. Lefay turns out to be the “Fattest and shortest” woman Digory had ever seen (perhaps dwarven?). Her black dress is covered in yellowish dust that she claims is snuff (perhaps a precursor to the dust in The Magician’s Nephew?). She gives a pretty good Mary Poppins impression until Aunt Gertrude leaves, when she then reveals that she knows about Digory’s loss, and hints that there might be redemption. In her words “You [Digory] look exactly what Adam must have looked like, five minutes after he’d been turned out of the Garden of Eden,” (65). (I copied this one down the day of, so I know it’s accurate).

    End Chapter 2, and the fragment.

    Thoughts:
    I don’t think this would have worked as a Narnia story. The plot seems very England-centered at this time, and it may perhaps have worked out as a Magician’s Nephew-style story where they actively hop from world to world, but the opening conflict in the fragments are rooted firmly in England, unlike Polly’s vanishing act in Magician’s. It’s still a nice premise, and I can see it working out like the end of The Horse and his Boy, with Aslan telling everybody what would have happened if they’d done the right thing, but it wouldn’t have made a good Narnia story.

    Sources:
    I got everything from the Wade Center at Wheaton College.
    The history of the Lefay Fragments came from C.S. Lewis: Companion and Guide by Walter Hooper (around page 403, I believe).
    The Lefay Fragments are reproduced in Hooper’s Past Watchful Dragons.
    I read the fragments in a facsimile of C.S. Lewis’ Notebooks, specifically MS-199, pages 41-68.

Comments are closed.