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July 8th, 2009
Texas State prof finds lost Lewis manuscript

STAFF REPORT

Texas State Communication Professor Steven Beebe recently discovered a lost C.S. Lewis manuscript fragment in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.

The manuscript was the start of what might have been a collaborative effort between Lewis, author of the Narnia Chronicles, and J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. According to a letter written by Tolkien to his son Christopher in 1944, he had planned to write a book with Lewis called Language and Human Nature.

Beebe uncovered the beginnings of that book, though no evidence exists that Tolkien ever started the project.

“What is exciting is that the manuscript includes some of Lewis’s best and most precise statements about the nature of language and meaning,” Beebe said. “Both Lewis and Tolkien wrote separately about language, communication, and meaning, but they published nothing collaboratively.”

Beebe found the fragment in a small notebook Lewis used. In the notebook were early fragments of The Magician’s Nephew and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, along with several unpublished thoughts and ideas. Beebe discovered the fragment after turning the notebook upside down and reading from back to front.

“I was so surprised to find Lewis writing about language and meaning, using examples and illustrations not found in any of his published work,” Beebe said. “I knew I had discovered something interesting. But at the time, I didn’t know I had found something important.”

Beebe determined it was the start of the lost book after several years of additional research into Toliken and Lewis. In the manuscript, Lewis consistently refers to multiple authors instead of writing in the singular.

The Lewis estate must give its permission for the work to be published. However, Beebe is confident permission will be given and the manuscript will add new insight about Lewis’s ideas about the nature of language.

The article Beebe wrote documenting his discovery, “Language and Human Nature Manuscript Fragment Found: C. S. Lewis On Language and Meaning,” will be published next year in the journal Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review. The journal publishes scholarship that focuses on the work of seven prominent Twentieth Century British authors, including both Lewis and Tolkien.

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