I've finished watching Eric Metaxas interview Walter Hooper about C.S. Lewis. It's a three part interview lasting a little over three hours total.
My (ironically) meandering thoughts:
1. Hooper comes across as an absolute gentleman. His humility shines through as well. He seems genuinely honored and grateful for being able to do so much for Lewis' legacy.
And I never realized, but it's indeed possible we might not have a lot of Lewis' works today had it not been for Hooper. I'm glad Metaxas highlighted this point throughout the interview. Although Metaxas said this many, many times throughout the interview (no doubt Metaxas is genuinely appreciative of Hooper and wanted others to share in his appreciation) so it seemed a bit like overkill.
2. I think the best parts of the interview were Hooper sharing his own firsthand anecdotes about Lewis. Things Lewis said to him, did for him, etc. It gives us a flavor of Lewis the person.
Also, there were some interesting little factoids. Such as the possibility that Lewis had written a part two to his Surprised by Joy but that it was likely burned in a bonfire. Another interesting piece of trivia was that at one point Hooper went through some pornographic magazines in search of a Lewis essay (which he never did find).
3. Metaxas was his usual witty self. I usually appreciate Metaxas' humor and generally like his interviewing style too.
4. However, in this case, I think Metaxas being Metaxas wasn't always so wonderful. For example, Metaxas would interrupt Hooper to make a funny quip or perhaps in search of banter, but Hooper isn't the type to banter back and forth, and so it seemed to derail Hooper a bit before he got back on track.
Also, Metaxas would often speak longer than necessary to ask a question. A few times Metaxas interrupted Hooper just to summarize out loud what Hooper had just said, which everyone already heard, but perhaps Metaxas needed to clarify something in his own mind, which he did out loud. This in turn meant Metaxas would keep speaking in what seemed to be an attempt to find a question to ask Hooper. My guess is Metaxas felt if he's going to interrupt Hoopoer, then he should ask him a question. But the problem was he had to search for a question to ask Hooper. (My own paragraph describing this is almost as long-winded!)
To be fair, some of this may not have been Metaxas, per se, but instead may have been due to Hooper's own diffident personality.
5. Overall, though, I felt the interview was largely a missed opportunity. Actually, many missed opportunities.
If I understood him correctly, Metaxas had about a year to prepare for this three hour interview with Hooper. And Metaxas kept saying how central this interview was to Socrates in the City, and in fact the main reason they did Socrates in the City in Oxford, England was to interview Hooper. Metaxas said it was a "dream" come true for him to interview Hooper.
If so, then I'm surprised the interview wasn't better. It was decent, but it fell far short of the high hopes Metaxas seemed to have had for the interview at its beginning.
6. For one thing, the interview wasn't very well focused. It basically seemed like Metaxas was winging it. Asking questions as they came to mind as Hooper talked about Lewis. For the audience it's not substantially different than eavesdropping on a conversation between a couple of friends at a bar or pub about a third (famous/celebrity) friend.
7. By contrast, I would've thought there are different possibilities for how to arrange or organize an interview. An interview could have been structured around Lewis' relationships and friendships such as with Hooper himself, Lewis' brother Warnie Lewis, Joy Davidman, Tolkien, the other Inklings (e.g. Barfield, Dyson), Charles Williams, and so on.
There could've been questions about Lewis' relationship with Mrs. Moore, his gardener (who was the inspiration for Puddleglum), etc.
It could've also included Lewis taking kids into his home (the Kilns) during the London bombings in WW2 including June Flewett who inspired Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia.
They could've talked about Lewis' relationship to his atheist tutor, William Kirkpatrick aka the Great Knock, his poor relationship with his father, his mother's untimely death.
They could've explored Lewis on the battlefield in WW1, and how that affected him, such as when he lost his friend Paddy Moore, yet promised to take care of his mother, Mrs. Moore, who lived with Lewis until her death (if I recall).
But very little of this was explored in much depth except for Hooper's anecdotes about Lewis, Warnie Lewis, and a couple of mentions (nothing in any sort of depth) about some of the Inklings including Tolkien. There was a bit about the gardener which was very good though.
8. If conversing about all these relationships would've been too much to do, another focus could've been around Lewis' literary friends and correspondences (e.g. Eliot, Sayers, Tolkien). Like how Lewis started out hating Eliot's poetry including penning a scathing review, how they met at the New English Bible translation committee and became friends, how Eliot published some of Lewis' writings, etc. But this didn't happen in the interview.
9. Another possibility could've been structuring the interview around Lewis' fictional and/or non-fictional works. Perhaps Metaxas could've gone chronologically through Lewis' literary ouevre and asked Hooper about each of these. They did have 3 hours after all.
Or at least asked about the major works.
Metaxas did ask Hooper about some of Lewis' books such as the Space trilogy (especially Perelandra), The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, and a quick mention of The Great Divorce and Miracles. Maybe a few others I'm forgetting.
But it seemed to me only Perelandra and Screwtape were explored in any depth, though even still there wasn't much depth explored.
10. Yet another possibility could've been structuring the interview around how to read and write well. Lewis had a lot of writings about stories, letters to children offering them advice about how to write, An Experiment in Criticism is about being a good reader and writer, and so on.
11. Or on how Lewis evolved as a writer. Say a children's writer for instance. Say from how Lewis (and his brother Warnie) created the fictional world of Boxen as children, their love for the Beatrix Potter stories, E. Nesbit's The Railway Children series, The Wind in the Willows, many others.
This in turn could've led to an exploration of Lewis' apologetics of the imagination. Apologetics through storytelling.
Alas! This didn't transpire either.
12. Or they could've discussed Lewis' literary influences in general (e.g. Chesterton, MacDonald).
As an aside, I wonder if Hooper could've talked about Lewis and Tolkien's wager for one of them to write a space adventure while the other wrote a time adventure, and the Space trilogy and the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings being possible fulfillments of these, respectively.
13. Or perhaps structuring the interview around what Metaxas knows best. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised Metaxas didn't talk more about Lewis' thoughts and writings against totalitarianism, statism, the culture wars, and the like (e.g. such as in The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength). That's somewhat ironic in light of the fact that Metaxas himself published a book on Bonhoeffer and a more recent book on the foundations of our American republic i.e. If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. Aren't these in part about how Christians can live in times of persecution by increasingly anti-Christian secular states?
Related, wasn't Lewis himself persecuted to some degree by many faculty members at Oxford for his Christian beliefs and publications? Isn't that the main reason Lewis reluctantly moved to Cambridge in his latter years (after Lewis kept getting passed over for promotions at Oxford; fortunately for Lewis Cambridge created a new chair and professorship for Lewis)?
14. Metaxas also wrote a book titled Miracles, which he has elsewhere said he "stole" the title from Lewis. Although Metaxas confessed he found Lewis' Miracles difficult to understand. That's fair enough, because neither Metaxas nor Hooper are philosophers as far as I'm aware, and Lewis' Miracles is probably less known for what it says about miracles and more known for proposing the argument from reason (later picked up by philosophers such as Reppert and Plantinga). Nevertheless it might've been nice to hear if Hooper might have had any interesting anecdotes about Lewis and Anscombe's debate.
In addition, and again given Metaxas published a book on Miracles, I was surprised Metaxas didn't ask Hooper about Joy Davidman's seemingly miraculous healing after a prayer and anointing by an Anglican priest named Peter Bide, who reputedly had a gift of healing.
15. Another perhaps interesting way to structure the interview might've been around themes with each theme introduced by a Lewis quotation (since Lewis is eminently quotable). Such as the theme of tyranny creeping into the Western secular state with "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive" or "Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil".
Or the theme of friendship with "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art...It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival".
Or the theme of Christian apologetics with "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else".
Or the theme of suffering, from The Problem of Pain to A Grief Observed, with "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world:.
And so on.
16. I think Metaxas hyperfocused on Lewis' knack for words. Like Lewis' invention of names for his characters in Narnia (e.g. Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, Reepicheep), Lewis' clever turns of phrases, etc. Don't get me wrong, it was fascinating at points, but I think Metaxas brought it up intermittently throughout the 3 hour interview when in my opinion he would've been better off had he simply done it once and in-depth and not kept coming back to it.
Also, I wonder why Metaxas didn't ask Hooper about Lewis' book Studies in Words at this point.
17. I, for one, would've liked to have heard Hooper talk about Lewis' academic accomplishments. Most people already know about Lewis as a popular author (e.g. Narnia, Screwtape). Many people know about Lewis' apologetics. But I would suppose far fewer know about Lewis' academic accomplishments (e.g. The Allegory in Love, which I've heard is still used in some college or university courses; the OHEL book i.e. Poetry and Prose in the 16th Century was briefly mentioned in passing and no more, I think).
18. It might've been interesting to hear Hooper talk about Lewis and Sehnsucht, but that didn't come up either.
19. Or to hear if Hooper would know if Lewis might have had any opinions about turning his Narnia books into movies. I seem to recall Lewis watching and enjoying the original King Kong movie, but I might be thinking of another person in that period.
20. The bit about Hooper talking about why he thinks Lewis would've converted to Catholicism was interesting. I wished Metaxas had pressed him a bit more, because the main reason Hooper gave for Lewis converting to Catholicism seemed to be the liberalization of the Church of England; however, the Catholic church has liberalized as well, whereas there are some Anglican churches which have actually become more conservative. Perhaps a more interesting question would have been whether Lewis would've been drawn to those more conservative sections of the Anglican church, perhaps even evangelical, had he lived longer?
Of course, I'm aware Lewis never cared to identify as an evangelical, but he likewise is on record for never having cared to identify as a Catholic.
21. I'm sure all this sounds like I'm simply being an armchair interviewer. And that's true to an extent.
At the same time, Metaxas had a considerable amount of time to prepare for this interview (a year?), the interview itself was a very long 3 hour interview, and Metaxas himself voiced several times the import of the Hooper interview. And it's not as if Hooper is likely to be around much longer since he's already in his mid-80s, I believe.
Anyway, I'm just surprised it wasn't a better organized interview, but rather seemed more like it mostly improvised.
And I'm surprised so much which Hooper could've been asked was left out entirely.
All in all, it was a decent interview, but it could've been so much better. There was far more promise than realized. (Not unlike this post!)