C. S. Lewis’ Boswell: Walter Hooper, RIP

I just found out today that Walter Hooper passed away a couple weeks ago. Hooper, for those who do not know, was the literary executor of the C. S. Lewis estate. Hooper edited various works that came out after Lewis passed away in 1963, managed the literary estate, and fought to keep his works in print―and did it all in relative obscurity. He was as responsible as anyone in keeping the interest in the writings of C. S. Lewis alive after his death.

I met Hooper at the C. S. Lewis/G. K. Chesterton Conference at Seattle Pacific University in 1987, where I was giving a paper on Chesterton’s religious thought. Quite a number of Lewis scholars were in attendance, including Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, and Richard Purtill. But Hooper, who had never before really sat down with the C. S. Lewis scholarly community, was the star of the show. Some of the papers that were presented there ended up being published in G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy.

I met Hooper when a group of us at the conference had gone out to dinner one night. I sat across from him and we had a long discussion. When it was time to leave, several of us decided to walk back to the university dorms where we were staying.

There ended up being four of us on the walk back. Along with Hooper, there was a professor of literature from Cal State Riverside, an FBI agent, and me, who at the time was a trust officer at a bank. We got lost on the streets and suburbs of Seattle, and what should have been a thirty minute walk took two and a half hours. 

Hooper was a fairly short man, about five-foot-six, and in a strange way was both somewhat formal and at the same time completely down to earth. As we zigzagged through various neighborhoods he regaled us with story after story. He explained how he had arrived in Seattle from England (where he lived at The Kilns, Lewis’ house) and that he had forgotten his toiletries. I don’t remember the specifics except for a hilarious description of combing his hair with a fork he had found in the street.

It turned out that Hooper—who, though he had grown up in North Carolina and had taught at the University of Kentucky near where I now live, now had a noticeable and dignified British accent—was a big fan of Clint Eastwood. “You like Clint Eastwood?!” I asked.

He furrowed his brow in mock seriousness. “Oh, yyyyyeeesss.” And laughed. He then went on an extended discourse about why Clint Eastwood was deserving of his admiration. He explained that so devoted a fan was he that he had a Dirty Harry poster on the wall at Tthe Kilns. He recalled the time when Edith Tolkien, J. R. R.’s widow, had walked in and, seeing the poster on the wall, had shaken her head and said grimly, “Oh Walter! You really should take that down!”

He also told of Joy Davidman, the American woman Lewis famously married to save her from deportation, only to later fall in love with her.  Far from the character portrayed in two movies (once by Clair Bloom, Davidman’s favorite actress, and then again by Debra Winger), Davidman was not popular with Lewis’ neighbors, largely on account of Davidman’s penchant for shooting their dogs when they came sniffing around The Kilns.

What little time I was able to spend with him, and hearing the wonderful speech he gave at the conference, made me think that he was much like what I had always imagined Lewis himself to be like: serious but joyful, gracious and funny.

I have thought of writing him a hundred times to see if he remembered that night. I had talked with people who had been to The Kilns, who always told of what a gracious and pleasant host he was, and I thought that when I finally got around to visiting England I would stop in and talk to him again.

But time goes by. And you don’t think to do the things you tell yourself you need to do “some day.” And so it is even sadder for me to hear of his death.

Hooper performed a great service, helping to keep the C. S. Lewis flame alive. We know Lewis in a way we could not have had it not been for the work of Walter Hooper. Samuel Johnson had James Boswell to cement his legacy, but such a comparison is, in one respect, ill-fitting, since Boswell, unlike Hooper, himself shared little of the great character of the man whose reputation he helped establish. 

Someone so devoted to the legacy of a great man, and one who did it in such relative obscurity, should surely be credited with some of his greatness here in this world, and will hopefully share some of his Reward in the Next.