Monday, February 05, 2007

Is the Dark Tower debate settled?


Jason Pratt said...

I wouldn't call it "settled" exactly.

(Note: Though I've never met Harry Poe, he works not far from me, about 40 miles south of here, at Union University in Jackson, TN. We know several of the same professors, some of whom are involved in my church. My point is to reassure any mutual acquaintences who may happen to read this, that this is not a critique of Prof. Poe, per se.)

I've been reading through Prof. Poe's collection of essays and reminiscences about Lewis, and I have seen the remark made by Alastair Fowler in his essay. At the time, what I found missing was any mention of specific _content_. This is important, because Kathryn allowed that the final portion of the work, which for all practical purposes reboots the story over again from scratch, could easily have been written by Lewis.

I was thinking of writing Professor Poe and asking him if he could contact Prof. Fowler about what kind of content he remembered; because everything Prof. Fowler had said in his remarks could _very_ easily be accounted for by the existence of that final portion. However, Prof. Poe's report in the February 2nd article for Christianity Today (online), supplies an important content detail: that of the Stinging Man. At least, Prof. Alastair remembered a Stinging Man being mentioned.

This is a case where we really need to know how much detail he does remember. A lack of remembered detail on his part wouldn't necessarily entail a lack of composed detail on Lewis' part (as Kathryn herself would have readily pointed out); but positive testimony as to content on his part would strongly argue for composed content on Lewis' part.

Meanwhile, there are other issues also needing resolution. Professor Poe may have thought that a lack of any verifiable mention of DT material by Lewis' acquaintences to be "her strongest argument, and the one upon which her other allegations dependend"; but I never thought this to be an especially strong part of Kathryn's argument myself, and Kathryn herself attached very little weight to it--for good reason, as it is simply an argument from silence. Anyone reading the second or third of Kathryn's books attacking the Lewis Estate (I don't have her first book, so I cannot testify myself to its contents) will find numerous other issues not even addressed by Professor Poe in his article.

What Kathryn herself ranked as the chief problem, and to which she devoted the majority of her discussions, was suspicious provenance for the material. Put bluntly, she argued that Walter Hooper's account for the existence of the material didn't add up. Or accounts, rather--he has given two very different published accounts of how the material was found. The bonfire is the official story now, but Hooper first reported that he had found it tucked behind the wood in Lewis' writing cabinet. Some of the details of his bonfire story were strongly rebutted by the gardner, too.

This provenance problem (which has many more details than what I've recounted above) would still be a difficult problem (so far as I myself have ever heard anyway), even if Alastair Fowler testified to recalling numerous positive details about the story. For example, not only hearing about a Stinging Man but also about the Stinging Man stinging half-naked mindless young handsome male slaves in their rear; or about the Stinging Man behaving in ways with the protagonist that just happen to mirror key scenes in Madeleine L'Engle's _A Wrinkle in Time_. (Notably, Ms. L'Engle herself was highly distressed when the DT material was finally released in 1977, as she worried people would charge _her_ with plagiarism!) Independently designed scene parallels _can_ happen, as I myself am aware of--one very important scene in my forthcoming novel _Cry of Justice_ ended up featuring some necessary parallels to a throwaway joke scene used in the Disney movie _The Emperor's New Groove_, for example. But still, Professor Fowler could perhaps provide testimony to demonstrate this supposedly independent development.

Even then, though, the provenance record actually provided by Walter Hooper would still look suspicious; and would need resolution.

Jason Pratt

Tim said...

I think the most interesting thing about this whole debate is that the use of statistical and literary analysis to "prove" that author A didn't write book B has once again come a cropper. Now, where have I seen such methods used before ... ?

Jason Pratt said...

The stat analysis for Pauline epistles indicates that the same person probably didn't write all of them, which is basically what we knew already from internal claims in the epistles themselves (Paul used scribes instead of writing things himself.) That being said, I agree, I've never thought _very_ highly of the stat analysis method myself, since I know for a fact that I can write very differently (in that regard) on the same topic, even between two topics where I write similarly. _Without_ different scribes. {g}

But the stat analysis, though I think Kathryn laid too much emphasis on it, isn't the main thing in her argument. Nor is the literary analysis.