Tuesday 30 October 2018

How fast could CS Lewis read? A guest post from Kevin McCall

Note: This was originally published at Superversive Inklings

It is well known that C.S. Lewis was an extremely fast reader. Richard Ladborough, in his essay “In Cambridge” in the book C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table writes: “It is now common knowledge that his [Lewis’s] memory was prodigious and that he seemed to have read everything.”

 In his essay “Jack on Holiday” in the same book, George Sayer says, “But when the coffee or tea had been cleared away (I think he preferred tea), he liked to settle down to an hour or two of silent reading. He would choose a book from my shelves, usually a novel, and often one that he had read before, for he held the view that the qualities of a good book could not be appreciated at the first reading. … He read very fast and if the book were a humorous one (he pronounced that word with an h) often chucked or laughed aloud.”

In his essay “C.S. Lewis: Supervisor” collected in C.S. Lewis Remembered, Alastair Fowler compares his own reading to Lewis’s: “Reading habits, of course, were different in the fifties; I used then to read ten hours a day. Lewis, who read far faster, read with surer grasp, and read whatever commitments allowed – read even at mealtimes – read prodigiously.” Lewis also completed an English degree at Oxford (with First Class Honours) within one year rather than the typical three years.

Not only was Lewis a fast reader, he also had an extraordinary memory for the details of what he had read. Douglas Gresham writes in his foreward to A Grief Observed “Helen Joy Gresham (née Davidman), the ‘H.’ referred to in this book, was perhaps the only woman whom Jack ever met who was his intellectual equal and also as well-read and widely educated as he was himself. They shared another common factor: they were both possessed of total recall. Jack never forgot anything he had read, and neither did she.”

Alastair Fowler also recalls Lewis’s powerful memory: “The flow of Lewis’s writing and speaking had much to do with this remarkable memory. Memory feats were common enough in Oxford then, especially among classicists. Edgar Lobel the papyrologist and fungiphage, to mention one, modestly denied having Homer by heart – but added, ‘Mind you, if you said a verse I dare say I could give you the next one.’ Lewis could have claimed much the same of Paradise Lost.”

It is natural to ask, how fast could Lewis read? Also, how did Lewis read? Was he an efficient skimmer who knew which words to skip or did he have some nearly superhuman ability to take in huge volumes of text? A letter written to C.S. Lewis’s brother Warren Lewis on May 10, 1921 provides a way to calculate Lewis’s reading speed. Here is the relevant passage: “Which reminds me, did you ever read Daudet’s ‘L’Immortel’? It is a novel about the Academie Francaise: if you like sheer cool premeditated insolence you should order this by the next mail – tho’ perhaps I should warn you that it is only a couple of hours reading, and you may like books that last, on the world’s end.”

Copying the Project Gutenberg English translation of L’Immortel into a word document shows that the book contains 69,265 words. Rounding to 70,000 and dividing by 120 minutes indicates that Lewis read 583 1/3 words per minute (Wpm). If we assume a single-spaced page is approximately 500 words, Lewis could read 70 pages per hour. (Though if Lewis was reading the book in French, his English reading speed is likely faster).

Ronald Carver’s 1985 paper in Reading Research Quarterly, “How good are some of the world’s best readers?” provides some clues to answer the second question. Carver selected 16 readers on the basis of their excellent reading ability: four college students who made high scores on a test of vocabulary and reading comprehension, four accomplished speed readers, four professionals whose jobs required large amounts of reading (“a writer for the New Yorker magazine,” “a copy editor for a major metropolitan newspaper who had been recommended by managing editor as one of the best of the 12 copy editors they employed,” “the former head of a major medical school who had served as editor of a nationally known medical journal,” “a history professor at a major university who also wrote book reviews for newspapers”), and four people who had achieved very high scores on various tests (a member of Mensa who had been successful on the same tests given to the college students, a perfect scorer on the SAT, a perfect scorer on the GRE, and a test taker who had scored above 700 on the GMAT). Carver gave tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary, and intelligence (Raven Advanced Progressive Matrices). Most importantly, Carver tested subjects’ ability to write summaries of various 6,000 word passages and to recall important details from these same passages when given time to read the passage corresponding to reading speeds of 24,000 Wpm, 6,000 Wpm, 1,500 Wpm, and 375 Wpm.

Carver found that while many of the research participants could write good summaries while only spending a short amount of time with the passages, their ability to recall details fell precipitously as time given to read passages decreased. He concluded that none of the readers showed the ability to recall and comprehend details taken from the entire passage above while reading at speeds above 300-600 Wpm. Beyond 600 Wpm, the speed readers were really skimming, not reading.

Carver describes reading and skimming as follows: “What is ordinarily called reading involves an attempt to comprehend the thoughts the author intended to communicate on a sentence-by-sentence basis … When skimming, the individual does not attempt to comprehend the complete thought expressed in each sentence. Instead, the individual is simply trying to extract as much general information as possible about the passage by sampling only isolated words and phrases.”

C.S. Lewis’s calculated reading speed of 583 1/3 Wpm is at the very top of the range described by Carver, suggesting that Lewis really was reading rather than skimming. Lewis’s ability to recall details with great accuracy provides further support for this view. In addition to Lewis’s rapid reading and excellent memory, he also had profound insight into what he had read and skill in describing it. Alastair Fowler wrote: “For he talked like an angel. My idea of how angels might talk derives from Lewis. His prose is brilliant, amusing, intimate, cogent; but his talk was of a superior order. It combined fluent, informal progression with the most articulate syntax, as if, somehow, it was a text remembered – and remembered perfectly”

Since Carver only tested 16 people, it is certainly possible that an extraordinary reader slipped through his selection process. Among individual readers, the best overall performance was achieved perfect scorer on the GRE, called TEST-GRE by Carver. Carver writes, “Of the 16 superior readers tested, TEST-GRE seems easily to qualify as the best reader in terms of being able to comprehend the most while reading the fastest. There is evidence that she or he could read eighth-grade material at around 500 Wpm.” But, TEST-GRE was randomly selected from among over 200,000 people who had made a perfect score within recent years, so this person could just as easily not have been selected. Similarly, there could have been an even better reader with a perfect score on the GRE who was not selected.

Carver also makes an interesting comment on the fourth best overall scorer, a speed reader selected on the basis of a reported ability to read 81,000 words per minute, “From the Raven Test, and from the scores on the two book tests at 1,500 Wpm, it appears that SPEED-81,000 is an exceptionally intelligent person who ordinarily skims at very fast rates. However, there were no data which replicated the 81,000 Wpm reported when she or he completed the speed-reading course given by the Reading Foundation of California.”

Can we find an upper bound on claims of extremely fast reading? In fact, the well-known savant Kim Peek provides such an upper bound. Peek was able to read two pages of a book in 8-10 seconds (one with each eye) and recall every word he had read with nearly perfect accuracy. Peek could thus read 12 pages every minute, which works out to 720 pages per hour, and assuming again that a single-spaced page is approximately 500 words implies that Kim Peek could read 60,000 words per minute.

However, Peek was not actually reading. He was not comprehending the thoughts expressed on each page but memorizing the text contained in the book. He would have scored almost perfectly on Carver’s tests of detail recall but would not have been able to write a good summary. Peek’s reading speed provides reason to be skeptical of claims to read above 720 pages per hour.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Where in Middle Earth would you most like to live?

Having enjoyed last week's 'survey' of Your Favourite Inklings - I thought we might try another. 

Where in Middle Earth would you most like to live? To remind you of the possible choices - here is a map (click to enlarge):

Please explain your choice, and include what time (era) you would have most wanted to inhabit that place.

As usual - I will give my own answer (which, again, you may be able to guess from previous posts on this blog) after a few of yours have come-in...

Thursday 18 October 2018

Who is your favourite Inkling - as a person?

I don't mean who was the best writer or the best person; neither do I mean which Inkling you respect the most... I simply mean which of the Inklings is your favourite person - someone with whom (given appropriate circumstances) you might have developed an affectionate relationship.

And let's include here the extended definition of the group that includes the people who met for conversation and drinks on Tuesday or Monday lunchtimes, at the 'Bird and Baby' or Lamb and Flag pubs; as well as those 'inner ring' who met on Thursday evenings in CSL's rooms to read works in progress.

Which Inkling do you like best as a person cengenial to you? Who of these would you have most liked to spend time with - conversing, eating or drinking, walking-with...?

You don't have to be restricted to a single name - and please explain your reasons. 

For those of you who don't already know my views - I'll give my personal choice later.

'Canonical' Inklings from David Bratman's list (if you want to mention somebody else not mentioned here - Walter Hooper, Roger Lancelyn Green, Dorothy L Sayers... that's fine, but for interest please include your justification):

Barfield, Owen (1898-1997)
Bennett, J. A. W. (1911-1981)
Cecil, Lord David (1902-1986)
Coghill, Nevill (1899-1980)
Dundas-Grant, James (1896-1985)
Dyson, H. V. D. (1896-1975)
Fox, Adam (1883-1977)
Hardie, Colin (1906-1998)
Havard, Robert E. (1901-1985)
Lewis, C. S. (1898-1963)
Lewis, W. H. (1895-1973)
Mathew, Gervase (1905-1976)
McCallum, R. B. (1898-1973)
Stevens, C. E. (1905-1976)
Tolkien, Christopher (1924-
Tolkien, J. R. R. (1892-1973)
Wain, John (1925-1994)
Williams, Charles (1886-1945)
Wrenn, C. L. (1895-1969)

Charles Williams - my evaluation from 2010

I published the following on my main blog on November 4 of 2010 - in other words, before reading the Lindop Biography; and reviewing the post now I am surprised to see how much of William's story I had pieced together from the scattered sources. The Lindop biography didn't, therefore, change the quality of my evaluation so much as solidify it - and thereby intensify it.

At present I find I am not reading CW very often; and have pretty much set aside the theology - although I continue to re-read Place of the Lion with strong appreciation. 

But I still feel there is some more to learn, and look at the CW shelf from time to time, with a nagging sense of unfinished business...


Charles Williams (1886-1945) was a strange man.

Great friend of C.S. Lewis and the Oxford Inklings circle at the end of his life, he inspires very divergent responses.

To Lewis, and TS Eliot, he was a man of advanced spirituality, and apparent holiness. His 'theological' writings and novels have a very strong following (including, for what it is worth, the current Archbishop of Canterbury - who is President of the Charles Williams society - and a scholar of C.W's works. This at least means that C.W. really is intelligent and subtle - because the Archbish can certainly judge that kind of thing).

On the other had there are those who find C.W. creepy, pretentious, and at best a hazardous guide to spirituality - at worst an actively dangerous advocate of magic and demonic flirtations - altogether a character prone to an unhealthy degree of fascination with power and perversity.

While on the whole I find Williams valuable and stimulating, at times I too veer towards the idea that he was not a good example.

His Letters to Lalage certainly confirm the creepy side of his nature - there is something vampiric about his hyper-charged, perverse, platonic sexual relationship with this beautiful and intense young woman (only a year before his death).

The letters to his wife are just plain dishonest: evasive, elaborately deceptive, fearful, terribly sad...

On the whole, my impression is that Williams was someone who lived very close to the edge - very close to utter despair.

I think he kept himself distracted - he seems always to have been 'busy' or in company, to have made-himself busy and have collected company - which I take as a sign he was actively avoiding silence and solitude.

He sought extreme situations in order to generate energy, in order to feel in contact with life.

And he did this (justified this) primarily to re-direct these energies and meanings into 'poetry'.

C.W.'s work is always slapdash, his writing is deliberately and habitually obscure, he is pretentious - for example in his verse, which is a mixture of contrivance and accidental effects. (Although apparently effective enough to fool C.S Lewis and perhaps T.S Eliot - neither of whom were what I would call poets themselves. Tolkien, who was - albeit rarely - a real poet, could never get anything for C.W's verse.)

And C.W. would not have disagreed with me, I am sure - he knew what he was doing and why.

I do blame C.W. for his refusal to admit that he was not a real poet; because a lot of his worst behaviour was designed to get energy and inspiration for generating his fake poetry.

His 'big ideas' about positive theology, the City, the way of affirmation of images - are good ideas badly expressed - perhaps because they are undermined by his personal need for them?

The writings on exchange, co-inherence etc are either simple, banal and wrong; or else expressed so complexly, defensively and obscurely as to be ineffective communications. Indeed, they are quasi-magical, or therapeutic, rather than Christian ideas.

His idea that romantic love is a viable alternative to the ascetic is purely speculative, and in the absence of even a single real world example of its validity or effectiveness, seems merely special pleading for his own irrational and un-admirable obsession (despite being married) with a younger (and un-admirable) woman. 

But he did have some extraordinary insights - at least it seems to me.

Here and there, in Descent into Hell and The Place of the Lion; and quite often in his best prose like the Descent of the Dove and He came down from Heaven, he really does seem inspired, and produces wonderful momentary clarifications.

Lewis and the Inklings knew nothing of Williams disreputable behaviours; they saw only his good side, and they loved the man.

There is indeed much to love about him - he gave of himself very freely.

In sum, he is one of those maddening people that seems just one small psychological step away from being really valuable, perhaps even a saint? - but he never did take that step. So his legacy is flawed and his character almost as much demonic as holy.

That step was simply to acknowledge that he was not a poet, not a real poet - not that which he so much wanted to be.

It was this rather small dishonesty with himself which caused nearly all of C.W's troubles.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

The shamanic creativity of JRR Tolkien

Note: This is cross posted from Superversive Inklings

Tolkien's remarkable creative method has been elucidated by TA Shippey in his Road to Middle Earth; and amply confirmed by the evidence from the multiple volumes of The History of Middle Earth (HoME) edited by Christopher Tolkien. What happens is that Tolkien treats his 'first draft' as if it were an historical text of which he is a scholarly editor. So when Tolkien is revising a first draft, his approach is similar to that he would take when preparing (for example) an ‘edition’ of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or Beowulf.

Thus, as Tolkien reads-again his own first draft, he is trying to understand what 'the author' (i.e. himself) 'meant', he is aware of the possibility of errors in transcription, or distortions that may have occurred during the steps of historical transmission. He is also aware that 'the author' was writing from a position of incomplete knowledge, and was subject to bias.

This creative ‘method’ leads to some strange compositional occurrences. For example, in the HoME volume The Return of the Shadow (covering the writing of the first part of The Lord of the Rings - LotR) Tolkien wrote about the hobbits hiding from a horseman who stopped and sniffed the air. The original intention was that this was to be Gandalf, and the hobbits were hiding to give him a surprise 'ambush'. However, in the course of revision, the sniffing horseman became a 'Black Rider'; and the hobbits were hiding in fear of him. The core incident remained but its significance was inverted.

Furthermore; the nature and intention of the Black Riders was originally a mystery to Tolkien; only later, over the course of many revisions and as the story progressed, did these horsemen develop into the Ringwraiths, wearers of the Nine Rings, and the most powerful servants of Sauron.

This is a remarkable way of writing! It think it probable that most writers know what they mean in their first draft, and in the process of revising and re-drafting they try to get their expression closer to that known meaning. But Tolkien did the reverse: he generated the first draft, then looked at it as if that draft had been written by someone else, and he was trying to decide what it meant - and in this case eventually deciding that it meant something pretty close to the opposite of the original meaning: with hostile Nazgul substituting for friendly wizard; hiding from fear replacing joke ambush.

In other words, Tolkien's ‘original intention’ counted for very little, but could be - and was, massively reinterpreted by editorial decisions. The specifics of the incident (rider, sniffing, concealed hobbits) stayed the same; but the interpretation of the incident was radically altered. This pattern is often seen throughout the HoME - specific details are retained, while the meaning of these is transformed throughout the process of revision. By contrast, I suspect that most authors maintain the interpretation of incidents throughout revisions, but change the specific details.

This sequence corresponds to the transmission of texts through history - specific and striking incidents tend to be remembered and preserved - while (due to historical changes in culture, assumptions, background knowledge etc) these incidents get hugely re-interpreted in 'anachronistic' ways. So the incident may stay the same, but its meaning may be reversed.

I have seen this with a couple of folk tales during my life. When I was a child King Midas - everything he touched turned to gold - was regarded as a cautionary tale of greed leading to (potential) death, since food and drink were also turned to metal. But nowadays, the Midas Touch is regarded as something desirable - it means the ability always to make money in every situation. Presumably the benefits of wealth are now regarded as greater than mere life!

"Shooting yourself in the foot" used to mean a deliberate act of self-wounding with the aim of being invalided away from the front line of a war. Someone shot themselves in the foot on purpose, but pretended it was an accident. But it now means almost the reverse - an accidentally self-inflicted wound; such as when a politician makes a ‘gaffe’ during a press conference, and ends-up being sacked.

In both cases a striking image (the gold-transforming touch, the firearm discharged at the boot) is preserved, but its meaning is transformed.

Tolkien's compositional technique recognizes this process - and Tolkien approached his first draft of composition as if the draft were the end product of this type of misinterpretation or distortion. So, his draft containing the striking detail of the ‘sniffing rider'; but it is as if Tolkien assumed that the meaning of the detail had been misunderstood by one or more of the copyists and clerks via whom the text had been transmitted to Tolkien.

But why did Tolkien write in this way? I think there are two reasons. The first is that he was by profession a philologist: a scholarly editor, a man concerned with old and fragmentary and distorted texts - and he brought this skill and perspective to his fictional writing.

But secondly it relates to Tolkien's creative processes. This relates to the key question – ignored so far: How did Tolkien arrive at his first draft? And this is where the ‘shaman’ aspect of the title comes in. Because Tolkien’s way of arriving at a first draft could be described as 'shamanic'.

Shaman is a term used to describe spiritual practitioners of tribal people that do their work in a state of altered consciousness – such as trances, fasting, frenzies or lucid dreaming. By calling Tolkien shamanic; I mean that much of Tolkien's primary, first-draft creative, imaginative work was done in a state of altered consciousness – either an awake 'trance' state or using ideas from exceptionally clear and memorable (sometimes recurrent) dreams. The altered state generated the first draft; then re-writing was done in normal everyday ‘clear consciousness’, with his full critical faculties brought to bear.

Clues to this being Tolkien’s practice are scattered throughout his biographical material; but I became aware of it particularly when studying the disguised autobiographical aspects of The Notion Club Papers (in Volume 9 of HoME, Sauron Defeated). There are descriptions of lucid dreams, detailed visions of history, overpowering imagination, hallucinations of mysterious languages, ghosts, psychometry (knowing the history of an object by touching it) and many other altered states of consciousness and ‘paranormal’ experiences. The supporting notes by Christopher Tolkien link several of these fictional descriptions to JRRT’s real life incidents and experiences.

This combination of first creating a dreamlike first draft, then using it as the basis for scholarly and meticulous revisions, is not unusual among creative people, perhaps especially poets. Robert Graves wrote about the ‘poetic trance’ a great deal; and Graves’s ideas of proleptic (historical) and analeptic (predictive) thinking were what enabled him to ‘inhabit’ imaginatively, and he would say in reality, another time and place: that is, to be an inspired prophet.

The first draft - if it truly has been inspired - is interpreted as coming from elsewhere, beyond the mind of the artist; for instance coming from divine sources, from 'the muse', or perhaps from the creative/ collective unconscious. At any rate, the job of the alert and conscious mind of the artist is to 'make sense' of this inspired material without destroying the bloom or freshness deriving from its primary source. In this respect, and others, Tolkien wrote more like a poet than a novelist.

This is, I believe, the psychological basis of the fact (often cited) that Tolkien did not see himself as inventing, rather as discovering. He was not consciously inventing his first drafts but rather 'transcribing' material which came to him during altered states of consciousness, by a process of inspiration which was not under his control. When revising this primary material, if he found that key evidence was missing, he could try and interpolate it like a historian by extrapolation from other evidence, linking between the inspired material; or he could await further poetic inspiration to be validated by intuition. Sometimes he did one, sometimes the other.

This interpretation is also consistent with Tolkien's oft-stated remark that the essence of his Legendarium originally came from the languages he had made – what became called Quenya and Sindarin. I think he meant that words were often primary data, attained in an intuitive trance state; and these words required to be understood. This is where his professional philology and his spare-time creative writing fused.

For example, Tolkien came across the Anglo Saxon word Earendil in a poem called Crist. Then, over the decades as Tolkien's Legendarium evolved, the meaning of Earendil (the myth behind the word) gradually changed – as Tolkien ‘learned’ about the history of Middle Earth - but the same word remained (although subtly re-spelled; since philologists are .

Or, if we read the early Lost Tales (written during the First World war) and through the drafts of the Silmarillion over the next forty plus years, we can observe that the meaning of the Beren and Luthien story changed. For instance, Beren was originally an elf; but later the special significance of the story was that Beren was the first mortal Man to marry, and have children, with an immortal elf-maia. Yet the key ‘first draft’ detail of Luthien dancing for Beren among the flowers in the woods remained constant – and this was based on a real life magical experience of Tolkien with his wife. In this case; the shamanic state of altered consciousness was, apparently, a shared one.

A further well known example is Tolkien’s recurrent ‘Atlantis’ dream of a great green wave, rolling over the land – a dream which independently also occurred for his son Michael. This primary image, from an altered conscious state; was eventually embedded into the complex Silmarillion narrative of Numenor and its downfall, and the dream itself was given to Faramir in The Lord of the Rings – as well as being discussed by the Inklings-like club members in the (unfinished) Notion Club Papers

Tolkien regarded key words, images and story elements that came to him in ‘shamanic’ states as his primary source material. The interpretation of these emotionally-charged, entities might change, might even reverse; but the entity should be kept the same throughout all these changes, because that element was what had been 'given' to Tolkien during the altered consciousness of his most profound creative states.

Given to Tolkien by whom? …it might be asked. Well, insofar as these primary story elements were true and good; Tolkien would have assumed that they came as a gift of God. And this, I think, was the deep reason that such story elements absolutely needed to be preserved throughout even decades of revisions.

Friday 5 October 2018

Alister McGrath points and sputters at CS Lewis's 'ill-judged remark'

 Alister McGrath - a worryingly smug face?

I am listening to the audiobook version* of Alister McGrath's very valuable biography CS Lewis: a life (2013; which I previously reviewed). McGrath has many qualities that enable him to write a Lewis biography that is a genuine addition to the earlier examples; and this is indeed an essential secondary resource for the keen Lewis scholar.

However; McGrath is a 'liberal evangelical' theologian and a British Establishment intellectual; in other words he is on the wrong side of the cultural war, including specifically being on the wrong side in the litmus test issues concerning the sexual revolution that have divided and almost destroyed the Church of England.

McGrath is therefore ultimately against Lewis (and, despite his widespread activity as an apologist, ultimately anti-Christian). If there were a barricade, these two men would be fighting on opposite sides. So, despite McGrath's genuine affection and interest in Lewis; there is (I detect) an endemic tendency in this biography towards revisionism and subversion of Lewis's rock bottom convictions which underlies the work and becomes evident from time to time.

For example, on page 228 in discussing the flaws of Lewis's greatest apologetic work, Mere Christianity, we get:

[McGrath's text] Consider, for example, the following ill-judged remarks.

[Quote from Lewis] What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid.

[McGrath speaking again] I recall a conversation with a colleague about those two sentences some years ago. We had a copy of Mere Christianity open at the appropriate page. "Why did he write that?" I asked, pointing to the first sentence. "How could he know that?" he replied, pointing to the final part of the second.

That is the full extent of McGrath's 'analysis' of this passage - and he seems to regard it as a knock-down, drag-out argument...

Yet, McGrath does not say why the passage from Mere Christianity really-is 'ill-judged' - he merely tells us that it is. McGrath is simply doing a 'point and sputter' (as, I think, Steve Sailer named it) - and is engaged in 'virtue signalling' to Leftists of his own kind (as Vox Day calls it) - and he is practising Bulverism as defined by CS Lewis himself.

That is, McGrath simply assumes that what he says is ill-judged is indeed ill-judged, and immediately goes on to express abhorrence of the error without showing that it is indeed an error.

The proper answer to McGrath's self-cited rhetorical question 'Why did he wrote that?' - is simply: Because it is true! And if McGrath has genuinely never encountered pretty girls of that type, then Lewis and I have done; and they do indeed spread misery, widely and deeply.

As for 'How could he know that?'... well, there are so many plausible possible answers that I would not know where to start.  Let's just say that from a man of such astonishing breadth and depth of wisdom and perception as CS Lewis demonstrates himself to be in many writings; it is very easy to suppose that he would notice that attractive, histrionic, attention-seeking, manipulative women often are 'frigid' in the meaning implied.

In sum, McGrath is doing something very modern and typical of the political correctness of a Social Justice Warrior: that is, he is treating Lewis's passage as a Hate Fact - something factually true that ought not to be said; and when said must be denied. Because those two sentences from Lewis would nowadays be quite sufficient to get him vilified without restraint throughout the international mass media, sacked from his Oxford fellowship, barred from mainstream publication, and hounded-out of 'polite society'.

And, implicitly, that state of affairs is what McGrath (perhaps unconsciously, through sheer ingrained habit, but certainly) is supporting and endorsing by the way he treats this passage. As I said; McGrath is on the wrong side in the Spiritual War of our age; when the gloves are off McGrath is on the same side as Screwtape.

This may seem a bit harsh but I regard it as a simple fact; and it is unsurprising; given how very rare it is for someone in modern Britain (especially among the high status intellectual elite) to be on the right side: whether they genuinely regard themselves as a Christian, or not. Anyone who is a senior Professor at top universities, and has accumulated multiple high status prizes, awards, medals is almost certainly on the wrong side; and when (or rather 'if', because I can't think of any) they are on the right side... well, they would stand-out very sharply indeed. 

The only valid question is whether McGrath was/ is fooling himself, or whether his rhetoric is deliberately manipulative. Maybe he was 'in transition' between real and fake Christianity when he wrote this book: it seems rather likely.

But the thing about these End Times is that the centre-ground has been destroyed, there is no neutrality, we are either For or Against. We are pushed to one extreme or another, and lack of clarity about this fact, evasiveness about which side we will personally take our stand, rapidly becomes exactly equivalent to lying.

On the plus side; because of this extreme cultural division between Good and evil; one does not need to be an exceptionally subtle and discerning reader to take what is good about McGrath's biography and to leave aside that which is strategically evil. Now the gloves are finally off, subtle subversion becomes de facto impossible - so (thank Heavens!) we need not avoid all mainstream productions!

*Note added. The Audiobook version is only adequate - despite some 'rave reviews online!). The tone is rather monotonous, and a bit hurried; and there are too many mispronunciations and actual misreadings of important words (e.g. Inkling Humphrey Havard is calle Harvard throughout). I don't blame the voice actor for this (Robin Sachs - aka Ethan Raine from Buffy) but the director - whose job is to know the book's background, establish the style, set the pace and monitor the language.