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Literary Sleuth : Scholar Kathryn Lindskoog of Orange, author of 'Fakes, Frauds and Other Malarkey,' opened a can of worms by claiming a C.S. Lewis hoax.

September 01, 1993|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — Blame it on Nancy Drew. When Kathryn Lindskoog was in the fourth grade, her family lived in an Oklahoma town where, since there was no library and not much of anything else, books were at a premium.

Whenever one of her friends lucked onto a Drew mystery, it would make the rounds. When Lindskoog's turn came, "I was just wild over them," she recalls. "I wished I could be Nancy Drew, and if I couldn't, I wished I could be Carolyn Keene, the--I assumed--beautiful woman who wrote the Nancy Drew stories."

Decades later, Lindskoog learned that she'd been had. The prized books about the teen-age detective weren't written by Keene, who didn't exist, but by a man who headed a business syndicate based around the scores of adolescent adventures he'd cranked out under a number of fictitious names.

The nagging notion that things are often not as they seem has turned out to be a recurring theme in Lindskoog's life and work. In her youth she spent hours at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, tapping on wall panels looking for hidden Spanish treasure. As an adult, she says, she's developed a not always enjoyable knack for uncovering frauds and hoaxes.

Her latest book, "Fakes, Frauds and Other Malarkey" (HarperCollins, $12.99), is a lighthearted study of hoaxes and frauds. It runs the gamut: from the great European art forgers to old-time moms serving cotton biscuits on April Fools' Day to Clifford Irving's forged Howard Hughes biography to Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle's possible involvement in the Piltdown Man hoax.

Lindskoog's detective work came into play in her 1988 "The C.S. Lewis Hoax." Her literary sleuthing led her to believe that several of the posthumously released works by the beloved British writer were not penned by him at all, and that other of his writings are at least "contaminated" by inauthentic additions and revisions.

Her claims kicked off something of an international furor among Lewis scholars and aficionados. The book has been dismissed by some Lewis experts and derided by others but also has attracted supporters. A petition asking that her assertions be addressed by Lewis' estate has been signed by some 80 literary, scholarly and religious figures, including past U.S. Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur and authors Arthur C. Clarke and Madeleine L'Engle.

Lindskoog has several other books to her name, including two somewhat more pacific Lewis studies. She recently edited a series of abridged children's classics, performing what she calls "literary liposuction" on Twain, Defoe and others. She's spent much of her life as a teacher on local college campuses. She most recently taught at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana but had to give it up as her multiple sclerosis progressed.

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Now she navigates an electric cart about the book-lined house she and husband John share.

The fact that most of Lindskoog's body is useless to her isn't acknowledged by her face, a vital thing with flashing eyes and a radiant smile. She first started showing signs of her disease 30 years ago, and her love of travel and contact with people is now relegated to the world of paper and ink.

She claims that the world doesn't want for interest or intrigue. Along with her continuing Lewis studies, which she details in a quarterly newsletter, she says she's recently discovered that parts of "Huckleberry Finn" were copied from a book by Scottish author George MacDonald.

Lindskoog, 58, says she became attuned to deceit as a matter of necessity in the '50s, when she discovered her college roommate was a chronic liar.

The roommate often bragged about her fiance, whom no one ever saw, and shared love letters from him, which Lindskoog came to realize were fabricated by the girl.

Among other telltale signs, Lindskoog couldn't help noticing that her roommate seemed even to get the letters on holidays when the post office was closed.

"It became very threatening to my college career rooming with a person who was absolutely nuts. When she'd tell me that a class was canceled or exams had been changed to another day, I had to scramble to figure out what was really going on," she said.

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Lindskoog had been introduced to the writings of Lewis by her husband when the couple were still courting. Both were strapped for finances, so, as a manner of gift, one night he brought her a library copy of "Mere Christianity," which she finished that evening, entranced. She devoured Lewis' many other works--from children's fantasies to Christian apologetics--and wound up doing her masters thesis on him.

What Lindskoog loved, she said, was "the clarity, the integrity and the delight of his writing. It was the most congenial mind in the world to me, and laced with humor, always." She had met Lewis during a summer scholarship trip to England in 1956. When she sent him her thesis the following year, he wrote back that she understood his work better than anyone else he'd read, and Lewis wasn't known to lavish such praise freely.

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