Addison’s Walk, 19/20th September 1931

Just before 3am on the Sunday morning of the 20th September, Tolkien, Lewis and another Inkling, Hugo Dyson, took a stroll along the Cherwell in the grounds of Magdalen College. All the previous evening the men had been discussing their lifelong fascination with myths. It was sad, Lewis declared, to think that classic tales of courage, beauty, sacrifice and virtue are all untrue and ultimately worthless.

Tolkien stopped his skeptical friend cold by forcefully arguing: No! They are not lies! Myths contain great spiritual truths.

Lewis recalled later in a letter to a friend that whilst walking we were: "... interrupted by a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We held our breath..."

In the graveyard...

In the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, Oxford, lies buried a professor of Medieval and Renaissance English. As befits a scholar of literature, the epitaph on his tombstone (chosen by his brother, who was later buried beside him) is taken from Shakespeare; "Men must endure their going hence." Spoken by Edgar in the final act of King Lear, these words strike a tone of stoic resignation in the face of death, and some might be surprised to find them engraved on the tombstone of this professor, C.S. Lewis, who is best known as a defender of full-blooded Christian orthodoxy. What, it may be asked, of his Christian hope?

However, the Lewis’ epitaph had more significance than is at first evident. In the room where Lewis' mother died there was a Shakespearean calendar hanging on the wall. His father kept the leaf from that day, and "Men must endure their going hence" was the quotation. Warnie thus paid tribute both to Jack and to Albert and Florence (Flora) his parents in this ‘less-than-obvious’ quote.

The Genesis...

An undergraduate at University College, Edward Tangye Lean, formed a club called 'The Inklings'. Its members met for the purpose of reading aloud unpublished compositions, and Lewis and Tolkien were invited to join. The club died when Lean took his degree and left Oxford in 1933, and Lewis and Tolkien then transferred its name to their group in Magdalen.

“I can see the room so clearly now, the electric fire pumping heat into the dank air, the faded screen that broke some of the keener draughts, the enamel beer-jug on the table, the well-worn sofa and armchairs, and the men drifting in... leaving overcoats and hats in any corner and coming over to warm their hands before finding a chair. There was no fixed etiquette, but the rudimentary honours would be done partly by Lewis and partly by his brother... Sometimes, when the less vital members of the circle were in a big majority the evening would fall flat; but the best of them were as good as anything I shall live to see.”

Sprightly Running, John Wain

Bors to Elayne (Kings Coins - Final)

The Archbishop answered the lords;
his words went up through a slope of calm air:
'Might may take symbols and folly take treasure,
and greed bid God, who hides himself for man's pleasure
by occasion, hide himself essentially: this abides -
that the everlasting house the soul discovers
is always another's; we must always lose our own ends;
we must always live in the habitation of our lovers,
my friend's shelter for me, mine for him.
This is the way of this world in the day of that others';
make yourselves friends by means of the riches of iniquity,
for the wealth of the self is the health of the self exchanged.
What saith Heracleitus? - and what is the City's breath? -
dying each other's life, living each other's death.
Money is a medium of exchange.'

Arthurian Poets (The Boydell Press) 1991

Bors to Elayne (Kings Coins - III)

Taliessin's look darkened; his hand shook
while he touched the dragons; he said 'We had a good thought.
Sir, if you made verse you would doubt symbols.
I am afraid of the little loosed dragons.
When the means are autonomous, they are deadly; when words
escape from verse they hurry to rape souls;
when sensation slips from intellect, expect the tyrant;
the brood of carriers levels the good they carry.
We have taught our images to be free; are we glad?
are we glad to have brought convenient heresy to Logres?'

Bors to Elayne (Kings Coins - II)

They had the coins before the council.
Kay, the king's steward, wise in economies, said:
'Good; these cover the years and the miles
and talk one style's dialects to London and Omsk.
Traffic can hold now and treasure be held,
streams are bridged and mountains of ridged space
tunnelled; gold dances deftly across frontiers.
The poor have choice of purchase, the rich of rents,
and events move now in a smoother control
than the swords of lords or the orisons of nuns.
Money is the medium of exchange.

Bors to Elyane: on the King's Coins

Over the next week or so we will have the opportunity of reading excerpts from Charles Williams "Bors to Elayne: on the King's Coins", one of the more accessible poems in TALIESSIN THROUGH LOGRES. On the surface about coinage, but at a much deeper level a vehicle for Williams to explore co-inherence... or as he has it here: The means of exchange.

The king has set up his mint by Thames.
He has struck coins; his dragon's loins
germinate a crowded creaturely brood
to scuttle and scurry between towns and towns,
to furnish dishes and flagons with change of food;
small crowns, small dragons, hurry to the markets
under the king's smile, or flat in houses squat.
The long file of their snout crosses the empire,
and the other themes acknowledge our king's head.
They carry on their backs little packs of value,
caravans; but I dreamed the head of a dead king
was carried on all, that they teemed on house-roofs
where men stared and studied them as I your thumbs' epigrams,
hearing the City say Feed my lambs
to you and the king; the king can tame dragons to carriers,
but I came through the night, and saw the dragonlets' eyes
leer and peer, and the house-roofs under their weight
creak and break; shadows of great forms
halloed them on, and followed over falling towns.
I saw that this was the true end of our making;
mother of children, redeem the new law.

Lewis on Taliessin

Dec. 15th 1945

... I am (these last 6 months) immersed in a v. different poet who I think great – Charles Williams: the two volumes of his Arthurian poems Taliessin and The Region of the Summer Stars. Inexcusably difficult, as I always told him, but here there really is something behind the difficulty – that something wh. we all need most in literature at present & wh. I wd. call opaque splendour – thick, rich, solid, heavy – porphyry, gold diamond.

CS Lewis - Collected Letters

A Carol of Amen House

Over this house a star
Shines in the heavens high,
Beauty remote and afar,
Beauty that shall not die;

Beauty desired and dreamed,
Followed in storm and sun,
Beauty the gods have schemed
And mortals at last have won.

Beauty arose of old
And dreamed of a perfect thing,
Where none shall be angry or cold
Or armed with an evil sting;

Where the world shall be made anew,
For the gods shall breathe its air,
And Phoebus Apollo there-through
Shall move on a golden stair.

The star that all lives shall seek,
That makers of books desire;
All that in anywise speak
Look to this silver fire:

O'er the toil that is giv'n to do,
O'er the search and the grinding pain
Seen by the holy few,
Perfection glimmers again.

O dreamed in an eager youth,
O known between friend and friend,
Seen by the seekers of truth,
Lo, peace and the perfect end!

(Charles Williams)

Perfection according to Lewis

In The Weight of Glory Lewis explains the perfection that God will work in us as we are sanctified, resurrected, and glorified. He distinguishes between God, the only Creator, and humans -- even glorified -- the created:
“The promises of Scripture may very roughly be reduced to five heads. It promises, firstly, that we shall be with Christ; secondly, that we shall be like Him; thirdly ... that we shall have “glory”; fourthly, that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and finally, that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe—ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars of God’s temple.”

Reminding us further in The Problem of Pain:
“For we are only creatures; our role must always be that of patient to agent, female to male, mirror to light, echo to voice. Our highest activity must be response, not initiative. To experience the love of God in a true, and not an illusory form, is therefore to experience it as our surrender to His demand, our conformity to His desire.”

Williams on 'Exchange'

Charles talked and wrote a great deal about the practice of "exchange". It was one of the root rules of the Company. One made a pact and picked up the other person's fear or grief or pain and carried it oneself. This was the theory at any rate. The trouble was that, while the theory was irrefutable, the practice was apt to be dubious.... but how, I asked myself, was I to "present myself shyly to Almighty God in exchange for..."?

Letters to Lelange (Kent State UP), Page 54

Tolkien's Muse...

... If you wanted to go on from the end of The Hobbit I think the ring would be your inevitable choice as the link. If then you wanted a large tale, the Ring would at once acquire a capital letter; and the Dark Lord would immediately appear. As he did unasked, on the hearth at Bag End as soon as I came to that point. So the essential Quest started at once.

But I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I knew already; but I had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in the corner as the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo. The Mines of Moria had been a mere name; and of Lothlórien no word had reached my mortal ears till I came there. Far away I knew there were the Horse-lords on the confines of an ancient Kingdom of Men, but Fangorn Forest was an unforeseen adventure. I had never heard of the House of Eorl nor of the Stewards of Gondor. Most disquieting of all. Saruman had never been revealed to me, and I was as mystified as Frodo at Gandalf's failure to appear on September 22. I knew nothing of the Palantiri, though the moment the Orthanc-stone was cast from the window, I recognised it, and knew the meaning of the 'rhyme of lore' that had been running in my mind: "seven stars and seven stones and one white tree". The rhymes and names will crop up; but they do not always explain themselves...

The Letters of JRRT 163 #216-7

Small sins, according to Screwtape

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report great wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-— the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood.
(C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

Tolkien and the Nazis

This is from a letter Tolkien wrote to the German publishers Rutten & Loening Verlag in 1938. Before translating and publishing "The Hobbit" in German, they had written to ask if he was of Aryan origin.

25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter... I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by aryan. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that your are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject -- which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continue to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your inquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (and it had not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its suitability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my origins (Abstammung).

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and
remain yours faithfully
J.R.R. Tolkien.

Letters, 29 #37