Cair Paravel Knight

Shortly after the last apple had been eaten, Susan went out to the well to get another drink. When she came back she was carrying something in her hand."Look," she said in a rather choking kind of voice. "I found it by the well." She handed it to Peter and sat down. The others thought she looked and sounded as if she might be going to cry. Edmund and Lucy eagerly bent forward to see what was in Peter's hand -- a little, bright thing that gleamed in the firelight.

"Well, I'm--I'm jiggered," said Peter, and his voice also sounded queer. Then he handed it to the others. All now saw what it was -- a little chess-knight, ordinary in size but extraordinarily heavy because it was made of pure gold; and the eyes in the horse's head were two tiny rubies--or rather one was, for the other had been knocked out.

"Why!" said Lucy, "it's exactly like one of the golden chessmen we used to play with when we were Kings and Queens at Cair Paravel.""Cheer up, Su," said Peter to his other sister."I can't help it, said Susan. "It brought back--oh, such lovely times. And I remembered playing chess with fauns and good giants, and the mer-people singing in the sea, and my beautiful horse -- and -- and --"

C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian (1951)

A treat for Narnia-movie fans

Prince Caspian -- my son has recently posted this to his blog... it's worth a visit:

Lewis on Writing

I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development. If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these. If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn.
C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, The Letters of C.S. Lewis, (28 August 1930)

The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or right the readers will most certainly go into it.
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Cross-Examination" (1963)

Returning to work on an interrupted story is not like returning to work on a scholarly article. Fact, however long the scholar has left them untouched in his notebook, will still prove the same conclusions; he has only to start the engine running again. But the story is an organism: it goes on surreptitiously growing or decaying while your back is turned. If it decays, the resumption of work is like trying to coax back to life an almost extinguished fire, or to recapture the confidence of a shy animal which you had only partially tamed at your last visit.
C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, bk III.I (1954)

TS Elliot on Charles Williams

“For him there was no frontier between the material and the spiritual world. Had I ever to spend a night in a haunted house, I should have felt secure with Williams in my company; he was somehow protected from evil, and was himself a protection... To him the supernatural was natural, and the natural was also supernatural... Williams' understanding of Evil was profound... He is concerned, not with the Evil of conventional morality and the ordinary manifestations by which we recognize it, but with the essence of Evil; it is therefore Evil which has no power to attract us, for we see it as the repulsive thing it is, and as the despair of the damned from which we recoil.”

T.S. Eliot's introduction to All Hallow's Eve (extract)

Publication Day today...

Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis (Hardcover) is published today by OUP in the USA, obtainable of course from Amazon.

Read the latest information about the book, and Michael Ward's recent article for 'Touchstone' (Dec-07) here:

Doctor Faustus (1968)

February 7, 1968 (New York Times Review)

Screen: Faustus Sells His Soul Again:
Burtons and Oxford Do the Devil's Work

"DOCTOR FAUSTUS," starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and members of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, is of an awfulness that bends the mind. Born of a theatrical performance that the Burtons gave at Oxford in 1966, the movie (which had its premiere last night at the Cinema 57 Rendezvous, and which opens tonight at the Baronet) presents itself as being as faithful as cinematically possible to the play by Christopher Marlowe.

But either Richard Burton, who plays Faustus, wished himself, understandably, in some other part, or Nevill Coghill, Merton Professor of English at Oxford, who adapted the play, was anxious to improve the text a little. Because at one point Faustus unaccountably begins the beautiful "Is it not passing brave to be a king/And pass in triumph through Persepolis?" speech from "Tamburlaine." And at another, he grimly speaks the "Back and side go bare, go bare" song from "Gammer Gurton's Needle." The whole enterprise has the immense vulgarity of a collaboration (almost Faustian, really) in which Academe would sell its soul for a taste of the glamour of Hollywood; and the stars are only too happy to appear awhile in the pretentious frier's robes from Academe.

The Burtons, both of whom act themselves as carried over from "The Comedians," are clearly having a lovely time; at moments one has the feeling that "Faustus" was shot mainly as a home movie for them to enjoy at home. One or the other of them is almost constantly on camera—in various colors, flavors, and shades and lengths of hair. Miss Taylor, who never speaks a word, plays almost all the female parts, from Faustus's devil wife through Helen of Troy and Alexander's Paramour. In this last role, she is, for some reason, frosted all over with silver—like a pastry, or a devaluated refugee from "Goldfinger."

Burton, who has almost all the lines (the play has been quite badly cut) is worse. He seems happiest shouting in Latin, or into Miss Taylor's ear. The play's most famous, lines sound like jokes in the context of so much celebrity: "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships/And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?" Well, no, one wants to say, but all the same …

The movie (directed by Burton and Coghill, and produced by Burton and Richard McWhorter) is full of all sorts of cinematic rococo touches (screens within crystals, and eyeglasses and eyes of skulls), which should be appropriate to the necromantic aura of the text, but are not. here is some horrible electronic Wagnerian theme music, by Mario Nascimbene. here is also one fine, very pious performance as Mephistopheles in friar's robes by Andreas Teuber, an Oxford student.

Neville Coghill and Richard Burton

Richard Jenkins won a scholarship to Oxford University at just 16; he adopted his teacher's surname (Phillip Burton) and made his first stage performance at Oxford as an extra scrubbing steps. Soon Burton's extraordinary stage presence -- another of his famous trademarks -- was said to distract the audience from the Shakespearean play! However, his studies at Oxford lasted only six months 1942-3.

Much later in his career, Burton co-directed (along with Inkling Neville Coghill) a labour of love that records a performance given by Burton at Oxford University in 1966 of Christopher Marlowe's 400-year-old verse play. Burton plays Faust, a medieval doctor who sells his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for mastering all human knowledge. The Devil tempts Faust at every turn by confronting him with the seven deadly sins and Helen of Troy (Elizabeth Taylor), who appears throughout the film in various stages of undress. Doctor Faustus stands firm.

The production was filmed in Rome, with the majority of the cast Oxford University amateur actors. (The video can still be obtained).

Very interesting man Coghill...

Neville Coghill and the Canterbury Tales

ith their astonishing diversity of tone and subject-matter, The Canterbury Tales have become one of the touchstones of medieval literature. The tales are told by a motley crowd of pilgrims as they journey for five days from Southwark to Canterbury. Drawn from all levels of society and all walks of life (from knight to nun, miller to monk), the pilgrims reveal a picture of English life in the fourteenth century that is as robust as it is representative.

Rendered with consummate skill and sensitivity into modern English verse by Neville Coghill, The Canterbury Tales (which Geoffrey Chaucer began in 1386 and never completed) retain all their vigour, their humour and indeed their poetry.

Neville Coghill did a great service to Chaucer in making his work live for many people who would not otherwise have been able to appreciate it. C S Lewis thought it masterly, and was very pleased that his friend's labour had brought the ancient text to modern eyes whilst retaining it's basic character.

A Postscript
Professor Coghill used to appear on request before various groups to read from his Chaucer translations, and, on one occasion which he cherished long after, a lady came up afterwards and said, "That was wonderful. Thank you so much. We are so sorry that Mrs. Chaucer was unable to come with you."
Interesting man Coghill...