Charles Williams on P.G. Wodehouse

Barbara stretched out her hands, and Lionel pulled her to her feet. "I just want to shimmer up, like Jeeves, not walk," she said. "Do you like Jeeves, Mr. Persimmons?"

Jeeves?" Gregory asked. "I don't think I know it or him or them."

"Oh, you must," Barbara cried. "When I get back to London I'll send you a set."

"It's a book, or a man in a book," Lionel interrupted. "Barbara adores it."

"Well, so do you," Barbara said. "You always snigger when you read him."

"That is the weakness of the flesh," Lionel said. "One whouldn't snigger over Jeeves any more than one should snivel over Othello. Perfect art is beyond these easy emotions. I think Jeeves -- the whole book, preferably with the illustrations -- one of the final classic perfections of our time. It attains absolute being. Jeeves and his employer are one and yet diverse. It is the Don Quixote of the twentieth century."

"I must certainly read it," Gregory said, laughing. "Tell me more about it while we have tea."

War In Heaven (Eerdmans 1978), page 157-8

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

(lines 3850 – 3865)

Into the vast and echoing gloom
more dread than many-tunnelled tomb
in Labyrinthine pyramid
where everlasting death is hid,
down awful corridors that wind
down to a menace dark enshrined;
down to the mountain's roots profound,
devoured, tormented, bored and ground
by seething vermin spawned of stone;
down to the depths they went alone.
The arch behind of twilit shade
they saw recede and dwindling fade;
the thunderous forges’ rumour grew,
a burning wind there roaring blew
foul vapours up from gaping holes.
Huge shapes there stood like carven trolls
enormous hewn of blasted rock
to forms that mortal likeness mock;
monstrous and menacing, entombed,
at every turn they silent loomed
in fitful glares that leaped and died.
There hammers clanged, and tongues there cried
with sound like smitten stone; there wailed
faint from far under, called and failed
amid the iron clink of chain
voices of captives put to pain.

The Lays of Beleriand
by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

(Lines 2510 – 2929)

At Lúthien's feet there day by day
and at night beside her couch would stay
Huan the hound of Nargothrond;
and words she spoke to him soft and fond:
‘O Huan, Huan, swiftest hound
that ever ran on mortal ground,
what evil doth thy lords possess
to heed no tears nor my distress?
One Barahir all men above
good hounds did cherish and did love;
one Beren in the friendless North,
when outlaw wild he wandered forth,
had friends unfailing among things
with fur and fell and feathered wings,
and among the spirits that in stone
in mountains old and wastes alone
still dwell. But now nor Elf nor Man,
none save the child of Melian,
remembers him who Morgoth fought
and never to thraldom base was brought.’

The Lays of Beleriand
by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings: The Musical

The Lord of the Rings: The Musical is a phrase that inspires horror and dread in most Tolkien fans. It brings to mind images of Orcs prancing across a stage singing about decapitation while Gollum warbles in a croaky voice about the agony of being a Ringbearer, with Frodo joining him for a heart-wrenching duet.

The first piece of good news is that The Lord of the Rings is not a musical; not in the traditional sense, at least. The story is not told through song; rather, the music is used to provide atmosphere and to lend a sense of culture and history to the world. In fact, it works in much the same way as the songs and poetry in the book.

And therein lies the second piece of good news: the plot may be cut and characters altered from their book-dwelling counterparts, but the spirit of Tolkien is very much in evidence. I would even say more so than in Peter Jackson's films.

Excerpts of dialogue are lifted straight from the book in many cases, or at least paraphrased. Some of the songs, while not directly quoted, also bear a striking resemblance to songs within the book. Frodo's song in the Prancing Pony, for example, may not be in Tolkien's words, but it contains a fiddle-playing cat and a horned cow all the same.

The overriding triumph of this show, however, does not lie in the script or in the acting (which leaves a little to be desired, it has to be said), but in the staging. This production will leave you in no doubt whatsoever as to where your ticket money has been spent.

From the moment you enter the theatre, you are absorbed into Middle-earth. The set extends from the stage over much of the ceiling, completely covering the front few boxes. The most talked-about aspect – and the most innovative – is the stage itself. It consists of concentric circles, all split into smaller shapes, each one rising and falling independently. In this way, all of the diverse scenery of Middle-earth can be created using the stage, from the Bridge of Khazad-dum to Mount Doom. The special effects are remarkable (especially if you sit far enough back not to be able to see how they're achieved); Bilbo's disappearance in particular had the audience gasping in the first few minutes of the performance.

The show tries to draw in the audience by involving them in a way that isn't possible in the cinema. From Hobbits dancing in the aisles in the pre-show to gusts of wind and ash, to Orcs attacking the audience (or frightening them at least), this is a long way from being a passive experience.

That's not to say it's all perfect, of course. I mentioned that the acting was not a strong point, and this is especially true of the Elves. I was fortunate enough to see both the first preview and the official opening night performances, and the wild gesticulating in the former (which rather brought to mind a bad attempt at sign language) seemed to have been toned down by the latter, but the Elves still overact in a way that would put Spamalot's Hannah Waddingham to shame. Andrew Jarvis can be a little painful to listen to as Elrond (I think even the most pretentious would consider his 'r's a little excessively rolled), and Malcolm Storry is surprisingly lacking in the presence required for a convincing Gandalf.

Then again, Steven Miller presents a wonderfully determined yet fatalistic Boromir, while Michael Therriault as Gollum is inspired, dynamic and utterly engaging.

Regrettably, it is not possible to develop so many characters properly in the three hours allowed, so most – including Merry and Pippin (whose titles of "Indistinguishable Backup Hobbits" were never more warranted) – fall by the wayside. The relationship between Frodo and Sam, however, is given its rightful prominence, with one of the most memorable songs of the show.

Likewise, much of the plot is cut or abridged, but in most cases it works rather well. The most lamented instance of this is the decision to join Rohan and Gondor into one kingdom, referred to only as the "Land of Men." It's a shame, especially since we lose Eowyn and Faramir, but it suits the theatrical version since it cuts the number of battles (which would have been somewhat repetitive on stage).

As with any adaptation, there is no point wasting your money on this show if you're going to be happy with nothing less than a word-perfect performance of the book. However, most Tolkien fans will be impressed by the spirit and the inspiration in this breathtaking performance.
The Practical Bit

The Lord of the Rings is currently showing at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (which is actually not on Drury Lane at all). The closest Tube is Covent Garden, though it's worth using Holborn or Temple as Covent Garden gets extremely crowded in the evenings. The show is very much about the spectacle, so if you can it is definitely worth forking out a little extra for a better view. The extensive set and rising stage mean that seats with restricted views will affect your enjoyment of the show. In the stalls, you can get a good view from seats to row S, with the centre blocks of rows E to L being generally considered the best. The Grand Circle doesn't have much of a rake, which compromises the view from row F backwards. The seats in front of that, especially the central ones, offer amazing views if you can get them. Rows A to D of the Upper Circle also offer a good view, but from there back, you start to feel very far from the stage.
The Balcony in this theatre is extremely high up, and the view from the first few rows is further affected by the safety rail.

Tickets are available from various outlets, the official one being See ( Performances are Mondays at 7pm, Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm and Thursday and Saturday at 2pm. The running time is 3 hours, which includes two intervals (the second of which isn't a real interval). Tickets cost from £15 to £60

Rachael Livermore (former Treasurer – Tolkien Society)

An Unexpected Invitation

A large envelope dropped through our letterbox. Opening it revealed a card with the words "Your Invitation to Middle-Earth" written above a picture portraying the members of The Fellowship of the Ring, Arwen and Galadriel. It was an invitation from Kevin Wallace and Saul Zaentz to the London Premiere on Tuesday 19th June of The Lord of the Rings at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

We arrived at the theatre on 19th somewhat hot as we’d just travelled up from Birmingham with just enough time to meet up with Rachael Livermore, who was kindly giving us accommodation for the night and attending the performance with us, and get to the theatre to pick up the tickets. Catherine Street was pretty crowded with a number of security people checking on whether you were actually attending the premiere or just standing around to see who was who. We picked up our tickets from the organiser and proceeded along the red carpet into the theatre. We were surprised to find that we had been given top price tickets and had a really good view of the stage, the surrounds of which had been covered in 'branches', which also took up some of the box areas. While waiting for the performance to start and while people were finding their seats, members of the cast acting as hobbits were roaming through the stalls and generally setting the mood for the show itself. We were in good company as Judy Dench and Andrew Lloyd Webber were both in the audience.

The show itself I found to be surprisingly good and in many cases kept more to the spirit of the story than the films did. Of course, I went along to see a show and not a true adaptation of the book, which would be impossible for a stage show. The actors worked very hard throughout the three hour performance and thoroughly deserved the standing ovation at the end of the show. Stand out things include a brilliant performance by Michael Therriault as Gollum, the black riders who, due to an excellent costume design and really good lighting, were both eerie and quite frightening, Shelob was definitely not something that arachnophobes wanted to see. I could go on but I'll not give away too many details.

It was an enjoyable evening and I was very pleased that, unlike the filmmakers, the producers of the stage show weren’t afraid to let the Tolkien Society have complimentary tickets.

Chris Crawshaw
Tolkien Society Chairman


We are inveterate poets. Our imaginations awake. Instead of mere quantity, we now have a quality--the sublime. Unless this were so, the merely arithmetical greatness of the galaxy would be no more impressive than the figures in a telephone directory. It is thus, in a sense, from ourselves that the material universe derives its power to over-awe us. To a mind which did not share our emotions, and lacked our imaginative energies, the argument from size would be sheerly meaningless. Men look on the starry heavens with reverence: monkeys do not. The silence of the eternal spaces terrified Pascal, but it was the greatness of Pascal that enabled them to do so. When we are frightened by the greatness of the universe, we are (almost literally) frightened by our own shadows: for these light years and billions of centuries are mere arithmetic until the shadow of man, the poet, the maker of myth, falls upon them. I do not say we are wrong to tremble at his shadow; it is a shadow of an image of God. But if ever the vastness of matter threatens to overcross our spirits, one must remember that it is matter spiritualized which does so. To puny man, the great nebula in Andromeda owes in a sense its greatness.

C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Dogma and the Universe", (1970)


Warnie has been home since before Christmas and is now retired... He has become a permanent member of our household and I hope we shall pass the rest of our lives together. He has settled down as easily as a man settles into a chair, and what between his reading and working in the garden finds himself busy from morning till night. He and I are making a path through the lower wood -- first along the shore of the pond and then turning away from it up through the birch trees and rejoining at the top the ordinary track up the hill. It is very odd and delightful to be engaged on this sort of thing together: the last time we tried to make a path together was in the field at Little Lea when he was at Malvern and I was at Cherbourg. We both have a feeling that ‘the wheel has come full circuit’, that the period of wanderings is over, and that everything which has happened between 1914 and 1932 was an interruption: tho' not without a consciousness that it is dangerous for mere mortals to expect anything of the future with confidence. We make a very contented family together.

C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II,
Letter to Arthur Greeves (February 4, 1933)

[As you can see from the photo -- taken 3 years ago -- the pond is now in a disgraceful, and pretty stagnant, state, and Jack and Warnie’s “path through the lower wood” is now badly overgrown.]

The Company They Keep

This is the definitive treatment to date of the literary group known as the Inklings--that group of writers and friends who gathered around C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien beginning in the 1920's and 30's in Oxford, England and continuing on, in some fashion, until Lewis's death in 1963.

Glyer is professor of English at Azusa Pacific University in California, having received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Therefore, as one might expect, this is an academic book reflecting the highest level of scholarship. The chapter end notes are a feast in and of themselves for every reader fascinated not only with the Inklings but every reader intrigued by the study of literary influence and how writers can positively effect one another and the world when they work together in community.
(From Will Vaus' blog)

Having purchased the book (via and having it shipped to the UK from the States, I awaited it with keen anticipation. I am not disappointed. Whilst it has not really taught me anything of a major nature that I did not know about the various relationships within the Inklings, it certainly brings all the evidence of 'collaboration' into clear view. Now half-way through in my reading, I concur with Will regarding the feast at the end of each chapter. A treat, thank you Will for your recommendation. I don't think I would have discovered it without your earlier review.