The Father Christmas letters

Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R.Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in strange spidery handwriting and a beautiful coloured drawing or some sketches. The letters were from Father Christmas.

They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole: how all the reindeer got loose and scattered presents all over the place; how the accident-prone Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house into the dining-room; how he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden; how there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house!

Sometimes the Polar Bear would scrawl a note, and sometimes Ilbereth the Elf would write in his elegant flowing script, adding yet more life and humour to the stories. No reader, young or old, can fail to be charmed by the inventiveness and ‘authenticity’ of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. Seek out a copy!


[Image - Eddie Bairstow]

Some believe the slumber
Of trees is in December
When timber's naked under sky
And squirrel keeps his chamber.

But I believe their fibres
Awake to life and labour
When turbulence comes roaring up
The land in loud October,

And plunders, strips, and sunders
And sends the leaves to wander
And undisguises prickly shapes
Beneath the golden splendour.

Then form returns. In warmer,
Seductive days, disarming
Its firmer will, the wood grew soft
And put forth dreams to murmur.

Into earnest winter
With spirit alert it enters;
The hunter wind and the hound frost
Have quelled the green enchanter.

Poems - C.S. Lewis (1964)

Born to write?

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 If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn.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)

Mere Theology (II)

While we are on the subject of 'Mere Theology', mention must be made of Will Vaus's book of the same name, but much more intimately involved with Jack Lewis than Alister McGrath's intends to be.

What did C. S. Lewis believe about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, heaven, hell, creation, the Fall, the forgiveness of sins, marriage and divorce, war and peace, the church and sacraments, masculinity and femininity?

Lewis was not a professional theologian, but anyone who has read his writings--whether fiction or nonfiction, essays or correspondence--knows that profoundly Christian convictions permeate them all. The more one reads, the more it becomes clear that Lewis could write with charity and simplicity while preserving theological accuracy because he was well informed and thoroughly grounded in the Christian faith.

Will Vaus has masterfully brought together Lewis's thought from throughout his voluminous writings to provide us a full-orbed look into his beliefs on twenty-five Christian themes. This book gives us not only a comprehensive view of Lewis's theological convictions but also guidance and encouragement for our own spiritual journeys toward the God whom Lewis found so real, personal and present.

Follow the link to Will's website on the left hand side of this page.

Mere Theology

From my post on the 1st December:
"And now the world has changed. Could we imagine a book called "Mere Christianity" having such an impact in 2011? The post-war, church-schooled audience isn't there any more. What would a modern-day Lewis write, and how would he capture the minds of this generation?"

Lewis for today? Society has changed of course, but I would propose Alister McGrath. His latest book 'Mere Theology' is fun:

But there are many (many) other books from which to choose! His gift is to make complex things 'simple' (a la Lewis) and to gradually lead the reader into more technical areas step-by-step. (i.e. starting with Alister in the wrong place can be disastrous)!


In 2006, the movement now widely, if inaccurately, known as she "new atheism’ exploded on the cultural scene. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006), Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell (2006), and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great (2007) created a media fascination with religion and its discontents. Public interest in the God-question soared. I found myself regularly being called upon to speak and write on these themes, and debate with leading atheists in public: Richard Dawkins in Oxford, Daniel Dennett in London, and Christopher Hitchens in Washington. Although I much prefer seminar rooms to debating chambers, there is no doubt that the issues being contested were a matter of general, not just academic, interest. To my surprise, I found that I had become a public intellectual.

Debate often centred on the rationality of faith, and the coherence of the Christian vision of reality. For the new atheists, Christianity represents an antiquated way of explaining things that can be pensioned off in the modern scientific age. In one of the wonderfully unsubstantiated assertions that make up so much of his case against religion, Christopher Hitchens tells us that, since the invention of the telescope and microscope, religion ‘no longer offers an explanation of anything important’. It's a nice soundbite which, when placed alongside many other equally unsubstantiated soundbites, almost manages to create the semblance of an evidence-based argument. But is it anything more than that?

In his brilliantly argued critique of the new atheism, Terry Eagleton ridicules those who treat religion as a purely explanatory entity, 'Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It's rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster, we can forget about Chekhov.’ Believing that religion Is a 'botched attempt to explain the world' is on the same intellectual level as ‘seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus’.

Eagleton is surely right here. There is far more to Christianity than an attempt to make sense of things. The New Testament is primarily concerned with the transformation of human existence through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The gospel is thus not so much about explanation as about salvation - the transformation of the human situation. Yet while the emphasis of the Christian proclamation may not be on explaining the world, it nevertheless also offers a distinctive way of looking at things which, at least in principle, enables us to see those things in different ways, and thus leads us to act in ways consistent with this. Christianity involves believing that certain things are true, that they may he relied upon, and that they illuminate our perceptions,, decisions and actions.

Alister McGrath
Mere Theology (2010)
(The introduction to the book)

Happy Birthday?

I'm sure you knew it, but November 29th was the anniversary of C. S. Lewis's birth (to call it his "birthday" is surely pushing the bounds of good taste).

112 years is not a significant anniversary, but Lewis is current because of the imminent release of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third Narnia movie, following the deeply disappointing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian, which I avoided in case it was equally dismal. The production company Walden Media bought the rights to Narnia with the stated aim of producing "wholesome" films, which seemed to equate in this case to "po-faced". However new owners Fox have apparently sacked them, so there may be hope for The Dawn Treader.

I loved Narnia as a child, and honestly, I still do. As an adult reader one becomes sensitive to Lewis's rather strong opinions forcing themselves into the narrative, but what right-minded person would not want to live the life of Narnia, to fight for justice and Aslan, and to go to his country when they die? Of course, some people don't, but that is precisely the point. Narnia beautifully illustrates Lewis's genius for conveying profound truths with imagination, clarity, and pure style.

I use the word "genius" intentionally. Lewis had a rare gift. He was a scholar, master wordsmith, and a true-hearted friend. But his genius lay in that ability to communicate his thoughtful faith in a way that seized the imagination of not just his generation, but of successive generations. Not only his children's stories, but almost all his books were deeply influential on the thinking and faith of countless readers.

Lewis so shaped the idea of Christian literature that, for the last 50 years, every Christian writer has wanted to be him. The "Christian" publishing industry has churned out thousands of metaphorical children's adventures, humorous reflections on the Christian life, and worldly-wise apologetics. A few of these have been successful, most have been rubbish. But no-one has really conquered the territory in the way that he did.

And now the world has changed. Could we imagine a book called "Mere Christianity" having such an impact in 2011? The post-war, church-schooled audience isn't there any more. What would a modern-day Lewis write, and how would he capture the minds of this generation?

Re-posted from "Always Hope - Life, faith (and hope) in Cornwall" :