A Williams Biography...

There are signs that Charles Williams is being reassessed. Recent reprints of his novels, and editions of his letters, in Britain and North America, as well as increasing presence on the internet, indicate that there is a new groundswell of interest in him. A full biography is urgently needed, for its own interest and to further not just Tolkien studies but an understanding of the whole of mid-twentieth-century English writing. He is 'the last magician' both as the last of the magically creative 'Inklings' to receive due attention, and as the last major writer to emerge, as Yeats did before him, from the Western Occult tradition.

A new biography by Grevel Lindop, based on a wealth of hitherto unused archive material and many hours of candid interviews with those who knew Williams, will open up an astonishing life to 21st century readers. My new biography is planned for publication by Oxford University Press in due course.

Grevel Lindop

Children and 'Childishness'

I had to think about it, however, before I gave an 'Andrew Lang' lecture at St Andrews on Fairy-stories; and I must say I think the result was entirely beneficial to The Lord of the Rings, which was a practical demonstration of the views that I expressed. It was not written 'for children', or for any kind of person in particular, but for itself. (If any parts or elements in it appear 'childish', it is because I am childish, and like that kind of thing myself now.) I believe children do read it or listen to it eagerly, even quite young ones, and I am very pleased to hear it, though they must fail to understand most of it, and it is in any case stuffed with words that they are unlikely to understand – if by that one means 'recognize as something already known'. I hope it increases their vocabularies.

As for plenilune and argent, they are beautiful words before they are understood – I wish I could have the pleasure of meeting them for the first time again! — and how is one to know them till one does meet them? And surely the first meeting should be in a living context, and not in a dictionary, like dried flowers in a hortus siccus!

Children are not a class or kind, they are a heterogeneous collection of immature persons, varying, as persons do, in their reach, and in their ability to extend it when stimulated. As soon as you limit your vocabulary to what you suppose to be within their reach, you in fact simply cut off the gifted ones from the chance of extending it.


Surely I am 'childish' enough, and that ought to be enough for real children or any one 'childish' in the same sort of way, and never mind if the old chap knows a lot of jolly words. I send you a little piece of nonsense that I wrote only the other day, as evidence of my childishness. Though I have alas! picked up enough grown-up jargon to write in imitation of my elders; and I might say 'it is a neatly constructed trifle, an amusing attempt to penetrate the elf-childishness of an elf-child, if any such thing existed!' (...) Don't bother about the 'opinions'. In fact I write as I do, ill or well, because I cannot write otherwise. If it pleases anybody, large or small, I am as much surprised as delighted. God bless you. Very much love.

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
#234  :  22 November 1961

Ballade of a Street Door

As I came up into the town
Wherein my father's house abide,
I met a man in tattered gown,
In ragged garment blowing wide,
With terror fleet and open-eyed ;
' Ho, whither now so fast, I pray ? '
Fearfully looked he back and cried :
' I pulled the bell and ran away !

' Good sir, if thou hast held renown
Among this people, be my guide !
I from their welcome, not their frown,
In shelter would obscurely hide.
For when, being tired, a latch I tried.
Whence came a sound of revels gay.
Fear rose within me like a tide, —
I pulled the bell and ran away.

' A voice called " Bring the festal crown ! "
And running footsteps gateward hied.
Wherethrough I heard, as they came down.
Great names that challenged and replied.
And torchlight through the chinks I spied
My soul became a wild dismay.
And as the doors began to slide
I pulled the bell and ran away ! '

Prince, was it you and I whose pride
So turned, so fled, upon our Day ?
Was it our voices then which sighed
' I pulled the bell and ran away ' ?

Charles Williams
Poems of Conformity (OUP 1917)

Numinor in CS Lewis

Your discovery of 'Numinor' in C.S.L.'s That Hideous Strength is discovery of a plagiarism: well, not that, since he used the word, taken from my legends of the First and Second Ages, in the belief that they would soon appear. They have not, but I suppose now they may. The spelling Numinor is due to his hearing it and not seeing it. Númenóre or Númenor means in High-elven simply West-land. As for the shape of the world of the Third Age, I am afraid that was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically, or paleontologically.  I do sometimes wish that I had made some sort of agreement between the imaginations or theories of the geologists and my map a little more possible.  But that would only have made more trouble with human history.

J.R.R. Tolkien
#169 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 11 September 1955

The Brobdingnagianly tactless thing

[The High in Oxford, 50 years ago]

It came over me like a thunderclap about 30 seconds after I had left you in the Lodge this afternoon that I must seem to you to have committed, in one very short conversation, all the most unprovoked and indeed inexplicable kinds of rudeness there are.* I implore you to try to understand - and believe - how it came about with no such intention.

The starting point was the fact that I have never noticed the slightest inequality in your gait. Seeing it for the first time when I was waiting behind you to cross the street I therefore immediately assumed some temporary mishap to be the cause: no alternative explanation entered my head. My evil genius then led me to ask you about it - largely because two people who see each other once a week can't very well meet on an 'island' and say just nothing. After your answer I ought of course to have apologized and dropped the subject at once: but by that time I had completely lost my head.

You are not the first to suffer this kind of thing from me: I am subject to a kind of black-out in conversation which now and then leads to ask and say the utterly wrong thing - the Brobdingnagianly tactless thing. I have (quite against my will) made many enemies this way. I hope very much you will not become one of them: give me a fool's pardon.

C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letter of C.S. Lewis: Volume III,
Letter to Robin Oakley-Hill Feb 16, 1953


*The recipient of this letter said:

"I was walking from the boathouse back to college on an unpleasantly raw winter afternoon after an unsatisfactory session of coxing when I was joined by C.S. Lewis waiting to cross the High. He said something like: "You're limping - did you hurt yourself?" I said no, I'd had polio, in a fairly unfriendly manner, because I was fed up with the weather, the unsatisfactory rowing and the tedious unfinished work I was going back to. He looked embarrassed and said "Oh, poor chap," and we went our separate ways. I was astounded to get the letter next day, and was inclined to reply that it didn't signify, but a confidant warned me to take the apology in a serious manner because otherwise it would seem that I did not appreciate the trouble he had taken in writing the letter, and I did so."

A Young Atheist

Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to "know of the doctrine." All my acts, desires, and thoughts were to be brought into harmony with universal Spirit. For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion. Of course I could do nothing - I could not last out one hour - without continual conscious recourse to what I called Spirit. But the fine, philosophical distinction between this and what ordinary people call "prayer to God" breaks down as soon as you start doing it in earnest. Idealism can be talked, and even felt; it cannot be lived.

C.S. Lewis
Surprise by Joy (XIV Checkmate)

The Stone

Meanwhile the Prince Ali drove through the London streets till he reached the Embassy, steering the car almost mechanically while he surveyed in his mind the position in which he found himself He foresaw some difficulty in persuading his chief, who concealed under a sedate rationalism an almost intense scepticism, of the disastrous chance which, it appeared to the Prince, had befallen the august Relic. Yet not to attempt to enlist on the side of the Faith such prestige and power as lay in the Embassy would be to abandon it to the ungodly uses of Western financiers. Ali himself had been trained through his childhood in the Koran and the traditions, and, though the shifting policies of Persia had flung him for awhile into the army and afterwards into the diplomatic service his mind moved with most ease in the romantic regions of myth. Suleiman ben Daood, he knew, was a historic figurethe ruler of a small nation which, in the momentary decrease of its two neighbours, Egypt and Assyria, had attained an unstable pre-eminence. But Suleiman was also one of the four great world-shakers before the Prophet, a commander of the Faithful, peculiarly favoured by Allah. He had been a Jew, but the Jews in those days were the only witnesses to the Unity. "There is no God but God," he murmured to himself, and cast a hostile glance at a crucifix which stood as a war memorial in the grounds of a church near the Embassy. " 'Say: for those who believe not is the torment of hell: an evil journey shall it be.' " With which quotation he delivered the car to a servant and went in to find the Ambassador, whom he discovered half-asleep over the latest volume of Memoirs. He bowed and waited in silence.

Charles Williams
The Stone (Chapter One), Many Dimensions (1931)