(4) The eucatastrophe?
Lewis jumped up, strode to the front of the room, and pounded his huge fist on the lectern.
“We shall not give in!” he bellowed. “Though they set their boots and drive their tanks on our English soil, we shall not give in! Have we not the power of the great stories on our side, the myths and the legends and the fairy tales, the encounters with dragons, the battles with sorcerers, the recurring victory of spring over winter in every land, the dying and rising god who is torn to pieces but comes to life again? These are the stories on which our children were fed from their earliest days, the stories that were in the hearts of our boys when they marched across Europe, the stories that are at the foundation of the wisdom we teach in this place. Surely those tales of unexpected victory and of unlooked-for return should rally our hearts and the hearts of English youth to hope and to resistance?”
The others looked up at him, light returning to their eyes. All the books they knew and loved poured back into their minds: the hopeless battles, the unlikely heroes, the swift turns of fortune at the end of the tale.
“The eucatastrophe,” Tolkien murmured.
The others nodded.
“What do you think we should do, Jack?” Barfield asked.
“We could form a secret society and promulgate these truths in the true fellowship,” Williams suggested.
“No, no, no,” Lewis cut in. “It must be public. Let us use those avenues that have worked before for spreading truth. The schools, the radio, and the press.”
“But is there time?” Barfield wondered. “It takes time to write books, to publish books, to arrange speaking engagements, to record broadcasts.”
“Then we must move swiftly,” Lewis said.
“The world is changing,” Tolkien hummed to himself. “I can feel it in the waters. I can sense it in the air.”
“We shall do it,” Williams said, bowing his head in a gesture that turned his pronoun royal. “We shall gather the stories into propinquity and promulgate them to the far corners of the kingdom.”
“I’ll talk to the BBC,” Lewis said.
“I’ll talk to the OUP,” Williams said.
“I’ll talk to the Chancellor,” Tolkien said.
“I’ll arrange the financing,” Barfield said.
And so it was settled, and they got to work.
Over the next few weeks, while Hitler imprisoned or shot all the members of the British government, blew up Big Ben, and established the ministers of the Third Reich in the Houses of Parliament, the Inklings worked feverishly from their Oxford rooms. Lewis scheduled a series of talks on the BBC about “Forgiveness and Resistance” and scrambled to write his own notes and schedule guest lecturers. The German High Command seized Blenheim Palace, metaphorically throwing out Winston Churchill’s body before it was cold, and twisted that ancient castle into their central headquarters.
Williams stayed up all night, many nights in a row, writing pamphlets with such titles as “The Image of the Invaded City,” “The Figure of the Führer,” “The Defeated Way of Exchange,” and “The Theology of Surrender.” He passed these along to his colleagues at the Oxford University Press, who worked long hours, printing them nearly before he had finished writing them. Hitler vivisected the United Kingdom and Ireland into six military-economic segments, passing each to one of his trusted administrators, giving them total control over search, seizure, arrests, and “liquidations.”
Tolkien arranged for a meeting of the combined—remaining—English faculty, then labored over a lecture in which he would blend the historical with the present, the mythological with the actual, agonizing over details of etymology and chronology, discarding them time and time again, starting again, and meandering off on long sidetracks of purely philological interest or topographical precision. All over England, armed civilian resistance arose, farmers and shop workers wielding pitchforks and spanners against assault rifles and machine guns. These were obliterated so fast they didn’t even make it into the news.
Barfield, with speed and panache, darted back into occupied London, scurrying through the deserted Underground tunnels like a literary mouse, popping aboveground into the offices of lawyers and bank managers, securing his own and his friends’ small collective wealth before the tyrants could seize all assets. Mrs. Tolkien and Mrs. Barfield took in more and more refugees, their homes bursting, and they and their husbands read fairy tales to the wide-eyed flocks every evening. Lewis also read to his house full of frightened refugee children, saying:
“Since they will soon meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Let them know stories of wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book.”
Not satisfied with only the radio program, Lewis dashed off a new children’s story and an adult spiritual fantasy, both with allegorical import or at least thematic applicability to the dire situation his nation faced. Williams shuttled those off to the Press, too, and they were rattling merrily along through the printing process, when—
The printing presses stopped. The radio broadcasts stopped. The meetings of the Oxford faculty stopped. Hitler had seized control of them all.
Although not one German soldier or administrator had yet set foot in Oxford, the long arm of the Nazi’s political machine reached even there. By means of subtle—and not-so-subtle—threats, the seizure of bank accounts, the liquidation of other financial assets, the placement of personnel, and strategic arrests, the Third Reich had maneuvered itself into positions of power in every cultural institution in the nation. All broadcasts and all books scheduled for printing had to be passed by the Minister of Propaganda. All lectures and tutorials at the great Medieval universities were canceled, pending the colleges’ transformation into military training schools. Lewis’s rooms were boarded up. The flagstone corridors lay silent, awaiting the moment when they would ring to the sound of marching boots.
At Lewis’s house in Headington, a suburb of Oxford, the Inklings gathered in his gloomy, ash-bestrewn living room. This time, there were no drinks at all, not even one cigarette among them. They sat quietly this time. No one made jokes. No one sang songs. No one danced on the table or the floor. They were gathered around the wireless, listening to a broadcast in German, and Tolkien was translating it for them, sporadically, sometimes sinking into morose silence until one of the others roused him again and asked what Hitler was saying. It was all the now-familiar rhetoric about the “Final Solution” ushering in world peace, about the “Master Race” establishing its rightful superiority over all the earth, about “High culture” reigning the earth at last, ushering in a golden age. Tolkien choked on many of the phrases, coughing them out as though their taste was revolting on his tongue. The Führer’s speech ended, accompanied by a patter of rhythmical applause, and the four men shook themselves and looked miserably into one another’s eyes.
Then a voice in English came on the radio, heavily accented but clear.
“As you have just heard from our great Führer,” it said, “each nation will be ushered into the New Order in the way most fitting to its culture. Some have embraced the Führer as their longed-for savior. Others, emerging from centuries of oppression, are misguided and confused. They have attempted resistance. They will be brought in by liberation from their false ideologies and corrupt leaders.
“England is one of these.”
“Of course,” whispered Barfield.
“Now, you can hear behind me,” the voice went on, “the sound of marching feet. Members of the Gestapo are leading onto the platform here outside of Westminster Abbey the last tyrant of a unified Europe: Albert Frederick Arthur George, known until today as King George VI.”
The four men sucked in their breath and sat up straight, staring at the radio.
“He is here with the members of his family: his wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and their two daughters, eighteen-year-old Elizabeth and fourteen-year-old Margaret. They have been lined up along the stage, and the Führer is speaking to each one of them. I am too far away to hear what he is saying, but it looks as if he is giving them his blessing.”
“Blessing, my arse,” Lewis snorted.
“The Führer has stepped aside now,” said the announcer, “and it looks as if he has asked if the former King of England wants to say anything.”
“Former,” Williams noted.
A little silence fell from the radio, interrupted only by small shuffling and coughing sounds from the great crowd gathered outside Westminster Abbey to watch their King stand before Adolf Hitler.
Then four shots rang out, sharp, shocking, in quick succession.
The crowd broke into screams, shrieks, and howls of agony, and the four men gathered around the radio yelled, too, and leaped out of their chairs.
“Thus ends the life of the last tyrant of our times,” the calm German voice said. “Europe is now one!”
(to be continued)