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 If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn.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

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.

More Middle Earth Proverbial sayings

"out of the frying pan, into the fire"

"It's an ill wind as blows nobody no good"

"Better late than never"

"All's well as ends Better"

"But do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know"

"May the hair on your toes never fall off"

"Never laugh at live dragons"

"Dont let your heads get too big for your hats"

"Where will wants not, a way opens"

"Need brooks no delay, yet late is better than never"

Middle Earth Proverbs and Traditional Sayings

"He can see through a brick wall in time" - A reference to Barliman by Gandalf (FOTR - Many Meetings).
"Glory and trumpets" from Sam. (same chapter)
"Faithful heart may have forward tongue" - Theoden (TTT, King of Golden Hall)
"Oft evil will shall evil mar" Theoden (TTT, The Palantir)
"Our Enemy's devices oft serve us in his despite" Eomer (ROTK, Ride of Rohirrim)
"Twice blessed is help unlooked for" Eomer (ROTK, Battle of P. Fields)
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us" Gandalf (FOTR, Shadow of the Past)

Cast of Characters

[The Wedding Feast of Cana - Gerard David – 1500]

THE final Bishop of Winchester who haunted my sermon was John V. Taylor, who suspended his episcopal duties in the 1980s to spend several months directing a Passion and resurrection play in his own cathedral.

Having mentioned this in my sermon, I was besieged by a queue of people at coffee who had been part of the cast, eager to tell me how even the most minor roles had been totally life-changing.

It all reminded me of a poem by Charles Williams, much loved by Taylor, with the catchy title “Apologue on the Parable of a Wedding Guest”. Williams’ poem imagines a fancy dress ball hosted by Prince Immanuel. Everyone is invited, but everyone must wear fancy dress, must dare to pose as the selves they would be had they been granted their heart's desire.

Revd David Wilbourne [Vicar of Helmsley in the diocese of York]
Church Times – 5 October 2007

Apologue on the Parable of a Wedding Guest (part)
This guest his brother's courage wore,
that his wife's zeal, while, just before,
she in his steady patience shone;
there a young lover had put on
the fine integrity of sense
his mistress used; magnificence
a father borrowed from his son,
who was not there, ashamed to don
his father's wise economy.
No he or she was he or she


Oxford, 5 February 1940. Monday morning in the Divinity School, Oxford University's splendid fifteenth-century Gothic lecture hall. The stone-carved room, with its magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling, is crammed with students, the mixed student body of wartime Oxford: a larger proportion than usual of young women; young men straight from school, many of them awaiting call up; a few in uniform, who will be training later in the day. Britain has been at war with Nazi Germany for five months: Hitler has recently invaded Poland and Finland, and is expected soon to attack France.

But it is not news from the war that causes the buzz of suppressed excitement pervading the room. Usually the audience for the second lecture of a series is smaller than for the first. This time it is larger: many who were here last week have brought their friends, to see and hear something out of the ordinary. Most are muffled up in overcoats and scarves against the chill of the poorly-heated building.

As the nearby clock of St Mary's Church strikes eleven, three men sweep into the hall and make their way up the central aisle between the chairs. At left and right, their black gowns billowing behind them, are two well-known characters, leading members of the English Faculty: on one side, the domed forehead and burly physique of C.S.Lewis, Fellow in English at Magdalen College; on the other, slighter, smaller, with down-turned mouth and piercing eyes, J.R.R.Tolkien, the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon. Between them strides an unlikely figure. Tall and angular, gownless, in a blueish-grey business suit and round spectacles, darting quick glances around the room, he seems as full of anticipation as the students, and when he mounts the platform, leaving his companions to find their seats in the front row, there is a glint of something like mischief in his eyes as he surveys his audience.

This is Charles Williams, the new Honorary Lecturer in English Literature. He clutches a rolled-up sheaf of papers in one hand but having set them on the lectern he never looks at them again. He launches into his lecture, which is on Milton's poetic masque Comus -- the second of an entire term's course on Milton's works -- and those already startled by his unacademic appearance are further shocked by his voice: not the usual refined ‘Oxford’ accent, but a sharp, plebeian enunciation. Almost Cockney, and certainly some sort of ‘London’ accent, it comes close to grating on the ear. But within a minute or two any resistance aroused by these unorthodox tones melts away.

Williams speaks as if Comus were of immediate and vital importance to himself and to every member of the audience, and needs urgently to be discussed and understood. He seems to know Comus -- and indeed all of Milton's poetry -- by heart, and plucks apt illustrations and quotations out of the air as he goes. He charms the audience with his wit, his irony, his passionate urgency. He strides about the stage, gesturing with his tense but expressive hands, clutching for the exact word and then firing it off with a piercing look at this or that student. He seems to speak out of the side of his mouth, and this -- together with the harsh accent -- gives his words a curious personal intensity. Reciting poetry, he makes it a hypnotic incantation but also a sensuous delight, enjoying it as if the sounds and rhythms of the words can be savoured like nectar, and sure that the audience will relish them too.

But he also understands the students' resistances, their scepticism, their doubts. Comus, he explains, is about chastity. A virtue undervalued in the present age but of the utmost importance, which we may choose to reject -- that is our right -- but which we must first understand. His hearers are spellbound. They sense that they are listening to someone who knows (and means) what he says; someone who has lived poetry, who has it in his blood and bones, and who can speak to them also about vital issues in their lives. The beauty of Milton's verse and the sacred loveliness of virginity become, for an hour, the most important things in the world.

Then, far too quickly, time is up; Williams has indicated the theme of next week's lecture and is already off the platform, with a quick conspiratorial smile to his friends in the front row, and is making his way briskly out of the room, leaving his audience dazed, exhilarated, inspired. Most leave the lecture determined to read Comus as soon as possible. Some are already planning to persuade their colleges -- by hook or by crook -- to let them have Charles Williams as their tutor, next term if not this.

Even those few who have remained sceptical, or been antagonised by the lecture, cannot help being impressed. For the reticent, ruminative Tolkien, Williams’s platform manner is perhaps rather too histrionic. Impressed by his friend’s intelligence and range of knowledge, he nonetheless decides to attend the lectures no further (after all, very little poetry worth the name has been written in England since the Norman Conquest). Lewis, on the other hand, has no doubts. ‘Simply as criticism’, he will later recall, ‘it was superb because here was a man who really started from the same point of view as Milton and really cared with every fibre of his being about “the sage and serious doctrine of virginity” ’. Indeed, ‘That beautiful carved room had probably not witnessed anything so important since some of the great mediaeval or Reformation lectures. I have at last, if only for once, seen a university doing what it was founded to do: teaching wisdom.’

That wisdom was hard-won and fraught with bitter paradox. The charismatic
lecturer who celebrated chastity bore the emotional scars of a painfully unconsummated fourteen-year love-affair which had brought his marriage close to breaking-point.

With an encyclopaedic knowledge of English poetry and unrivalled critical insight, he had no university degree (as his lack of an academic gown indicated) and could lecture at Oxford only because war had called away so many of the usual staff.

A brilliant Anglican theologian and interpreter of Christian doctrine, he was a trained occultist who continued to practise what can only be called magical rituals with a sexual and even sadistic tinge to them. At Oxford he was an anomaly: a restless Londoner who found ‘Oxford, however nice, still a kind of parody of London’; a worldly-wise publisher with a good head for business, more at home with a cigarette and a sandwich in a Ludgate Hill wine bar than with the pipesmoke and claret of an Oxford common-room. He was beginning to be recognised as an important poet with the first volume of a brilliantly original cycle of Arthurian poems whose style would influence the Four Quartets of his friend T.S.Eliot. And a little over five years later, at the height of his reputation and influence, he would die, to be celebrated briefly and then, for the most part, forgotten.

Who was Charles Williams, this man who changed so many people's lives -- often at a single meeting -- and yet has largely disappeared from our maps of twentieth-century writing? It will be the task to this book to find out, to explore a literary life rich and strange almost beyond belief.

Grevel Lindop (As yet unpublished)

Williams again...

Williams was an extraordinary person, a writer and thinker of unique charisma and complexity, whose life was rich and tumultuous. His relationships span a vital era in English literature. The friend and associate of Yeats and Eliot, the spiritual inspirer of Auden and Dorothy L. Sayers, he was also a valued associate of the young Larkin and Amis. He is in many ways the vital missing 'jigsaw piece' in our picture of twentieth-century literature.

From a poor London background Williams made his way through the literary salons of 1920s London and the hierarchy of the Oxford University Press, to write a series of seven remarkable novels, 'spiritual thrillers' which still have a cult following. He was also the greatest twentieth-century poet to take the Arthurian legends for his theme. C. S. Lewis wrote of his poems, “They seem to me, both for the soaring and gorgeous novelty of their technique and for their profound wisdom, to be among the two or three most valuable books of verse produced in the century.” A recent critic has stated simply, “They are the great modern Grail poem.”

Next: An excerpt from Grevel’s new book

The Last Magician

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. The biography is planned for publication by Oxford University Press in 2008 or soon thereafter.

Grevel Lindop

Seed of Adam

I was Julius, and I am Octavianus,
Augustus, Adam, the first citizen,
the power in the world, from brow to anus,
in commerce of the bones and bowels of men;
sinews' pull, blood's circulation,
Britain to Bagdad. I in brawn and brain
set knot by knot and station by station.
I drive on the morrow all things to begin again.
Look, children, I bring you peace;
I bring you good luck; I am the State; I am Caesar.
Now your wars cease; what will you say?

Seed of Adam ~ Charles Williams (pub. 1948)

Narnian Ulster (Final)

It may be the fault of some Ulster people that they feel too much responsibility, too much in control of their own characters and destiny, and that, with their endurance, their practical experience, and with their strong sense of obligation and commitment, they deserve success, here and hereafter. This may be true, but in The Silver Chair, Aslan tells Jill and Eustace that they are not in Narnia because they made the decision and called to Aslan to rescue them from the school bullies. Aslan’s answer is, ‘You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you... This is the reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there’ (that is, on earth.) The initiative came from Aslan.

Lewis understood this in his own case, and it answers my question as to why he was prepared to endanger his academic career by his apologetic writings. He knew that the initiative had been God’s in calling him back to Christianity, using, of course, his Inkling friends and his understanding of mythology, his search for Joy and truth. Por tanto quid. In return for so much, he felt he must give back to God his best efforts towards the redemption of others.

Narnian Ulster (VI)

As a girl, I went to Victoria College (then in Shaftesbury Square) by tram from Malone Park along the Lisburn Road. On the glass of the partition that divided passengers from the driver were inscribed Belfast City’s arms and motto; Pro tanto quid retribuamus. So I can explain what Jack meant when he wrote to Arthur Greeves in expressing his gratitude for the offer of MacDonald’s books: " ’Pro tanto quid’, as the tramcars say; what can I give you in return?" This sense of obligation in the city’s motto is more than loyalty; it is commitment, the chief Ulster characteristic.

In The Last Battle the very title tells us that all the gallant courage of Prince Tirian and his loyal Few will not be successful. It will be aquestion of ‘sticking it’. The story goes from treachery, through obligation on to accountability and judgement. But threre is much glory in this wonderfully written apocalypse. Tirian, looking into the stable through the hole in the door, says, "The stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places." Digory answers, "Its inside is bigger than its outside." It is the perceptive Lucy who voices the hope that is in us, "In our world, too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world." As Prince Rilian said (in The Silver Chair), "Aslan will be our good Lord, whether He means us to live or die." Meaningful words for young Ulster people today, as always.

Belfast Coat of Arms
The present Belfast Coat of Arms dates from 30 June 1890 when the Ulster King of Arms made a Grant of Arms to the new city of Belfast. The motto ‘Pro tranto quid retribuamus’ comes from Psalm 116, verse 12 of the Bible. Translated from the Latin, it means ‘what return shall we make for so much’. The precise origins and meanings of the symbols contained on the Coat of Arms are unknown. However, images such as the bell, the seahorse, the ship and the chained wolf were all used by 17th century Belfast merchants on their signs and coinage. The seahorse, which is used twice, shows the maritime importance of Belfast, as does the ship at the base of the shield. The name ‘Belfast’ also originates from the Gaelic ‘Beal Feirste’, which means ‘mouth of the river’.

Narnian Ulster (V)

And so we come to accountability. I remember being shocked at the Lion’s scratching deeply the shoulders of Aravis in The Horse and His Boy. Aravis learns later that the slave who had been blamed for her escape had been whipped, and Aravis’s wounds matched hers exactly, number for number, and blood for blood. I doubt if the E.U. would approve of such corporal punishment! But it was certainly just. Ulster people understand this. So, in The Last Battle, when all have to face Aslan and accordingly go with Him, or away from Him, there will be some surprises, and mercy will be shown. So Emeth is told that the services he has done to Tash, Aslan will accept as performed towards Himself. So much for sectarianism! To each Aslan tells his own story. Who but Lewis would have used children’s stories to confront us, each one, with his own destiny?

It is only a step from ritual to magic. Here, the most important factor is who uses it, and for what. Jadis, the White Witch, uses it to increase her own cruel power at the expense of the weak. In The Magician’s Nephew, Uncle Andrew uses magic to feed his vanity. Aslan’s use of sometimes tender, sometimes stern, power comes directly from the Deep Magic of His Father. The Pevensies’ magic gifts from Father Christmas are of this kind, and only to be used in extremis. Lucy’s bottle of healing fluid is most in demand. My husband is one of those who think there are too many fights and battles in the Narnia books. Lewis’s response was that it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Courage is what he is particularly concerned with, both kinds, - 'the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that ‘sticks it’ under pain'...'You cannot practise any of the other virtues long without bringing this one into play' he wrote in Mere Christianity.

In peace and in war, the Ulster man (or woman) has usually been prepared to put his life where his loyalty and convictions are. Magic doesn’t get him out of this confrontation. He can be humbly awed if things suddenly come right for him; or shocked when retribution strikes those who thought themselves beyond judgement, but I don’t think he would call this ‘magic’.

Narnian Ulster (IV)

These Narnian stories are not altogether allegories but supposings: suppose Christ reappearted among us as an animal, which one would He be? Of course, He would be the King of beasts, death resurrection and redemption outlined in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But natural law, basic values and stock responses apply to all as what is to be expected as decent behaviour -- or not: stealing is wrong, robins are good, dwarfs are dicey. Curiosity is usually negative: ‘mind your own business’ is frequently implied. Aslan tells no one any story but his own. The King is under the law, because it’s the law that makes him King. This Aslan Himself recognises: "Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?" But yet Aslan is not a tame lion. Ulster people recognise this, and are uncomfortable about people who keep God in their pocket, and expect instant rewards for their good behaviour. They know that holding on, sticking it, in a desperate situation is more likely to be expected of them. So, in The Silver Chair, the marsh-wiggle, Puddleglum, says before the risky adventure, "I’m on Aslan’s side, even if there isn’t an Aslan to lead it", "I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can, even if there isn’t any Narnia." So thousands of Ulstermen went to their deaths at the Battle of the Somme.

Yet Lewis gives his characters a taste for glory, and isn’t mealy-mouthed about it. On appropriate occasions, trumpets, drums and banners announce and express Royalty in gorgeous sounds and colours.

He uses memorable phrases that evoke Ulster echoes: as in The Dawn Treader where ‘everyman drew his sword and set his face to a joyful sternness.’ I at once see Orangemen on parade on the 12th of July, their banners held aloft, their bowlers straight, their white gloves gleaming - and with just that look on their faces. This solemn joy has something to do with the Ulsterman’s love of ritual.

The Ulsterman I knew best was, of course, my father. Regularly, every summer, he would take us on Saturdays by train to Bangor or Newcastle. We always had the same lunch at the same restaurant, too, the same walk along the beach to Ballyholme, Bangor, or the golf links in Newcastle. No-one thought of asking, ‘Can’t we go somewhere else?’ ‘May we try another cafe?’ ‘may I have strawberries instead of ice-cream? The Ulsterman likes to know what he is going to do next. I seem to remember his saying, "There’s a right way and a wrong way of doing most things." Strawberries weren’t wrong: but they weren’t what we usually had.

Narnian Ulster (III)

I can think of many places in Narnia which may have an Ulster background: the shape of Aslan’s How in Prince Caspian, for instance: like the round crown of a hilltop that marks a passage grave. The incised patterns on the stones have the same reference: see Knockmany, near Clougher, in Co. Tyrone. The stone structure inside the How suggests a dolmen (or portal tombs, as they’re now called); most people have seen these - perhaps at Legananny in Co. Down, or in the Giant’s Ring, south of Belfast. The caves in The Silver Chair may owe something to Belfast’s Cave Hill. The ruined city the children had to find, and the steep climbs up stone steps, suddenly brought me back to the Giant’s Causeway. When the children, under the land’s surface, see chasms which lead down to even darker and worse places, a thought of St. Patrick’s Purgatory in County Donegal flashed through my mind -- and possibly had been in the back of Lewis’s. He knew Donegal well.

Turning from the scenery to the stories themselves, we find his essay on the subject in Of This and Other Worlds interesting. He writes, " I put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child, and what I still like reading now that I am in my fifties." In other words, he is not writing down to children but from what is in himself. He chose the children’s story as the best art form for something he had to say. Lewis points out that in most places and times, fairy tales have not been exclusively for children. The appeal of the fairy tale for an author is that he may there most fully exercise his function as a ‘sub-creator’, in Tolkien’s terminology. (Jung thought fairy tales liberated archetypes.) Lewis writes that he is not sure why at a particular time he had to write fairy tales. The Narnian chronicles were probably written as relaxation in the evenings at home in the Kilns, after spending the long days and years of reading in the Bodleian library the mostly dull verse and prose of the 16th century for what he called OHEL, the Oxford History of English Literature. There were bright spots; he loved Spenser, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets and narrative poems, but he needed, as relief, to exercise what he called ‘the imaginative man’ in him as a reaction from the generally ‘dry-as-dust’ day’s reading and writing. So I think that was part of the why; he also tells us how he saw that ‘stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of his own religion in childhood.’ The ‘how’ was more easily answered. In Lewis’s case, he saw pictures: a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. His work came in fitting them together, or rather, letting Aslan the Lion pull the whole story together, ‘and soon He pulled the six other stories after Him.’

Somehow, this is very Ulster-like: the sheer practicality of describing pictures that had been given to him, and then piecing them together to make a whole. The same message occurs through the books: Keep your sword clean; don’t let your tears wet your bow-string: it’s no good thinking what would have happened if you had done something else: things never happen the same way twice: be sure of your food, before you start on a long journey!

Narnian Ulster (II)

To begin with, I have found myself back in Ulster where I spent my childhood, and Lewis spent his. Ulster for Lewis, of course, had the pre-Partition geography. His childhood and youth knew nine counties., including Donegal, beloved still of all children for seaside holidays at Inver, Rathmullan and Portnoo. In addition, south of Carlingford, there is Co. Louth, once Cuchullain’s country, which stretched down south as far as modern Dundalk. This includes Annagassin, which later became familiar to Jack and Warnie through the Henrys. The Lewis brothers had a happy childhood, as long as their mother was alive. (She died of cancer in 1908, before Jack was 10, and Warnie three years older.) Surprised by Joy tells of those days, blest by good parents, good food, a large garden to play in, a good nurse, Lizzie Endicott from Co. Down, and kindly servants. We learn of his early paintings, drawings and stories, sometimes written down for him by his father. He writes of his first experiences of Joy, an unsatisfied desire which is more desirable than any other satisfaction. Their mother’s death separated them from their father in his frantic grief. All settled happiness came to an end. No wonder Jack Lewis went back to those former sunlit days in his imagination when he wrote the Narnia books. Their Ewart cousins later took them on drives and picnics: perhaps to the places that were to become the essence of Narnia: we don’t know when he first saw the Carlingford/Rostrevor area.

The Christian values of home were not to survive his first boarding school, and he became an atheist. So was W. T. Kirkpatrick, his later splendid private tutor, a man of brilliant intellect, and sound values of moral law. Jack’s love of mythology (Greek, Irish and Norse) prevented his becoming a materialist. He was a lover of fairy tales all his life, and knew well.the great sagas and fairy tales of Ireland. Walter Hooper remembers that ‘if you want to plunge into ...the very quiddity of some Narnian countyside, you must go to what Lewis considered the lovliest spot he had ever seen’ - the Carlingford Lough area, with its sea, woods and mountains. Jack would have known from The Cattleraid of Cooley of these parts: Cooley point is on the eastern edge of the Carlingford peninsula. Jack and Warnie came to know the area well when they stayed with the Henrys at Golden Arrow cottage, Annagassin. Vera Henry, Mrs. Moore’s goddaughter, had acted as maid at the Kilns for some time, and they were all very fond of her; she died suddenly in 1953, to their grief. When I went to see her brother, Major Frank Henry in the Abbeyfield Home near Rostrevor in 1994, he told me with such pleasure of the trips in his car, and Jack’s typical Ulster punctiliousness in paying for all the petrol and expenses involved. Ulster people are practical: "Never forget to wipe your sword" all Narnian heros are told.

Narnian Ulster (I)

Back in the 1959s, my small daughter’s first prize in the Girl’s Collegiate School, Enniskillen, was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I looked at the book in some surprise. To me, the author, C. S. Lewis, was the distinguised and unique lecturer of my student days, his Prolegomena to Medieval Studies being the unforgettable series that opened our eyes and ears to the medieval world. I remembered with gratitude his war-time writings, such as the Problem of Pain and the Screwtape Letters, along with his Broadcast Talks; but the war was now over! What was he doing and why was he writing a children’s fairy tale? An old friend od his (and mine), Janie McNeill, was equally perturbed. "He’s done enough! He should be writing more books like the Allegory of Love. He’s ruining his academic career," she moaned. I agreed. (I had just given a paper on Lewis’s literary criticism (which included his Preface to Paradise Lost and The Abolition of Man, as well as the Allegory of Love) to the only Belfast audience there was then for Lewis’s works, the Drawing-Room Circle, founded by my mother in 1926.) So together Janie and I sighed and wondered why.

But I’m glad to say that I now know the answer, since, in the early 1990s, I was asked to talk on Lewis to the English Benedictines at Elmore Abbey, Newbury. Father Basil, the Abbot, amazed me by telling me afterwards that when novices came to join the Order, the first books they were set to read were the Narnian Chronicles! So I have recently re-read them all in the correct order to see why.

(Mary Rogers)

[Mary Rogers was born in India and grew up in Belfast. Mary attended Oxford University, where she heard C. S. Lewis lecture. At Oxford, Mary met her husband, Rev Val Rogers, Mary later taught at Portora Royal School, Co Fermanagh, where her husband was Headmaster for many years. Mary has lectured on C. S. Lewis in England and the United States, and she has written three books on the Ulster countryside. The Rogers live in Oxford.]


Lessons from the Death of Tolkien

In September 1973, Father John Tolkien celebrated a Requiem Mass for his father at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, in Oxford. JRR Tolkien was buried next to his wife Edith in a Catholic cemetery just outside Oxford at Wolvercote. He may have penned his own epitaph in 1956, shortly after The Lord of the Rings was published, when he wrote: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat — though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

This sense of exile was present in The Lord of the Rings. At the end of the story many of the heroes travel, quietly and alone, to the Grey Havens, a harbour containing ships to take passengers on a one-way voyage away from Middle-Earth. Against all odds good has triumphed, but at a cost. Some of the travellers are scarred by evil, others by sorrow. The boat slips anchor and fades into the darkness, leaving in its wake a glimmer of light, which in turn disappears. A sense of melancholy prevails.


There came an instant at which both men braced themselves. Ransom gripped the side of his sofa; Merlin grasped his own knees and set his teeth. A rod of coloured light, whose colour no man can name or picture, darted between them; no more to see than that, but seeing was the least part of their experience. Quick agitation seized them: a kind of boiling and bubbling in mind and heart which shook their bodies also. It went to a rhythm of such fierce speed that they feared their sanity must be shaken into a thousand fragments. And then it seemed that this had actually happened. But it didn't matter: for all the fragments - needle-pointed desires, brisk merriments, lynx-eyed thoughts - went rolling to and fro like glittering drops and reunited themselves. It was well that both men had some knowledge of poetry. The doubling, splitting and recombining of thoughts which now went on in them would have been unendurable for one whom that art had not already instructed in the counterpoint of the mind, the mastery of doubled and trebled vision. For Ransom, whose study had been for many years in the realm of words, it was heavenly pleasure. He found himself sitting within the very heart of language, in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. All fact was broken, splashed into cataracts, caught, turned inside out, kneaded, slain, and reborn as meaning. For the lord of Meaning himself, the herald, the messenger, the slayer of Argus, was with them: the angel that spins nearest the sun. Viritrilbia, whom men call Mercury and Thoth.

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Chapter 15: Descent of the Gods (1945)


In the Blue Room also Ransom and Merlin felt about this time that the temperature had risen. The windows, they did not see how or when, had swung open; at their opening the temperature did not drop, for it was from without that the warmth came. Through the bare branches, across the ground which was once more stiffening with frost, a summer breeze was blowing into the room, but the breeze of such a summer as England never has. Laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under, laden so heavily you would have thought it could not move, laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers, sticky gums, groves that drop odours, and with cool savour of midnight fruit, it stirred the curtains, it lifted a letter that lay on the table, it lifted the hair which had a moment before been plastered on Merlin's forehead. The room was rocking. They were afloat. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles ran over their flesh. Tears ran down Ransom's cheeks. He alone knew from what seas and what islands that breeze blew. Merlin did not; but in him also the inconsolable wound with which man is born waked and ached at this touching. Low syllables of prehistoric Celtic self-pity murmured from his lips. These yearnings and fondlings were however only the fore-runners of the goddess. As the whole of her virtue seized, focussed, and held that spot of the rolling Earth in her long beam, something harder, shriller, more perilously ecstatic, came out of the centre of all the softness. Both the humans trembled--Merlin because he did not know what was coming, Ransom because he knew. And now it came. It was fiery, sharp, bright and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light: it was Charity, not as mortals imagine it, not even as it has been humanised for them since the Incarnation of the Word, but the translunary virtue, fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven, unmitigated. They were blinded, scorched, deafened. They thought it would burn their bones. They could not bear that it should continue. They could not bear that it should cease. So Perelandra, triumphant among planets, whom men call Venus, came and was with them in the room.

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Chapter 15: Descent of the Gods (1945)


Saturn, whose name in the heavens is Lurga, stood in the Blue Room. His spirit lay upon the house, or even on the whole Earth, with a cold pressure such as might flatten the very orb of Tellus to a wafer. Matched against the lead-like burden of his antiquity the other gods themselves perhaps felt young and ephemeral. It was a mountain of centuries sloping up from the highest antiquity we can conceive, up and up like a mountain whose summit never comes into sight, not to eternity where the thought can rest, but into more and still more time, into freezing wastes and silence of unnameable numbers. It was also strong like a mountain; its age was no mere morass of time where imagination can sink in reverie, but a living, self-remembering duration which repelled lighter intelligences from its structure as granite flings back waves, itself unwithered and undecayed but able to wither any who approach it unadvised...

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Chapter 15: Descent of the Gods (1945)


“Upstairs his mighty beam turned the Blue Room into a blaze of lights. Before the other angels a man might sink: before this he might die, but if he lived at all, he would laugh. If you had caught one breath of the air that came from him, you would have felt yourself taller than before... Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. The pealing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading out of banners, are means used on earth to make a faint symbol of his quality. It was like a long sunlit wave, creamy-crested and arched with emerald, that comes on nine feet tall, with roaring and with terror and unquenchable laughter. It was like the first beginning of music in the halls of some King so high and at some festival so solemn that a tremor akin to fear runs through young hearts when they hear it. For this was great Glund-Oyarsa, King of Kings, through whom the joy of creation principally blows across these fields of Arbol, known to men in old times as Jove...”

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Chapter 15: Descent of the Gods (1945)

Surprised by Joy

[Image : "Fenscape Edge" - Carry Akroyd]

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.

CS Lewis - Surprise by Joy (XIV Checkmate)

Longing (Sehnsucht) and Joy

[Gideon's Fields - North Island, New Zealand]
You have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw -- but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported... All the things that have deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it -- tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest -- if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself -- you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want... which we shall still desire on our deathbeds... Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it -- made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

C.S. Lewis ~ The Problem of Pain

“... quivering and ecstatic aspirations which absorbed his whole being, infinite yearnings, stabbed with the threat of tragedy and shot through with the colours of Paradise. One of our race, if plunged back for a moment in the warm, trembling, iridescent pool of that pre-Adamite consciousness, would have emerged believing that he had grasped the absolute: for the states below reason and the states above it have, by their common contrast to the life we know, a certain superficial resemblance. Sometimes there returns to us from infancy the memory of a nameless delight or terror, unattached to any delightful or dreadful thing, a potent adjective floating in a nounless void, a pure quality. At such moments we have experience of the shallows of that pool.”

C.S. Lewis ~ That Hideous Strength

Ent & etten

As usually with me they grew rather out of their name than the other way about. I always felt that something ought to be done about the peculiar Anglo-Saxon word ent for a ‘giant’ or mighty person of long ago – to whom all old works were ascribed.

JRRT - Letters 157


Many of those familiar with J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, or the films based on them, have been surprised to discover that the name of the headmaster of Hogwarts School also occurs in Tolkien's writings. (They might be even more surprised to find it in Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge.)

The word is recorded by the OED as a dialect name for the bumblebee (and certain other insects), with quotations dating back to 1787. Tolkien used it in some versions of his poem "Errantry", in which the 'merry passenger', we are told, "battled with the Dumbledores"
(History of Middle Earth VII. 86, 88).

He battled with the Dumbledores,
the Bumbles, and the Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb;
and running home on sunny seas
in ship of leaves and gossamer
with blossom for a canopy,
he polished up, and furbished up,
and burnished up his panoply.

The Ring of Words - Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary (OUP - 2006)

Bath Song

Sing hey! for the bath at close of day
That washes the weary mud away!
A loon is he that will not sing:
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!

O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain.
and the brook that leaps from hill to plain;
but better than rain or rippling streams
is Water Hot that smokes and steams.

O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed;
but better is Beer, if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down the back.

O! Water is fair that leaps on high
in a fountain white beneath the sky;
but never did fountain sound so sweet
as splashing Hot Water with my feet!

J.R.R. Tolkien

Memories of Lewis

I know myself what others know far better - how unfailingly courteous Lewis was in answering letters. I think I corresponded with him on three or four occasions... there was a reply every time - it might be quite brief, but it was always written for you and for nobody else. I think this was his greatest secret.

He hated casual contacts; human contact must, for him, be serious and concentrated and attentive, or it was better avoided. It might be for a moment only, but that was its invariable quality. That is not only why so many people have precious memories of him; it is also why he couldn't write three words without the reader's feeling that they were written for him and him alone. It's why his massive books of scholarship read as delightfully as his children's stories, and why he's one of the few preachers who can be read without losing their message."

Erik Routley, "A Prophet", C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences

All Hallows Eve

Lester looked round her. She saw the stars; she saw the lights; she saw dim shapes of houses and trees in a landscape which was less familiar through being so familiar. She could not even yet manage to enunciate to her companion the word death. The landscape of death lay round them; the future of death awaited them. Let them go to it; let them do something. She thought of her own flat and of Richard-no. She did not wish to take this other Evelyn there; besides, she herself would be, if anything at all, only a dim shadow to Richard, a hallucination or a troubling apparition. She could not bear that, if it could be avoided; she could not bear to be only a terrifying dream. No; they must go elsewhere. She wondered if Evelyn felt in the same way about her own home. She knew that Evelyn had continuously snubbed and suppressed her mother, with whom she lived; once or twice she had herself meant to say something, if only out of an indifferent superiority. But the indifference had beaten the superiority. It was now for Evelyn to choose. She said: "Shall we go to your place?"

Evelyn said shrilly: "No; no. I won't see Mother. I hate Mother.

"Lester shrugged. One way and another, they did seem to be rather vagrants, unfortunate and helpless creatures, with no purpose and no use. She said: "Well . . . let's go." Evelyn looked up at her. Lester, with an effort at companionship, tried to smile at her. She did not very well succeed, but at least Evelyn, slowly and reluctantly, got to her feet. The lights in the houses had gone out, but a faint clarity was in the air -perhaps (though it had come quickly) the first suggestion of the day. Lester knew exactly what she had better do, and with an effort she did it. She took Evelyn's arm. The two dead girls went together slowly out of the Park.

Charles Williams : All Hallows Eve (Last paragraphs of Chapter 1 - The New Life)

Barfield's 'ancient unities'

Owen Barfield (1898–1997) and C. S. Lewis were exact contemporaries and as Oxford students they became each other’s best friends for some time. Barfield became a lawyer but also wrote some philosophical works. Lewis gratefully adopted some of his ideas, including the theory of ‘old single meanings’ or ‘ancient unities’ as expounded in Barfield’s Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (1926, new edition 1952).

Barfield shows how primitive man employed many concepts, and had in fact many experiences, which in the course of time have broken up into very different, often irreconcilable parts. Thus ‘spirit’ originally meant (1) breath or wind, and (2) principle of life with humans and animals -- without any speaker making this distinction: there was no awareness of a literal as against a figurative sense or even of a single thing having several aspects. This theory of primitive speech and thought is further developed into ideas about language and poetry (‘language is fossil poetry’) and about the ‘evolution of consciousness’.

JK Rowling an Inkling?

Harry, of course, is able to battle supernatural evil with supernatural forces of his own, and Rowling is quite clear that she doesn’t personally believe in that kind of magic — “not at all.” Is she a Christian?

“Yes, I am,” she says. “Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”

The ultimate question does seem to be whether Potter will live or die and, if in dying, Rowling is taking her sub-creation (hello J.R.R. Tolkien) closer to the kind of truly tragic ending that is going to push millions of readers — secular and religious — to wrestle with big, even eternal, issues. Is she, in effect, a kind of postmodern, progressive Inkling?


Descent into Hell

The ladder frightened him, lest it should be too much boarded, or else, bone-white in the moon, should, while he climbed, expose his yet living body to those universals who would have him live. But it was open for him, and he crouched within the lower shell of a room, holding the rope, peering, listening, waiting for he did not guess what until it came. He thought once he heard hurrying feet at a distance, but they were going from him, and presently all was again quiet. The moonlight gently faded; the white rungs grew shadowy; a cloud passed over the sky, and all was obscured. The heavens were kind, and the moon did not, like the sun, wait for a divine sacrifice in order to be darkened. A man served it as well. He rose, and slipped to the foot of his ladder. He went softly up, as the Jesuit priest had gone up his those centuries earlier paying for a loftier cause by a longer catastrophe. He went up as if he mounted on the bones of his body built so carefully for this; he clambered through his skeleton to the place of his skull, and receded, as if almost in a corporeal ingression, to the place of propinquent death. He went up his skeleton, past the skeleton frames of the ground floor, of the first floor. At the second the poles of the scaffold stretched upward into the sky. The roof was not on, nor his life built up. He dragged himself dizzily on to the topmost landing, pulling the rope after him, and there his crouching mindstayed. The cloud passed from the moon; another was floating up. His flesh, in which only his spirit now lived, was aware of the light. He still hoped for his best; he lay still.

Charles Williams

Love your Enemies

[One of the most unpopular of the Christian virtues] is laid down in the Christian rule, 'Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.' Because in Christian morals 'thy neighbour' includes 'thy enemy', and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies. Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. 'That sort of talk makes them sick,' they say. And half of you already want to ask me, 'I wonder how you'd feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?' So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do--I can do precious little--I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find 'Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.' There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952)

T.S. 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)

I gave in, and admitted that God was God...

This discovery flashed a new light back on my whole life. I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could, so to speak, lay my finger and say "This is it," had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed. All that such watching and waiting ever could find would be either an image (Asgard, the Western Garden, or what not) or a quiver in the diaphragm. I should never have to bother again about these images or sensations. I knew now that they were merely the mental track left by the passage of Joy — not the wave but the wave's imprint on the sand. The inherent dialectic of desire itself had in a way already shown me this; for all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate. All said, in the last resort, "It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?"

From C.S. Lewis - Surprised by Joy : The Shape of My Early Life (1955) ~ Chapter XIV

Mere Theology

In The Pilgrim’s Regress, John, the chief character longs for an island in the west that he has seen in a vision. His longing for the island leads him on a journey far from. his home in Puriunia and far from the Landlord (God). However, when John reaches the island he finds out that it is merely the back side of the mountains of the Landlord and that he must retrace his steps in order to arrive once again at his real home.

Lewis communicates the power of longing in John’s first vision of the island in The Pilgrims Regress. There comes to John from behind him the sound of a musical instrument, very sweet and very short, and after it a full clear voice — so high and strange that John thinks it is very far away, further than a star. The voice says, “Come.” Then John sees that there is a stone wall beside the road. However, this garden wall is unique in that it has a window in it. There is no glass in the window, and there are no bars; It is just a square hole in the wall. Through it he sees a green wood full of primroses, and he remembers suddenly how he went into another wood to pull primroses, as a child, very long ago — so long that even in the moment of remembering the memory seems still out of reach. While he strains to grasp it, there comes to him from beyond the wood a sweetness and a pang so piercing that instantly he forgets his father’s house and his mother, and the fear of the Landlord, and the burden of the rules “All the furniture of his mind as taken away.” A moment later he finds himself sobbing. The sun has gone in. He cannot quite remember what has happened, whether it had happened in this wood or in the other wood when he was a child. it seems to him that through a mist he has seen a calm sea, and in the sea an island, where the smooth turf slopes down unbroken to the bays.

There is probably no more dominant theme in all of Lewis’s writings than this theme of longing, or what the Germans call sehnsucht, or what Lewis came to call joy. The theme appears in his sermons, like The Weight of Glory, where he says that he feels a certain shyness in regard to speaking of this longing. He says that he is trying to rip open the inconsolable secret an each of his listeners, a secret that pierces with such sweetness that when the mention it becomes imminent …

Will Vaus -- Mere Theology: A Guide To The Thought Of C.S. Lewis,
Chapter 1 – Defending the Faith