Frodo on Gandalf

When evening in the Shire was grey
his footsteps on the Hill were heard;
before the dawn he went away
on journey long without a word.

From Wilderland to Western shore,
from northern waste to southern hill
through dragon-lair and hidden door
and darkling woods he walked at will.

With Dwarves and Hobbits, Elves and Men,
with mortal and immortal folk,
with bird on bough and beast in den,
in their own secret tongues he spoke.

A deadly sword, a healing hand,
a back that bent beneath its load;
a trumpet-voice, a burning brand,
a weary pilgrim on the road.

A lord of wisdom throned he sat,
swift in anger, quick to laugh;
an old man in a battered hat
who leaned upon a thorny staff.

He stood upon the bridge alone
and Fire and Shadow both defied;
his staff was broken on the stone,
in Khazad-dûm his wisdom died.

The finest rockets ever seen:
they burst in stars of blue and green,
or after thunder golden showers
came falling like a rain of flowers.

Notes on Old English

Neville Coghill habitually took notes at lectures and minutes of meetings in Chaucerian English, just a small sample will suffice from 1923, never mind the context!

“Sir Lewis was ther; a good philosópher
He hadde a noblé paper for to offer.
Well couthe he speken in the Greeké tongue;
And yet, his countenance was swythé yong.”

All My Road Before Me, Page 192

What do the Inklings have to teach us in 2007?

"Above all, and by example, it is the strength and beneficent power of the human spirit. Here we have... very different men, each with his own vision, and finding expression for it in very different ways. And yet there is a secret and subtle accord that unites them, not only in their personal friendship, but in all the interplay of circumstances that brought them together, and sparked recognition between them...”

Gareth Knight: “The Magical World of the Inklings”, Postscript.

Saruman or Stalin ?

Interesting piece on the blog referring to Stalin's plan to create half-human/half-chimpanzee warriors:

"A secret plan to create hordes of half-man half-ape super-warriors to conquer the rest of world has been uncovered in Moscow. If successful, the plan would have seen humans and chimpanzees cross-breeding to create a new race of "living war machines", which ignored pain and fear and which thrived on hardship. It didn't work with the technology available to Stalin, but with the expanding knowledge of cellular mechanics and etc, one might pause to ponder the future. Makes half-orcian Uruk-Hai look plausible."

Does life imitate art, or art, life, one wonders?


Over his head there hung from a hairy tube-like branch a great spherical object, almost transparent, and shining. It held an area of reflected light in it and at one place a suggestion of rainbow coloring. So this was the explanation of the glass-like appearance in the wood. And looking round he perceived innumerable shimmering globes of the same kind in every direction. He began to examine the nearest one attentively. At first he thought it was moving, then he thought it was not. Moved by a natural impulse he put out his hand to touch it. Immediately his head, face, and shoulders were drenched with what seemed (in that warm world) an ice-cold shower bath, and his nostrils filled with a sharp, shrill, exquisite scent that somehow brought to his mind the verse in Pope, "die of a rose in aromatic pain." Such was the refreshment that he seemed to himself to have been, till now, but half awake. When he opened his eyes--which had closed involuntarily at the shock of moisture--all the colours about him seemed richer and the dimness of that world seemed clarified. A re-enchantment fell upon him. The golden beast at his side seemed no longer either a danger or a nuisance. If a naked man and a wise dragon were indeed the sole inhabitants of this floating paradise, then this also was fitting, for at that moment he had a sensation not of following an adventure but of enacting a myth. To be the figure that he was in this unearthly pattern appeared sufficient.

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, Chapter 4 (1944)

Jack's C.B.E.

Shortly after the election of the new Conservative Government in 1951, Jack received a letter from the Prime Minister's (Winston Churchill) Secretary offering to recomment him for a C.B.E in the New Year Honour's List of 1952. Here is Jack's reply:

14 December 1951
I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always however knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftish propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours list would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there. I am sure the Prime Minister will understand my reason, and that my gratitude is and will be none the less cordial.

Collected Letters - Volume III

Is Tolkien Actually Any Good?

The dwarves who turn up on Bilbo's doorstep are, to us as well as to him, reassuringly familiar: they have beards and silly names and mine jewels, and there is just a moment where we half expect them to start singing 'Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go.' But Tolkien immediately knocks us off balance: these aren't fairy tale dwarves, but real dwarves; uncouth and dangerous. It's more like having your house taken over by New Age Travellers than being visited by pixies or flower fairies. There is a bad tradition of post-Dungeons & Dragons fantasy which leaves it there and says 'Well then: Dwarves are perfectly mundane; simply an ethnic group.' Tolkien, on the other hand, pulls the rug away a second time: while we and Bilbo are pre-occupied with the banal (is there enough seed-cake to go round?), he hits us in the face with un-diluted Wagner:

'The dwarves of yore made mighty spells
As hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep where dark things sleep
In hollow halls beneath the fells.'

(...) Having come to grips with Tolkien's slow pace, we now have to come to grips with his unbelievably dense structure. As a teenager, I am fairly sure that I did not tolerate this; I skipped, or read passively, waiting for a 'good bit'. At the beginning of book two, all the characters get together in a council chamber to have a jolly good exposit. Some of what we hear is stirring stuff--legendary narratives about great battles and Isildur cutting the ring from Sauron's finger as a 'weregild' for his father. But we also get this sort of thing:

In the South the realm of Gondor long endured, and for a while its splendour grew, recalling somewhat of the might of Numenor, ere it fell.…Their chief city was Osgilliath, Citadel of the Stars, through the midst of which the River flowed. And Minas Ithil they built, Tower of the Rising Moon, eastward upon a shoulder of the Mountains of Shadow, and westward at the feet of the White Mountains Minas Arnor they made, tower of the Setting Sun….And in time evil thing came forth and they took Minas Ithil and abode in it, and they made it into a place of dread, and it is called Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery, then Minas Anor was named anew Minis Tirith, the tower of guard.'

If this were only a piece of evocative scene setting, vaguely archaic words rolling gently through the air to create a sense of history, it would be a nice enough piece of writing. Only a professor of philology could have come up with a name as beautiful as 'Osgilliath'. But Tolkien means it. If he refers to Minas Arnor again, you are expected to jolly well remember that it is the same place as Minas Tirith.

What's more, he does it all the time. I wonder if he knows he's doing it, or if he simply forgets that you-the-reader have just bought volume one and therefore can't look things up in the appendices even if you want to. So, Gondor 'recalls the glory of Numenor ere it fell', does it? And what would that glory be? Gandalf has begun his narrative by speaking of Numenor, 'its glory and its fall'; a hundred pages earlier, Aragorn has narrated a story concluding 'And of Earendel came the kings of Numenor' but that is all we have to go on. Several times in the book, the elves recite a poem beginning 'A Elbereth! Githoniel!'. In Mordor, Sam pretty much uses the couplet as a cross to repel a vampire, or in this case a spider. Frodo expresses surprise that the first set of elves he meets 'spoke the name of Elbereth'. Who is Elbereth? According to the Simarillion she is one of the Valar, the demi-goddess of the stars, with special executive responsibility for elves. I suppose the fact that the elves say things like 'May Elbereth protect you' might clue us in. But we aren't told explicitly.

For the whole article, click on the title above.

Only a dog?

Dear Mary,
It's no good giving you an address for I am moving about. Your letter of Aug 12th reached me today. I am delighted to hear about the job. It sounds exactly the thing, sent by God, at your most need.

I will never laugh at anyone for grieving over a loved beast. I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little. No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much - i.e. more than every one of God's works deserves. But you need not feel "like a murderer". Rather rejoice that God's law allows you to extend to Fanda that last mercy which (no doubt, quite rightly) we are forbidden to extend to suffering humans.

C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, Letter of August 18, 1956

The Tryst of the Worlds

He was praying passionately: "Make me believe; make me believe." The choice was first in her; Omnipotence waited her decision.

She knew what she must do. But she felt, as she stood, that shecould no more do it than he. She could never bear that fear. The knowledge of being burnt alive, of the flames, of the faces, of the prolongation of pain. She knew what she must do. She opened her mouth and could not speak. In front of her, alone in his foul Marian prison, unaware of the secret means the Lord he worshipped was working swiftly for his peace, believing and unbelieving, her ancestor stood centuries off in his spiritual desolation and preluding agony of sweat. He could not see beyond the years the child of his house who strove with herself behind and before him. The morning was coming; his heart was drained. Another spasm shook him; even now he might recant. Pauline could not see the prison, but she saw him. She tried to choose and to speak.

Behind her, her own voice said: "Give it to me, John Struther." He heard it, in his cell and chains, as the first dawn of the day of his martyrdom broke beyond the prison. It spoke and sprang in his drained heart; and drove the riotous blood again through his veins: "Give it to me, give it to me, John Struther." He stretched out his arms again: he called: "Lord, Lord!" It was a devotion and an adoration; it accepted and thanked. Pauline heard it, trembling, for she knew what stood behind her and spoke. It said again: "Give". He fell on his knees, and in a great roar of triumph he called out: "I have seen the salvation of my God."

Pauline sighed deeply with her joy. This then, after so long, was their meeting and their reconciliation: their perfect reconciliation, for this other had done what she had desired, and yet not the other, but she, for it was she who had all her life carried a fear which was not her fear but another's, until in the end it had become for her in turn not hers but another's. Her heart was warm, as if the very fire her ancestor had feared was a comfort to her now. The voice behind her sang, repeating the voice in front, "I have seen the salvation of my God."

Charles Williams - Descent into Hell (Chapter 9)