Talking of Americans...

Talking of Americans, we have just had a ‘pen friend’(*) of long standing from New York (state not city) stopping with us; she belongs to the small income group, and is delightful – a rolling stone, authoress, journalist, housewife and mother, and has been ‘doing’ England in a way which few Americans must have done before. Last time I heard from her, she had been at a Cockney wedding in the East End of London, where the guests slept on the kitchen floor after the festivities! She comes back to us next week before sailing for America, and we look forward to hearing her experiences. She ran out of money a little while ago, but had apparently supported herself quite comfortably by giving treatment in ‘dianetics’ (whatever that may be).

C.S. Lewis – Collected Letters [Volume III) page 260-261

(*) The pen friend was, of course, Joy Gresham.

A Carol of Amen House

Over this grave (*) a star
Shines in the heavens high,
Beauty remote and afar,
Beauty that shall not die;

Beauty desired and dreamed,
Followed in storm and sun,
Beauty the gods have schemed
And mortals at last have won.

Beauty arose of old
And dreamed of a perfect thing,
Where none shall be angry or cold
Or armed with an evil sting;

Where the world shall be made anew,
For the gods shall breathe its air,
And Phoebus Apollo there-through
Shall move on a golden stair.

The star that all lives shall seek,
That makers of books desire;
All that in anywise speak
Look to this silver fire:

O'er the toil that is giv'n to do,
O'er the search and the grinding pain
Seen by the holy few,
Perfection glimmers again.

O dreamed in an eager youth,
O known between friend and friend,
Seen by the seekers of truth,
Lo, peace and the perfect end!

(Charles Williams)
(*) The first line as written is of course "Over this house a star"

The Grave

Charles' grave, this April overgrown with spring flowers. I was reminded of Thomas Hardy's poem 'Voices From Things Growing in a Churchyard':

These flowers are I, poor Fanny Hurd,
Sir or Madam,
A little girl here sepultured.
Once I flit-fluttered like a bird
Above the grass, as now I wave
In daisy shapes above my grave,
All day cheerily,
All night eerily!

Although I have visited Charles' last resting place on numerous occasions, I always feel surprised a the luminosity of the stone. It shone in the morning sunlight like a beacon.


Walking down the access path one can see Charles' grave. Marked by the 'taller' white stone in the centre of the photo. The cemetery is very overgrown, but in a rather romantic way -- a natural paradise in the centre of the city. Volunteers keep the access paths clear, and one may wander around observing birds and butterflies in complete peace.

Holywell Cemetery, Oxford

In we go, through the gates and around the corner into the cemetery. This is what we see. Charles' grave is on the left (as we look from the top), about 30 metres down and close to the retaining wall with the church.

Oxford in April

The gates to Holywell cemetery (next to St Cross Church) in Oxford where we find Charles Williams' last resting place. In Oxford for a short research visit last week, I made the pilgrimage to his grave. More photos, taken on (20th April) to follow.

Addison's Walk, 19/20th September 1931

Just before 3am on the Sunday morning of the 20th September, Tolkien, Lewis and another Inkling, Hugo Dyson, took a stroll along the Cherwell in the grounds of Magdalen College. All the previous evening the men had been discussing their lifelong fascination with myths. It was sad, Lewis declared, to think that classic tales of courage, beauty, sacrifice and virtue are all untrue and ultimately worthless.
Tolkien stopped his skeptical friend cold by forcefully arguing: No! They are not lies! Myths contain great spiritual truths.
Lewis recalled later in a letter to a friend that whilst walking we were: "... interrupted by a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We held our breath..."

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)

The sonnet sequence

After an intensive, 10-year effort requiring an immense amount of reading and research, Lewis finished for publication the book English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, which was his contribution to the many-volume The Oxford History of English Literature. Many times during this labor, he referred to his project as the "O HEL". But it created a stir in academic circles, and even Tolkien wrote to George Sayer "a great book, the only one of his that gives me unalloyed pleasure.

"The first thing to grasp about the sonnet sequence is that it is not a way of telling a story. It is a form which exists for the sake of prolonged lyrical meditation, chiefly on love but relieved from time to to time by excursions into public affairs, literary criticism, compliment, or what you will. External events--a quarrel, a parting, an illness, a stolen kiss--are every now and then mentioned to provide themes for the meditation. Thus you get an island, or (if the event gives matter for more than one piece) an archipelago, of narrative in the lyrical sea.

C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, bk. III.I, para. 16 (1954)

The sonneteers wrote not to tell their own love stories, not to express whatever in their own loves was local and peculiar, but to give us others, the inarticulate lovers, a voice. The reader was to seek in a sonnet not what the poet felt but what he himself felt, what all men felt. A good sonnet (mutatis mutandis and salva reverentia) was like a good public prayer: the test is whether the congregation can "join" and make it their own, not whether it provides interesting materials for the spiritual biography of the compiler....The whole body of sonnet sequences is much more like an erotic liturgy than a series of erotic confidences.

C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, bk. II.II.II, para. 17 (1954)


{Image: Ted Nasmith}

As recounted in The Silmarillion, the Vala Ulmo, the Lord of Waters, revealed the location of the Vale of Tumladen to the Ñoldorin Lord Turgon in a dream. Under this divine guidance, Turgon travelled from his kingdom in Nevrast and found the vale. Within the Echoriath, the Encircling Mountains, just west of Dorthonion and east of the River Sirion, lay a round level plain with sheer walls on all sides and a ravine and tunnel leading out to the southwest known as the Hidden Way. In the middle of the vale there was a steep hill which was called Amon Gwareth, the "Hill of Watching". There Turgon decided to found a great city that would be protected by the mountains and hidden from the Dark Lord Morgoth.

Turgon and his people built Gondolin in secret. After it was completed, he took with him to dwell in the hidden city his entire people in Nevrast — almost a third of the Ñoldor — as well as nearly three quarters of the northern Sindar. He originally named the city Ondolindë, which is Quenya for "The Rock of the Music of Water" after the springs of Amon Gwareth. The name was later changed to its Sindarin form.

The Hidden Way was protected by seven gates, all constantly guarded; the first of wood, then stone, bronze, iron, silver, gold, and steel. The city stood for nearly 400 years until it was betrayed to Morgoth by Maeglin, Turgon's nephew, and sacked by the Dark Lord's armies.

(Remember ‘The Children of Húrin’ is published in 6 days time)

He is risen indeed...

It is this “truth” of which the Divine Hero speaks at the time of the Passion which he had prophesied—as necessity and as his free choice. Before one of the jurisdictions by which he is rejected and condemned he declares: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.” He formally claimed before another the ritual titles of Son of God and Son of Man, and his future descent “in the clouds of heaven” and in the glory of heaven. But before then the earlier proclamation, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” has changed. It has become concentrated ; if the kingdom, then the moment of the arrival of the kingdom. The Gospels break into peremptory phrases: “My time is at hand,” “this night,” “this hour;’ an image of the hour absorbed into the Holy Thing is thrown up—”this cup;’ the hour arrives—”behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”

Around that moment the world of order and judgement, of Virgil and the Precursor, of Pharaoh and Cain, rushes up also. Its good and its evil are both concerned, for it cannot very well do other than it does do. The knowledge of good as evil has made the whole good evil to it; it has to reject the good in order to follow all that it can understand as good. When Caiaphas said that “it was good that one man should die for the people,” he laid down a principle which every government supports and must support. Nor, though Christ has denounced the government for its other sins, does he denounce either Caiaphas or Pilate for his own death. He answers the priest; he condescends to discussion with the Roman. Only to Herod he says nothing, for Herod desired neither the ecclesiastical nor the political good; he wanted only miracles to amuse him. The miracles of Christ are accidental, however efficient; the kingdom of heaven fulfils all earthly laws because it is concerned only with its own, and to try to use it for earth is to lose heaven and gain nothing for earth. It may be taken by violence but it cannot be compelled by violence; its Incarnation commanded that he should be awaited everywhere but his effectiveness demanded nowhere. Everything must be made ready and then he will do what he likes. This maxim, which is the condition of all prayer, has involved the Church in a metaphysic of prayer equivalent to “Heads, I win; tails, you lose.”

The three jurisdictions acted according to all they could understand of good: Caiaphas upon all he could know of the religious law, Pilate of the Virgilian equity, Herod of personal desire. The Messias answered them in that first word of the Cross which entreated pardon for them precisely on the ground of their ignorance: “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The knowledge of good and evil which man had desired is offered as the excuse for their false knowledge of good. But the offer brings their false knowledge into consciousness, and will no longer like the prophets blot it out. The new way of pardon is to be different from the old, for the evil is still to be known. It is known, in what follows, by the Thing that has come down from Heaven. He experiences a complete and utter deprivation of all knowledge of the good. The Church has never defined the Atonement. It has contented itself with saying that the Person of the kingdom there assumed into itself the utmost possible capacities of its own destruction and they could not destroy it. It separated itself from all good deliberately and (as it were) superfluously: “thinkest thou I cannot now pray to the Father and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” It could, it seems, still guiltlessly free itself, but it has made its own promise and will keep it. Its impotency is deliberate. it denies its self; it loses its life to save it; it saves others because it cannot, by its decisions, save itself. It remains still exclusive and inclusive; it excludes all consent to the knowledge of evil, but it includes the whole knowledge of evil without its own consent. It is “made sin,” in St. Paul’s phrase. The prophecy quoted concerning this paradox of redemption is “A bone of him shall not be broken,” and this is fulfilled; as if the frame of the universe remains entire, but its life is drawn out of it, as if the pattern of the glory remained exact but the glory itself were drawn away. The height of the process begins with the Agony in the Garden, which is often quoted for our encouragement; he shuddered and shrank. The shrinking is part of the necessity; he “must” lose power; he “must” know fear. He “must” be like the Adam in the garden of the myth, only where they fled from their fear into the trees he goes among the trees to find his fear; he is secluded into terror. The process reaches its height, after from the cross he has still asserted the pietas, the exchanged human responsibility, of men: “behold thy son, behold thy mother,” and after he has still declared the pure dogma of his nature, known now as hardly more than dogma: “today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” This is what he has chosen, and as his power leaves him he still chooses, to believe. He becomes, but for that belief, a state wholly abandoned.

Lúthien danced

Then clearly thrilled her voice and rang;
with sudden ecstasy she sang
a song of nightingales she learned
and with her elvish magic turned
to such bewildering delight
the moon hung moveless in the night.
And this it was that Beren heard,
and this he saw, without a word,
enchanted dumb, yet filled with fire
of such a wonder and desire
that all his mortal mind was dim;
her magic bound and fettered him,
and faint he leaned against a tree.
Forwandered, wayworn, gaunt was he,
his body sick and heart gone cold,
grey in his hair, his youth turned old;
for those that tread that lonely way
a price of woe and anguish pay.
And now his heart was healed and slain
with a new life and with new pain.
He gazed, and as he gazed her hair
within its cloudy web did snare
the silver moonbeams sifting white
between the leaves, and glinting bright
the tremulous starlight of the skies
was caught and mirrored in her eyes.

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien
by J.R.R. Tolkien (lines 537-562)


Lewis and Tolkien... were dissatisfied with much of what they found in stories, and Lewis suggested that they each write one of their own. They had in mind stories that were 'mythopoeic' — having the quality of Myth — but disguised as thrillers. Tolkien's wrote 'The Lost Road,' the story of a journey back through time.

Lewis saw it as an opportunity to put into effect one the things that was to be a hallmark of his writing. It is a 'Supposal' — suppose there are rational creatures on other planets that are unfallen? Suppose we meet them? "I like the whole interplanetary idea," he said, "as a mythology and simply wished to conquer for my own (Christian) point of view what has always hitherto been used by the opposite side." The result was his novel, Out of the Silent Planet (1938), in which the adventurers from Earth discover on Malacandra (Mars) three races of beings who have never Fallen, and are not in need of redemption because they are obedient to Maleldil (God).

When some of his readers failed to see what he was 'getting at', he concluded that "any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people's minds under cover of romance without their knowing it." Some years later The Inklings were treated to another of Lewis's 'supposals' in the Chronicles of Narnia. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was, he said, an answer to the question, "Supposing there was a world like Narnia, and supposing, like ours, it needed redemption, let us imagine what sort of Incarnation and Passion and Resurrection Christ would have there."

Walter Hooper
Source: Catholic World Report