Of Bloemfontein and Sarehole

Tolkien wasn't a hearty child. At the age of 3 he was brought home from Bloemfontein, South Africa, his birthplace, and brought up at Sarehole, near Birmingham. Until he won a scholarship to grammar school his mother taught him. He is particularly attached to the powder horn; it reminds him of being "borrowed" by an African named Isaac, who wanted to show a white baby off in his kraal. "It was typical native psychology but it upset everyone very much, of course. I know he called his son Isaac after himself, Mister Tolkien after my father and Victor -- ha! ha! -- after Queen Victoria.

"I was nearly bitten by a snake and I was stung by a tarantula, I believe. In my garden. All I can remember is a very hot day, long, dead grass and running. I don't even remember screaming. I remember being rather horrified at seeing the Archdeacon eat mealies [Indian corn] in the proper fashion." ...Tolkien stuck his fingers in his mouth.

"Quite by accident, I have a very vivid child's view, which was the result of being taken away from one country and put in another hemisphere-the place where I belonged but which was totally novel and strange. After the barren, arid heat a Christmas tree. But no, it was not an unhappy childhood. It was full of tragedies but it didn't tot up to an unhappy childhood."

Sarehole has long since been eaten by buildings, but it was rather beautiful then. Tolkien was a shy little boy but friendly with the village children and he knew an old lady without teeth, who ran a candy stall. He modelled his hobbits on the Sarehole people, which means they must have been gentle amblers, not really fond of adventures but very fond of their food. Tolkien himself likes plain meals and beer; "none of that cuisine mystique." Beer, cheese, butter and pastry; the occasional glass of Burgundy.
Interview with J.R.R. Tolkien by Philip Norman
January 15, 1967

Two Vignettes

[View of the ‘dreaming spires’ in February 2007 from South Park]

Mary Rogers gives two vignettes of Lewis in Headington in her article "C.S. Lewis — God’s Fool" in Oxford (the Journal of the Oxford Society) for November 1998:

"Jack never minded looking a fool in a good cause. My sister-in-law tells me that he used to attend an annual party in Headington where guests were expected to arrive, not exactly in fancy dress, but to suggest some topic the hostess had decided upon. After Jack’s marriage to Joy, he brought her along, obviously much to her disgust. She had chosen not to represent some character in Poetry or Opera.... Lewis (of course) represented Wotan, wearing a black eye-shade over one eye — without embarrassment.

"Another Lewis-the-fool story involved an elderly dog. Both brothers were animal lovers, and cared for each dog lovingly to his last breath. One, in its extreme old age (probably Baron or Mr Papworth, also known as "Tykes") became very difficult, as we all do, in time. It was one of the rare sights of Headington to see Jack feeding an animal who was sensitive about being seen eating, and would not eat on home territory. So Jack would walk in front holding the dog dish in one hand, and a spoon in the other, ladling the food backwards over his shoulder to the following shambling dog, the leader being quite unmindful of the passersby and their reactions, as long as the dog got fed."

A Long-Expected Party

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure. And if that was not enough for fame, there was also his prolonged vigour to marvel at. Time wore on, but it seemed to have little effect on Mr. Baggins. At ninety he was much the same as at fifty. At ninety-nine they began to call him well-preserved; but unchanged would have been nearer the mark. There were some that shook their heads and thought this was too much of a good thing; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently) perpetual youth as well as (reputedly) inexhaustible wealth.

‘It will have to be paid for,’ they said. ‘It isn’t natural, and trouble will come of it!’

Chapter 1
‘The Fellowship of the Ring’
J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hero is a Hobbit

New York Times Book Review
October 31, 1954

Seventeen years ago there appeared, without any fanfare, a book called "The Hobbit" which, in my opinion, is one of the best children's stories of this century. In "The Fellowship of the Ring," which is the first volume of a trilogy, J. R. R. Tolkien continues the imaginative history of the imaginary world to which he introduced us in his earlier book but in a manner suited to adults, to those, that is, between the ages of 12 and 70. For anyone who likes the genre to which it belongs, the Heroic Quest, I cannot imagine a more wonderful Christmas present. All Quests are concerned with some numinous Object, the Waters of Life, the Grail, buried treasure etc.; normally this is a good Object which it is the Hero's task to find or to rescue from the Enemy, but the Ring of Mr. Tolkien's story was made by the Enemy and is so dangerous that even the good cannot use it without being corrupted.

The Enemy believed that it had been lost forever, but he has just discovered that it has come providentially into the hands of the Hero and is devoting all his demonic powers to its recovery, which would give him the lordship of the world. The only way to make sure of his defeat is to destroy the Ring, but this can only be done in one way and in one place which lies in the heart of the country; the task of the Hero, therefore, is to get the Ring to the place of its unmaking without getting caught.

The hero, Frodo Baggins, belongs to a race of beings called hobbits, who may be only three feet high; have hairy feet and prefer to live in underground houses, but in their thinking and sensibility resemble very closely those arcadian rustics who inhabit so many British detective stories. I think some readers may find the opening chapter a little shy-making, but they must not let themselves be put off, for, once the story gets moving, this initial archness disappears.

For over a thousand years the hobbits have been living a peaceful existence in a fertile district called the Shire, incurious about the world outside. Actually, the latter is rather sinister; towns have fallen to ruins, roads into disrepair, fertile fields have returned to wilderness, wild beasts and evil beings on the prowl, and travel is difficult and dangerous. In addition to the Hobbits, there are Elves who are wise and good, Dwarves who are skilful and good on the whole, and Men, some warriors, some wizards, who are good or bad. The present incarnation of the Enemy is Sauron, Lord of Barad-Dur, the Dark Tower in the Land of Mordor. Assisting him are the Orcs, wolves and other horrid creatures and, of course, such men as his power attracts or overawes. Landscape, climate and atmosphere are northern, reminiscent of the Icelandic sagas.

The first thing that one asks is that the adventure should be various and exciting; in this respect Mr. Tolkien's invention is unflagging... especially on the primitive level of wanting to know what happens next. Of any imaginary world the reader demands that it seem real, and the standard of realism demanded today is much stricter than in the time, say, of Malory. Mr. Tolkien is fortunate in possessing an amazing gift for naming and a wonderfully exact eye for description; by the time one has finished his book one knows the histories of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and the landscape they inhabit as well as one knows one's own childhood.

Lastly, if one is to take a tale of this kind seriously, one must feel that, however superficially unlike the world we live in its characters and events may be, it nevertheless holds up the mirror to the only nature we know, our own; in this, too, Mr. Tolkien has succeeded superbly, and what happened in the year of the Shire 1418 in the Third Age of Middle Earth is not only fascinating in A.D. 1954 but also a warning and an inspiration. No fiction I have read in the last five years has given me more joy than "The Fellowship of the Ring."

W. H. Auden

Imagined? or Real.

Remember what Puddleglum the Marshwiggle says to the Witch in The Silver Chair when she tries to enchant them into believing there is no land of Narnia above?

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if their isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

The world to come, thought Lewis, would be like this world, only somehow more real. "Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself" (The Great Divorce, page 68), and everything else in existence is only an imitation of Heaven.

Good... not safe.

Susan asks about Aslan:

“Is he quite safe? I shall feel quite nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will deary, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then, he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“He’s not safe, but he’s good.”

CS Lewis – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Lonely... I'm Mr. Lonely

Half jokingly (no, more than half) I've uttered the phrase "You're going to hell," to which a friend has responded "Well, I'll be among friends."

The difference between eternity in heaven and eternity in hell is drastically different depending on who you ask. Some see heaven as a bunch of people floating around on clouds, reuniting with other godly people, playing harps, wearing white robes and glowing in the heaven light. In contrast to this, hell is a dark party where people indulge their sinful desires, smoking, drinking and partaking of sexual pleasure by flaming red light. Though the flaws in both perceptions are numerous, I think the greatest fault in this perspective is the similar community that heaven and hell share.

Williams and Lewis, I believe, would argue that hell is by no means a place where one is "among friends." Rather it is a place we choose for ourselves that we might be by ourselves, and only on realizing this desire do we discover how much we detest it. Consider Lawrence Wentworth, a man whose desire to possess and be loved by Adela drives him deeper and deeper into self-deception. He pities himself and begins to loathe the woman he loved. His descent into hell is essentially a descent into himself, a withdrawing from society and reality that he might be with and love himself in his own mind and imagination. Yet even this is not love. "A man cannot love himself; he can only idolize it, and over the idol delightfully tyrannize--without purpose."

Wentworth denies all chances of coming back into community with others. He is driven by a desire to avoid others, to withdraw, to attempt to find pleasure in his imagined beloved. In the end even this vision leaves him. When the reader leaves Wentworth he is in the depths of hell, by himself without rope or moon to save him.

Is this not a more accurate depiction of the kind of hell we fear most? One in which we are cut off from community, separated from the love of God (even if we have only experienced it in the imperfect human version)? I would argue that anyone who really chooses hell is unaware of all they are losing. Hell is the utter absence of God. If we experience pain, loneliness and despair on this earth where God is present, how much more would we suffer in a hell where he is not? Perhaps threatening unbelievers with the flames of a hell filled with the sinful and unclean is not only ineffective, but dreadfully inaccurate.

Amanda Kuehn - Narnia Business Blog:
In Charles Williams's novel Descent into Hell, Hell turns out to be nothing other than a refusal to see things as they really are. Arguably his finest novel, the "descent" in the title happens to an ordinary (if extraordinarily selfish) historian named Wentworth, whose daily choices to cheat on the truth slowly but surely lead him into a terrifying state of isolation and egotism. Heaven, by contrast, is increasingly inhabited by the novel's heroine, Pauline Anstruther, who as the book proceeds learns to face her fears (and her ancestors!) and to love the truth exactly as it is. The plot turns around the latest production of fictional playwright Peter Stanhope, but for Williams Pauline's realization of the divine glory incarnate in all of life is the deeper truth that sustains this and every other drama.
Doug Thorpe -- Amazon.com review
The key to William's mystically oriented theological thought, Descent into Hell (arguably William's greatest novel) is a multidimensional story about human beings who shut themselves up in their own narcissicstic projections, so that they are no longer able to love, to "co-inhere". The result is a veritable hell.

Secret theme behind Narnia Chronicles is based upon the stars, says new research

The hidden theme behind CS Lewis' Narnia books has finally been uncovered, according to a BBC documentary...

[But read my postings on this Weblog from July/August 2006]

Each of the seven children's chronicles is based on one of the seven planets that comprised the heavens in medieval astrology, says a scholar whose theory is examined in the programme.

The explanation comes after more than five decades of literary and theological debate over whether Lewis devised the fantasies with a pattern in mind or created characters and events at random.

It is put forward by Reverend Dr Michael Ward, in his book Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis.

Norman Stone, director and producer of The Narnia Code, to be screened on BBC2 at Easter, says the theory is the "best explanation yet" for the chimerical nature of the books.

The Chronicles of Narnia have sold over 120m copies in 41 languages since their first publication in the early 1950s first of the books, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, was turned into a film starring Tilda Swinton and James McAvoy in 2005.

The books are already known to work on two levels: the fantasy narrative enjoyed by generations of children, and the Christian allegory in which the lion Aslan represents Christ. However, Lewis never revealed the hidden key behind the series.

Dr Ward made his discovery in 2003 after reading The Planets, a poem by Lewis which refers to the influence of Jupiter in "winter passed / And guilt forgiv'n" – a theme echoed in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

He claims Lewis' knowledge of medieval history, of which he was one of the leading scholars, made him familiar with the characteristics attributed to the seven planets during the period. Each of these planets gives one of the books its theme. Prince Caspian, for example, is a story ruled by Mars, who is manifested by soldiery and battle, while The Voyage of the Dawn Treader focuses on the Sun, with its light and gold themes. In The Horse and His Boy, based on Mercury, the planet that rules the star sign Gemini and is associated with the power of communication, the characters include twins and a talking horse.

Mr Stone said: "This isn't the first theory on Narnia and I don't suppose it will be the last but this is the best explanation yet.

"Critics of Lewis said his writing was sloppy - Tolkein, for example, said the characters were a mish-mash - but this third level of meaning shows the books were not simplistic. In fact, writing such a complex set of notions into a novel must have been like three-dimensional chess.

"Lewis was a great medievalist - a real expert on the period. He was also interested in astrology. He loved the medieval view of the world. His view of faith was also that if it is to be anything it must be cosmic."

He added: "This will help change the view of Lewis. It will help elevate Lewis to a different level and make him the equal of Tolkien - both as a writer and thinker. He felt that we have been blinded by facts, but he loved hiding things. He loved the idea that people learnt more by discovering things themselves, especially hidden things. A lot of the meaning of God is after all hidden."

Mr Stone, who is married to television presenter Sally Magnusson, won both a BAFTA and an Emmy for his 1984 epic Shadowlands, which traced the unusual relationship between Lewis and his wife Joy Gresham.

Sunday Telegraph (London) – 30 November 2008

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)

Williams and the Arthuraid

Two spiritual maxims were constantly present to the mind of Charles Williams: "This also is Thou" and "Neither is this Thou." Holding the first we see that every created thing is, in its degree, an image of God, and the ordinate and faithful appreciation of that thing a clue which, truly followed, will lead back to Him. Holding the second we see that every created thing, the highest devotion to moral duty, the purest conjugal love, the saint and the seraph, is no more than an image, that every one of them, followed for its own sake and isolated from its source, becomes an idol whose service is damnation. The first maxim is the formula of the Romantic Way, the "affirmation of images": the second is that of the Ascetic Way, the "rejection of images." Every soul must in some sense follow both. The Ascetic must honour marriage and poetry and wine and the face of nature even while he rejects them; the Romantic must remember even in his Beatrician moment "Neither is this Thou."

C. S. Lewis, Arthurian Torso, "Williams and the Arthuriad" (1948)

The C.S. Lewis Collection at Taylor University

(reprinted from Will Vaus’ weblog (link on the left)

Taylor University boasts one of the best collections of C. S. Lewis first editions, original manuscripts and letters in all of the United States, second only to that of the Wade Center at Wheaton College. This is thanks to Dr. Edwin Brown, former Associate Professor of Medicine at Indiana University, who amassed one of the finest private collections of C. S. Lewis first editions in the world. A number of years ago this collection was sold to Taylor University so that it might be more accessible to C. S. Lewis scholars. The collection is complemented by the presence of pub furniture also collected by Ed Brown and resembling the Eagle & Child pub in Oxford where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and others of the Inklings group met.

Another great asset of the Edwin Brown Collection is this first edition of Mere Christianity given by C. S. Lewis to Joy Davidman Gresham at their first meeting:

On page 78, in the midst of Lewis's chapter on Sexual Morality, Joy wrote at the bottom of the page:

What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

This is a quotation from Shelley's poem, Love's Philosophy.
Then on page 86 Joy wrote:

What if the quieter love does not come?
It cannot be achieved alone.

Is there any question that Joy's first annotation reveals that she was in love with C. S. Lewis beginning with their first meeting in 1952? And certainly her second annotation refers to the failure of love in her marriage to Bill Gresham. Thankfully the story didn't end there. The kisses and the quieter love were experienced in the eventual marriage of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, though accompanied with much pain and grief.


The Paradisiacal Bike

"Talking about bicycles," said my friend, "I have been through the four ages. I can remember a time in early childhood when a bicycle meant nothing to me: it was just part of the huge meaningless background of grown-up gadgets against which life went on. Then came a time when to have a bicycle, and to have learned to ride it, and to be at last spinning along on one's own, early in the morning, under trees, in and out of the shadows, was like entering Paradise. That apparently effortless and frictionless gliding -- more like swimming than any other motion, but really most like the discovery of a fifth element -- that seemed to have solved the secret of life. Now one would begin to be happy. But, of course, I soon reached the third period. Pedalling to and fro from school (it was one of those journeys that feel up-hill both ways) in all weathers, soon revealed the prose of cycling. The bicycle, itself, became to me what his oar is to a galley slave."

"But what was the fourth age?" I asked.

"I am in it now, or rather I am frequently in it. I have had to go back to cycling lately now that there's no car. And the jobs I use it for are often dull enough. But again and again the mere fact of riding brings back a delicious whiff of memory. I recover the feelings of the second age. What's more, I see how true they were -- how philosophical, even. For it really is a remarkably pleasant motion. To be sure, it is not a recipe for happiness as I then thought. In that sense the second age was a mirage. But a mirage of something."

"How do you mean?", said I.

"I mean this. Whether there is, or whether there is not, in this world or in any other, the kind of happiness which one's first experiences of cycling seemed to promise, still, on any view, it is something to have had the idea of it. The value of the thing promised remains even if that particular promise was false -- even if all possible promises of it are false."

C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns, "Talking About Bicycles"
(1st published in Resistance, October 1946)

A floating paradise

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)

In Paradise...

In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True
J.R.R. Tolkien
An interesting piece entitled: "Deep lies the sea-longing" inklings of home (1).
by Charles Huttar (2007) may be found on
2007 Mythopoeic Society

The Bent One in "Out of the Silent Planet"

Out of the Silent Planet saves its allegorical work for the end when Ransom meets the Archangel of Mars (Malacandra). Even there, one has to have been brought up on the Bible in a living and abiding way (esp. the books of Daniel and Isaiah) to connect Oyarsas to (planetary) archangels, and Malacandra's tale of The Bent One and his fall (wounded in the very light of his light = and I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning) to Lucifer. Likewise, "Thulcandra" = The Silent Planet, that is earth, a world from which no news comes, because our Oyarsa has become "Bent" and our world is quarantined. And the nice addition of Malacandra telling Ransom that the Maleldil (meaning "Friend of the Eldila" or angels, God the Father) has "taken strange councils" and dared terrible things, and how these are things that the out-of-the-loop Oyarsas "desire to look into". One raised on the Bible will immediately pick up on this. But it's not likely anyone else will.

The Bent One

After Tolkien on ‘critics as Jabberwocks’, Lewis on the critics, and the opportunities that their myopia bring to the discerning author -- see my posting ‘Stealing Past the Watchful Dragons’ on the 20th October too -- bringing my little series on ‘Dragons’ to a close is this letter from C.S. Lewis. (Roger R)


You will be both grieved and amused to hear that out of about 60 reviews only 2 showed any knowledge that my idea of the fall of the Bent One was anything but an invention of my own. But if there only was someone with a richer talent and more leisure I think that this great ignorance might be a help to the evangelisation of England; any amount of theology can now be smuggles into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.

C.S. Lewis ~ Letter to a Lady, 9 July 1939

Stealing Past the Watchful Dragons

Though in many ways the genius behind the Inklings was Tolkien’s — and the Inklings was a surrogate for an earlier “writer’s club” that Tolkien had helped found but which was decimated by World War I — Lewis was its center of gravity, its draw, and its ongoing source of energy. His ebullient personality was in great contrast to Tolkien’s more shy and retiring demeanor. Lewis’s group criticism could be pointed and personal, but always rendered for the sake of making a work more “seaworthy”; Tolkien’s was more muted, and focused on encouragement. What brought them together week after week, besides the pleasure of their company (which was enormous), was a shared conviction that the twentieth century had started abysmally and that one of the best ways to maintain or restore the glories of the “true West” was to create and promote grand works of mythopoeia — myth, fantasy, and speculative fiction that would “steal past the watchful dragons” of conventional wisdom and decadent culture and instill what Lewis called “a taste of the other” — a vision of a transcendent realm.

Dr. Bruce L. Edwards (Bowling Green State University)
Who Were The Inklings? (excerpt)

The Seed of Dragons

In 1939, Tolkien gave a talk at Oxford on 'Fairy-Stories', later published in Essays presented to Charles Williams. In this he quoted a poem he had written for Lewis (cf. Carpenter, Inklings, 63):
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons -- 'twas our right
(used or misused), that right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we're made.

Thus Tolkien saw our (inklings) creativity as something like craft: a pleasant matter of professional obligation as a human being.

Coins, his dragon's loins

The king has set up his mint by Thames.
He has struck coins; his dragon's loins
germinate a crowded creaturely brood
to scuttle and scurry between towns and towns,
to furnish dishes and flagons with change of food;
small crowns, small dragons, hurry to the markets
under the king's smile, or flat in houses squat.
The long file of their snout crosses the empire,
and the other themes acknowledge our king's head.
They carry on their backs little packs of value,
caravans; but I dreamed the head of a dead king
was carried on all, that they teemed on house-roofs
where men stared and studied them as I your thumbs' epigrams,
hearing the City say Feed my lambs
to you and the king; the king can tame dragons to carriers,
but I came through the night, and saw the dragonlets' eyes
leer and peer, and the house-roofs under their weight
creak and break; shadows of great forms
halloed them on, and followed over falling towns.
I saw that this was the true end of our making;
mother of children, redeem the new law.

Taliessin's look darkened; his hand shook
while he touched the dragons; he said 'We had a good thought.
Sir, if you made verse you would doubt symbols.
I am afraid of the little loosed dragons.
When the means are autonomous, they are deadly; when words
escape from verse they hurry to rape souls;
when sensation slips from intellect, expect the tyrant;
the brood of carriers levels the good they carry.
We have taught our images to be free; are we glad?
are we glad to have brought convenient heresy to Logres?

Charles Williams ~ ‘Bors to Elayne: on the King’s Coins’
Arthurian Poets (The Boydell Press) 1991 (extract)

Lewis on Taliessin
Dec. 15th 1945
“... I am (these last 6 months) immersed in a v. different poet who I think great – Charles Williams: the two volumes of his Arthurian poems Taliessin and The Region of the Summer Stars. Inexcusably difficult, as I always told him, but here there really is something behind the difficulty – that something wh. we all need most in literature at present & wh. I wd. call opaque splendour – thick, rich, solid, heavy – porphyry, gold diamond.”
CS Lewis ~ Collected Letters

On Dragon Island

Laying anchor off the shore of the island, most of the ship's company went to the island to restore provisions, repair the broken water casks, and find a tree to fell and replace the Dawn Treader's broken mast.

Not wanting to work, Eustace ran off to find a shady spot. Wandering off into the mist, Eustace became lost and found his way into a valley where dwelled a dragon. The dragon had only just come out of its cave when it lay down and died. Eustace went into the cave and found its treasure horde -- donning a rather lovely golden bracelet he found -- and lay down to sleep. When he woke up, he found himself in the form of the dragon. In a panic, he tore his way out of the valley and came down to the beach. The crew was about to slay him when he was challenged by Caspian and Reepicheep, who quickly deduced who he really was.

Working with the crew for a while, Eustace became disheartened in that he might have to remain on the island since he won't fit on the Dawn Treader. However, Aslan appeared to heal him and restore him to human form so that he could remove the bracelet, which Caspian recognized as belonging to the Lord Octesian. At the end, when the ship was ready to set sail, they decided that the dragon had either killed Octesian, or was itself the lord transformed.

"A powerful dragon crying its eyes out under the moon in a deserted valley is a sight and a sound hardly to be imagined."

C. S. Lewis ~ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


This is what another writer made of the Story...

Eustace has little respect for others and lacks a sense of fairness: he tries to take more than his rightful share of water rations and lies about it, and later he slips away from his companions to avoid doing his part of the work. is behavior is beastly, and he turns literally into a monster, cut off from other human beings: he becomes a dragon – a creature straight out of the imaginative stories he had resisted. Only then can he begin to get outside himself, imagine how others see him, and “wonder if he himself had been such a nice person as he had always supposed”. After being un-dragoned by Aslan, he is able to escape the limited, materialistic, rationalistic world in which he had grown up, aided perhaps by Reepicheep’s stories about “emperors, kings, dukes, knights, poets, [and] lovers” who had fallen into distressing circumstances and recovered. Moral imagination comes to play an important role in Eustace’s life, and as readers respond to Eustace first with antipathy and then sympathy, they too can experience moral imagination at work in their own lives.

(Source unknown)

Dragon Hunt

Smaug the Golden

“One of the greatest Dragons of Middle-Earth during the Third Age, a royal beast of great lineage and cunning whose first recorded appearance in the Annals of the Age was in the year 2770, when he came flaming out of the North to capture, sack and occupy the Dwarf-kingdom of Erebor east of Mirkwood. The attack was so successful that most of the Dwarves unfortunate enough to be caught inside the Lonely Mountain on that day were exterminated - and for good measure Smaug aslo destroyed the nearby Mannish town of Dale. After completing these labours, the Dragon crawled inside the Mountain and there gathered all the wealth of both Erebor and Dale into one vast heap, upon which he lay in contented slumber for nearly two full centuries.”

(The Tolkien Companion ~ J.E.A. Tyler)

Lewis on Williams

I was looking up mentions of Williams in Lewis' letters, and came across one which was amusing, and another which is very insightful, I think. The amusing one was telling his brother Warnie about an evening he spent with Tolkien, Wrenn, and Williams. He says, Wrenn almost seriously expressed a strong wish to burn Williams, or at least maintained that conversation with Williams enabled him to understand how inquisitors had felt it right to burn people. Tolkien and I agreed afterwards that we just knew what he meant: that as some people at school..... are eminently kickable, so Williams is eminently combustible. "

The other, 4 months later in 1940, commented on a lecture CW had given, I think at Oxford, on chastity. In the middle of a fascinating paragraph describing CW's lecture, Lewis said, "I have at last, if only for once, seen a university doing what it was founded to do: teaching Wisdom." I realised that this does sum up for me the kernel of Williams' writings: wisdom. That must be why they are so lapped up by those who do try them; the difficulties of understanding are worth overcoming, if one can just get to the nub and taste that wonderful wisdom, the wisdom from above, "from the Father of lights".

Would others agree with me that this may be the secret of CW's writings?

Carolyn Janson


When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation the thought will often cross our minds that (if only we knew it) the event is already decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided--in a sense it was decided 'before all worlds'. But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering. Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude that we can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten a.m. (Some scientists would find this easier than popular thought does.) The imagination will, no doubt, try to play all sort of tricks on us at this point. It will ask, 'Then if I stop praying can God go back and alter what has already happened?' No. The event has already happened and one of its causes has been the fact that you are asking such questions instead of praying. It will ask, 'Then if I begin to pray can God go back and alter what has already happened?' No. The event has already happened and one of its causes is your present prayer. Thus something does really depend on my choice. My free act contributes to the cosmic shape. That contribution is made in eternity 'before all worlds'; but my consciousness of contributing reaches me at a particular point in the time series.
C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Appendix B (1947)

Of Rowan and Charles Williams

Where Rowan Williams meets Dostoevsky (excerpt)

Rowan Williams divides us, even those who are not church hobbyists with an obsession (pro or anti) with gay bishops.

Some, such as myself, rejoice that at the heart of public life, we at last have a person who reads books, who takes the life of the mind seriously, while being so patently a good egg. Others are less sure. Even his fans agree that his utterances can be impenetrably obscure. This must be a drawback in a public figure.

The anti-Rowanites include, paradoxically, both atheist intellectuals, who dislike so clever a man for appearing to side with the most conservative Christians, and those Christians themselves, who suspect that behind the complex rhetoric there lurks a crypto-unbeliever.

"He's someone who's chaotic, sometimes pretentious, sometimes waffly, sometimes unbearably clotted, and yet in the middle of it, there are so many gems."

Who is speaking? Why, it is Rowan Williams himself, speaking of his near-namesake, but no relation, Charles Williams - an obscure taste nowadays, but a strong one.

Charles Williams worked as a publisher all his life. When Auden, still an agnostic, met him, to discuss the Oxford Book of Light Verse, he felt himself in the presence of something like holiness, and began his journey back to faith. Charles Williams wrote long Arthurian poems, and a series of supernatural thrillers, including one which culminates in a Eucharist celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"Ah! The great Mass in Lambeth Palace!" exclaims the Archbishop, clapping his hands in delight, and smiling beneath the huge bushy eyebrows. He does not on this occasion speak - though he has written about them - of Charles Williams's peculiar mingling of piety and concupiscence, and Dantean crushes - sometimes out of control - on office secretaries at the Oxford University Press.

Like the subject of the Archbishop's latest book, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Williams was not an entirely savoury character. Were the Archbishop to present either Williams (chainsmoking lover of women and member of the Order of the Golden Dawn) or Dostoevsky (gambler, political prisoner, anti-Semite) to colleagues on the General Synod, there would probably be some prim intakes of breath.

I thought of these things, as I was led into the presence of the bardic Archbishop at Lambeth, and remembered the spluttered outburst of disapproval that I heard last year from a senior layman.

"He's supposed to be the Archbishop of Canterbury! The Church of England is collapsing around his ears! And where is he? In America for two months! Writing a book about Dostoevsky!" The speaker's tone suggested that it was bad enough for the Archbishop to be taking any time off, but to be writing about a novelist who did not even have the decency to be English - well, that really took the biscuit.

Yet the Church of England has not collapsed - not quite, anyway. And the result of the Archbishop's sabbatical in the United States is a splendid book on the wild, strange genius of Dostoevsky.

A N Wilson discovers why, amid turmoil in the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury has written a book about one of his literary passions: Dostoevsky

Daily Telegraph – 27th September 2008 (Introduction)

Evelyn Underhill

In the same way she was devoted to flowers and birds, as to all living creatures, and had a keen interest in archaeology. She and her husband often arranged their holidays with these concerns in view. Thus they went in one year to Monte Generoso for the sake of the Alpine flowers, and in other years to Drummond Castle and Malham Tarn for the sake of the English. She had a passion for mountains, though she saw a certain irrationality in her ardour - "they are only heaps of earth." But if the Omnipotence deigned so to create, why not adore the Omnipotence and (in another kind) the creation? So, and not otherwise, the single operation proceeded in her.

In 1921 she gave the Upton Lectures on Religion at Manchester College, Oxford; they were afterwards published as The Life of the Spirit and the Life of To-day. She was also a member of Copec and made a contribution to one of its published reports. She was now generally recognized not only as a "great Christian writer" but as a person capable of communicating spiritual initiative and power.

From the Introduction to:~
The Letters of Evelyn Underhill (1943) -
Edited with an Introduction by Charles Williams


Sybil Coningsby stepped out into the storm and tried to see before her. It was becoming very difficult, and the force of the wind for the moment staggered and even distressed her. She yielded to it a little both in body and mind; she knew well that to the oppositions of the world she could in herself offer no certain opposition. As her body swayed and let itself move aside under the blast, she surrendered herself to the only certain thing that her life had discovered: she adored in this movement also the extreme benevolence of Love. She sank before the wind, but not in impotence; rather as the devotee sinks before the outer manifestations of the God that he may be made more wholly one with that which manifests. Delaying as if both she and it might enjoy the exquisite promise of its arrival, it nevertheless promised, and, as always, came. She recovered her balance, swaying easily to each moment's need, and the serene content which it bestowed filled again and satisfied her.

It satisfied, but for no more than the briefest second did she allow herself to remain aware of that. Time to be aware, and to be grateful for that awareness, she enjoyed; literally enjoyed, for both knowledge and thankfulness grew one, and joy was their union, but that union darted out towards a new subject and centre. Darted out and turned in; its occupation was Lothair Coningsby, and Lothair was already within it. It did not choose a new resting-place, but rather ordered its own content, by no greater a movement than the shifting of the accent from one syllable back to the other. So slight a variation as gives the word to any speaker a new meaning gave to this pure satisfaction a new concern. She was intensely aware of her brother; she drew up the knowledge of him from within her, and gave it back within her. In wave after wave the ocean of peace changed its "multitudinous laughter" from one myriad grouping to another. And all, being so, was so.

Charles Williams - The Greater Trumps (1932) - Ch.9 : Sybil

An Inklings Meeting

[Magdalen College, Oxford]

Tolkien and Lewis formed the spine of the Inklings, regularly convening to read and discuss one another’s work in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College. There were nineteen members in all.

Tempers must surely have become frayed at times – as Tolkien became unyieldingly critical of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (“about as bad as can be”) or as the English don Hugo Dyson met the latest bulletin from Middle Earth by (according to Tolkien’s son Christopher) “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, ‘Oh God, no more Elves’”.
Inkling James Dundas-Grant recalls a typical scene: “we sat in a small back room with a fine coal fire in winter . . . . back and forth the conversation would flow. Latin tags flying around. Homer quoted in the original to make a point . . . . Tolkien jumping up and down, declaiming in Anglo-Saxon.”
John Wain, a former pupil of Lewis’s and an occasional Inkling himself, wrote a hostile account of the group in 1962, stating that they were “politically conservative, not to say reactionary; in religion . . . in art, frankly hostile to any manifestation of the ‘modern’ spirit”. The surviving Inklings were outraged, but some of Wain’s criticisms seem difficult to repudiate. Here, for example, is Lewis lampooning T. S. Eliot:

For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
To see if evening – any evening – would suggest
A patient etherised upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn’t able.

(Jon Barnes)

An Historical Falsehood

In popular thought, however, the origin of the universe has counted (I think) for less than its character - its immense size and its apparent indifference, if not hostility, to human life. And very often this impresses people all the more because it is supposed to be a modern discovery - an excellent example of those things which our ancestors did not know and which, if they had known them, would have prevented the very beginnings of Christianity.
Here there is a simple historical falsehood. Ptolemy knew just as well as Eddington that the earth was infinitesimal in comparison with the whole content of space. There is no question here of knowledge having grown until the frame of archaic thought is no longer able to contain it. The real question is why the spatial insignificance of the Earth, after being known for centuries, should suddenly in the last century have become an argument against Christianity. I do not know why this has happened; but I am sure it does not mark an increased clarity of thought, for the argument from size is in my opinion, very feeble.

C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Dogma and the Universe" (1970)
If the Moral Law was one of our instincts, we ought to be able to point to some one impulse inside us which was always what we call 'good,' always in agreement with the rule of right behaviour. But you cannot. There is none of our impulses which the Moral Law may not sometimes tell us to suppress, and none which it may not sometimes tell us to encourage. It is a mistake to think that some of our impulses--say mother love or patriotism--are good, and others, like sex or the fighting instinct, are bad. All we mean is that the occasions on which the fighting instinct or the sexual desire need to be restrained are rather more frequent than those for restraining mother love or patriotism. But there are situations in which it is the duty of a married man to encourage his sexual impulse and of a soldier to encourage the fighting instinct. There are also occasions on which a mother's love for her own children or a man's love for his own country have to be suppressed or they will lead to unfairness towards other people's children or countries.
Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses. Think once again of a piano. It has not got two kinds of notes on it, the 'right' notes and the 'wrong' ones. Every single note is right at one time and wrong at another. The Moral Law is not any one instinct or set of instincts: it is something which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 2 (1952)

Inside 'Songs for Philologists'

There were 30 songs in the collection, J.R.R.Tolkien contributed 13:

'From One to Five'. To be sung to the tune of ‘Three Wise Men of Gotham’.

'Syx Mynet'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of 'I Love Sixpence'.

'Ruddoc Hana'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of 'Who Killed Cock Robin'.

'Ides Ælfscýne'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of ‘Daddy Neptune’. Reprinted, together with a Modern English translation ('Elf-fair Lady') in The Road to Middle-earth.

'Bagm? Blom?'. In Gothic, to be sung to the tune of ‘O Lazy Sheep!’ Reprinted, together with a Modern English translation ('Flower of the Trees') in The Road to Middle-earth.

'Éadig Béo þu!'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. Reprinted, together with a Modern English translation ('Good Luck to You') in The Road to Middle-earth.

'Ofer Wídne Gársecg'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of ‘The Mermaid’. Reprinted, together with a Modern English translation ('Across the Broad Ocean') in The Road to Middle-earth.

'La Húru'. To be sung to the tune of ‘O’ Reilly’.

'I Sat upon a Bench'. To be sung to the tune of ‘The Carrion Crow’.

'Natura Apis: Morali Ricardi Eremite'.
Also to be sung to the tune of ‘O’Reilly’.

'The Root of the Boot'. To be sung to the tune of ‘The Fox Went Out’. Reprinted in Anderson’s Annotated Hobbit, and in a revised form in The Return of the Shadow.
Also reprinted in The Tolkien Papers: Mankato Studies in English. Later revised and printed in The Lord of the Rings and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil as 'The Stone Troll'.

'Frenchmen Froth'.
To be sung to the tune of ‘The Vicar of Bray’.

'Lit' and Lang''. To be sung to the tune of ‘Polly Put the Kettle On’.

The above information is a summary of that given in Hammond’s Descriptive Bibliography (Pages 293 & 294).

Songs for the philologists is privately printed in the Department of English at University College, London, in 1936. It is the first and only edition, 8vo (214mm.), pp. iv, 30, [2]; orig. printed pale blue wrappers, saddle-stitched; with staples. The text is in both English and Anglo-Saxon and is printed in both Roman and Anglo-Saxon types. On the verso of the title: "Printed by G. Tillotson, A.H. Smith, B. Pattison and other members of the English Department,

Songs for Philologists

When asking a Tolkien collector which book is the most precious book in his collection, it will probably be a perfect first edition of the Lord of the Rings, a signed book, like a Silmarillion signed by Christopher Tolkien, or a nice reading copy of an old the Hobbit (like I treasure one, just because it was the one all started with). Yet when asked what would be the most rare Tolkien book out there, the answer would probably be "The Songs for the Philologists".

In Leeds J.R.R.Tolkien and E.V.Gordon founded a a "Viking Club" for undergraduates devoted mainly to reading Old Norse sagas and drinking beer. It was for this club that Tolkien and Gordon originally wrote their Songs for the Philologists, a set of duplicated typescripts, containing a mixture of traditional songs and original verses translated into Old English, Old Norse and Gothic to fit traditional English tunes.

In 1935 or 1936 Dr A.H. Smith of University College London, former student at Leeds, gave a copy of one of the typescripts to a group of students to print at their private press as a printing exercise. There for we can assume there were not many copies printed originally. He later realized that he had not asked for permission from Tolkien or Gordon, so the completed booklets were not distributed. Most of the copies were destroyed in a fire at the college where the press and copies of the book were stored, but evidently some copies survived, perhaps retained by the students who printed them. The number that survive is not known, but is very small, perhaps as few as 14.

The Doctrine of Substituted Love

It spoke of sights and sounds, touches and thrills, and of entire oblivion of harm; nothing was to be that she did not will, and everything that she willed, to the utmost fullness of her heart, should be. She would be enough for herself. She could dream for ever, and her dream should for ever be made real. "Come soon," it said, "come now. I'll wait for you here. In a few minutes you'll be free, and then you'll come; you shall be back soon. Give me your hand and I'll give you a foretaste now." A hand came into hers, a pulse against her wrist beat with significance of breathless abandonment to delirious joy. She delayed in a tremulous and pleasurable longing.

"But how?" she murmured, "how can all this happen? how do I know what I want? I've never thought ... I don't know anyone . . . and to be alone. . . ."

"Give me your hand," the other said, "then come and dream, till you discover, so soon, the ripeness of your dream." She paused, and added, "You'll never have to do anything for others any more."

It was the last touch, and false, false because of the habit of her past and because of Stanhope's promise. The fountain of beauty had sprung upward in a last thrust; it broke against the arched roof of his world, and the shock stung her into coldness. Never have to do anything--and she had been promising herself that she would carry someone's parcel as hers had been carried, that she would be what he said she could. Like it or not, it had been an oath; rash or wise it stood.

Charles Williams “Descent into Hell”
Ch. 6 - The Doctrine of Substituted Love

Lewis on Continual Assessment by Examination

[Examination Schools in Oxford - 'Schools' as they are known to generation of students]

Lewis writes to Dr. Warfield Firor about grading Scholarship Examinations at the end of the term:
...But there is something about this endless examining, quite apart from the labour, which bothers me. It sets me wondering about the whole system under which you, as well as we, now live. Behind all these closely written sheets which I have to read every year, even behind the worst of them, lie hours of hard, long work. Even the bad candidates are doing their best and have been trained up to this ever since they went to school. And naturally enough: for in the Democracies now, as formerly in China under the mandarin system, success in competitive examinations is the only moyen de parvenir*, the road from elementary school to the better schools, and thence to college, and thence to the professions. (You still have a flourishing alternative route to desirable jobs through business which is largely disappearing with us: but it is at least equally competitive).
This of course is what Democratic education means -- give them all an equal start and let the winners show their form. Hence Equality of Opportunity in practice means ruthless competition during those very years which, I can't help feeling, nature meant to be free and frolicsome. Can it be good, from the age of 10 to the age of 23, to be always preparing for an exam, and always knowing that your whole worldly future depends on it: and not only knowing it, but perpetually reminded of it by your parents and masters? Is this the way to breed a nation of people in psychological, moral, and spiritual health? (N.B. boys are now taught to regard Ambition as a virtue. I think we shall find that up to the XVIIIth Century, and back into Pagan times, all moralists regarded it as a vice and dealt with it accordingly).
* moyen de parvenir = "way to arrive"
C.S. Lewis, Letter to Warfield M. Firor Dec 3 1950, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III (2007)

Tolkien and the Viking Club

A pre-enlistment First in English Language and Literature had virtually assured Tolkien of an academic career. A readership took him to Leeds University, where the founding of the Viking Club for tutors and undergraduates to fraternise, drink beer, read sagas and sing comic songs helped make him a popular teacher. Back at Oxford in 1925 as Professor of Anglo-Saxon, his declamatory Beowulf lectures, re-enacting the bard in the mead hall, deeply impressed all who heard them; Auden later told Tolkien that his voice he had heard was the voice of Gandalf.

I've heard of Flower Festivals, but...

IF YOU look carefully, you can see Mr Tumnus, the faun, standing under the lamp post (Above, left). For one Sunday morning, the doors of the riverside Church of St Michael and All Angels, Linton, in Bradford diocese, opened into the magical land of Narnia.

A hundred people made their way through fir trees, meeting many of the characters from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Mr and Mrs Beaver had built their dam in the side chapel; the four thrones for the two kings and two queens stood by the altar; and in the children’s corner were the stone statues of the creatures from Narnia who had fallen foul of the White Witch. A huge picture of Aslan the lion was projected on to the chancel arch.

Knowing that the Disney film of Prince Caspian would soon be released, the team who organise Linton’s “Liquid Worship” services thought they would remind people of the earlier C. S. Lewis book. They worked very hard to set it all up, but one of the team said: “It was very well worth it. The look of wonder on everyone’s face as they came into church was priceless.”

Church Times - 29th August 2008

The Coalbiters

The Coalbiters were formed for the discussion of a single particular common interest, that of the Old Icelandic myths and language. Tolkien named the association "Kolbitar," which referred to Coalbiters. This name hearkened to the telling of noble adventures and sagas around the roaring hearth. (Coalbiters are those who lounge so close to the fire in winter that they virtually bite the coal.) The image also emphasizes the intimacy shared by the group's members as they bundled themselves against the chill of world change and secularisation, and regaled one another with the retelling of grand tales of history and myth.

The group met approximately once a week, discussing the bits and pieces of Icelandic myth that led up to the cycle of myths that make up The Elder Edda.

The Coalbiters included many of the scholars that would later become members of The Inklings including Hugo Dyson, Neville Coghill, George Gordon, and several others.

One late addition to this “club” was C.S. Lewis, at the time a relatively new Fellow of English Language and Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford. He had met Tolkien several times before this, and the two of them had found they had much in common.

Lewis was deeply interested in the Northern myths, as Tolkien was, and the two of them often carried on their conversations of Asgard and the gods of the north long after the formal end of the Coalbiters’ meetings.

Tolkien was so encouraged by these meetings with Lewis that he began to read him bits and pieces of his early Middle-earth mythology, including the rhyming couplets he had composed called The Lay of Lethian. Lewis lavished praise on the writings. Humphrey Carpenter, in his book The Inklings, reprinted a letter written by Lewis to Tolkien in December 1929:

“I should have enjoyed [the poem] just was well if I’d picked it up in a bookshop, by an unknown author. The two things that come out clearly are the sense of reality in the background and the mythical value” (p. 30).

This was the beginning of what would become a lifelong and influential friendship for both writers.

The Coalbiters soon finished reading the cycle of myths that had brought them together. It would not be long, however, before another, far more influential, group rose from the ashes of the Coalbiters… the Inklings.

Early Years and the TCBS

By 1904 Tolkien was attending King Edward's School in Birmingham and already demonstrating a remarkable aptitude for languages. He had made a number of close friends at the school including Robert Gilson, the son of the Headmaster (who was encouraging the young Tolkien to study the classical languages).
His first literary society, the Tea Club Barrovian Society (TCBS), started as an illicit supper club in King Edward's library, when summer exams diverted schoolmasterly attention elsewhere, and it soon spread to the hard wooden settles of a nearby tea-room from whence came its mock-grand title. The scholars who formed its nucleus, Christopher Wiseman, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Ronald, as he was known, shared a knowledge of classical literature and openness to individual enthusiasms ranging from Renaissance painting to the natural sciences, music and English literature. Tolkien contributed recitations from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (which he was to co-edit as an academic a decade later) and shared his already deep-rooted love of Norse mythology. The friendship survived the asymmetric translation of Tolkien and Smith to Oxford and Gilson and Wiseman to Cambridge. At Oxford, Tolkien helped form two dining and debating clubs, the Apolausticks, principally for freshmen, and the Chequers, but neither supplanted the TCBS, which still met in vacations to discuss literature and read work in progress. It was at its instigation that Tolkien first experimented with verse form alongside his development of invented languages. Even a few hours in the company of these school-friends gave inspiration, helping him voice 'all kinds of pent-up things'. He compared the group to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, although the others took this idea considerably less seriously.
The members of the group became very close friends with a wide variety of interests all of which rubbed off on the others. Tolkien was studying languages, Robert Gilson was interested in the physical sciences and Renaissance art. Christopher Wiseman's interests included natural science, mathematics and music, whilst a late recruit to the TCBS was Geoffrey Smith, who was instrumental in introducing them to modern English literature.
Smith and Tolkien became firm friends and it is probable that it was Smith's influence that prompted Tolkien to start writing poetry. However, Gilson and Smith, were killed in action. On July 15, 1916, Smith wrote to Tolkien of Gilson's death:

My dear John Ronald,
I saw in the paper this morning that Rob has been killed. I am safe but what does that matter? Do please stick to me, you and Christopher. I am very tired and most frightfully depressed at this worst news. Now one realises in despair what the T.C.B.S. really was.
O my dear John Ronald what ever are we going to do?
Yours ever.
G. B. S.

5 months later, Tolkien was informed by Wiseman that Smith had also died in a mission. Smith wrote his last letter to Tolkien just before setting out:
My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight -- I am off on duty in a few minutes -- there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob before I go off tonight. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot.

Yours ever,
G. B. S.

The tragedy put an end to the circle of the four and left a deep wound in the hearts of the remaining two. Tolkien, awakened by Smith's echoing words, “may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them”, starts to write his mythology on a notebook that he titled "The Book of Lost Days”.

Tolkien, Flanders & Swann

Perhaps it was the shared experience of an Oxford education disrupted by war that unconsciously attracted Donald Swann (Christ Church 1941), the composer and performing partner of Michael Flanders (Christ Church 1940), to The Lord of the Rings, which he re-read every spring. Conversely, it should be no surprise that a writer who specialized in gentle philological puns would be an ardent admirer of Flanders' adroit wordplay.

Swann's affinity with Tolkien's writings was eventually expressed in a song cycle, The Road Goes Ever On. They struck up a friendship, Tolkien providing his imprimatur prior to publication with one minor revision. This was for 'Namárië', a farewell lament in Elvish, for which Tolkien suggested a replacement melody in the style of Gregorian chant, to which Swann assented. As this is sung unaccompanied, both words and music are effectively Tolkien's. Swann subsequently performed the completed work at the Tolkiens' golden wedding celebration at Merton College in 1966, accompanying the bass baritone William Elvin. 'A name of good omen', Tolkien wryly observed beforehand.
Swann viewed Tolkien's work not as escapist fantasy, but as a paradigm of human life with its sense of destiny and purpose. An unprepossessing hero, Frodo, is scarred permanently by his quest, as many veterans were by war experience; this loosens his attachment to the Shire. After Tolkien's death, his secretary handed Swann the unpublished 'Bilbo's Last Song'. Swann set and then appended it to the song-cycle. Its closing words - 'Lands there are to West of West, / Where night is quiet and sleep is rest' -- encapsulate the valedictory quality of Tolkien's magnum opus, its 'Northernness' and other-worldly longing. Later, Swann was moved to sing it at the Commemoration for Michael Flanders. 'Namárië' resurfaced at a Holywell Music Room concert in 2007, its performer, Roderick Williams commenting that Oxford was possibly the only place where it could be taken for granted that the audience would understand the lyrics.
Read more about the dynamic duo from Brian Sibley's weblog:

Pauline Baynes

[My copy of LOTR, purchased in the 1960s, with its cover by Pauline Baynes]

To leave my postings on 'longings' for a day... the English newspapers today are full of tributes to Pauline Baynes and her work (see two postings ago of mine).
Pauline Baynes, the artist and illustrator who died on August 1 aged 85, brought the worlds of CS Lewis's Narnia and JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth to life with her superb line drawings.... the rest of the Daily Telegraph obituary can be found at

I find it hard to think of the created worlds of Tolkien and Lewis without seeing Pauline Baynes' illustrations in my head.

"Deep lies the sea-longing" : inklings of home

“… Lewis gives expression to that longing which made up one part of his own divided inner life during his early years. Eventually he would understand it as a hunger for one's true home beyond this life: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world" (Mere Christianity 121).

This outlook is one that Lewis shared with his friends J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams, and for them also it took the symbolic form of a fascination with the sea ("the sea-longing," in Tolkien's phrase) and unknown lands beyond it. I am not here concerned with investigating any supposed "derivation" of ideas from one man to another, or even "influence" per se (though that may come in). My theme is simply the remarkable commonality both in the way these writers worked with myths, as mythologers and not mere mythographers, and in the meanings to which their myths point; and, finally, what lessons all this may have for us.”

Mythlore, Fall-Winter 2007 by Charles A. Huttar

Complete essay on http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0OON/is_1-2_26/ai_n21130446

The Horse and His Boy

Bree (the horse) and Shasta (the boy) use the phrase "Narnia and the North" as their rallying cry as they make their escape from their life in Calormen. They are both motivated by a deep longing to find their way to the place that is ultimately their true homeland. In the setting of The Horse and His Boy, the reader finds a departure from the landscapes, culture, and people of the Narnian realms which have become familiar in the other books. The placement of the action in the more alien realm of Calormen helps to convey a sense of unbelonging on the part of the characters and the reader, which reinforces the motif of longing for a true home.

In other works, Lewis uses the German word Sehnsucht to encapsulate the idea of an "inconsolable longing" in the human heart for "we know not what." C. S. Lewis, as a Christian, identifies the objects of Sehnsucht-longing as God and Heaven.

After meeting up with King Lune of Archenland and his hunting party, and warning them of the impending Calormene invasion, Shasta becomes lost in the fog and separated from the King's procession. After continuing blindly for some way, he senses that he has been joined in the darkness by a mysterious presence. Engaging in conversation with the unknown being, Shasta confides what he sees as his many misfortunes, including being chased by lions on two separate occasions, and concluding with "If nothing else, it was bad luck to meet so many lions." His companion then proclaims himself as the single lion that Shasta has encountered in his travels:

"I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the tombs. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at night, to receive you."

Thus it is revealed to Shasta, that, in the incidents which he perceived as misfortunes, Aslan, in his Divine Providence, has been orchestrating events for his greater purposes.


Evolutionary Hymn

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice in the present,
Joy or sorrow, what are they
While there’s always jam to-morrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we’re going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyes or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it’s god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature’s simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
‘Goodness=what come next.’
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present
Standards, though it well may be).

C.S. Lewis ‘Poems’ 1964

T.S.Eliot 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)

Michael Ward on Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian is woken by his tutor, Dr. Cornelius, in the middle of the night and taken up the dark stairway of a tower. There he sees the conjunction of two planets: "Tarva, the Lord of Victory, salutes Alambil, the Lady of Peace." According to Cornelius, "Their meeting is fortunate and means some great good for the sad realm of Narnia."

For that deeply troubled world, it is a memorable moment from the second book in C.S. Lewis' best-selling series, "The Chronicles of Narnia." This scene will have a prominent place in the new film version of "Prince Caspian," to be released on Friday.

As a believer in Natural Moral Law, C.S. Lewis thought that certain things were naturally good and other things were naturally bad. It wasn't just a question of human beings deciding what was good and what was bad. The very nature of the universe tells us something about how we ought to live.

One such thing it tells us to avoid - and where necessary to engage and defeat - is tyranny. In "Prince Caspian," Narnia suffers under a cruel, murderous tyrant, Miraz. His regime is not just an awkward political fact; it is a natural outrage. The health of each citizen and the Narnian universe is threatened by his dictatorship. To overthrow Miraz is a just act, in accordance with the true nature of things, which is why the Narnian planets foretell his downfall. As surely as fever in the human body is signified by a high temperature, so abuse of power in Narnia is signified by ominous portents in the heavens.

Lewis wrote "Prince Caspian" because he believed that in the real world, too, evil behavior has a natural payback. There is a moral cosmos, as well as a physical cosmos. This sort of belief is easy to caricature. Crackpot preachers are often quick to attribute the latest disaster to that human sin that happens to be their particular bugbear.

But the caricature does not replace the real thing. Although it may be difficult to see hard-and-fast links between one particular evil and one particular disaster, most people do believe that our actions are not consequence-free. You pollute the atmosphere, and you poison yourself as well as others. You pollute the moral order, and sooner or later you will kill yourself. Chickens do indeed come home to roost. If you act tyrannically, you will suffer for it ultimately as the natural moral law plays out.

This does not mean that one kind of tyranny is replaced by another. It means that strength can be justifiably put in the service of liberty and justice to restore the natural rule of law. As a seriously wounded veteran of World War I, Lewis knew all too well the horrors and stupidities of armed conflict. And, he was most certainly no warmonger. But he also felt that war could sometimes be warranted.

War should be a last resort, declared by lawful authority and conducted according to the natural moral law: It should be defensive, not imperialistic, and there should be limits to one's war aims, a fair chance of success, no torture of prisoners, no slavery, full personal accountability for the acts of those engaged, no intentional "collateral damage," and mercy and reconciliation after the conflict ends. These constraints define, for Lewis, what chivalry was all about - that tradition of gallantry that he felt had all but been forgotten in the modern era: the noble knight in selfless defense of a just cause to protect liberty and justice for the innocent.

The world of "Prince Caspian" is not a chaos, but a cosmos, a carefully structured world, both morally and materially, in which all individuals and events have spiritual significance. The story reflects Lewis's belief that the real world, too, is ordered and coherent, all the way up to the planets and stars. "The heavens are telling the glory of God," according to the words of his favorite Biblical psalm. It is the glory of God's natural law, he believed, to pull down the overly mighty from their thrones and exalt the humble and meek. The knight saves us from a world "divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable" - so Lewis wrote in "The Necessity of Chivalry." And the lessons of chivalry, mercy, liberty and justice from "Prince Caspian" are more than ever necessary in our troubled world today.

Michael Ward ~ Los Angeles Times (14 May 2008)