The man who grew up in Narnia

[Douglas Gresham on the set of Prince Caspian]

A long and interesting interview in the Church Times this week with Douglas Gresham, the introduction to the interview runs thus:

Douglas Gresham is the stepson of C. S. Lewis. He first met Lewis at the age of eight, when he came to England with his American mother, Joy Davidman, and his brother, David. Joy Davidman was already suffering from cancer when she married Lewis in 1956, and she died four years later. C. S. Lewis adopted the boys when he and Joy married, and he took care of them until his death in 1963. Management of his literary estate passed to them.
Must admit I do rather like his responses to some of the more dumb questions!
Additionally, I have just read a nice piece about Lewis and Headington Quarry church on Will Vaus' blog posted a couple of days ago... worth a read:

Leaf by Niggle (II)

Letter 98 (18 March 1945), to Stanley Unwin by J.R.R. Tolkien. In this letter Tolkien talks about 'Leaf by Niggle':

“...that story was the only thing I have ever done which cost me absolutely no pains at all. Usually I compose only with great difficulty and endless rewriting. I woke up one day (more the 2 years ago) with that odd thing virtually complete in my head. It took only a few hours to get down, and then copy out.”

These few hours Tolkien found the time to write down a little story which is an absolute pearl and a favourite Tolkien story. Leaf by Niggle is very much an allegory of Tolkien's own creative process, and, to an extent, of his own life. Although Tolkien did not like the idea of allegory, he admitted having been just that in Leaf by Niggle in a letter to Caroline Everett (24 June 1957):

“I should say that, in addition to my tree-love (it was originally called The Tree), it arose from my own pre-occupation with the Lord of the Rings, the knowledge that it would be finished in great detail or not at all, and the fear (near certainty) that it would be 'not at all'. The war had arisen to darken all horizons. But no such analyses are a complete explanation even of a short story...”

The story was originally written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1938-39 and first published in the Dublin Review in January 1945. It can be found, most notably, in Tolkien's book titled "Tree and Leaf". This is notable because the book, consisting of a seminal essay by Tolkien called "On Fairy-Stories" and "Leaf by Niggle" as example, offers the underlying philosophy (Creation and Sub-Creation) of much of Tolkien's fantastical writings.

Tolkien was of course compulsive in his writing, his rewriting, his desire for perfection in form and in the "reality" of his invented world, its languages, its chronologies, its existence and history. Like the painter Niggle, Tolkien came to being absorbed by his personal "Tree", Middle-earth. And like Niggle, Tolkien had many duties that kept him from the work he loved to complete. We owe him and his son Christopher, a debt of gratitude.
Here is the original article:

Leaf by Niggle (I)

The three books of The Lord of the Rings contain over a half million words. Its manuscript, when Tolkien sold it to Marquette University in 1957, stood in a stack seven feet high. Before, around, and beyond his famous trilogy, Tolkien wove a vast imaginative world, recording its origin and history in a sprawling profusion of songs, tales, and legends. Yet his perfectionism kept him from finishing or publishing this "History of Middle-earth" in his lifetime. Even The Silmarillion, painstakingly edited and published years after Tolkien's death by his son Christopher, contains only a part of that myth.

What animates a man to create such an elaborate fictional world? Fittingly, the most revealing thing Tolkien wrote about his own creative process may come to us in the form of a story. Tolkien's friend Clyde Kilby explains:

His problem as a writer he stated with great charm and meaning at the beginning of his story "Leaf by Niggle." That story begins, "There was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make." The journey was into death and the hereafter. Niggle describes himself as a painter, not a very successful one owing not only to interruptions which usurped his time but to a tendency toward plain laziness. Niggle's real trouble was that his reach exceeded his grasp. He had various paintings that he worked on and "most of them were too large and ambitious for his skill."

Actually he preferred to paint leaves more than trees. "He used to spend a long time on a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, and its sheen, and the glistening of dewdrops on its edges." Yet at the same time he longed to paint a whole tree. Indeed one painting had started with "a single leaf caught in the wind" but it grew, "sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots. Strange birds came and settled on the twigs and had to be attended to." For me it represents both a splendid picture of his perfectionism and the increasing vision of the mythology he was creatively to inhabit.

Niggle now turned away from his other paintings "or else he took them and tacked them on to the edges of his great picture." Might this not explain the Tom Bombadil episode and the Bombadil poems that did not quite manage to get into the main story? In due course Niggle's painting got so large he needed a ladder to reach its top. What a perfect insight into the whole creative process … of a Thomas Wolfe, a Stephen Spender, or any creative mind overwhelmed by the magnitude of its subject.

The time eventually came when Niggle began to take a hard look at what was turning out to be the main activity of his life. He looked and looked and wished for someone who "would tell him what to think." He wondered if he were simply wasting time. He wondered if he should have dropped all other paintings for this single one. Was it really a painting, or was it just a chimera? Niggle concluded contradictory things about it. "Actually it seemed to him wholly unsatisfactory, and yet very lovely, the only really beautiful picture in the world." Not only do we have here the experience of many a writer or artist, but we have what seems a most faithful description of Tolkien's own creativity.

Clyde S. Kilby ~ Tolkien and The Silmarillion (Harold Shaw, 1976)

If it works for you

Lewis wrote in a time when, among the educated British public if not among their professional philosophers, there was considerably more agreement than there is now about what constitutes a valid and rational argument for a given case. Lewis might have paid more attention to Screwtape in the very first letter where Screwtape says that the time has passed in which “the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not.”

Lewis’ apologetic works, “presuppose, and rarely make any argument for, the criteria for rationality.” Almost fifty years later, ‘deconstructionism’ and ‘anti-foundationalism’ have done their wasting work. Under the tutelage of today’s academy, unbelievers are skeptical about the very notion of ‘evidence,’ and they chatter cleverly about ‘plausibility structures’ and ‘paradigm shifts,’ leading them to offer the relativistic response to the most convincing of arguments: “That’s great if it works for you.” Or as it is said in England, “You are right if you think you are.”

The Second Coming of C. S. Lewis -- First Things, November 1994
Alan Jacobs (Wheaton College)

How Screwtape came about

“Before the service was over -- one cd. wish these things came more seasonably -- I was struck by an idea for a book wh. I think might be both useful and entertaining. It wd. be called As one Devil to Another and would consist of letters from an elderly retired devil to a young devil who has just started work on his first ‘patient’.”
Letter to his brother Warnie, July 20th 1940
"I was often asked or advised to add to the original ‘Screwtape Letters’, but for many years I felt not the least inclination to do it. Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment. The ease came, no doubt, from the fact that the device of diabolical letters, once you have thought of it, exploits itself spontaneously... it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp."
C.S. Lewis - Foreward to “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” -- The scene is Hell at the annual dinner of the Training College for young devils.

Music and Silence

Screwtape writes to his apprentice-devil nephew:

Music and silence -- how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since Our Father entered Hell -- though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express -- no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominal forces, but all has been occupied by Noise -- Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile -- Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress. Meanwhile, you, disgusting little -- [Here the MS breaks off and is resumed in a different hand.] In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertantly allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest to my secretary. Now that the transformation is complete I recognise it as a periodical phenomenon. Some rumour of it has reached the humans and a distorted account of it appears in the poet Milton, with the ridiculous addition that such changes of shape are a 'punishment' imposed on us by the Enemy. A more modern writer -- someone with a name like Pshaw -- has, however, grasped the truth. Transformation proceeds from within and is a glorious manifestation of that Life Force which Our Father would worship if he worshipped anything but himself. In my present form I feel even more anxious to see you, to unite you to myself in an indissoluble embrace,

(signed) Toadpipe (for his Abysmal Sublimity Under Secretary Screwtape, TE, BS, etc.)

C.S. Lewis ~ The Screwtape Letters

The Books of Lore

This final section treats a number of works only passingly referred to, but which seems to have some importance.

The Book of the Kings was a record kept in Gondor. Frodo Baggins and Peregrin Took were allowed to see it, and Tolkien probably used it in his translations. The evil queen Beruthiel had the doubtful honour of being erased from its pages.

The Book of the Stewards was a record, probably similar to the Book of the Kings. Frodo Baggins and Peregrin Took were allowed to see it.

Dorgannas Iaur is an account of "the shapes of the lands of old". It was written by Torhir Ifant, and Aelfwine cites it in his translation of the Silmarillion to clarify the placing of the realms of Beleriand. The above quote is the only explanation of the title. Dor means "land" and iaur means "old", so we have to assume gannas means "shape".

Parma Kuluina, or the Golden Book, was a book of lore that was kept in the city of Kortirion in Tol Eressea. Pengolodh used it when making the Quenta Silmarillion, and Aelfwine was allowed to see it.

Quentale Ardanomion is a work that treats the Dwarves; nothing more is known about it. Aelfwine used this in his account on the Dwarves in his translation of the Silmarillion. The name of the work is strange: "Arda-norn-ion" seems to be more fitting, since in Quenya norn means Dwarf. Then Ardanornion would mean "Of the Dwarves of the World".

•The Unfinished Tales Cirion and Eorl
•The Unfinished Tales The Istari
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 11 The Later Quenta Silmarillion
•The Silmarillion Index
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 5 Quenta Silmarillion
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 11 Quendi and Eldar Appendix B

The Red Book and its Authors

This part does not refer to any specific chronicler, but concerns the tradition of the Red Book which is the most important source for the history of the Third Age. The Red Book consists of several parts, for which the most important contributors were Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and Sam Gamgee.

After Bilbo Baggins returned from the quest of Erebor, he started writing a diary about his adventures. When, at the eminent age of 111, he went to Rivendell, he took this diary with him, and continued writing. He now probably wrote a lot of poems, some which were written in the margins of the diary or on loose pages. In Rivendell he also became occupied with translating a lot of Elvish Books of Lore (1403-1418 TA). For this he used all resources available there, and they were many. Except for the many texts he also had direct access to people who spoke the old languages. The result was three thick volumes in red leather called Translations from the Elvish. This work was considered well done even by the Elves.

After the War of the Ring, Frodo Baggins brought the three volumes and the diary back to the Shire and started (1420-1 TA) adding his own account of the war, which was seen as a continuation of Bilbo's adventure. When Frodo went to the Grey Havens he had almost finished the account, and gave the book to Sam Gamgee for him to finish it. It then had 80 chapters, and the title-page was full of suggestions for a name. First, Bilbo had written:

My Diary.
My Unexpected Journey.
There and Back Again.And What Happened After.
Adventures of Five Hobbits.
The Tale of the Great Ring, compiled by Bilbo Baggins from his own observations and the account of his friends.
What we did in the War of the Ring.

But these had all been crossed out. Below, Frodo had written:

(as seen by the Little People; being the memoirs of Bilbo and Frodo of the Shire, supplemented by the accounts of their friends and the learning of the Wise.) Together with extracts from Books of Lore translated by Bilbo in Rivendell.

Sam Gamgee had probably finished the account when he, in the year 60 of the Fourth Age, went to the havens. He then gave the books to his daughter Elanor.

From then on the books were kept by the descendants of Elanor, the Fairbairns of the Undertowers who lived in the Westmarch, an area recently added to the Shire. The assembled books were therefore called the Red Book of Westmarch, and a fifth volume was added. It contained commentaries, genealogies, and various other things concerning the Hobbits of the Nine Walkers.

The first copy that was made of the Red Book was the so-called Thain's Book. It was a copy made at the request of King Elessar, and its importance lay in the respect that it contained much that was later later lost or omitted. Later in Gondor, this copy was much annotated and many names and quotes were corrected. Added was also (much later) The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, i.e. those parts not present in the Red Book narrative.

The second copy was made by Findegil, the King's Writer of Gondor, and was the most important one for the scribes. It was an exact copy of the Thain's Book that was kept in Gondor. These two volumes were the only ones to contain everything from the original, plus the Gondorian annotations. In addition, in the Thain's Book the Translations from the Elvish had not been included, and these were added to the second copy. The copy was ordered by Peregrin Took's greatgrandson and when finished in 172 FA in Gondor it was kept at the Great Smials.

Apart from these, many other copies were made for Sam Gamgee's descendants. To these copies was also later added many notes, commentaries and poems. The original Red Book was lost, but the copies remained. These were Professor Tolkien's main source to his accounts of the War of the Ring. However, when he published the first editions, he hadn't found all the correct accounts, or hadn't used them. For instance, in his earliest texts about Bilbo's adventure in the Misty Mountains, the story originated from a version of the Red Book where Bilbo's "lie" was printed: that he was promised a present by Gollum, but since Gollum couldn't give the Ring to Bilbo, he was shown the way out instead. In reality, Bilbo was never offered the Ring. Another example is Frodo's salute to Gildor Inglorion. Some versions of the Red Book claim that it was "Elen sila lumenn' omentielmo", and so it was printed at first. But the correct salute should end "-elvo", and this was later changed. However, it is possible Frodo actually used the erroneous phrase.

•The Adventures of Tom Bombadil: Prologue
•The Lord of the Rings vol. 1 Prologue
•The Lord of the Rings vol. 3 The Grey Havens
•The Lord of the Rings vol. 3 Appendix B

Ælfwine of England

The subject on Aelfwine, the seafarer who found the Straight Road and came to Tol Eressea, is definitely the most intricate and complicated matter of all the chroniclers. He is also extraordinary in that he is the only one to belong to historical times.

Aelfwine was an Anglo-Saxon, living in Britain during the 10th century. His name is in Old English, and means "Elf-friend", not a very uncommon name at this time. He was a long way descendant of Earendil, and had, like all of Earendil's descendants, sea-longing in his blood.

There are actually two very distinct versions of the Aelfwine legend. The first sets him in 11th century Wessex, but this version of the story seems to have been very mingled with vocal tradition, since it gives the origin of Warwick as originally built by Elves (who called it Kortirion in memory of Kortirion on Tol Eressea). We hold this as almost definitely impossible for these reasons: Under the First, Second, and Third Age we hear of no city called Kortirion in Middle-earth. At the beginning of the Fourth Age the few remaining Elves were dwindling, and we find it unlikely that any Elves would build a large city at this time. But it is very possible that the story stems from the other version, because the main plot is the same.

All the same, the first version is highly detailed and is therefore worth recounting: Aelfwine lived in Warwick in Luthany (that is England) and was of the kin of "Ing". His father was the minstrel Deor and his mother Eadgifu. While Aelfwine was still very young, Warwick was attacked by Vikings from the north. Deor and Eadgifu were slain, and Aelfwine became a thrall under the Viking Orm.

After many years of service, Aelfwine escaped and managed to get to the west coast of England. There he lived with sailors for many years, until he was grown up. During this time he learned to sail, and often went far out into the ocean. On one of these journeys he saw islands far off in the west, but the wind drove him back to his home.

Knowing there were uncharted islands in the west, he went off with seven companions (of which only Aelfheah, Bior and Gelimer are named). During a stormy night the ship wrecked and the next morning Aelfwine found himself alone on a beach. He had been cast ashore on one of the Harbourless Isles.

He soon found he was alone on the island, except for an "ancient" man who had been wrecked on the island long ago and who called himself the Man of the Sea. Aelfwine spent a long time on the island and learned much from the old man. One morning they found another ship was wrecked on the island - Orm the Viking's ship. None of the Vikings had survived, and Aelfwine and the Man of the Sea set out with the ship.

After a long journey west they came to the solitaire island Eneadur, inhabited by a great seafaring people called Ythlings. On this island Aelfwine found his seven companions alive and well. The Ythlings seemed to know the Man of the Sea, who ordered them to build a new ship for Aelfwine and his companions. At the day of departure, the old man blessed the ship, and then went to a high cliff and dived into the ocean. Aelfwine was grieved of what he thought to be the old man's certain death, but the Ythlings only smiled.

Joined by an Ythling called Bior, the eight companions set out west again. After a very long and weary yourney they passed the Magic Isles, where they lost three members of their crew in a spell of sleep. On a misty day, the air felt full of a strange fragrance, and suddenly the mists drove away and they saw before them the Lonely Isle - Tol Eressea.

But then the wind turned, the mists came back and the vision disappeared. Aelfwine stood long at the rear, and then with a cry he jumped into the ocean as the ship drifted back east.

This version of the legend ends here. This may indicate that it was originally written by one of Aelfwines companions. But it must have become very corrupted through the ages, and is perhaps not at all reliable.

The other version of the story seems more reliable, partly because it has quite many historical references.

Aelfwine was a sailor and a minstrel in the service of king Eadweard's thegn Odda. He was called Widlast ("Fartravelled") and his father was Eadwine, son of Oswine. He was apparently born around 869 A.D.

When Aelfwine was nine years old (878 A.D.), his father sailed off with his ship Earendel and never returned. Because of the attacks of the Danes, Aelfwine's mother (not named) fled with him from Somerset, where they lived, to the West Wales, where she had her kindred.

Having grown up to full manhood and learned the Welsh language and much sea-craft he returned to Somerset to serve the King in the wars. In the service of Odda he sailed many seas and visited both Wales and Ireland many times. On his journeys he always sought tales of the sea, and thus came to hear the Irish legends of Maelduin and Saint Brendan, who both set out to sea, and came to "many islands in succession, where they encountered marvel upon marvel". He heard also of a great land in the west which had been cast down, and the survivors had settled on Ireland and dwindled there. And the successors of these men all had the sea-longing in their blood, so that many sailed off west and never returned. Aelfwine thought he might be one of these descendants.

Around the year 915, in autumn, the Danes attacked Porlock. They were at first driven off and Aelfwine's company managed to capture a Danish "cnearr" (a small ship) at night. Aelfwine's closest friend was Treowine of the Marches. At dawn Aelfwine told Treowine he intended to sail off, perhaps to the country of the legendary king Sheaf in the west. This he had long planned and had prepared a supply of food and water. Treowine agreed to accompany him at least as far as to Ireland. They got two other companions: Ceola of Somerset and Geraint of West Wales. Then they sailed off.

They sailed west and passed Ireland, and after many days the voyagers were exhausted. A "dreamlike death" seemed to come over them, and soon they passed out. The last that is known of the journey is that Treowine saw the world plunge down under them. They had entered the Straight Road.

It is uncertain what happened to Aelfwine's companions after they fainted. Indeed, it is uncertain how many that followed him all the way to where he now came. That Treowine was there is known, because he is mentioned. The others may have left in Ireland or (as one version says) jumped overboard when the ship rose from the surface of the sea.

In any case, when Aelfwine woke up, he found himself lying on a beach and a group of Elves pulling up his ship on the shore. He had come to Tol Eressea. He soon got aquainted with the Noldor that lived on the island, and gained the name Eriol, which means "one who dreams alone" (it has also been interpreted as "iron-cliffs"). He learned the islanders' language, Noldorin, and after a period went inland.

Soon he had come to a village called Tavrobel, where he stayed for a long time. In this village also lived Pengolodh, and Aelfwine learned much from him. Pengolodh told him the Ainulindale, and he was shown the Lhammas, the Quenta Silmarillion, the Golden Book, The Narn I Chin Hurin, and the Annals of Aman and Beleriand. Aelfwine learned much of these works by heart, and translated the Silmarillion, the Annals and the Narn into Old English (mostly after his return to Britain), giving explanations on the many names.

It is not known how long Aelfwine stayed on Tol Eressea, but it can be safely assumed he stayed there for many years. Eventually he returned to Britain, but what there befell him is not known. It is clear, though, that he continued translating the works that he had received or learned, and that Professor Tolkien used much of his works in his translations.

•The History of Midde-earth vol. 9 The Notion Club Papers (part two)
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 2 The History of Eriol or Aelfwine
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 5 The Lost Road
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 1 Appendix
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 10 Ainulindale
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 5 Part two: The Lhammas
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 5 Part two: Quenta Silmarillion
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 4 The Earliest Annals of Valinor
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 11 Aelfwine and Dirhaval
•Beowulf stanza 1 - 58