The Father Christmas Letters ~ 1929
Auden & the Inklings (I)
By the fall of 1940 he was going to church again, for the first time since childhood, and would affirm the Christian faith for the rest of his days.
However, the many readers who have rejoiced in the work of Auden’s fellow British Christians, the Inklings — Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, and (peripheral to their circle) Dorothy Sayers — have paid little attention to this remarkable man or the extraordinary work that emerged from his embrace of the Christian faith.
Alan Jacobs ~ 'First Things'
First Things ~ Sep 10, 2009
There’s a deeper, personal significance to Tolkien in the story of Beren and Luthien. Tolkien was frequently unhappy with people comparing his work to his own life. However, the story of Beren and Luthien has autobiographical origins, which Tolkien would not have denied.
Tolkien definitely compared his relationship to his wife, Edith Bratt, to the relationship between Beren and Luthien. When Tolkien first met Edith, she was a Protestant, and Tolkien, a devout Catholic was advised not to marry her. In fact, Edith did forsake her family by converting to Catholicism. So it is said that even the first meeting of Beren and Luthien is an echo of Tolkien’s life.
Beren spies Luthien dancing in the woods and falls deeply in love with her. On a romantic starry night, Edith danced for Tolkien and immediately entranced him. Edith was older than Tolkien; she was 19 and he was 16. This reflects Luthien’s agelessness and maturity, as compared to Beren’s relative youth.
Clearly the family struggle that ensued and the opposition Edith encountered in attempting to marry Tolkien was a source of pain to Edith. Luthien is shown as sorry for the family conflict she causes, yet resolute in her path to marriage. Tolkien’s words breathe a kindly sympathy to Edith’s family and an understanding of their pain, while celebrating Edith’s choice for his sake.
Tolkien’s relationship to Edith, and his deep love for her are perhaps even more romantic than his fictional treatment of the subject. To be Luthien, the most beautiful and desired of her people in Tolkien’s eyes, was the highest regard he could possibly give a woman. Further it expresses Tolkien as almost feeling he doesn’t quite deserve the grace that is Luthien, even though Beren, and Tolkien are worthy men.
Throught their long lives, Tolkien referred to Edith as Luthien, and to himself as Beren, this being even carried over to their gravestone in Wolvercote Cemetery.
The fall of Gil-galad
Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.
His sword was long, his lance was keen,
his shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven's field
were mirrored in his silver shield.
But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.
"That's all I know," stammered Sam, blushing.
"I learned it from Mr. Bilbo when I was a lad."
The Fellowship Of The Ring - JRRT
"Born of Hope" is now available
A first review:
When we think of a ‘fan film’ we immediately conjure the image of corduroy trousers, thick rimmed glasses and a couple of 30-somethings living with their mum. Imagine the setting – back garden, local park, poorly disguised living room. Imagine the costume – eBay outfits, plastic ears and children’s toys over a backdrop of clunky dialogue and appalling editing. What you probably won’t see is a massive crew, glorious locations and choreographed action set against a superb musical score. What you won’t see is Lord of the Rings.
Unless you are watching Born of Hope.
Conceived in 2003 by director and actor Kate Madison, Born of Hope is a marvel of what can be achieved with dogged determination and the support of thousands of Tolkien fans. Shot for around £23000 at locations around the UK in 2008/09, it is released today (1st December) on Daily Motion, for free.
What is so special about Born of Hope is in the detail. It is a completely original tale set before the Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the trials of Aragorn’s father Arathorn, leader of an ever dwindling tribe of nomadic rangers. He has to face the end of his royal line at the behest of the monstrous Orc horde. But that is actually a simplistic view of what is a complex story of love, duty and responsibility. There’s no easy choices for Arathorn (played by actor Chris Dane), who must protect his son even if it means sacrificing his people, and his wife.
Against this excellent tale comes the detail in costume, set design and choreography. Scores of Orcs were recruited using custom made prosthetics, amazing armour, and borrowed props from the equally impressive fan film The Hunt for Gollum. Everything from the hairpieces to the swords was spot on.
The majority of the cast were actors working for nothing between projects, the extras were a mixture of re-enactors and stage-fighters.
It’s even more amazing considering its difficult production. After a test shoot in 2006 the production had all sorts of issues, not the least the schedule – when working for free, people have to find time in their working life, including the actors. To confound matters, Tolkien Enterprises, like all companies with intellectual property rights, weren’t too keen on allowing such a production and Kate had to negotiate a solution.
It’s probably one of the reasons the cast & crew felt like a family; with so much to do, and so little time to do it everyone has to muck in. In some cases in meant braving the harsh November climes and camping out at West Stow in -5C. Or maybe starting a fire and stirring a cauldron of stew meant for the whole team. Or just providing hugs and coffee (thanks to the runners for that!).
It wasn’t just the production team who carried a burden either. Legions of fans donated to the cause and egged the production on, even after four years.
It paid off, with accolades showering the ambitious production from day one, including a staggering testimonial from WETA.
Six years after seeing Return of the King, we finally get to immerse ourselves in the world of Tolkien again.
Alan Kael Ball [1st December 2009]
Born of Hope
A scattered people, the descendents of storied sea kings of the ancient West, struggle to survive in a lonely wilderness as a dark force relentlessly bends its will toward their destruction. Yet amidst these valiant, desperate people, hope remains. A royal house endures unbroken from father to son.
This hour long original drama is set in the time before the War of the Ring and tells the story of the Dúnedain, the Rangers of the North, before the return of the King. Inspired by only a couple of paragraphs written by Tolkien in the appendices of the Lord of the Rings we follow Arathorn and Gilraen, the parents of Aragorn, from their first meeting through a turbulent time in their people's history.
A visit to 'The Kilns'
A local Naturalist's Trust has acquired the woodland and pond to the north of the Kilns, but unfortunately they are in a sorry state. The pond is stagnant with all sorts of rubbish dumped in it, and the woodland is in great need of proper management. The site is a pale reflection on what originally attracted Jack and Warnie to the site.
The Kilns now stands in the Oxford suburbs, at the head of ‘Lewis Close’, but the path to Shotover that runs to the right of the old pond -- originally properly constructed by Jack and Warnie -- their ‘public works’ -- is still in use.
The Hunt for Gollum
This how one reviewer put it:
The Hunt for Gollum is testament to what can be accomplished with a good idea, a good story, and a bunch of people who believe in something enough to work on it for free. Any Lord of the Rings fan should go to the film's website and take a look. This isn't merely a good film for its budget; it's a good film, period.
And for another visit into Tolkien’s world, very soon we will be able to see Born of Hope:
1st December is the internet release date for the epic fan movie. The hour long film shows the struggle of Aragorn's parents, and from the trailers it will be one amazing ride into the history of Middle Earth. You can find information about it here: http://www.bornofhope.com/
Serkis, Gollum and Screwtape
Tolkien on Marriage
J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, March 1941
The birth of Elanor the Fair
......'Well, Mr. Frodo,' he said. 'I'm in a bit of a fix. Rose and me had settled to call him Frodo, with your leave; but it's not him, it's her. Though as pretty a maidchild as any one could hope for, taking after Rose more than me, luckily. So we don't know what to do.'
......'Well, Sam,' said Frodo, 'what's wrong with the old customs? Choose a flower name like Rose. Half the maidchildren in the Shire are called by such names, and what could be better?'
......'I suppose you're right, Mr. Frodo,' said Sam. 'I've heard some beautiful names on my travels, but I suppose they're a bit too grand for daily wear and tear, as you might say. The Gaffer, he says: "Make it short, and then you won't have to cut it short before you can use it." But if it's to be a flower-name, then I don't trouble about the length: it must be a beautiful flower, because, you see, I think she is very beautiful, and is going to be beautifuller still.'
......Frodo thought for a moment. 'Well, Sam, what about elanor, the sun-star, you remember the little golden flower in the grass of Lothlórien?'
......'You're right again, Mr. Frodo!' said Sam delighted. 'That's what I wanted.'
(from the appendices - LOTR)
20th May 1916 (II)
Where it yet on earth shall be,
Built about you on each side,
The Republic's liberty ;
As you saw her, rising far
To the great design of man.
Call by ban and arrière-ban ;
As your pledges you redeemed,
Serious and gay unthrift,
To the politic you schemed :
All magnificent in gift !
Only once, if aught awake
Still in you of death or pain,
For our loving's ancient sake,
O remember me again !
O courageous, new in power,
Heavened afar from earth and me,
In my own departing hour
Knit again our federacy !
May 20th 1915 (I)
Roaming foot and searching tongue,
Get no more of loss or gain,
For the soul hath gone along.
Now of all fine things on earth,
Tales and tastes and towns to see.
Less of wealth hath less of worth
For our double poverty.
In a beggared lane we go.
Palsied of the better hand ;
Purposes none else can show
Are for ever hidden land.
O the songs we shall not sing !
O the deeds we shall not do !
O the robbed hours that shall bring
In your thought's place thought of you !
Now the past is robbed also ;
You, being gone from us and all.
With the ghostly years shall grow
Fainter and phantasmical.
And of us inconstant, you
Shall have like inconstant mind,
In so many ventures new
Slipping us you leave behind.
The Moon of the Tarots
Lewis on Taliessin
Taliesin (c. 534 – c. 599) was a British poet of the post-Roman period whose work has possibly survived in a Middle Welsh manuscript, the Book of Taliesin. Taliesin was a renowned bard who is believed to have sung at the courts of at least three Celtic British kings.
A maximum of eleven of the preserved poems have been dated to as early as the 6th century, and were ascribed to the historical Taliesin. The bulk of this work praises King Urien of Rheged and his son Owain mab Urien, although several of the poems indicate that he also served as the court bard to King Brochfael Ysgithrog of Powys and his successor Cynan Garwyn, either before or during his time at Urien's court. Some of the events to which the poems refer, such as the Battle of Arfderydd (c. 583), are referred to in other sources.
His name, spelled as Taliessin in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King and in some subsequent works, means "shining brow" in Middle Welsh. In legend and medieval Welsh poetry, he is often referred to as Taliesin Ben Beirdd ("Taliesin, Chief of Bards" or chief of poets). He is mentioned as one of the five British poets of renown… in the Historia Brittonum, and is also mentioned in the collection of poems known as Y Gododdin. Taliesin was highly regarded in the mid-twelfth century as the supposed author of a great number of romantic legends.
The fullest and most brilliant expression of his outlook is to be found in his mature poetry, and especially in Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars. As I have in preparation a much longer study of these works, I must here content myself with saying that they seem to me, both for the soaring and gorgeous novelty of their technique and for their profound wisdom, to be among the two or three most valuable books of verse produced in the (20th) century.
C.S. Lewis ~ From the Preface to:
“Essays Presented to Charles Williams” (OUP 1947)
Jeeves, by Charles Williams
Adam and Eve came running
From Eden, heavy and sad;
Michael lightened behind them
With spears a myriad.
O love that is broken, broken!
(Sweet, were we running there?)
Lift from us, wings of Michael!
O sword of Michael, spare!
Mary lay in her chamber;
John the Apostle by.
Michael lightened before her,
'Behold, thine hour is nigh!’
O love exalted, exalted!
(Sweet, did we nurse the Lord?)
Gather us, wings of Michael!
Circle us, Michael's sword!
There was that war in heaven
Whereto the worlds were caught;
Michael fought and his angels,
Also the devil fought.
O love that is warring, warring!
(Us too shall that war rend?)
Beat for us, wings of Michael!
Sword of Michael, defend!
The Discarded Image
Savage beliefs are thought to be the spontaneous response of a human group to its environment, a response made principally by the imagination. They exemplify what some writers call pre-logical thinking. They are closely bound up with the communal life of the group. What we should describe as political, military, and agricultural operations are not easily distinguished from rituals; ritual and belief beget and support one another. The most characteristically medieval thought does not arise in that way.
Sometimes, when a community is comparatively homogeneous and comparatively undisturbed over a long period, such a system of belief can continue, of course with development, long after material culture has progressed far beyond the level of savagery. It may then begin to turn into something more ethical, more philosophical, even more scientific; but there will be uninterrupted continuity between this and its savage beginnings.
C.S. Lewis, Chapter 1, The Discarded Image (CUP 1964)
The Seven and the Nine
Sauron gave the Seven to the Dwarves, who proved harder to enslave:
"They ill endure the domination of others, and the thoughts of their hearts are hard to fathom, nor can they be turned to shadows. They used their rings only for the getting of wealth; but wrath and an over mastering greed of gold were kindled in their hearts..." [The Silmarillion]
This implies their rings had other powers but were not used probably because this would draw attention to the user and all that he did.
Sauron gave the Nine to Mortal Men who proved easiest to ensnare. It was said that:
"Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth... They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men..." [The Silmarillion]
According to The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien #131, the Seven and Nine conferred invisibility to the user as well as unending life. However, eventually the user would fade and become a wraith under the control of Sauron, the Dark Lord. However, the Three Elven Rings did not confer invisibility.
The song of the elves
O! What are you doing,
And where are you going?
Your ponies need shoeing!
The river is flowing!
here down in the valley!
O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The faggots are reeking,
The bannocks are baking!
the valley is jolly,
O! Where are you going
With beards all a-wagging?
No knowing, no knowing
What brings Mister Baggins,
And Balin and Dwalin
down into the valley
O! Will you be staying,
Or will you be flying
Your ponies are straying!
The daylight is dying!
To fly would be folly,
To stay would be jolly
And listen and hark
Till the end of the dark
to our tune
So they laughed and sang in the trees; and pretty fair nonsense I daresay you think it. Not that they would care; they would only laugh all the more if you told them so. They were elves of course…
Chapter 3 “A Short Rest”
To a Lady
I also have become much acquainted with grief now through the death of my great friend Charles Williams, my friend of friends, the comforter of all our little set, the most angelic man. The odd thing is that his death has made my faith stronger than it was a week ago. And I find that all that talk about 'feeling that he is closer to us than before1 isn't just talk. It's just what it does feel like — I can't put it into words. One seems at moments to be living in a new world. Lots, lots of pain, but not a particle of depression or resentment...
Letters of C.S. Lewis
(edited by W.H. Lewis) 1966
The Hebrews began to feel that there was something a little smelly about all tampering with the truth. And when Christ came, his fiercest wrath was for the hypocrite, the living lie whose every action is a false witness to his own virtue. Let us make note of the hypocrite; we shall meet him again, every last one of us, any time we care to look into the mirror. The road to Calvary was lined with many of us whited sepulchres — with scribes who claimed knowledge they had not, and Pharisees who claimed holiness they had not, and false witnesses to identify Christ as a subversive radical, and Judas with his lying kiss. But not until Jesus stood before Pilate was the ultimate lie spoken. What did Pilate mean by his "What is truth?" He seems to have been implying a doctrine fashionable in his time — the lie of the sceptic bound hand and foot in despair, who rather than face his own sins will even doubt his own reality; the question that hints that there is no such thing as truth. We must understand Pilate to understand ourselves, for he may have represented the very modern view that truth is after all a relative and subjective affair, an agreed-upon convention, a matter of expedience — and that therefore we are justified in doing anything that seems expedient, even as Pilate.
Throughout Christian history, denunciations of lying have been loud and frequent. Who has been so abhorred as Ananias? And yet we all know the meaning of the words "pious fraud." From the beginning, the devil has loved to tempt the devout to lie for the sake of their good cause — and thereby make it a bad one. One of the first tasks of the Early Church was to separate the true Gospels from the multitudinous invented "eyewitness" accounts in which the faithful lied their heads off for the supposed good of the Church… the list is endless. Nor did it end with antiquity. Most modern churches have kept up the good work of forging their own praises and their rivals' dispraise, until that clear-sighted and honest Christian Charles Williams found it necessary to write warningly of "the normal calumnies of piety," and to say of a historian, "In defence of his conclusion he was willing to cheat in the evidence — a habit more usual to religious writers than to historical," Let us clean our own house first.
You can usually tell when a hypocrite has been sinning; he denounces that sin in public — and in somebody else. The mere half-hearted sinner may try to wriggle out of his guilt by some verbal quibble; he hasn't really lied to his wife about how he spent the week-end, he just hasn't told her all the truth. But the real, thoroughgoing, incarnate lie of a Pharisee covers his guilt by trumpeting loudly about his virtue; he comes forward boldly and denounces her for lying to Mrs. Jones about that horrid new hat. And if you want to find a man whose whole life is devoted to hypocritical dishonesty and deception, it might be wise to look for one who habitually beats his child for lying.
As to whether there is such a thing as a white lie — well, no one has yet devised a rule of conduct that can be applied to every imaginable case, and the rule against lying is no exception. Here, as elsewhere, charity and common sense must be our guides. If a man comes to my door waving a gun and announcing that he'll shoot his wife the minute he finds her, I shall certainly tell him I have not seen her for a week, even though I've just finished hiding the poor woman in my cupboard. And it would be an uncharitable sort of truthfulness that, when asked, told a doting mother exactly what it thought of her small son's fiddle-playing. All the same, it is possible that most of our white lies are told, not for charity, but for laziness and for cowardice — to save the work of thinking up a real answer, or to avoid a trivial social discomfort.
Joy Davidman ~ Smoke on the Mountain (1955)
Chapter Nine ‘Jesting Pilate’
'Sybil' from The Greater Trumps (for Joan)
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.
Charles Williams ~ The Greater Trumps
Chapter Nine ‘Sybil’
Sexual Morality (II)
Now for two final remarks. Don't misunderstand what psychology teaches us about repressions. It teaches us that repressed sex is dangerous. But many people who repeat this don't know that "repression" is a technical term. "Repressing" an impulse does not mean having a conscious desire and resisting it. It means being so frightened of some impulse that you don't let it become conscious at all, so that it goes down into the subconscious and causes trouble. Resisting a conscious desire is quite a different matter, and never did anyone any harm yet. The second remark is this. Although I've had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the great vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual.
Christian Behaviour (Bles, 1943)
Sexual Morality (I)
If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. I don't say you and I are individually responsible for the present situation. Our ancestors have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favour of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance. The moral question is, given that situation, what we do about it.
Christian Behaviour (Bles, 1943)
In fact its use as a noun, in the sense that Gollum uses it, also goes back a long way. As a term of endearment, similar to dear or darling, it is first recorded in the Elizabethan tragedy Antonio and Mellida by John Marston (c. 1575-1634): 'Nay, pretious, If youle be peeuish, by this light, He sweare Thou rail'dst vpon thy love.' Not that Tolkien would have known this from the OED entry as he saw it: the First Edition of the Dictionary gave as its first example a quotation from Susanna Centlivre's comedy The Basset-Table of 1706 ('With all my Heart, my Jewel, my Precious'). The example from Marston, only recently added to the OED database, extends the known history of this sense by over a century.
Tolkien also uses the adjective in its familiar sense 'valuable', and occasionally in an ironical sense, also recorded in the OED, when referring in a belittling or depreciative manner to things considered of little or no value — for example, when one of Saruman's ruffians asks Merry where 'those precious Shirriffs' have got to (LotR vi. viii).
The Ring of Words ~
Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press (2006)
Pipe-weed is the hobbits' name for tobacco. It is not a particularly old term, and the OED (Second Edition) illustrates it only from Tolkien, though subsequent research for OED Online has located examples as far back as an American magazine of 1792. Weed on its own has been used to mean 'tobacco' since 1606 (OED: weed n.133). In the earliest draft of the passage quoted above, Merry spoke of weed (as Gimli still does in the published text), but this was replaced by pipe-weed in a subsequent stage of rewriting (HME VI. 36-7). It is a natural-sounding compound of English words (resembling other old plant names ending in -weed), and is clearly more suited to hobbit-speech than the exotic Caribbean loanword tobacco (though this does appear in the more anachronistic text of The Hobbit). The similarly alien word potato sometimes appears in the English colloquial form taters, which helps to disguise the covert anachronism of a New World plant in a supposedly Old World setting (see also Shippers The Road to Middle-earth, pp. 78-9).
Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press (2006)
New light shed on a fragment of C S Lewis’ writing
The work in question consists of eight pages of Narnia Chronicles author C S Lewis’ handwriting featuring a pre-semiotic analysis in which he defines the meaning and function of language.
In this fragment, Lewis refers to 'the authors' – in the plural – which may substantiate Professor Beebe’s theory that this essay is related to the project on which Lewis and Tolkien were working.
As documented in a letter written by Tolkien in 1944 to his son Christopher, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien had planned to write a book together about language, the working title of which would have been Language and Human Nature. A news release from their publisher announced that the book was scheduled for publication in 1950. It was, however, never published. Scholars have thought, until now, that it was never started.
(for full article click on the title above)
The Geste of Beren and Lúthien
Men called him Thû, and as a god
in after days beneath his rod
bewildered bowed to him, and made
his ghastly temples in the shade.
Not yet by Men enthralled adored,
now was he Morgoth's mightiest lord,
Master of Wolves, whose shivering howl
for ever echoed in the hills, and foul
enchantments and dark sigaldry
did weave and wield. In glamoury*
that necromancer held his hosts
of phantoms and of wandering ghosts,
of misbegotten or spell-wronged
monsters that about him thronged,
working his bidding dark and vile:
the werewolves of the Wizard's Isle.
From Thû their coming was not hid;
and though beneath the eaves they slid
of the forest's gloomy-hanging boughs,
he saw them afar, and wolves did rouse:
'Go! fetch me those sneaking Orcs,' he said,
'that fare thus strangely, as if in dread,
and do not come, as all Orcs use
and are commanded, to bring me news
of all their deeds, to me, to Thû.'
[For those who are unaware, Thû = Sauron]
Terror and War
What awaited them on this island was going to concern Eustace more than anyone else, but it cannot be told in his words because after September 11 he forgot about keeping his diary for a long time.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader ~ Chapter 5
Perhaps an opportune time to read again a passage from a talk which C.S. Lewis gave in Oxford during the 2nd World War. Still applicable to the wars in which we are engaged in the 21st Century:
The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would have never begun... we are mistaken when we compare war to 'normal life.' Life has never been normal. Even those periods we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies.
Learning in War-Time ~ CS Lewis
Over this grave a star
On the anniversary of Charles' death in 1998, with a friend I sought out his grave in the unspoilt, beautiful and peaceful graveyard of St. Cross Church, in Oxford. We attached the following of Charles' poems to his grave (changing 'house' in the first line of the original for 'grave') and sat a while in the Spring sunshine thinking and speaking together of him and his work.
Over this house* a star
Shines in the heavens high,
Beauty remote and afar,
Beauty that shall not die;
Beauty desired and dreamed,
Followed in storm and sun,
Beauty the gods have schemed
And mortals at last have won.
Beauty arose of old
And dreamed of a perfect thing,
Where none shall be angry or cold
Or armed with an evil sting;
Where the world shall be made anew,
For the gods shall breathe its air,
And Phoebus Apollo there-through
Shall move on a golden stair.
The star that all lives shall seek,
That makers of books desire;
All that in anywise speak
Look to this silver fire:
O'er the toil that is giv'n to do,
O'er the search and the grinding pain
Seen by the holy few,
Perfection glimmers again.
O dreamed in an eager youth,
O known between friend and friend,
Seen by the seekers of truth,
Lo, peace and the perfect end!
It might seem foolish, but that morning lives in my memory.
To be in speech with you,
Since you make no replies, it's all a dream
—One talker aping two.
They are half right, but not as they
Imagine; rather, I
Seek in myself the things I meant to say,
And lo! the wells are dry.
Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The Listener's role, and through
My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.
And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talking, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.
You can read the full story, in his own words, here:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1169145/Religion-hatred-Why-longer-cowed-secular-zealots.html or here http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2009/04/conversion-experience-atheism.
I think Wilson's articles show that no one is beyond the grace of God, the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who never stops reaching out, in love, in order to bring us back to himself.
Source: Will Vaus Blog – http://www.willvaus.blogspot.com/
Janie King Moore
An Oxford event next week...
Donald Swann's Green Eve
ON 9 FEBRUARY 1960, while at a café in Times Square in New York, the comic songwriter Donald Swann had a bold idea.
Swann’s partnership with Michael Flanders, his lyricist and fellow performer in the revue At the Drop of a Hat, was a hit on Broadway as well as in the West End. But, although Swann did not disdain the wealth the show had brought them, he felt that there was more to his musical talent.
“He knew a lot of his comic material was ephemeral, even vulgar,” says Leon Berger, the archivist of Swann’s estate. “Yet he was a deeply spiritual man, whose life was a long religious quest.”
What Swann decided that day was to write an opera based on the C. S. Lewis novel Perelandra, a favourite book since his student days at Oxford in the 1940s.
On the face of it, Perelandra is one of the least suitable books for an opera that Swann could have chosen: it is set on an intensely visualised “other world”, which is almost impossible to represent on stage. It has no love interest, and much of the dialogue consists of theological debate.
The book is the sequel to Lewis’s first science-fiction novel, Out of the Silent Planet, in which the hero, Ransom, was taken to the planet Mars. In Perelandra, angels convey Ransom to the planet Venus, wonderfully depicted as a vast water world with a “pure, flat gold sky like the background of a medieval picture”, and vast waves, “first emerald, and lower down a lustrous bottle green”, in which most of the land is floating mats of vegetation.
On one of these “islands”, Ransom meets a beautiful, naked young woman with green skin: the Green Lady, the Eve of this unfallen new world, temporarily separated from her Adam.
Ransom wonders why he is there, but finds out shortly after Weston, the villain of the first book, arrives in a spaceship. It is soon clear that the scientist’s body has been possessed by Satan, and that he has come to tempt this new Eve into committing a first sin, just as he did with the Eve of our world.
The Green Lady does not fall, however — although she weakens, she remains unpersuaded by Weston’s arguments — and Ransom realises that he has to kill the other man to remove the tempter from the planet.
After a long struggle, Ransom succeeds, and Perelandra ends with a cosmic celebration, in which the angel of the planet hands over responsibility for the world to the triumphantly unfallen Green Lady, now reunited with her Adam.
PERELANDRA presented a story as far removed from Flanders’s satiric verse as could be imagined, and, amid the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan, Swann jotted a postcard to David Marsh, an old friend and occasional collaborator in Oxford: “Can you imagine Perelandra as an opera, or as an operatic oratorio (vocally dramatised theology)? If so, shall we work on it?” Marsh agreed to write the lyrics, and C. S. Lewis happily gave permission.
It took Swann and Marsh four years to complete the opera. They met Lewis a number of times, usually in pubs, to discuss their ideas and to hum snatches of the music to him.
Lewis was so keen about their project that at one point he contributed the words of a song, not found in the novel, to be sung by the King and Queen of Perelandra. Marsh and Swann could not fit it in, however, as Lewis’s style was so different from theirs. In fact, although the libretto follows the narrative of Perelandra faithfully, with only minor changes, none of Lewis’s own words from the novel are quoted directly.
None the less, Lewis was enthusiastic about the work. When he saw the first complete version of the script in May 1962, he wrote to Marsh, in a letter so far unpublished: “Quite frankly, I think it is just stunningly good. It brought tears to my eyes in places. Ransom’s repeated ‘Yes, I’m frightened’ is excellent. The mask on Weston is exactly right, and if anyone can sing the part, bringing out the two voices properly, it will be terrific.”
Lewis was also pleased when he heard a preliminary performance of the opera in the summer of 1963, with Swann and a group of singers accompanied on piano at a country house in Cirencester. But the final version of the opera was not completed until after Lewis’s death, in November 1963.
The first three — and so far the only — performances in the UK took place in the summer of 1964, in Cambridge, Oxford, and London. They were concert performances, because Swann had had to pay for them himself, and scenery and costumes were unaffordable.
THE CRITICS were lukewarm. Swann’s style, drawn from the Romantic composers and folk music, was out of keeping with the atonal or serial music then fashionable. Swann’s and Marsh’s hopes that the opera would be a hit were dashed.
Nevertheless, the pair did not abandon the opera. Having decided that, at nearly three hours, it was too long to be performed commercially, they cut it down to just over two hours, producing the version that had its première in the United States in 1969 by students at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges in Pennsylvania.
This has been, so far, the only attempt to stage the work. The students clothed the Lady in a green body-stocking (nudity on stage in a religious drama would have been too risqué even for the late 1960s), and ingeniously represented the floating world of Perelandra by a plexiglass structure on stage with constantly changing internal lighting.
This time the critics were favourable: both the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker praised the opera, the latter saying: “It is unashamedly old-fashioned. It represents the Handel-Mendelssohn tradition, which is the tradition of most unselfconscious British music. A few dissonances appear from time to time to designate evil. But most of it is as innocent and sincere as Perelandra itself.”
Despite this modest success, Perelandra was never staged again. But Swann remained deeply attached to the work, and, in the last years of his life, became convinced that the truncated version had been a mistake.
That version had been created by cutting up the original score with scissors and sticky-taping it together; so, in the final weeks of his life, Swann, with his friends Leon Berger and Jonathan Butcher, reconstructed the original. “It was like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle,” says Mr Berger, who adds that it was Swann’s “dying wish that it should be performed”.
There did not seem to be any chance that it would be. The film rights to the novel had been sold to Hollywood shortly after Lewis’s death, and, despite the one exception that had been granted for the student performance in the US, this sale blocked further performances of the work.
THEN, LAST SUMMER, 14 years after Donald Swann’s death, Mr Berger gave a talk to the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society about the opera. “I managed to scramble together a few sound-clips of the piece,” he says, “and I remarked that no decent recording of the opera exists.”
The president of the society at the time, Judith Tonning, a postgraduate theology student, had invited Mr Berger to speak after she learned of the existence of the opera. “When the Society heard the clips, though the recording quality was miserable, many of us were touched,” she says.
Ms Tonning and the society’s acting secretary, Brendan Wolfe, a patristics postgraduate, decided to mount a performance of the opera, and have it properly recorded using modern technology. The enthusiastic co-operation of Mr Berger and the Donald Swann estate, and the consent of the David Marsh estate and the C. S. Lewis estate (to which the film rights had reverted), meant that the project finally got under way.
OWING to the society’s limited resources, a staged performance was out of the question, and even a decent concert performance was a huge challenge. Nevertheless, soloists, a choir, and an orchestra have been recruited. Mr Butcher, the founder and musical director of Surrey Opera, will be the musical director of Perelandra.
Two of the original cast from the 1964 production, Neil Jenkins and Rupert Forbes, will once again sing the cameo roles of C. S. Lewis and his doctor friend Robert “Humphrey” Harvard. The Green Lady will be sung by the soprano Jane Streeton, and Ransom by the Norwegian baritone Håkan Vramsmo.
Mr Berger, a professional opera-singer himself, is relishing the challenge of taking on the role of Weston. “He has the most angular music,” Mr Berger says, “and also the most fiendish rhythms. Also, I can’t turn him into a pantomime villain — he has to appear reasonable.”
Mr Berger believes that the opera is musically, as well as theologically, fascinating: “Donald was trying to find a musical language which combined old-fashioned Romanticism with a more modern conversational style of music.”
Yet he acknowledges that the opera’s true merits will not be apparent “until we’ve actually stood up in front of an audience and presented it. At the end of June, all of us, performers and audience alike, are going to be taking a voyage into the unknown.”
Perelandra will be performed on 25 June at 7 p.m. in Keble College Chapel, Oxford, and on 26 June at 7 p.m. at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. Tickets, ranging from £8 to £37, are available through the project website; from Tickets Oxford; or from Oxford Playhouse, phone 01865 305305. An international colloquium on Perelandra, for which a few places are still available, will accompany the performance run.
‘Church Times’ ~ Issue 7631
[19th June 2009)
I see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox's dullness might at length
Give me an ox's strength.
Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Saviour where I looked for hay;
So may my beastlike folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.
Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence!
C.S. Lewis and THE Horse
‘Why didn't you tell them who you were ?'
'Not such a fool, that's why. If they'd once found out I could talk they would have made a show of me at fairs and guarded me more carefully than ever. My last chance of escape would have been gone.'
'And why - ' began Shasta, but the Horse interrupted him.
'Now look’ it said, 'we mustn't waste time on idle questions. You want- to know about my master the Tarkaan Anradin. Well, he's bad. Not too bad to me, for a war horse costs too much to be treated very badly. But you'd better be lying dead tonight than go-to be a human slave in his house tomorrow.’
'Then I'd better run away/ said Shasta, turning very pale.'
'Yes, you had’ said the Horse. 'But why not run away with me?'
'Are you going to run away too ?’ said Shasta.
'Yes, if you'll come with me’ answered the Horse. 'This is the chance for both of us. You see if I run away without a rider, everyone who sees me will say "Stray horse " and be after me as quick as he can. With a rider I've a chance, to get through. That's where you can help me. On the other hand, you can't get very far on those two silly legs of yours (what absurd legs humans have!) without being overtaken. But on me you can outdistance any other horse in this country. That's where I can help you. By the way, I suppose you know how to ride ?’
'Oh yes, of course’ said Shasta. ‘At least, I've ridden the donkey.'
'Ridden the what?’- retorted the Horse with extreme contempt. (At least, that is what he meant. Actually it came out in a sort of neigh - 'Ridden the wha-ha-ha-ha-ha’ Talking horses always become more horsy in accent when they are angry.)
'In other words’ it continued, 'you can’t ride. That's a drawback. I'll have to teach you as we go along. If you can't ride, can you fall ?' - ' I suppose anyone can fall’ said Shasta.
'I mean can you fall and get up again without crying' and mount again and fall again and yet not be afraid of falling?'
'I-I'll try' said Shasta.
'Poor little beast’ said the Horse in a gentler tone. ‘I forget you're only a foal. We'll make a fine rider of you in time. And now - we mustn't start until those two in the hut are asleep. Meantime we can make our plans.
C.S. Lewis ~ The Horse and His Boy (Geoffrey Bles – 1954)
Tolkien and Horses
In my book I wrote that Tolkien 'had a strong affinity with horses, which he loved, and became a de facto breaker-in. No sooner had he broken one horse in but it was taken away. Another would then be given to him and he had to start the process again.' I now feel I should have hedged a little. The anecdote is based on a very brief unsigned report of a conversation between members of the Tolkien Society and Michael and Priscilla Tolkien in the 1970s, published in an early issue of the society bulletin Amon Hen. There are no direct quotes, and (as I point out in my comprehensive endnotes) the report is mistaken in at least one major point - that Tolkien began his war service with King Edward's Horse. In fact he left that unit in January 1913, and began training for war service as an infantry officer two and a half years later.
The picture has since become even muddier, with the publication on the internet of an extended anecdote, attributed to Michael Tolkien, in which the creation of the Black Riders was credited to a wartime experience. The story goes that Tolkien was lost on horseback when he spotted a mounted cavalry group and rode towards them - only realising too late that he was behind enemy lines and the cavalrymen were German. They are then said to have given chase but been outpaced by Tolkien. It's a vivid and exciting story, with colourful details, but to my mind quite implausible. Although there were horses on the Somme, and I found independent reports showing that officers in Tolkien's battalion sometimes used them to get around on the battlefield, the likelihood of being able to pass behind enemy lines on horseback seems extremely small. It may also be worth noting that nothing similar is recounted in the Tolkien Family Album, the down-to-earth 1992 memoir by Priscilla and John Tolkien.
Part of an interview with John Garth, the author of Tolkien and the Great War ~ Harper Collins (2003)
Death and Endings
This sense of exile was present in The Lord of the Rings. At the end of the story many of the heroes travel, quietly and alone, to the Grey Havens, a harbour containing ships to take passengers on a one-way voyage away from Middle-Earth. Against all odds good has triumphed, but at a cost. Some of the travellers are scarred by evil, others by sorrow. The boat slips anchor and fades into the darkness, leaving in its wake a glimmer of light, which in turn disappears. A sense of melancholy prevails.