The Father Christmas Letters ~ 1929

It is a light Christmas again, I am glad to say — the Northern Lights have been specially good. We had a bonfire this year (to please the Polar Bear), to celebrate the coming in of winter. The Snow-elves let off all the rockets together which surprised us both. I have tried to draw you a picture of it, but really there were hundreds of rockets. You can't see the Elves at all against the snow background. The bonfire made a hole in the ice and woke up the Great Seal, who happened to be underneath. The Polar Bear let off 20,000 silver sparklers afterwards - used up all my stock, so that is why I had none to send you. Then he went for a holiday!!! — to north Norway — and stayed with a wood-cutter called Olaf, and came back with his paw all bandaged just at the beginning of our busy times. There seem more children than ever in all the countries I specially look after. It is a good thing clocks don't tell the same time all over the world or I should never get round, although when my magic is strongest — at Christmas — I can do about a thousand stockings a minute, if I have it all planned out beforehand. You could hardly guess the enormous piles of lists I make out. I seldom get them mixed. But I am rather worried this year. You can guess from my pictures what happened. The first one shows you my office and packing room and the Polar Bear reading out names while I copy them down. We had awful gales here, worse than you did, tearing clouds of snow to a million tatters, screaming like demons, burying my house almost up to the roofs. Just at the worst the Polar Bear said it was stuffy! and opened a north window before I could stop him. Look at the result — only actually the North Polar Bear was buried in papers and lists; but that did not stop him laughing.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Auden & the Inklings (I)

W.H. Auden had been unable to believe in God since his adolescence. His loss of faith and his discovery of poetry had come, interestingly enough, at almost the same time. But in the late thirties, as Auden’s uncertainty about his role as a poet grew (along with political and social tensions in Europe) some odd things began to happen to him. When in Spain during that country’s Civil War, for instance, he was shocked and disturbed to see that supporters of the Republican cause had closed or burned many of Barcelona’s churches — but he could not account for his own reaction. Soon afterward, he met the English writer and editor Charles Williams, and felt himself to be “in the presence of personal sanctity” — though what sanctity meant in a world without God he could not say.

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'
Aug/Sep, 2001

Human Goodness

[Image: Ascension (detail) Vitali Linitsky]

Even the greatest writers struggle to describe human goodness, and very few (William Blake, Charles Williams) can speak of heavenly things without giving their audience the church giggles. There’s just something about an aura of divine love that stunts the human vocabulary.

Betty Carter
First Things ~ Sep 10, 2009
In The Lord of the Rings Beren and Luthien are frequently compared to Aragorn and Arwen. Arwen too has the choice of remaining immortal or marrying Aragorn. She chooses Aragorn and thus chooses death, a subject of much pain to her father, Elrond, who will live forever with only his recollection of her.

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

A brief extract from a poem "The fall of Gil-galad", sung Sam Gamgee to the company on Weathertop before the attack of the Nazgûl:

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

"Born of Hope" became available for web viewing from 1st December. I have... and it's wonderful, a triumph!

Click here:

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

Next Tuesday is the big day. From the 1st December ‘Born of Hope’ will be available to view here: .

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.

Oxford Crematorium

In the Oxford Crematorium... off the ring-road at Headington, and just outside the furthest chapel from the entrance... there is a small plaque on the wall. It was placed there at the behest of C.S. Lewis following the death of his beloved wife Joy Davidman. It reads: "Remember Helen Joy Davidman (loved wife of C. S. Lewis). Here the whole world (stars, water, air and field, and forest, as they were reflected in a single mind) like cast off clothes was left behind in ashes, yet with hope that she, reborn from Holy poverty, in Lenten lands, hereafter may Resume them on her Easter Day."

A visit to 'The Kilns'

[The Kilns in summer]

The house now stands in Lewis Close, surrounded by houses, but still abutting the beginning of the Shotover woods. In Warnie's words, "the house… stands at the entrance to its own grounds at the northern foot of Shotover at the end of a narrow lane, which in turn opens off a very bad and little used road, giving as great privacy as can reasonably be looked for near a large town." The two men were not recluses, of course. But for people whose professions required frequent interaction with any number of colleagues and students, it was refreshing to be able to return home to their sanctuary, of which Lewis wrote to a friend, "I never hoped for the like."

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.

Another still...

Another still from The Hunt for Gollom. The story is an expansion of the report given to the Council of Elrond in LotR of Aragorn and Gandalf's search, over the previous years, for the previous carrier of the ring. If you remember, they were afraid that Gollum might be captured by agents of Mordor as he knew the name 'Bilbo Baggins'. Their fears were of course realised.

The Hunt for Gollum

OK, I know that fan movies are not exactly the real purpose of this weblog, but sometimes exceptions have to be made. The Hunt for Gollum was released (internet only) in May 2009, and must be seen to be believed. Made by fans for fans of LotR, it is quite astounding that its total budget was £3,000. A triumph!

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:

Serkis, Gollum and Screwtape

One of the real successes of the Lord of the Rings movies was Andy Serkis vocalisation of Gollum. Here he is again, in an audio drama of C.S. Lewis' book "The Screwtape Letters". Just click on the title above...
Don't think, "Oh, just another ruination of Lewis' work", this has to be seen. (Including comments from Douglas Gresham). Quite breathtaking.

Tolkien on Marriage

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to."

J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, March 1941

The birth of Elanor the Fair

......"Time went on, and 1421 came in. Frodo was ill again in March, but with a great effort he concealed it, for Sam had other things to think about. The first of Sam and Rosie's children was born on the twenty-fifth of March, a date that Sam noted.

......'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)
J.R.R. Tolkien

20th May 1916 (II)

With the town which you espied,
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.
As you heard her to her war
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)

Beating heart and climbing brain,
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.
Charles Williams - Poems of Conformity (1915)

The Moon of the Tarots

Nancy found herself alone. The mist round her was thinning; she could see a clear darkness beyond. She had known one pang when she felt Henry's hands slip from around hers; then she had concentrated her will more entirely on doing whatever might be done to save whatever had to be saved from the storm, which now she no longer heard. But the fantastic mission on which she was apparently moving did not weigh upon her; her heart kept its lightness. There had come into her life with the mystery of the Tarots a new sense of delighted amazement; the Tarots themselves were not more marvellous than the ordinary people she had so long unintelligently known. By the slightest vibration of the light in which she saw the world she saw it all differently; holy and beautiful, if sometimes perplexing and bewildering, went the figures of her knowledge. They were all "posters of the sea and land", and she too, in a dance that was happy if it was frightening. Nothing was certain, but everything was safe--that was part of the mystery of Love. She was upon a mission, but whether she succeeded or not didn't matter. Nothing mattered beyond the full moment in which she could live to her utmost in the power and according to the laws of the dance. The dance of the Tarots, the dance of her blood, the dance of her mind, and whatever other measure it was in which Sybil Coningsby trod so high and disposed a movement. Hers couldn't be that yet, couldn't ever perhaps, but she could understand and answer it. Her father, Henry, Ralph, they were all stepping their parts, and she also--now, now, as the last shreds of the golden mist faded, and, throbbing and glad, she came into the dark stillness which awaited her.

Chapter 14
The Greater Trumps (1932)
Charles Williams

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
(Both may be obtained via Amazon)
Taliesin [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.

Romantic Theology

Something must here be said to those who may ask ‘Who was Charles Williams?’ He had spent most of his life in the service of the Oxford University Press at Amen House, Warwick Square, London. He was a novelist, a poet, a dramatist, a biographer, a critic, and a theologian: a romantic theologian in the technical sense which he himself invented for those words. A romantic theologian does not mean one who is romantic about theology but one who is theological about romance, one who considers the theological implications of those experiences which are called romantic. The belief that the most serious and ecstatic experiences either of human love or of imaginative literature have such theological implications, and that they can be healthy and fruitful only if the implications are diligently thought out and severely lived, is the root principle of all his work. His relation to the modern literary current was thus thoroughly 'ambivalent'. He could be grouped with the counter-romantics in so far as he believed untheologized romanticism (like Plato's 'unexamined life') to be sterile and mythological. On the other hand, he could be treated as the head of the resistance against the moderns in so far as he believed the romanticism which they were rejecting as senile to be really immature, and looked for a coming of age where they were huddling up a hasty and not very generous funeral. He will not fit into a pigeon-hole.

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

Barbara stretched out her hands, and Lionel pulled her to her feet.

"I just want to shimmer up, like Jeeves, not walk," she said.

"Do you like Jeeves, Mr. Persimmons?"

"Jeeves?" Gregory asked.

"I don't think I know it or him or them."

"Oh, you must," Barbara cried. "When I get back to London I'll send you a set."

"It's a book, or a man in a book," Lionel interrupted. "Barbara adores it."
"Well, so do you," Barbara said. "You always snigger when you read him."

"That is the weakness of the flesh," Lionel said. "One whouldn't snigger over Jeeves any more than one should snivel over Othello. Perfect art is beyond these easy emotions. I think Jeeves -- the whole book, preferably with the illustrations -- one of the final classic perfections of our time. It attains absolute being. Jeeves and his employer are one and yet diverse. It is the Don Quixote of the twentieth century."

"I must certainly read it," Gregory said, laughing. "Tell me more about it while we have tea."

"War In Heaven (Eerdmans 1978), page 157-8

Two boys...

Dear Phyllida,

Thanks for your most interesting cards. How do you get the gold so good? Whenever I tried to use it, however golden it looked on the shell, it always looked only like rough brown on the paper. Is it that you have some trick with the brush that I never learned, or that gold paint is better now than when I was a boy! [...]

I'm not quite sure what you meant about "silly adventure stories without my point". If they are silly, then having a point won't save them. But if they are good in themselves, and if by a "point" you mean some truth about the real world which which one can take out of the story, I'm not sure that I agree. At least, I think that looking for a "point" in that sense may prevent one sometimes from getting the real effect of the story in itself - like listening too hard for the words in singing which isn't meant to be listened to that way (like an anthem in a chorus). I'm not at all sure about all this, mind you: only thinking as I go along.

We have two American boys in the house at present, aged 8 and 6 1/2. Very nice. They seem to use much longer words than English boys of that age would: not showing off, but just because they don't seem to know the short words. But they haven't as good table manners as English boys of the same sort would. [...]


C.S. Lewis

Letters to Children (letter of Dec 18 1953)


With MichaelmasTerm just starting in Oxford, a poem from 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!

Charles Williams

The Discarded Image

Medieval man shared many ignorances with the savage, and some of his beliefs may suggest savage parallels to an anthropologist. But he had not usually reached these beliefs by the same route as the savage.

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

The Seven and Nine Rings were originally made by the Elves and not evil until Sauron forged the One and later took these rings by war. Their initial purpose was to slow the passage of time and preserve beauty, but since Sauron had a part in their making they became accursed and had evil powers. He gave the rings to different races of Middle-earth to enslave and so control them.

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

'Hmmm! it smells like elves!' thought Bilbo, and he looked up at the stars. They were burning bright and blue. Just then there came a burst of song like laughter in the trees:

O! What are you doing,
And where are you going?
Your ponies need shoeing!
The river is flowing!
O! tra-la-la-lally
here down in the valley!

O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The faggots are reeking,
The bannocks are baking!
O! tril-lil-lil-lolly
the valley is jolly,
ha! ha!

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
in June
ha! ha!

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
ha! ha!

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…

J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit
Chapter 3 “A Short Rest”

To a Lady

20 May 1945

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

Jesting Pilate

[Joy, with Jack Lewis]

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)

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 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.

Charles Williams ~ The Greater Trumps
Chapter Nine ‘Sybil’

Sexual Morality (II)

If we really want to be cured, I think we shall be. I mean, if a man tries to go back to the Christian rule, if he makes up his mind either to abstain from sex altogether or to marry one woman and stick to her, he may not completely succeed, especially at first. But as long as he picks himself up each time and starts again as well as he can, he'll be on the right track. He won't damage his central self beyond repair. Those who really want help will get it. The difficulty, of course, is the really wanting it. It is quite easy to think you want something when you don't really. A famous Christian long ago said that when-he was a young man he prayed constantly for chastity: but only after several years he came to realise that, while his lips were saying, "Oh, God, make me chaste," his real wishes were secretly adding, "But please don't do it for a few years yet". This catch occurs in prayers on other subjects too.

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.

C.S. Lewis
Christian Behaviour (Bles, 1943)

Sexual Morality (I)

They may mean "There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure." If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same. It is not the thing, nor the pleasure, that's the trouble. The old Christian teachers said that if man had never fallen, sexual pleasure, instead of being less than it is now, would actually have been greater. I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body — which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion: arid nearly all the-greatest love-poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But,of course, when people say, "Sex is nothing to be ashamed of," they may mean "the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of."

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.
C. S. Lewis
Christian Behaviour (Bles, 1943)


Precious is a word with a long history in English before Tolkien made it his own (or Gollum's). It is most widely used as an adjective: the 'OED's entry for the word traces it back to Middle English. But it is as a noun that it has become most strongly associated with Tolkien, and with the Ring: Gollum's use of the word immediately precedes the first appearance of the Ring in The Hobbit, and 'his last wail Precious' marks its destruction in the Cracks of Doom. (Gollum also uses 'precious' to refer to himself, but the Ring is distinguished as 'the Precious', with a capital letter.)

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)


‘It was Tobold Hornblower, of Longbottom in the Southfarthing, who first grew the true pipe-weed in his gardens, about the year 1070 according to our reckoning.’ (LotR in. viii)

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).

The Ring of Words ~
Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press (2006)

New light shed on a fragment of C S Lewis’ writing

A short piece of writing by C S Lewis, which is housed in the Bodleian Library, has become the focus of scholarly attention after an academic claimed it to be the opening pages of a proposed book by Lewis and J R R Tolkien.

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.

Professor Steve Beebe of Texas State University has been studying the manuscript for the last seven years and has now reached the conclusion that this essay represents the opening pages of a proposed book by Lewis and The Lord of the Rings author Tolkien.

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

[Lines 2,064 – 2,088]

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]

J.R.R. Tolkien

Terror and War

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has a passage which may remind us all of the way recent world events have affected the lives of everyone in the world over the past 8 years:

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

Under the Mercy:
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!
(Charles Williams)

It might seem foolish, but that morning lives in my memory.


Master, they say that when I seem
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.

C.S. Lewis - Poems (Bles 1964)

A.N. Wilson

In case you missed the news: A. N. Wilson has come back to faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. That's right. The same A. N. Wilson who wrote a biography of C. S. Lewis (much deplored for its factual errors and Freudian twist on Lewis's life) is now a Christian, for the second time.

You can read the full story, in his own words, here: or here

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 –

Janie King Moore

In 1951 Janie King Moore (Mrs. Moore or 'Minto') died at the age of 78. Minto was the mother of C.S. Lewis's friend from the 1st World War, Paddy Moore. She and her daughter Maureen came under Lewis's care after Paddy's death in that conflict.
Warnie wrote: So ends the mysterious self imposed slavery in which J has lived for at least thirty years. How it began, I suppose I shall never know but the dramatic suddenness of the "when" I shall never forget. When I sailed for West Africa in 1921, we were on the terms on which we had always been: during my absence we exchanged letters in which he appeared as eager as I was for a long holiday together, when, for the first time, I was to have a long leave and plenty of money: and when I came home, I found the situation established which ended on Friday...
It is quite idle, but none the less fascinating to muse of what his life might have been if he had never had the crushing misfortune to meet her: when one thinks of what he has accomplished even under that immense handicap. It would be Macaulaysque to say that he took a First in the intervals of washing her dishes, hunting for her spectacles, taking the dog for a run, and performing the unending futile drudgery of a house which was an excruciating mixture of those of Mrs. Price and Mrs. Jellaby*; but it is true to say that he did all these things in the intervals of working for a First. Did them too with unfailing good temper (towards her) at any rate...Most infuriating to the onlooker was the fact that Minto never gave the faintest hint of gratitude: indeed she regarded herself as J's benefactor: presumably on the grounds that she had rescued him from the twin evils of bachelordom and matrimony at one fell swoop! Another handicap of this unnatural life was to keep J miserably poor at a time of life when his creative faculties should have been at full blast, which they couldn't be under the strain of money worry; for his allowance was quite insufficient to keep Minto and Maureen as well as himself in any sort of comfort...
I wonder how much of his time she did waste? It was some years before her breakdown that I calculated that merely in taking her dogs for unneeded "little walks", she had had five months of my life. I don't think J ever felt as much as I did, the weariness of the house's unrestfulness so long as she managed it; even after ten or more years of it.
Warren H. Lewis, Brothers and Friends: The Diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis, (1982)
*characters from Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby.

An Oxford event next week...

Planet Narnia - July 2 7.30pm, Tickets £3 (SO Friends Free) C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, was an Oxford scholar with an extensive knowledge of 16th Century Literature. But he also studied developments in science, and wove early theories of astronomy into his books. Dr Michael Ward will explore the evidence and will be signing copies of his book "Planet Narnia”.
At Science Oxford Live, 1-5 London Place, St Clements, Oxford, OX4 1BD, Booking recommended 01865 810016,
*I realise that readers of the weblog will need no introduction to C.S. Lewis, but I quote the above poster in full!
[For more information on 'Planet Narnia' see my postings for July-August 2006]

Donald Swann's Green Eve

[C.S. Lewis at home in the Kilns]
For the first time since the 1960s, Donald Swann’s opera based on C. S. Lewis’s novel Perelandra is going to be performed.

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.

Jennifer Swift
‘Church Times’ ~ Issue 7631
[19th June 2009)

The Nativity

[Image: 'Christmas Visitation' by Vitali Linitsky]

Among the oxen (like an ox I'm slow)
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 ~ Poems (Bles: 1964)

C.S. Lewis and THE Horse

'Kidnapped’ said the Horse. 'Or stolen, or captured -whichever you like to call it. I was only a foal at the time. My mother warned me not to range the southern slopes, into Archenland and beyond, but I wouldn't heed her. And by the Lion's Mane I have paid for my folly. All these years I have been a slave to humans, hiding my true, nature and pretending to be dumb and witless like their horses.'

‘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

As an undergraduate Tolkien trained with King Edward's Horse, a cavalry regiment, rather than the Officer Training Corps which many other students joined. However, that may have had nothing to do with a preference for horse riding, and been simply because he was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa: students of 'colonial' origin were automatically directed to the cavalry regiment.

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

In September 1973, Father John Tolkien celebrated a Requiem Mass for his father at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, in Oxford. JRR Tolkien was buried next to his wife Edith in a Catholic cemetery just outside Oxford at Wolvercote. He may have penned his own epitaph in 1956, shortly after The Lord of the Rings was published, when he wrote: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat — though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

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.

A Garden

A garden...teems with life. It glows with colour and smells like heaven and puts forward at every hour of a summer day beauties which man could never have created and could not even, on his own resources, have imagined...when the garden is in its full glory the gardener's contributions to that glory will still have been in a sense paltry compared with those of nature. Without life springing from the earth, without rain, light and heat descending from the sky, he could do nothing. When he has done all, he has merely encouraged here and discouraged there, powers and beauties that have a different source.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960)