The Father Christmas letters

Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R.Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in strange spidery handwriting and a beautiful coloured drawing or some sketches. The letters were from Father Christmas.

They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole: how all the reindeer got loose and scattered presents all over the place; how the accident-prone Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house into the dining-room; how he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden; how there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house!

Sometimes the Polar Bear would scrawl a note, and sometimes Ilbereth the Elf would write in his elegant flowing script, adding yet more life and humour to the stories. No reader, young or old, can fail to be charmed by the inventiveness and ‘authenticity’ of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. Seek out a copy!


[Image - Eddie Bairstow]

Some believe the slumber
Of trees is in December
When timber's naked under sky
And squirrel keeps his chamber.

But I believe their fibres
Awake to life and labour
When turbulence comes roaring up
The land in loud October,

And plunders, strips, and sunders
And sends the leaves to wander
And undisguises prickly shapes
Beneath the golden splendour.

Then form returns. In warmer,
Seductive days, disarming
Its firmer will, the wood grew soft
And put forth dreams to murmur.

Into earnest winter
With spirit alert it enters;
The hunter wind and the hound frost
Have quelled the green enchanter.

Poems - C.S. Lewis (1964)

Born to write?

I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development. If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these. If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn.
C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, The Letters of C.S. Lewis, (28 August 1930)

The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or right the readers will most certainly go into it.
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Cross-Examination" (1963)

Returning to work on an interrupted story is not like returning to work on a scholarly article. Fact, however long the scholar has left them untouched in his notebook, will still prove the same conclusions; he has only to start the engine running again. But the story is an organism: it goes on surreptitiously growing or decaying while your back is turned. If it decays, the resumption of work is like trying to coax back to life an almost extinguished fire, or to recapture the confidence of a shy animal which you had only partially tamed at your last visit.
C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, bk III.I (1954)

Mere Theology (II)

While we are on the subject of 'Mere Theology', mention must be made of Will Vaus's book of the same name, but much more intimately involved with Jack Lewis than Alister McGrath's intends to be.

What did C. S. Lewis believe about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, heaven, hell, creation, the Fall, the forgiveness of sins, marriage and divorce, war and peace, the church and sacraments, masculinity and femininity?

Lewis was not a professional theologian, but anyone who has read his writings--whether fiction or nonfiction, essays or correspondence--knows that profoundly Christian convictions permeate them all. The more one reads, the more it becomes clear that Lewis could write with charity and simplicity while preserving theological accuracy because he was well informed and thoroughly grounded in the Christian faith.

Will Vaus has masterfully brought together Lewis's thought from throughout his voluminous writings to provide us a full-orbed look into his beliefs on twenty-five Christian themes. This book gives us not only a comprehensive view of Lewis's theological convictions but also guidance and encouragement for our own spiritual journeys toward the God whom Lewis found so real, personal and present.

Follow the link to Will's website on the left hand side of this page.

Mere Theology

From my post on the 1st December:
"And now the world has changed. Could we imagine a book called "Mere Christianity" having such an impact in 2011? The post-war, church-schooled audience isn't there any more. What would a modern-day Lewis write, and how would he capture the minds of this generation?"

Lewis for today? Society has changed of course, but I would propose Alister McGrath. His latest book 'Mere Theology' is fun:

But there are many (many) other books from which to choose! His gift is to make complex things 'simple' (a la Lewis) and to gradually lead the reader into more technical areas step-by-step. (i.e. starting with Alister in the wrong place can be disastrous)!


In 2006, the movement now widely, if inaccurately, known as she "new atheism’ exploded on the cultural scene. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006), Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell (2006), and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great (2007) created a media fascination with religion and its discontents. Public interest in the God-question soared. I found myself regularly being called upon to speak and write on these themes, and debate with leading atheists in public: Richard Dawkins in Oxford, Daniel Dennett in London, and Christopher Hitchens in Washington. Although I much prefer seminar rooms to debating chambers, there is no doubt that the issues being contested were a matter of general, not just academic, interest. To my surprise, I found that I had become a public intellectual.

Debate often centred on the rationality of faith, and the coherence of the Christian vision of reality. For the new atheists, Christianity represents an antiquated way of explaining things that can be pensioned off in the modern scientific age. In one of the wonderfully unsubstantiated assertions that make up so much of his case against religion, Christopher Hitchens tells us that, since the invention of the telescope and microscope, religion ‘no longer offers an explanation of anything important’. It's a nice soundbite which, when placed alongside many other equally unsubstantiated soundbites, almost manages to create the semblance of an evidence-based argument. But is it anything more than that?

In his brilliantly argued critique of the new atheism, Terry Eagleton ridicules those who treat religion as a purely explanatory entity, 'Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It's rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster, we can forget about Chekhov.’ Believing that religion Is a 'botched attempt to explain the world' is on the same intellectual level as ‘seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus’.

Eagleton is surely right here. There is far more to Christianity than an attempt to make sense of things. The New Testament is primarily concerned with the transformation of human existence through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The gospel is thus not so much about explanation as about salvation - the transformation of the human situation. Yet while the emphasis of the Christian proclamation may not be on explaining the world, it nevertheless also offers a distinctive way of looking at things which, at least in principle, enables us to see those things in different ways, and thus leads us to act in ways consistent with this. Christianity involves believing that certain things are true, that they may he relied upon, and that they illuminate our perceptions,, decisions and actions.

Alister McGrath
Mere Theology (2010)
(The introduction to the book)

Happy Birthday?

I'm sure you knew it, but November 29th was the anniversary of C. S. Lewis's birth (to call it his "birthday" is surely pushing the bounds of good taste).

112 years is not a significant anniversary, but Lewis is current because of the imminent release of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third Narnia movie, following the deeply disappointing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian, which I avoided in case it was equally dismal. The production company Walden Media bought the rights to Narnia with the stated aim of producing "wholesome" films, which seemed to equate in this case to "po-faced". However new owners Fox have apparently sacked them, so there may be hope for The Dawn Treader.

I loved Narnia as a child, and honestly, I still do. As an adult reader one becomes sensitive to Lewis's rather strong opinions forcing themselves into the narrative, but what right-minded person would not want to live the life of Narnia, to fight for justice and Aslan, and to go to his country when they die? Of course, some people don't, but that is precisely the point. Narnia beautifully illustrates Lewis's genius for conveying profound truths with imagination, clarity, and pure style.

I use the word "genius" intentionally. Lewis had a rare gift. He was a scholar, master wordsmith, and a true-hearted friend. But his genius lay in that ability to communicate his thoughtful faith in a way that seized the imagination of not just his generation, but of successive generations. Not only his children's stories, but almost all his books were deeply influential on the thinking and faith of countless readers.

Lewis so shaped the idea of Christian literature that, for the last 50 years, every Christian writer has wanted to be him. The "Christian" publishing industry has churned out thousands of metaphorical children's adventures, humorous reflections on the Christian life, and worldly-wise apologetics. A few of these have been successful, most have been rubbish. But no-one has really conquered the territory in the way that he did.

And now the world has changed. Could we imagine a book called "Mere Christianity" having such an impact in 2011? The post-war, church-schooled audience isn't there any more. What would a modern-day Lewis write, and how would he capture the minds of this generation?

Re-posted from "Always Hope - Life, faith (and hope) in Cornwall" :

"Gil-galad was an Elven-king"

Weathertop Hollow New Zealand

(Sung by Sam to the company on Weathertop before the attack of the Nazgül)

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."

J.R.R. Tolkien – Fellowship of the Ring

Will Vaus' Oxford Visit

[Will on the bridge across the Isis with Port Meadow in the background]

Long term readers of this blog will have 'clicked through' to Will Vaus' Blog from time to time (see 'Other Inklings Site' to the left.

Will has been in the UK visiting Oxford, and his blog has some quite wonderfully atmospheric photos of the visit. It is almost a conducted tour of 'Inklings' sites in the city.

The URL is :

Additionally have a look at his 'Aslan to England' site here:

Happy reading...


"More to be desired are they than gold, yea than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb" (Psalm 19).

One can well understand this being said of God's mercies, God's visitations, His attributes. But what the poet is actually talking about is God's law, His commands; His "ruling" as Dr. Moffatt well translates in verse 9 (for "judgements" here plainly means decisions about conduct). What is being compared to gold and honey is those "statutes" (in the Latin version "decrees") which, we are told, "rejoice the heart". For the whole poem is about the Law, not about "Judgement" in the sense to which Chapter I was devoted.

This was to me at first very mysterious. "Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery" - I can understand that a man can, and must, respect these "statutes", and try to obey them, and assent to them in his heart. But it is very hard to find how they could be, so to speak, delicious, how they exhilarate. If this is difficult at any time, it is doubly so when obedience to either is opposed to some strong, and perhaps in itself innocent, desire. A man held back by his unfortunate previous marriage to some lunatic or criminal who never dies from some woman whom he faithfully loves, or a hungry man left alone, without money, in a shop filled with he smell and sight of new bread, roasting coffee, or fresh strawberries - can these find the prohibition of adultery or of theft at all like honey? They may obey, they may still respect the "statute", but surely it could be more aptly compared to the dentists's forceps or the front line than to anything enjoyable and sweet.

C.S. Lewis
Reflections on the Psalms
Chapter VI "Sweeter Than Honey" (1955)

C.S. Lewis at the BBC (II)

Assessing Lewis as a broadcaster
Lewis made the connection with the audience as strongly as he could in this first broadcast. He insists that he is not preaching, and in common failings such as broken promises and excuses for bad behaviour he is no different to anyone else. He ends by saying that we can't shake off the idea that we know how to behave but in practice don't do so. We break the Law of Nature, realising this is in fact the basis for all clear thinking.

The first talk set the tone for the remainder of the series, Lewis had found a style that suited him and the listener. It was direct, colloquial and intellectually challenging. Only one recording survives of a single talk from Lewis's eventual four series for the BBC. There is a simple explanation for this. Live broadcasts offered a number of critical advantages over pre-recorded talks. First, a live talk has an immediacy and direct conversational approach that a pre-recorded broadcast can seldom match.

Second, once cleared by the censor, a talk could be broadcast without delay. A pre-recorded talk might need to be re-recorded if circumstances had changed between the recording and broadcast.

Third, recording was an expensive process - All recordings were made on twelve-inch metal discs with a coating of cellulose acetate. A steel needle cut the sound track into the disc, producing four minutes of airtime. With metal a costly and scarce resource, recordings were not made of studio broadcasts unless there was a special justification such as historic interest. Reporters in the field had to rely on discs entirely however to record the sounds of war.

Justin Phillips
C.S. Lewis at the BBC
(HarperCollins) 2002

C.S. Lewis at the BBC

Content of the first broadcast
The first talk sets out the theme for the whole series. Lewis's very first sentence and what follows is what journalists would call a 'grabber'. It engages you right away.

“Every one has heard people quarrelling… 'That's my seat, I was there first' - 'Leave him alone, he isn't doing you any harm' - 'Why should you shove me in first?' - 'Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine' - 'How'd you like it if anyone did the same to you?' - 'Come on, you promised’.”

The point Lewis makes is that each of us appeals to or falls back upon a standard of behaviour to which we hold others to account. We may call it lots of things, decency or fair-play, or even morality. The point of a quarrel is to prove someone else is wrong and you are right. This makes no sense unless both sides have some agree¬ment of what is right and what is wrong, just as a foul in football, for instance, means nothing unless both sides are playing to the same rules.

The rest of the talk follows in the same vein, probing and clarifying,, using plenty of illustrations that would ring true. He underlines the assumption we make that the human idea of decent behaviour is universal. If not, then all that is said about the war is nonsense: 'What is the sense in saying the enemy are in the wrong unless right is a real thing which the Germans at bottom know as well as we do and ought to practise?' This sentence, written at the height of the war, is simply put into the past tense when published in Mere Christianity. The ideas that Lewis explores on natural law do not date with the passage of time. One of the keys to Lewis's appeal was his willingness to identify wholly with the listener and to reject any sense of preaching or speaking down to people. He says that none of us succeeds in keeping the law of nature. 'If there are any exceptions among you', he tells the listener, 'I apologise to them. They'd better switch on to another station, for nothing I'm going to say concerns them.' It takes a brave broadcaster to invite listeners to switch off. Lewis could take the risk because he knew that no listeners would consider themselves to be morally perfect, certainly not in August 1941.

Justin Phillips
C.S. Lewis at the BBC
(HarperCollins) 2002

A Foreword

I dedicate the book to all admirers of Bilbo, but especially to my sons and daughter, and to my friends the Inklings. To the Inklings, because they have already listened to it with a patience, and indeed with an interest, that almost leads me to suspect that they have hobbit-blood in their venerable ancestry. To my sons and my daughter for the same reason, and also because they have all helped me in the labours of composition. If composition is a just word ...'

From the Foreword to the 1954 first edition of The Fellowship Of The Ring, replaced for the second edition in 1966.

A Prologue

This tale is drawn from the memoirs of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, preserved for the most part in the Great Red Book of Samwise. It has been written during many years for those who were interested in the account of the great Adventure of Bilbo, and especially for my friends, the Inklings (in whose veins, I suspect, a good deal of hobbit blood still runs), and for my sons and daughter.

'But since my children and others of their age, who first heard of the finding of the Ring, have grown older with the years, this tale speaks more clearly of those darker things which lurked only on the borders of the other tale, but which have troubled the world in all its history.

'To the Inklings I dedicate this book, since they have already endured it with patience - my only reason for supposing that they have a hobbit-strain in their venerable ancestry: otherwise it would be hard to account for their interest in the history and geography of those long-past days, between the end of the Dominion of Elves and the beginning of the Dominion of Men, when for a brief time the Hobbits played a supreme part in the movements of the world.

'For the Inklings I add this note, since they are men of lore, and curious in such matters. It is said that Hobbits spoke a language, or languages, very similar to ours ... [manuscript continues into a discussion of the languages of Middle Earth and their translation in the published book]

From the first draft of what became the Prologue to The Lord Of The Rings, as published in The Peoples Of Middle Earth, Christopher Tolkien, 1996.

Eternal Love?

[Image: The Plains of Heaven - John Martin (Tate Gallery)]

Theologians have sometimes asked whether we shall "know one another" in Heaven, and whether the particular love-relations worked out on earth would then continue to have any significance. It seems reasonable to reply: "It may depend what kind of love it had become, or was becoming, on earth." For, surely, to meet in the eternal world someone for whom your love in this, however strong, had been merely natural, would not be (on that ground) even interesting.

Would it not be like meeting in adult life someone who had seemed to be a great friend at your preparatory school solely because of common interest and occupations? If there was nothing more, if he was not a kindred soul, he will now be a total stranger. Neither of you now plays conkers. You no longer want to swop your help with his French exercise for his help with your arithmetic.

In Heaven I suspect, a love that had never embodied Love Himself would be equally irrelevant. For Nature has passed away. All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.

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


Iron will eat the world's old beauty up.
Girder and grid and gantry will arise,
Iron forest of engines will arise,
Criss-cross of iron crotchet. For your eyes
No green or growth. Over all, the skies
Scribbled from end to end with boasts and lies.
(When Adam ate the irrevocable apple, Thou
Saw'st beyond death the resurrection of the dead.)

Clamour shall clean put out the voice of wisdom,
The printing-presses with their clapping wings,
Fouling your nourishment. Harpy wings,
Filling your minds all day with foolish things,
Will tame the eagle Thought: till she sings
Parrot-like in her cage to please dark kings.
(When Israel descended into Egypt, Thou
Didst purpose both the bondage and the coming out.)

The new age, the new art, the new ethic and thought,
And fools crying, Because it has begun
It will continue as it has begun!
The wheel runs fast, therefore the wheel will run
Faster for ever. The old age is done,
We have new lights and see without the sun.
(Though they lay flat the mountains and dry up the sea,
Wilt thou yet change, as though God were a god?)

C.S. Lewis
Poems (Geoffrey Bles, 1964)

Charles Williams Society Conference

To being to an end this series of readings from and about Charles Williams, a note reminding readers of an event this weekend.

On Saturday 23rd October from 10:45am there will be a Day Conference of the Charles Williams Society. Held in the 'Concord Room' or St. Matthew's Church, Great Peter Street in Westminster, the programme will include a paper from Dr. Josh Bradbury on his recently completed doctoral dissertation on Williams. If you are in London this weekend, you will receive a very warm welcome at this event.

All Hallows Eve

The hate seemed to swell in a nightmare bubble within the rose which was forming round them, cloud in cloud, overlying like petals. Simon made a quick half-spring as if to overleap it, and so did they; but he failed and fell back, and so did they. The smell of the rose was changing to the smell of his last act, to the smell of blood. He looked down; he saw below him the depth of the rose.

A sudden fresh blast of rain fell on him and drove him deeper, and so those others. It flashed past him in an infinity of drops, as of points falling-at first crystal, then of all colours, from those almost too dark to be seen through to those almost too bright to be seen. They fell continuously between him and those other faces, in which he could now see those waves passing which his devotee had seen in his own face. The bright showers of the hallows flashed, and beyond him he could see only his multiplied self; and all he could do against them was only done to himself.

Charles Williams - All Hallows Eve

T.S. Eliot on Charles Williams

"For him there was no frontier between the material and the spiritual world. Had I ever to spend a night in a haunted house, I should have felt secure with Williams in my company; he was somehow protected from evil, and was himself a protection... To him the supernatural was natural, and the natural was also supernatural... Williams' understanding of Evil was profound... He is concerned, not with the Evil of conventional morality and the ordinary manifestations by which we recognize it, but with the essence of Evil; it is therefore Evil which has no power to attract us, for we see it as the repulsive thing it is, and as the despair of the damned from which we recoil."

T.S. Eliot
Introduction to All Hallow's Eve (extract)

Williams on Evelyn Underhill

It was in October 1937 that I met her first--invited to tea with her in her Campden Hill Square house. She had just had one of her bad illnesses. The door of the room into which I was shown was directly behind the big arm-chair in which she was sitting facing a glowing fire. As I entered she got up and turned round, looking so fragile as though 'a puff of wind might blow her away' might be literally true in her case, but light simply streamed from her face illuminated with a radiant smile. . . . One could not but feel consciously there and then (not on subsequent recognition or reflection) that one was in the presence of the extension of the Mystery of our Lord's Transfiguration in one of the members of His Mystical Body. I myself never saw it repeated on any later meeting though others have probably seen the same thing at other times. It told one not only of herself, but more of God and of the Mystical Body than all her work put together."

Such an outpouring of light has been observed elsewhere-in certain great men (such as, I think, Leonardo) and by lovers in lovers. It is as if the physical flesh itself had become, or at least had
seemed to become, its unfallen self; as if that Original which was seen in the Transfiguration chose at certain moments to exhibit something of its glory in its created derivations. That such a phenomenon was observed in her is credible enough; it was her reward, and (after the proper heavenly manner) it was given to others.

From CW's introduction to
Letters of Evelyn Underhill

A supernatural moral law?

"... where Williams differs from (other) writers... is in his portrayal of a world of supernatural moral law governing the interaction between two levels of states of being. For him the living and the dead exist within a single spiritual realm.

The basic premise is made clear in the second chapter of Descent into Hell. Here a London suburban estate is presented as multi-dimensional, time being contained within space, time occupying space, so that within this particular spot the present, the past, and the future are seen to be co-terminous. Whereas a similar concept can be presented materialistically (as in Alan Garner's novel Red Shift [1973]) Charles Williams uses this concept of relativity in a theological context: the living and the dead influence each other in an eternal dimension to which both belong and of which the physical world is the sacrament. Accordingly in this particular book the moral suicide of a distinguished military historian chimes, as it were, with the physical suicide of one of the workmen who built the house in which he lives. So too the fear endured by a young woman who is subject to the visitations of a Doppelgänger is both shared with, and supportive of, the fear suffered by a sixteenth century ancestor, a victim of religious persecution. In each case the fate of an individual is related to a timeless spiritual process. Williams's vision is essentially theological.

He describes his supernatural world with extraordinary particularity. Instead of obtruding the ghostly element upon the life of everyday, he assumes that life into the supernatural dimension: it is thus impossible to banish his phantoms from our own world, because we find ourselves inhabiting theirs, and subject to its laws."

Glen Cavaliero - 'The Novels of Charles Williams'

War in Heaven (II)

They went from the dining-room to a small room next to Gregory's bedroom, which he unlocked with a key he carried on his own chain. There appeared in it only a cabinet in one corner, two or three cushions dropped beside it, and a low pedestal of wood in the centre on which lay an oblong slab of stone. On this slab stood two candlesticks, around the pedestal, at a good distance, had been drawn a white circle, in which at one point was a small gap. Before he entered the room Gregory had fetched the Graal from its corner; he passed through the gap, set it upright on the slab between the candlesticks, and turned to Sir Giles.

"You'd better sit down at once," he said, "and I should recommend you to keep within the circle. There are curious forces released sometimes on these occasions."

"I know all about that," Sir Giles said, as he brought two of the cushions into the circle, also taking care to pass through the gap. "I saw a man once in Ispahan who looked as if he'd been unable to breathe once he got outside. Atmospheric disturbances, but why? Why does your purely subjective industry disturb the air? Well, never mind. I won't say a word more." He settled himself comfortably on his cushions over against one of the shorter sides of the pedestal. Gregory went over to the cabinet, and there first changed from the clothes he was wearing into a white cassock, marked with esoteric signs. He then brought from it an antique vessel, from which he poured what was apparently wine into the Graal till it all but brimmed. He brought also a short rod and laid it on the slab in front of the Graal; he arranged and lit at what appeared to be the back of the altar a chafing-dish containing herbs and powders, scattered other powders upon it, and came back to the front of the altar. Lastly, with great care, he brought to it from the cabinet a parchment inscribed with names and writings, and a small paper from which he let fall on to the wine in the Graal what appeared to Sir Giles to be a few short hairs.

He considered the arrangements, went back and closed the cabinet, re-entered the circle, took the rod from the altar, and, bending down, with a strong concentration of countenance, closed the gap, drawing the rod slowly as if with an effort against the path of the sun. He came to the front of the altar, and immersed himself in a profound silence.

Sir Giles, curled upon the cushions, watched him intently, noting every change in his face and the growing remoteness of his eyes. Almost an hour had passed before those eyes, seeming to stir of their own volition, lowered themselves from the darkness of the room to the Graal standing in the steady light of the two candles. Very slowly he stretched his hands over the chalice and began to speak. Sir Giles, straining his ears, caught only an occasional phrase.

Charles Williams
War In Heaven - Chapter 7 “Adrian”

In Charles Williams’ supernatural thriller War in Heaven, an exquisitely constructed story pits three good characters against three evil ones in the protection and attempted destruction, respectively, of the Holy Graal (old spelling of Grail), discovered in the English village of Fardles, or Castra Parvulorum, the Camp of the Children. Caught in the center of this drama is a generic family: a worried father and husband; a cheerful mother and wife; their innocent four-year-old son.

As a prologue to this battle between Heaven and Hell, set in the inter-war years of Williams’ present day, we are introduced to a murder, a publishing house, and the murderer himself, with a nod to the conventions of the English mystery. The first line of the Prelude reads, with its underlying humor:

“The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse.”

Soon, however, the characters gather around the body and we see into their souls, and the war begins.

(Christine Sutherland)

A Requiem Mass

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.

Of Beren & Lúthien

Lúthien, called 'Lúthien Tinuviel' by Beren (Nightingale, daughter of twilight in Sindarin), was the fairest of the elven maids of Beleriand, and lived in the First Age of the Sun before the War of Wrath. Her story and fate is tied inevitably to Beren son of Barahir, with whom she fell in love when he wandered into Doriath. Lúthien Tinuviel was daughter of the great King Thingol of Doriath, greatest of the Teleri elves, who would not give his daughter freely, especially to a mortal man. So, Upon Thingol's discovery of Beren's presence in his land, he sent for him and, having sworn not to harm the man, set before him a quest to recover a Silmaril from Morgoth's iron crown. Upon the successful completion of this quest, Beren would be allowed to marry Lúthien, as they desired.

So, Beren set out upon his quest while Lúthien, imprisoned by Melian the Queen of Doriath to stop her from following Beren into hell, devised a means of escape from her prison in order to follow her love. Beren travelled to Nargothrond and there gained the help of King Felagund while gaining strong enemies in the Sons of Feanor (q.v.). Beren and the party left Nargothrond and travelled north disguised as orcs until they came to Wizard's Isle and were imprisoned by Thu (Sauron), Lord of Wolves. Lúthien flees Doriath to help Beren and, with the help of Haun, great hound of the Valar, they destroy Wizard's Isle and free Beren (Felagund and his companions had died in captivity at the hands of Thu's wolves).

Beren and Lúthien wander until they approach Doriath and Beren steals away from Lúthien while she sleeps and goes to Angband to fulfill his quest. Before approaching Thangorodrim Lúthien and Huan once again find him and, with the help of Lúthien's elvish magic, they approach Angband in the guise of a werewolf and bat. They enter Angband and steal a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown while he is enchanted by Lúthien. Beren loses the stone, however, when the great wolf Carcharas bites off the hand of Beren that holds the Silmaril. It is regained, however, in Doriath, when Carcharas is killed by Huan and Beren in the end fulfills his quest to Thingol.


To Charles Williams

Your death blows a strange bugle call, friend, and all is hard
To see plainly or record truly. The new light imposes change,
Re-adjusts all a life-landscape as it thrusts down its probe from the sky,
To create shadows, to reveal waters, to erect hills and deepen glens.
The slant alters. I can't see the old contours. It's a larger world
Than I once thought it. I wince, caught in the bleak air that blows on
the ridge.
Is it the first sting of the great winter, the world-waning? Or the cold of

A hard question and worth talking a whole night on.
But with whom? Of whom now can I ask guidance? With what friend concerning your death
Is it worth while to exchange thoughts unless—oh unless it were you?

CS Lewis
Poems (Bles 1964)

War on Terror?

[Image: 'The Bomber in the Corn' - Paul Nash]

The the anniversary of the first bombing of London in September 1940, and today being the anniversary of '9/11', perhaps an opportune time to hear a passage from a talk which C.S. Lewis gave in Oxford during the Second World War.

Still applicable to the ‘War on Terror’ 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

War in Heaven

The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse.

A few moments later there was. Lionel Rackstraw, strolling back from lunch, heard in the corridor the sound of the bell in his room, and, entering at a run, took up the receiver. He remarked, as he did so, the boots and trousered legs sticking out from the large knee-hole table at which he worked, but the telephone had established the first claim on his attention.

"Yes," he said, "yes...No, not before the 17th...No, who cares what he wants?...No, who wants to know?...Oh, Mr. Persimmons. Oh, tell him the 17th...Yes...Yes, I'll send a set down."

He put the receiver down and looked back at the boots.

It occurred to him that someone was probably doing something to the telephone; people did, he knew, at various times drift in on him for such purposes. But they usually looked round or said something; and this fellow must have heard him talking. He bent down towards the boots.

"Shall you be long?" he said into the space between the legs and the central top drawer; and then, as there was no answer, he walked away, dropped hat and gloves and book on to their shelf, strolled back to his desk, picked up some papers and read them, put them back, and, peering again into the dark hole, said more impatiently, "Shall you be long?"

No voice replied; not even when, touching the extended foot with his own, he repeated the question. Rather reluctantly he went round to the other side of the table, which was still darker, and, trying to make out the head of the intruder, said almost loudly: "Hallo! hallo! What's the idea?" Then, as nothing happened, he stood up and went on to himself: "Damn it all, is he dead?" and thought at once that he might be.

That dead bodies did not usually lie round in one of the rooms of a publisher's offices in London about half-past two in the afternoon was a certainty that formed now an enormous and cynical background to the fantastic possibility. He half looked at the door which he had closed behind him, and then attempted the same sort of interior recovery with which he had often thrown off the knowledge that at any moment during his absence his wife might be involved in some street accident, some skidding bus or swerving lorry. These things happened--a small and unpleasant, if invisible, deity who lived in a corner of his top shelves had reminded him--these things happened, and even now perhaps... People had been crushed against their own front doors; there had been a doctor in Gower Street. Of course, it was all untrue. But this time, a she moved to touch the protruding feet, he wondered if it were.

Charles Williams
The Prelude (Chapter One)
War in Heaven (1930)

War in Heaven - A review

Describing a terrifyingly subtle warfare waged among mere humanity. Written by the least known (and perhaps least appreciated) of the triumvirate of Oxford Dons (Tolkien, CS Lewis and Charles Williams), Williams nevertheless deserves credit for his gripping characterisations of terrifying bleak and quiet evil operating in a deceptively normal appearing world.

War in Heaven was the first of a series of books that dealt with the concept of ordinary individuals thrust into extraordinary circumstances, caught in the line of fire between Heaven and Hell. Short enough to make for a good afternoon’s read, this book is especially haunting in its description of how ordinary and mundane the appearance of true evil could be, and yet with none of its destructive impact attenuated by this veneer of civility and normalcy. It also describes how characters with which one might easily identify, ‘ordinary’ folk, can be swept up in the maelstrom of evils intent, attacked in vile and yet also nasty petty little ways, all compelled by a most foul yet cold hatred for humanity, simply because that humanity is also the focus of Divine intent as well.

Finally, Williams wonderfully captures the subtlety of an all compelling and inexorable Divine intent, never flashy, never pyrotechnical yet undeniable, and unstoppable in it's progression, a true presentation of a God so big, He doesn't have to make a really big show of His efforts.

In some respects, Williams was better at describing the subtle monstrousness of evil than either of his two compatriots (although C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters came very close). Avoiding the pitfalls often seen in other's attempts to describe Cosmic Conflict using Angelic or Demonic beings, Williams had no problem using mere humanity as the effective agents of both evil and Divinity. He did not have to interview God or Satan to grasp the essence of their activities in the material universe.

If Stephen King were a protestant theologian, he would write stories like this. I recommend you buy this one first, then get the others in chronological order, and delve deeply into a world where both evil and Divine intent wage total war among us, and through us, and for us...while most of us wander through the blasted battle field mostly (and disturbingly) unaware.

Charles Williams - WAR IN HEAVEN is available in all good bookshops and on Kindle

Williams and transformation

W. H. Auden, worked with Charles Williams on a collection of Poetry he edited for Oxford University Press. Many years after first meeting Williams, he would recall that interview in surprising terms and mark it as one of the events that led him to embrace the Christian faith:

"For the first time in my life, [I] felt myself in the presence of personal sanctity... I had met many good people before who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings but in the presence of this man... I did not feel ashamed. I felt transformed into a person who was incapable of doing or thinking anything base or unloving (I later discovered that he had had a similar effect on many other people.)"

How could a conversation about 'literary business' generate such an aura of 'personal sanctity'? Yet Williams simply made an exceptionally powerful impression on almost all who knew him.

What Christians Believe

The third talk in What Christians Believe is entitled 'The Shocking Alternative'. First broadcast on 1 February 1942, it is probably this talk above all others which established Lewis's reputation as a Christian apologist of the first rank. No radio broadcast, before or since, has laid out so clearly the heart of the Christian gospel. Lewis manages to do this with language that js fresh and compelling. It is totally free of Christian jargon. He achieves that rare feat of explaining Christian truth in plain English that does not rely on any.of the imagery or in-house language that almost imperceptibly creeps into so much of Christian apologetics.

The talk begins with the point Lewis had reached in the first two programmes, that Christians believe 'an evil power has made himself Prince of the World'. This happened because 'God created things free to be bad as well as to be good'. It is free will that makes evil possible. The alternative, a world of automata, is unthinkable. God thought that allowing us to use our freedom in the wrong way was worth the risk. Free will means that when things turn out right, they will be all the better — enabling humankind to experience the happiness of being united with God and the ecstasy of love and delight. However, the worse it will be when things go awry. We want to put our 'self’ first - in other words, we want it to be God. This was the sin of Satan, taught by him to the human race. From this attempt to create happiness apart from God have come the hallmarks of human history: money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires and slavery. In this way Lewis describes the outcome of sin without using the word, making its meaning and consequence clear enough.

Justin Phillips
C.S. Lewis at the BBC
(HarperCollins 2002)

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

But Thingol looked on Lúthien.
'Fairest of Elves! Unhappy Men,
children of little lords and kings
mortal and frail, these fading things,
shall they then look with love on thee?'
his heart within him though. 'I see
thy ring,' he said. 'O mighty man!
But to win the child of Melian
a father's deeds shall not avail,
nor thy proud words at which I quail.
A treasure dear I too desire,
but rocks and steel and Morgoth's fire
from all the powers of Elfinesse
do keep the jewel I would possess.
Yet bonds like these I hear thee say
affright they not. Now go thy way!
Bring me one shining Silmaril
from Morgoth's crown, then if she will,
may Lúthien set her hand in thine;
then shalt thou have this jewel of mine.'

Then Thingol's warriors loud and long
they laughed; for wide renown in song
had Fëanor's gems o'er land and sea,
the peerless Silmarils; and three
alone he made and kindled slow
in the land of the Valar long ago,
and there in Tûn of their own light
they shone like marvellous stars at night,
in the great Elvish hoards of Tûn,
while Glingal flowered and Belthil's bloom
yet lit the land beyond the shore
where the Shadowy Seas' last surges roar,
ere Morgoth stole them and Gnomes
seeking their glory left their homes,
ere sorrows fell on Elves and Men,
ere Beren was or Lúthien,
ere Fëanor's sons in madness swore
their dreadful oath. But now no more
their beauty was seen, save shining clear
in Morgoth's dungeons vast and drear.
His iron crown they must adorn,
and gleam above Orcs and slaves forlorn,
treasured in Hell above all wealth,
more than his eyes; and might nor stealth
could touch them, or even gaze too long
upon their magic. Throng on throng
of Orcs with reddened scimitars
encircled him, and mighty bars
and everlasting gates and walls,
who wore them now amidst his thralls.

(lines 1,112 to 1,159)
J.R.R. Tolkien

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

'That may not be!' Lo! Beren spake,
and through the king's words coldly brake.
'What are thy mazes but a chain
wherein the captive blind is slain?
Twist not thy oaths, O elvish king,
like faithless Morgoth! By this ring—
the token of a lasting bond
that Felagund of Nargothrond
once swore in love to Barahir,
who sheltered him with shield and spear
and saved him from pursuing foe
on Northern battle fields long ago—
death thou canst give unearned to me,
but names I will not take from thee
of baseborn, spy, or Morgoth's thrall!
Are these the ways of Thingol's hall?'

Proud are the words, and all there turned
to see the jewels green that burned
in Beren's ring. These Elves had set
as eyes of serpents twined that met
beneath a golden crown of flowers,
that one upholds and one devours:
the badge that Finrod made of yore
and Felagund his son now bore.
His anger was chilled, but little less,
and dark thoughts Thingol did possess,

though Melian the pale leant to his side
and whispered: 'O king, forgo thy pride!
such is my counsel. Not by thee
shall Beren be slain, for far and free
from these deep halls his fate doth lead,
yet wound with thine. O king, take heed!'

(lines 1,080 to 1,111)
J.R.R. Tolkien

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

Silence then fell upon the hall;
like graven stone there stood they all,
save one who cast her eyes aground,
and one who laughed with bitter sound.
Dairon the piper leant there pale
against a pillar. His fingers frail
there touched a flute that whispered not;
his eyes were dark; his heart was hot.
'Death is the guerdon thou hast earned,
O baseborn mortal, who hast learned
in Morgoth's realm to spy and lurk
like Orcs that do his evil work!'
'Death!' echoed Dairon fierce and low,
but Lúthien trembling gasped in woe.
'And death,' said Thingol, 'thou shouldst taste,
had I not sworn an oath in hast
that blade nor chain thy flesh should mar.
Yet captive bound by never a bar,
unchained, unfettered, shalt thou be
in lightless labyrinth endlessly
that coils about my halls profound
by magic bewildered and enwound;
there wandering in hopelessness
though shalt learn the power of Elfinesse!'

(lines 1,056 to 1,079)
J.R.R. Tolkien

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

Then Beren looked in Lúthien's eyes
and saw a light of starry skies,
and thence was slowly drawn his gaze
to Melian's face. As from a maze
of wonder dumb he woke; his heart
the bonds of awe there burst apart
and filled with the fearless pride of old;
in his glance now gleamed and anger cold.
'My feet hath fate, O king,' he said,
'here over the mountains bleeding led,
and what I sought not I have found,
and love it is hath here me bound.
Thy dearest treasure I desire;
nor rocks nor steel nor Morgoth's fire
nor all the power of Elfinesse
shall keep that gem I would possess.
For fairer than are born to Men
A daughter hast thou, Lúthien.'

(lines 1,038 to 1,055)
J.R.R. Tolkien

Suprised by Joy.

In 1952 Lewis met Mrs Joy Gresham (née Davidman), and their story is famously told in the film Shadowlands. Joy was an American who had been deserted by her husband. Lewis helped her to arrange the rental of 10 Old High Street, Headington for herself and her two boys, and she moved in during August 1953.

The house (opposite the Somerfield supermarket) has a plaque over the downstairs window reading: "The former home of the writer Joy Davidman, wife of C. S. Lewis". Joy’s son Douglas Gresham was about eight years old when he moved into Old High Street in 1953. He said of the house: "It was a nice place partly because of the visitors who came, many of Oxford’s literary luminaries. Lewis himself of course, his brother Warnie, and J.R.R. Tolkien."

Joy divorced her husband in August 1954 and married Lewis in Oxford Register Office on 23 April 1956. This was a marriage of convenience so that she could acquire British citizenship, and she continued to live in Old High Street after the marriage.

In 1957 Joy was admitted to the Wingfield Morris Orthopaedic Hospital (now the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre) with a broken leg, and was found to have cancer. The Revd Peter Bide married Lewis and Joy a second time at this hospital (this time with a real Christian ceremony) on 21 March 1957: the marriage took place in the Mayfair Suite. The next month Joy moved into "The Kilns" with Lewis.


In Oxford Crematorium, on the wall facing the walkway just outside the far chapel in the complex, there is a small plaque on the wall. It was placed there by C.S. Lewis following the death of his beloved American wife Joy Gresham (nee 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."

23rd December 1947

[Image: Carry Akroyd]

Nothing much has happened to me except that I saw a rabbit yawn. I suppose people who keep tame ones have seen it often but this was a wild rabbit and I thought it a v. curious sight. It was a very bored triangular yawn in the middle of a long hot afternoon...

C.S. Lewis
December 23rd, 1947

Et in Sempiternum Pereant

It was a very deserted part of the country through which he was walking. He had been careful to follow the directions given him, and in fact there were only two places where he could possibly have gone wrong, and at both of them Lord Arglay was certain he had not gone wrong. But he seemed to be taking a long time--a longer time than he had expected. He looked at his watch again, and noted with sharp disapproval of his own judgment that it was only six minutes since he had looked at it last. It had seemed more like sixteen. Lord Arglay frowned. He was usually a good walker, and on that morning he was not conscious of any unusual weariness. His host had offered to send him in a car, but he had declined. For a moment, as he put his watch back, he was almost sorry he had declined. A car would have made short time of this road, and at present his legs seemed to be making rather long time of it. 'Or,' Lord Arglay said aloud, 'making time rather long.' He played a little, as he went on, with the fancy that every road in space had a corresponding measure in time; that it tended, merely of itself, to hasten or delay all those that drove or walked upon it. The nature of some roads, quite apart from their material effectiveness, might urge men to speed, and of others to delay. So that the intentions of all travellers were counterpointed continually by the media they used. The courts, he thought, might reasonably take that into consideration in case of offences against right speed, and a man who accelerated upon one road would be held to have acted under the improper influence of the way, whereas one who did the same on another would be known to have defied and conquered the way.

Lord Arglay just stopped himself looking at his watch again. It was impossible that it should be more than five minutes since he had last done so. He looked back to observe, if possible, how far he had since come. It was not possible; the road narrowed and curved too much. There was a cloud of trees high up behind him; it must have been half an hour ago that he passed through it, yet it was not merely still in sight, but the trees themselves were in sight. He could remark them as trees; he could almost, if he were a little careful, count them. He thought, with some irritation, that he must be getting old more quickly, and more unnoticeably, than he had supposed. He did not much mind about the quickness, but he did mind about the unnoticeableness. It had given him pleasure to watch the various changes which age tended to bring; to be as stealthy and as quick to observe those changes as they were to come upon him--the slower pace, the more meditative voice, the greater reluctance to decide, the inclination to fall back on habit, the desire for the familiar which is the first skirmishing approach of unfamiliar death. He neither welcomed nor grudged such changes; he only observed them with a perpetual interest in the curious nature of the creation. The fantasy of growing old, like the fantasy of growing up, was part of the ineffable sweetness, touched with horror, of existence, itself the lordliest fantasy of all. But now, as he stood looking back over and across the hidden curves of the road, he felt suddenly that time had outmarched and out-twisted him, that it was spreading along the countryside and doubling back on him, so that it troubled and deceived his judgment. In an unexpected and unusual spasm of irritation he put his hand to his watch again. He felt as if it were a quarter of an hour since he had looked at it; very well, making just allowance for his state of impatience, he would expect the actual time to be five minutes. He looked; it was only two.

Charles Williams
[From: "The London Mercury", 1935]

'Et in Sempiternum Pereant’ by Charles Williams (1886-1945)... here is a story in which virtually nothing appears to happen. A retired Lord Chief Justice, out walking in the country, enters a burning empty house and encounters a troubled spirit on its way to Hell. The setting is vague and the material details scanty. Not until it is over does the story have the power to frighten: it gains its effects through implication. The only tale of its kind its author wrote, in its substitution of spiritual for material terror it epitomizes his approach to the writing of supernaturalist fiction.

(Glen Cavaliero)

The Proverbs of Middle Earth

Entering Ithilien, the Hobbits are for the first time in Gondor (albeit in land occupied by the Enemy). The great Kingdom of the Dunedain of the South has been liberally referred to throughout the Quest, yet until now it has had only Boromir to represent it. It would have been reasonable to presume him as an archetype for his people, yet with the entrance of his brother Faramir, a wiser, more thoughtful head on younger shoulders, that thought must be discarded.

Wise man trusts not to chance-meeting on the road in this land.

We meet no one else, with the obvious exception of Gandalf, for whom proverbs are so natural a part of speech. Very often they are unquoted, utilised but not emphasised, and thereby often unnoticed.

War must be,
while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all;
but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness,
nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.
I love only that which they defend.

We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor.
We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt.

Moreover, we receive from Faramir one of the few explicit references to the means by which learning and knowledge has been passed down amongst men of one era to another, and to him in particular:

'Much is still preserved of ancient lore among the Rulers of the city that is not spread abroad... We in the house of Denethor know much ancient lore by long tradition, and there are moreover in our treasures many things preserved: 'Books and tablets writ on withered parchments, yea, and on stone, and on leaves of silver and of gold, in divers characters.'

©& ® David Rowe 2010

Talking about Bicycles

[Outside the Bodleian Library in Oxford]

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

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

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

"How do you mean?", said I.

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

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


On the other hand, all those doubts which I had felt before I entered the cottage as to whether these creatures were friend of foe, and whether Ransom were a pioneer or a dupe, had for the moment vanished. My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that he creature was what we called ‘good’, but I wasn’t sure whether I liked ‘goodness’ so much as I had supposed. This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid of is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can’t eat, and home the very place you can’t live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescue possible: the last card has been played.

C.S. Lewis ~ Voyage to Venus (Perelandra) (Ch. 1)

Voyage to Venus

"... now, by some transition, which he did not notice, it seemed that what had begun as speech was turned into sight, or into something that can be remembered only as if it were seeing. He thought he saw the Great Dance. It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties.

Each figure as he looked at it became the master-figure or focus of the whole spectacle, by means of which his eye disentangled all else and brought it into unity--only to be itself entangled when he looked to what he had taken for mere marginal decorations and found that there also the same hegemony was claimed, and the claim made good, yet the former pattern thereby disposed but finding in its new subordination a significance greater than that which it had abdicated.

He could see also ( but the word "seeing" is now plainly inadequate)wherever the ribbons or serpents of light intersected minute corpuscles of momentary brightness: and he knew somehow that these particles were the secular generalities of which history tells--people, institutions, climates of opinion, civilizations, arts, sciences and the like--ephemeral coruscations that piped their short song and vanished. The ribbons or cords themselves, in which millions of corpuscles lived and died, were the things of some different kind. At first he could not say what. But he knew in the end that most of them were individual entities. If so, the time in which the Great Dance proceeds is very unlike time as we know it.

Some of the thinner more delicate cords were the beings that we call short lived: flowers and insects, a fruit or a storm of rain, and once (he thought) a wave of the sea. Others were such things we think lasting: crystals, rivers, mountains, or even stars. Far above these in girth and luminosity and flashing with colours form beyond our spectrum were the lines of personal beings, yet as different from one another in splendour as all of them from the previous class. But not all the cords were individuals: some of them were universal truths or universal qualities. It did not surprise him then to find that these and the persons were both cords and both stood together as against the mere atoms of generality which lived and died in the clashing of their streams: But afterwards, when he came back to earth, he wondered.

And by now the thing must have passed together out of the region of sight as we understand it. For he says that the whole figure of there enamored and inter-inanimate circling was suddenly revealed as the mere superficies of a far vaster pattern in four dimensions, and that figure as the boundary of yet others in other worlds: till suddenly as the movement grew yet swifter, the interweaving yet more ecstatic, the relevance of all to all yet more intense, as dimension was added to dimension and tat part of him which could reason and remember was dropped further and further behind that part of him which saw, even then, at the very zenith of complexity, complexity was eaten up and faded, as a thin white cloud fades into the hard blue burning of sky, and all simplicity beyond all comprehension, ancient and young as spring, illimitable, pellucid, drew him with cords of infinite desire into it’s own stillness. He went up into such a quietness, a privacy, and a freshness that at the very moment when he stood farthest from our ordinary mode of being he had the sense of striping off encumbrances and awaking from a trance, and coming to himself. With a gesture of relaxation he looked about him".

C.S. Lewis ~ Voyage to Venus (Perelandra)

An atheist's faith?

Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to "know of the doctrine." All my acts, desires, and thoughts were to be brought into harmony with universal Spirit. For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion. Of course I could do nothing - I could not last out one hour - without continual conscious recourse to what I called Spirit. But the fine, philosophical distinction between this and what ordinary people call "prayer to God" breaks down as soon as you start doing it in earnest. Idealism can be talked, and even felt; it cannot be lived.

C.S. Lewis - Surprised by Joy (XIV Checkmate)


Iron will eat the world's old beauty up.
Girder and grid and gantry will arise,
Iron forest of engines will arise,
Criss-cross of iron crotchet. For your eyes
No green or growth. Over all, the skies
Scribbled from end to end with boasts and lies.
(When Adam ate the irrevocable apple, Thou
Saw'st beyond death the resurrection of the dead.)

Clamour shall clean put out the voice of wisdom,
The printing-presses with their clapping wings,
Fouling your nourishment. Harpy wings,
Filling your minds all day with foolish things,
Will tame the eagle Thought: till she sings
Parrot-like in her cage to please dark kings.
(When Israel descended into Egypt, Thou
Didst purpose both the bondage and the coming out.)

The new age, the new art, the new ethic and thought,
And fools crying, Because it has begun
It will continue as it has begun!
The wheel runs fast, therefore the wheel will run
Faster for ever. The old age is done,
We have new lights and see without the sun.
(Though they lay flat the mountains and dry up the sea,
Wilt thou yet change, as though God were a god?)

'Poems' (Geoffrey Bles, 1964)
C.S. Lewis

Of Fingolfin and Morgoth

[Image: Ted Nasmith]

In that vast shadow once of yore
Fingolfin stood: his shield he bore
with field of heaven's blue and star
of crystal shining pale afar.
In overmastering wrath and hate
desperate he smote upon that gate,
the Gnomish king, there standing lone,
while endless fortresses of stone
engulfed the thin clear ringing keen
of silver horn on baldric green.
His hopeless challenge dauntless cried
Fingolfin there: 'Come, open wide
dark king, our ghastly brazen doors!
Come forth, whom earth and heaven abhors!
Come forth, O monstrous craven lord,
and fight with thine own hand and sword,
thou wielder of hosts of banded thralls,
thou tyrant leaguered with strong walls,
thou foe of Gods and elvish race!
I wait thee here. Come! Show thy face!'

Then Morgoth came. For the last time
in those great wars he dared to climb
from subterranean throne profound,
the rumour of his feet a sound
of rumbling earthquake underground.
Black-armoured, towering, iron-crowned
he issued forth; his mighty shield
a vast unblazoned sable field
with shadow like a thundercloud;
and o'er the gleaming king it bowed,
as huge aloft like mace he hurled
that hammer of the underworld,
Grond. Clanging to ground it tumbled
down like a thunder-bolt, and crumbled
the rocks beneath it; smoke up-started,
a pit yawned, and a fire darted.

(lines 3,538 – 3,573)

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien
by J.R.R. Tolkien

Lewis on the death of Charles Williams

"You will have heard of the death of my dearest friend, Charles Williams and, no doubt, prayed for him. For me too, it has been, and is, a great loss. But not at all a dejecting one. It has greatly increased my faith. Death has done nothing to my idea of him, but he has done - oh, I can't say what - to my idea of death. It has made the next world much more real and palpable. We all feel the same. How one lives and learns".

(excerpt from a letter to Sister Penelope CSMV, May 28th, 1945)
C.S. Lewis - Collected Letters, Volume II

Frodo in a World of Boromirs (final)

The pull of liberty is strong, but only for those who know it and treasure it. After decades of public education designed more to produce compliant subjects and beneficiaries than thinking, self-reliant citizens, there are precious few among us who can even articulate, let alone defend, the principles for which our founders bled and died. There are far more (and especially the well-meaning religious) who say, as Gandalf says of the One Ring, "Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good." In their pity and all too sincere desire to do good, they do not see the end of that road as Gandalf does: "With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly."

Is there hope? Yes. There is always hope. Whatever its imperfections and excesses and absurdities, liberty is always better than coercion. Sooner or later this always seems to become apparent. When it does, men and women ready to take a stand for liberty always seem to spring from the earth. Perhaps that moment is again near. If so, it will not be the last. There is no final battle for liberty in a fallen world. As Tolkien reminds us (again in the words of Gandalf), "Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again."

Kurt Luchs - First Things
Oct 27, 2008

Frodo in a World of Boromirs (IV)

Image: Peter Xavier Price

To anyone who loves liberty as our Founders did the difference between the two major parties -- always slim -- has become invisible. Democrats and Republicans may disagree slightly on the structure and parameters of programs and how much money to pour into each. They no longer disagree on whether government should have its long fingers in everything.

It is no longer shameful to lust after power so long as one lusts for the good of the people. In the words of Boromir, speaking of the One Ring, "For you seem to think of its power only in the hands of the enemy: of its evil uses not of its good." The only rejoinder, in Frodo's words to Boromir, is that "we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil." Yes, it's that simple. And as you ascend the levels of authority, from city to state to nation, it only becomes more true.

There are several reasons. One, already alluded to, is the corruption of power. No matter for what noble ends power may be sought, at some point it always becomes an end in itself, and then the jig is up… but the power and its abuses live on. This is why even the most flagrantly failed government programs are nearly impossible to kill.

The result is government programs that clumsily and ineptly ape the market, with none of its efficiencies and never coming close to achieving consumer satisfaction. A government program must be counted a success if it does not achieve the exact opposite of its stated goal.

Whatever it does achieve comes at a terrible cost. If you include all forms of taxation, government confiscates about 40 to 50 percent of our income every year. What we receive for this robbery in goods and services is a pretty poor trade by any measure. Our schools turn out ill-mannered ignoramuses by the millions, many of them not fit for anything but Congress. Our health care system is a shell game where Peter is robbed and Paul doesn't even get paid. Our social security system is a transparent Ponzi scheme that, if perpetrated by an individual, would earn him life in prison. The U.S. Treasury is the world's greatest counterfeiter, inflicting on us an invisible form of taxation called inflation.

(to be continued)

Kurt Luchs - First Things
Oct 27, 2008

Frodo in a World of Boromirs (III)

Image: Peter Xavier Price

Was Frodo less resistant to the temptations of power than America's greatest president? No, not Reagan, or FDR, or Lincoln, or even Jefferson. Washington: the only President who was ever offered a lifelong throne and turned it down for a temporary desk in a bureaucrat's office. Almost to a man, his successors have been offered that same desk and have mistaken it for a throne. The current occupant, however sincere, is no exception (nor does it matter what month this is published or what year you read it). Roosevelt II -- as H.L. Mencken aptly called FDR -- actually tried to get a throne for himself, or the next best thing in a democracy, a permanent presidency. He came frighteningly close to succeeding before death intervened. The Onion's book Our Dumb Century contains a headline I contributed to sum up this absurdity: "Roosevelt's Remains To Run For Fifth Term."

In a year of partisan bitterness and economic havoc, it is well to recall that not every step is forward, not every change is for the better. Our Founders knew this. They grasped the truth of Lord Acton's words -- “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- long before he wrote them. They understood, along with Thomas Paine: "That government is best which governs least." And to our everlasting blessing, they did their best to enshrine that precept into a system made to preserve it. They tried to create a government whose various powers were strictly limited and balanced, a government directly answerable to the people, in whom all rights and powers were ultimately held to reside. Their effort was heroic, and for a time, so were the results.

Looking at our current plight one could say they failed us. But the truth is, we have failed them. We have forgotten and abandoned nearly every principle they stood for. Where our Founders saw very little that government could do, and even less that it should do, we see no area of life in which government should not be involved. Too often we see government as the leader, all-knowing, all-providing, all-powerful. The worse the crisis, the more frantically and counter-intuitively we seek government solutions. Just now we are suffering through a government-generated economic debacle from which (we are assured) only government can save us. (to be continued)

Kurt Luchs - First Things
Oct 27, 2008

Frodo in a World of Boromirs (II)

Image: Peter Xavier Price

Boromir, you'll recall, is the Judas of the Fellowship of the Ring. Sworn to protect Frodo the Ring-bearer with his life if need be, Boromir betrays his trust and tries to take the Ring by force, thereby sundering the Fellowship. Tellingly, all of this is done for the best of motives in Boromir's eyes. He means to accomplish nothing but good with the Ring, to save his beloved kingdom of Minas Tirith from Sauron's conquering armies.

In one of their own satires on power, The Giant Rat of Sumatra, the audio comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre speaks of "a power so great, it can only be used for good or evil." This is Boromir's tragically mistaken view of the One Ring. Though masking an unchecked power, the Ring is, for Boromir, only a tool -- something no better or worse than the person who uses it. He seems almost unaware of the Ring's dark side. Insofar as he is aware, he dismisses it out of hand, swearing, "True-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted." Like any politician lobbying for his favourite cause – himself -- he supplies a noble motive: "We do not desire the power of wizard-lords, only strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause." He also supplies a noble champion. Guess who? He muses, "What could not a warrior do in this hour, a great leader?" Nor should Frodo have any fear that Boromir will succumb to the Ring's blandishments because, as he vows, "I give you my word that I do not desire to keep it."

Yet keeping or not keeping such power is not the main issue. Merely to desire it is to show oneself unworthy of it even for a moment. It is no accident that the Ring comes to a humble bearer who in no way has sought it and who wants no part of it. In the end it proves too much even for Frodo. (to be continued)

Kurt Luchs - First Things
Oct 27, 2008