Jupiter, from 'The Planets'

In February 2003, Revd Dr Michael Ward, Chaplain of Peterhouse, University of Cambridge was reading the section of “The Planets” that deals with Jove, or Jupiter, when he was struck by its resonance with “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. The poem speaks of “winter passed / And guilt forgiven” and goes on to give what is, Ward opines, ‘essentially a plot summary’ of the first book in the Narnia Chronicles:

Joy and jubilee. It is JOVE's orbit,
Filled and festal, faster turning
With arc ampler. From the Isles of Tin
Tyrian traders, in trouble steering
Came with his cargoes; the Cornish treasure
That his ray ripens. Of wrath ended
And woes mended, of winter passed
And guilt forgiven, and good fortune
Jove is master; and of jocund revel,
Laughter of ladies. The lion-hearted,
The myriad-minded, men like the gods,
Helps and heroes, helms of nations
Just and gentle, are Jove's children,
Work his wonders. On his white forehead
Calm and kingly, no care darkens
Nor wrath wrinkles: but righteous power
And leisure and largess their loose splendours
Have wrapped around him--a rich mantle
Of ease and empire. Up far beyond.

C. S. Lewis, The Planets (1937)

Silly Adventure Stories

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)

C.S. Lewis by Owen Barfield (In Verse)

[Owen Barfield]
A year after Lewis' death, one of the lesser members (to many) of the Inklings,
Owen Barfield, memorialised his friend in the following:

You came to him: when will you come to me?
He knows what matters from what matters not.
I hurry to and fro and seem to be.
New tasks, new faces . . . (tiny sir, so hot?
As though there were a future for success?
He knows what matters from what matters not).
I catch sight of your unaverted face
Between two eager places . . . thus the day
Is punctuated by the silences
With which you answer every time I say:--
You came to him; when will you come to me?
O time! O night! O sun's recurring ray!
I shall forget again, as I'd forgot,
Before I crossed the Campus yesterday:--
He knows what matters now, what matters not.

Charles Williams in "Looking for the King" (II)

"What is this Holy Grail we hear so much about?" asked Williams, pacing back and forth so rapidly that Tom could hear keys or coins clinking in his pocket. "Is the Grail the holy chalice used by Jesus on the night of the Last Supper? Is it a cup in which Joseph of Arimathea caught drops of Christ's blood as he was stretched out on the cross?" Again, Williams peered into individual faces, speaking to over a hundred people, but giving each one the impression he was talking just to him. "Or perhaps you favor the Loomis school: the Grail is a bit of 'faded mythology', a Celtic cauldron of plenty that somehow got lugged into Arthurian lore?"

Williams paced back and forth some more, throwing his hands into the air, as if to say, who can answer all these imponderable questions? Then he plunged in again: "There is no shortage of texts on the subject. Let's start with Chretien de Troyes: Percival, or the Story of the Grail, written sometime in the 1180s. This is the first known account of the Grail. The young knight Percival sits at banquet at the castle Carbonek and sees an eerie procession—a young man carrying a bleeding lance, two boys with gold candelabra, then finally a fair maid with a jeweled grail, a platter bearing the wafer of the Holy Mass. Percival doesn't ask what it all means and thereby brings a curse upon himself and on the land." Williams surveyed the crowd again, as if waiting for someone to stand and explain all this to him. The room was silent as a church at midnight, so Williams went on, listing all the famous medieval texts and their retellings of the Grail legend, noting how their dates clustered around the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.

"So much for the literary versions", he continued. "But what is this Grail really"? What lies behind the texts? Some describe it as a cup or bowl, some as a stone, some as a platter. The word grail, by the way, comes from the Latin gradalis, more like a shallow dish, or a paten, than a chalice." After another strategic pause, Williams exclaimed, almost in a shout, "How extraordinary! Here we have what some would call the holiest relic in Christendom, and no one seems to know what it looks like."

Pacing some more, as if trying to work off an excess of agitation and intellectual energy, Williams went back to the lectern and leaned on it heavily...

David C. Downing
Looking for the King (Chapter 3)
Ignatius Press 2010

Charles Williams from "Looking for the King" (I)

"Tom crossed the quad, following others through a large wooden door and into a narrow passageway that led to the Divinity School. Emerging from the dark corridor in to the lecture hall, Tom instantly changed his mind about the Bodleian. Entering the Divinity School room was like moving from darkness to light, from confinement to liberation, from all that weighs down the spirit to all that makes it soar. The whole room was suffused with an amber glow, the afternoon sun warming the cream-colored walls, which seemed to radiate a light all their own.

The whole interior commanded Tom to look up. The floor was unadorned flagstone covered with rows of wooden chairs. But the lofty arched windows with delicate tracery carried his eyes upward toward the ceiling, where he saw rows of ornately carved pendants, hanging like lanterns, each one radiating fan-shaped curves, like shafts of light chiseled in stone. The plain stone floor and the portable chairs, crouching humbly under that magnificent vaulted ceiling, seemed to suggest that all the richness and gladness of life comes not from the plane on which we live and walk but from higher planes of intellect, imagination, learning, and faith.

The chairs in the lecture hall began filling quickly, even as Tom was admiring the room. He had wondered what sort of audience a publisher's editor would attract, and he soon had his answer. He found a seat near the center, about five rows back, before every seat was taken as the clock neared three. There were a few men who looked like dons scattered around the room, but most of the listeners were about Tom's age, with more women in the crowd than he had seen in any one place since arriving at Oxford.

Precisely at three o'clock, Mr. Charles Williams stepped briskly to the lectern. He was a tall man in his fifties with wavy hair, wearing a black gown and gold-rimmed spectacles. Tom was not accustomed to lecturers wearing academic gowns, so his first sight of Williams made him think of a priest or wizard. Williams briefly surveyed his listeners and smiled. The furrows on his cheeks ran all the way down to his jaw, giving the impression that someone had placed his mouth in parentheses. Tom heard someone in the row behind him whisper the word ugly, but that was not quite accurate. There was a look of energetic intelligence in Williams' face, the owlish eyes and simian jaw giving a sense of endearing homeliness, not mere coarseness.

Williams set down his notes and hardly glanced at them again for the next hour. "Did any of you buy a newspaper this morning?" he began. There was a hint of Cockney in his voice, an accent that certainly wouldn't impress the person who had whispered the word ugly. Abandoning the lectern, Williams paced back and forth in front of the room, looking into individual faces for the answer to his question. Several nodded that they had, and Williams smiled to see his hypothesis confirmed. "You offered a coin and received a newspaper in return. A mutually satisfactory transaction. That is the life of the city. Exchange." Williams paced briskly back toward the lectern and continued: "And thus you took one step closer to the Holy Grail." Pausing to let this comment have its effect, Williams came out toward his listeners again and asked, "Did any of you hold a door open for someone today? Did you help someone who'd dropped an armful of books?" Seeing a few nods in the audience, Williams smiled again and continued: "Giving your effort, your labor, for someone else, perhaps a stranger—courtesy, yes. But also substitution. Another step in your quest for the Grail."

David C. Downing
Looking for the King (Chapter 3)
Ignatius Press 2010

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)

Under the Mercy

The grave of Charles Williams in Holywell Cemetery (also known as St. Cross Churchyard), Oxford is marked by a stone bearing his name and the terse description: Poet, followed by the words, Under the Mercy.

Under the Mercy is a phrase that appears frequently in his writings, as it did in his conversation. He liked to refer to the Divinity by Its Attributes: the Mercy, the Protection, the Omnipotence. In his personal life he seemed always to be clinging to the faith that, balanced as he was upon the knife-edge of his Christian allegiance in the world of myth and magic that his passion-inflamed imagination had conjured up, he would find at last, in death if by no other route, the stillness of the Love of God. It was his wife, Michal, in one of those sudden flashes of crystal-clear insight of which she was not infrequently capable, who chose the inscription on the stone. Nothing could have been more appropriate.

Lois Lang-Sims: "Letters to Lalange – The Letters of Charles Williams to Lois Lang-Sims", page 16