Love making in Modern Literature

Wayland Young:
… in general from the standpoint of Christian morality, the description of love-making in literature is on a par with the description of anything else, or less so?

CS Lewis:
Well, I think the description of any immoral action whether in the sexual sphere or any other, if so contrived as to produce a tendency to that action in the mind of the reader, I would condemn. Though whether I would impose my Christian condemnation through the law for non-Christian fellow citizens is quite a different matter.

Wayland Young:
Supposing it's not an immoral action, supposing it's between husband and wife? And yet is described very vividly?

CS Lewis:
Well, I suppose one thinks there that this sort of thing tends to lead to masturbation on the part of the young reader, but perhaps one ought to say rather that it should be kept away from the young reader. That it ought to be kept away from everyone, I really just don't know. I don't think it's likely to be very [good?] art because, as I said earlier, I don't think some things can be, as in Wordsworth's phrase, recollected in tranquillity, and also, stimulation of this particular impulse does not really seem to be very necessary.

Wayland Young:
Well, the next thing is, of course, is masturbation a wrong action?

CS Lewis:
Well, I think I would say to that unless you hold, as I do hold, the specifically Christian view of the human body, I'm not very clear that it is morally wrong. It may be bad as it incapacitates a person, and I don't mean physically, but psychologically incapacitating him for real love affairs, but I don't know - I'm only guessing there.

C.S. Lewis
Interview with Wayland Young (19 Jan 1962)
Journal of Inklings Studies (Vol 1 No 1)

The spark that lit the fire

(Charles) would admit that he was not a tidy man in the office and had occasional clean-ups. On one such occasion, after one paper basket was full he turned out a large typescript which he said could go as it had been refused by all the publishing houses. I said what a pity. He shrugged and said that I could do what I liked with it. So I sent it to Victor Gollancz who had recently started publishing. It was accepted and appeared with the title War in Heaven. The following is an example of his generosity. One day he called me into his office, opened a parcel, took out the first copy of War in Heaven, inscribed it "The spark that lit the fire" and handed it to me. He said then that poetry was his first love, but novels would be bread and butter.

Jo Harris
“Charles Williams as I knew Him”
(Charles Williams Society Newsletter) No 4 - Winter 1976 (excerpt)

Most interesting… so here’s the first page of the novel, published in 1930:

Chapter One (The Prelude)

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.

Charles Williams
War In Heaven

from "The English Poets"

Every great nation has expressed its spirit in art: generally in some particular form of art. The Italians are famous for their painting, the Germans for their music, the Russians for their novels. England is distinguished for her poets. A few of these, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, are acknowledged to be among the supreme poets of the world. But there are many others besides these. Shakespeare is only the greatest among an array of names. Seven or eight other English poets deserve world-wide fame: in addition to them, many others in every age have written at least one poem that has made them immortal. The greatness of English poetry has been astonishingly continuous. German music and Italian painting flourished, at most, for two hundred years. England has gone on producing great poets from the fourteenth century to to-day: there is nothing like it in the history of the arts.

That the English should have chosen poetry as the chief channel for their artistic talent is the result partly of their circumstances, partly of their temperament.

English is a poet's language. It is ideally suited for description or for the expression of emotion. It is flexible, it is varied, it has an enormous vocabulary; able to convey every subtle diverse shade, to make vivid before the mental eye any picture it wishes to conjure up. Moreover its very richness helps it to evoke those indefinite moods, those visionary flights of fancy of which so much of the material of poetry is composed. There is no better language in the world for touching the heart and setting the imagination aflame.

English poetry has taken full advantage of its possibilities. Circumstances have helped it. Nature placed England in the Gothic North, the region of magic and shadows, of elves and ghosts, and romantic legend. But from an early period she has been in touch with classic civilisation, with its culture, its sense of reality, its command of form. In consequence her poetry has got the best of two traditions. On the whole Nature has been a stronger influence than history. Most good English poets have been more Gothic than classical; inspired but unequal, memorable for their power to suggest atmosphere and their flashes of original beauty, rather than for their clear design, or their steady level of good writing. For the most part too, they write spontaneously, without reference to established rules of art. But they have often obeyed these rules, even when they were not conscious of them: and some, Milton and Chaucer for instance, are as exact in form and taste as any Frenchman. No generalisation is uniformly true about English poetry. It spreads before us like a wild forest, a tangle of massive trees and luxuriantly-flowering branches, clamorous with bird song: but here and there art has cut a clearing in it and planted a delicate formal garden.

Lord David Cecil
Collins 1942

The Death of Charles Williams

[The King's Arms on the junction of Parks Road & Holywell Street, Oxford]

Tuesday 15th May, 1945.

At 12.50 this morning… the telephone rang, and a woman's voice asked if I would take a message for J — "Mr. Charles Williams died in the Acland this morning". One often reads of people being "stunned" by bad news, and reflects idly on the absurdity of the expression; but there is more than a little truth in it. I felt just as if I had slipped and come down on my head on the pavement. J had told me when I came into College that Charles was ill, and it would mean a serious operation: and then went off to see him: I haven't seen him since. I felt dazed and restless, and went out to get a drink: choosing unfortunately the King's Arms, where during the winter Charles and I more than once drank a pint after leaving Tollers at the Mitre, with much glee at "clearing one throats of varnish with good honest beer": as Charles used to say.

There will be no more pints with Charles: no more "Bird and Baby": the blackout has fallen, and the Inklings can never be the same again. I knew him better than any of the others, by virtue of his being the most constant attendant. I hear his voice as I write, and can see his thin form in his blue suit, opening his cigarette box with trembling hands. These rooms will always hold his ghost for me. There is something horrible, something unfair about death, which no religious conviction can overcome. "Well, goodbye, see you on Tuesday Charles" one says — and you have in fact though you don't know it, said goodbye for ever. He passes up the lamplit street, and passes out of your life for ever.

There is a good deal of stuff talked about the horrors of a lonely old age; I'm not sure that the wise man — the wise materialist at any rate — isn't the man who has no friends. And so vanishes one of the best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet. May God receive him into His everlasting happiness.

Warren (Warnie) Lewis
Brothers & Friends (Harper & Row 1982)

Bors and Elayne: The King’s Coins

The king has set up his mint by Thames.
He has struck coins; his dragon's loins
germinate a crowded creaturely brood
to scuttle and scurry between towns and towns,
to furnish dishes and flagons with change of food;
small crowns, small dragons, hurry to the markets
under the king's smile, or flat in houses squat.
The long file of their snout crosses the empire,
and the other themes acknowledge our king's head.
They carry on their backs little packs of value,
caravans; but I dreamed the head of a dead king
was carried on all, that they teemed on house-roofs
where men stared and studied them as I your thumbs' epigrams,
hearing the City say Feed my lambs
to you and the king; the king can tame dragons to carriers,
but I came through the night, and saw the dragonlets' eyes
leer and peer, and the house-roofs under their weight
creak and break; shadows of great forms
halloed them on, and followed over falling towns.
I saw that this was the true end of our making;
mother of children, redeem the new law.

Taliessin's look darkened; his hand shook
while he touched the dragons; he said 'We had a good thought.
Sir, if you made verse you would doubt symbols.
I am afraid of the little loosed dragons.
When the means are autonomous, they are deadly; when words
escape from verse they hurry to rape souls;
when sensation slips from intellect, expect the tyrant;
the brood of carriers levels the good they carry.
We have taught our images to be free; are we glad?
are we glad to have brought convenient heresy to Logres?

Charles Williams ~ ‘Bors to Elayne: on the King’s Coins’
Arthurian Poets (The Boydell Press) 1991 (extract)

What is the Purpose of Life?

[Rayner Unwin's daughter Camilla was told, as part of a school 'project', to write and ask: 'What is the purpose of life?']

20 May 1969 [19 Lakeside Road, Branksome Park, Poole]

Dear Miss Unwin,

I am sorry my reply has been delayed. I hope it will reach you in time. What a very large question! I do not think 'opinions', no matter whose, are of much use without some explanation of how they are arrived at; but on this question it is not easy to be brief.

What does the question really mean? Purpose and Life both need some definition. Is it a purely human and moral question; or does it refer to the Universe? It might mean: How ought I to try and use the life-span allowed to me? OR: What purpose/design do living things serve by being alive? The first question, however, will find an answer (if any) only after the second has been considered.

I think that questions about 'purpose' are only really useful when they refer to the conscious purposes or objects of human beings, or to the uses of things they design and make. As for 'other things' their value resides in themselves: they ARE, they would exist even if we did not. But since we do exist one of their functions is to be contemplated by us. If we go up the scale of being to 'other living things', such as, say, some small plant, it presents shape and organization: a 'pattern' recognizable (with variation) in its kin and offspring; and that is deeply interesting, because these things are 'other' and we did not make them, and they seem to proceed from a fountain of invention incalculably richer than our own.

Human curiosity soon asks the question HOW: in what way did this come to be? And since recognizable 'pattern' suggests design, may proceed to WHY? But WHY in this sense, implying reasons and motives, can only refer to a MIND. Only a Mind can have purposes in any way or degree akin to human purposes. So at once any question:

'Why did life, the community of living things, appear in the physical Universe?' introduces the Question: Is there a God, a Creator-Designer, a Mind to which our minds are akin (being derived from it) so that It is intelligible to us in part. With that we come to religion and the moral ideas that proceed from it. Of those things I will only say that 'morals' have two sides, derived from the fact that we are individuals (as in some degree are all living things) but do not, cannot, live in isolation, and have a bond with all other things, ever closer up to the absolute bond with our own human kind.

So morals should be a guide to our human purposes, the conduct of our lives: (a) the ways in which our individual talents can be developed without waste or misuse; and (b) without injuring our kindred or interfering with their development. (Beyond this and higher lies self-sacrifice for love.)

But these are only answers to the smaller question. To the larger there is no answer, because that requires a complete knowledge of God, which is unattainable. If we ask why God included us in his Design, we can really say no more than because He Did.

If you do not believe in a personal God the question: 'What is the purpose of life?' is unaskable and unanswerable. To whom or what would you address the question? But since in an odd corner (or odd corners) of the Universe things have developed with minds that ask questions and try to answer them, you might address one of these peculiar things. As one of them I should venture to say (speaking with absurd arrogance on behalf of the Universe): 'I am as I am. There is nothing you can do about it. You may go on trying to find out what I am, but you will never succeed. And why you want to know, I do not know. Perhaps the desire to know for the mere sake of knowledge is related to the prayers that some of you address to what you call God. At their highest these seem simply to praise Him for being, as He is, and for making what He has made, as He has made it.'

Those who believe in a personal God, Creator, do not think the Universe is in itself worshipful, though devoted study of it may be one of the ways of honouring Him. And while as living creatures we are (in part) within it and part of it, our ideas of God and ways of expressing them will be largely derived from contemplating the world about us. (Though there is also revelation both addressed to all men and to particular persons.)

So it may be said that the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis: Laudamus te, benedicamus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam. We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendour.

And in moments of exaltation we may call on all created things to join in our chorus, speaking on their behalf, as is done in Psalm 148, and in The Song of the Three Children in Daniel II.  PRAISE THE LORD ... all mountains and hills, all orchards and forests, all things that creep and birds on the wing. This is much too long, and also much too short – on such a question.

With best wishes

J. R. R. Tolkien.
(Letter to Camilla Unwin)

The Full Treatment

When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep.  But I did not go to my mother -- at least, not till the pain became very bad.  And the reason I did not go was this.  I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else.  I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning.  I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want.  I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right.  And I knew those dentists: I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache.  They would not let sleeping dogs lie, if you gave them an inch they took an ell.

Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists.  If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell.  Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of or which is obviously spoiling daily life.  Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there.  That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment.

C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity

The Eagle and Child

When I'm in Oxford I often go there for lunch - they do a decent pub lunch. The Eagle & The Child is on the west side of the Woodstock Road just as the Banbury Road is forking off of hit, about 1/2 mile north of the city center. They have a lovely display of photos of the Inklings but they'd done some remodeling the last time I was there...

An English pub is quite different from an American bar - I don't think we have anything equivalent. It's a "public house" - they often serve very good food (but, as above, re: Bird & Baby, lunch is served in a narrow window of "lunch" hours - you can't get "lunch" at 4 p.m. and I don't think they do dinner...) and they serve as a community meeting place. I'm sure some folks get drunk there but I've never seen it. The British do drink more than the Americans, just in general, but there are nice things you can drink which are non-alcoholic. Or you might try cider, which is slightly alcoholic (if you can call 7ยบ 'slightly alcoholic' - Ed.) and you can get it sweet or dry (personally, I prefer the dry) - you can get a rather interesting drink called "shandy" which is half beer (lager or ale) and half lemonade - but don't worry! Their "lemonade" is what we call Seven-up!!! (an Englishman would argue about that - Ed) It's rather nice.

Some pubs are better/nicer than others, some are downright posh. But the Eagle and Child is rather homey in a very pleasant way, not dank at all. There are two front rooms (you enter through a hallway between them) one has a fireplace, then the ordering area (you go up to the "bar" and give your order; look around for the chalkboard with the food specials on it), then it continues to the back and they've added some rooms to it, so it's larger than it used to be.

Lynn Maudlin