Celegorm and Huan

[Image: "Celegorm - portrait" by Helena Štìpánová]

Up rode Celegorm with his spear,
and bitter death was Beren near.
With elvish steel he nigh was slain
whom Lúthien won from hopeless chain,
but baying Huan sudden sprang
before his master’s face with fang
white-gleaming, and with bristling hair,
as if he on boar or wolf did stare.

The horse in terror leaped aside,
and Celegorm in anger cried:
’Curse thee, thou baseborn dog, to dare
against thy master teeth to bare!’
But dog nor horse nor rider bold
would venture near the anger cold
of mighty Huan fierce at bay.
Red were his jaws. They shrank away,
and fearful eyed him from afar:
nor sword nor knife, nor scimitar,
no dart of bow, nor cast of spear,
master nor man did Huan fear.

There Curufin had left his life,
had Lúthien not stayed that strife.
Waking she rose and softly cried
standing distressed at Beren’s side:
’Forbear thy anger now, my lord!
nor do the work of Orcs abhorred;
for foes there be of Elfinesse
unnumbered, and they grow not less,
while here we war by ancient curse
distraught, and all the world to worse
decays and crumbles. Make thy peace!'

Then Beren did Curufin release;
but took his horse and coat of mail,
and took his knife there gleaming pale,
hanging sheathless, wrought of steel.
No flesh could leeches ever heal
that point had pierced; for long ago
the dwarves had made it, singing slow
enchantments, where their hammers fell
in Nogrod ringing like a bell.
Iron as tender wood it cleft,
and sundered mail like woollen weft.
But other hands its haft now held;
its master lay by mortal felled.

J.R.R. Tolkien
The Geste of Beren and Lúthien
(lines 3,020 - 3,063)

Childhood's End

Dear Joy,

As far as I can remember you were non-committal about Childhood's End*: I suppose you were afraid that you might raise my expectations too high and lead to disappointment. If that was your aim, it has succeeded, for I came to it expecting nothing in particular and have been thoroughly bowled over.  It is quite out of range of the common space-and-time writers; away up near Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus and Well's First Men in the Moon.

[...]There has been nothing like it for years: partly for the actual writing - 'She has left her toys behind but ours go hence with us', or 'The island rose to meet the dawn', but partly (still more, in fact) because here we meet a modern author who understands that there may be things that have a higher claim than the survival or happiness of humanity[...]

It is a strange comment on our age that such a book lies hid in a hideous paper-backed edition, wholly unnoticed by the cognoscenti, while any 'realistic' drivel about some neurotic in a London flat - something that needs no real invention at all, something that any educated man could write if he chose, may get seriously reviewed and mentioned in serious books - as if it really mattered.  I wonder how long this tyranny will last?  Twenty years ago I felt no doubt that I should live to see it all break up and great literature return: but here I am, losing teeth and hair, and still no break in the clouds.

And now, what do you think?  Do you agree that it is AN ABSOLUTE CORKER?

C.S. Lewis
Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III, Letter to Joy Gresham
Dec 22, 1953

*Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End (New York: Ballantine, 1953)

The Baby and the Bird

Old Rome had many taverns,
Devoted to the vine, 
Where Ovid pledged each new love 
In red Falernian wine; 
Catullus, shamed by Lesbia, 
Poured out his grief in verse; 
Apuleus noted follies, 
And pondered which was worse. 

But the place that draws me ever 
When my fancy's running wild, 
Is a little pub in Oxford 
Called The Eagle and the Child, 
The Eagle and the Child, oh, 
Or else, as I have heard 
Its regulars all called it-- 
The Baby and the Bird!

The company was lively 
In Soutwark's Tabard Inn,
When Chaucer and the Pilgrims 
Were telling tales within,
And on the Canterbury road 
They took that April day, 
And at the other hostels 
Where they stayed upon their way.


When Villon, gutter-poet, 
Reeled through the Paris night,
Drunk on verse and hypocras 
And looking for a fight, 
The Pomme de Pin, the Cheval Blanc 
All welcomed him, and more, 
With wine at every table 
And doxies at each door. 


Of all the City's taverns,
When Bess was England's Queen, 
The Mermaid, undisputed, ruled 
The literary scene. 
Each Global play was played again 
And christened in brown ale, 
Whde Shakespeare, or Ben Jonson, 
Stood up to tell the tale. 


Augustan wits made merry 
At London's Cheshire Cheese-- 
The topic was no matter, 
So that the manner please-- 
Be it Love or Politicks,
'Twas scandalous, I've heard,
And Johnson had his Boswell
To write down every word.

(REFRAIN) Asking, 

They sing of famous taverns, 
But considering them all, 
The one where I had rather 
Been a fly upon the wall,
Would be the Inn where Tolkien,
Lewis, Williams too,
Met with the other Inklings 
Asking, "Who has something new?"

[By Diana L. Paxson]

Diana L. Paxson, long-time active in ‘The Mythopoeic Society’, and in ‘The Society for Creative Anachronism’, is the author of many novels, including The White Raven, The "Fionn MacCumhal trilogy, and a trilogy on the Siegfried legend, the most recent volume of which, The Lord of Horses, has been published recently.

The Rabbit Room

Memorabilia adorns me now.  Quiet photographs of the legends I once accommodated.  A plaque commemorating their presence.  Hordes of tourists come to visit, take snaps, film it with their phones – gasping in delight at how tiny the snug is, how quaint.  They pretend to enjoy a pint of tepid English beer, the stodgy food.  Enthusiasts linger.  Writers stay even longer.  Sitting in the corner – the hallowed corner – trying to imbibe the atmosphere, to capture the ambience.  They ponder on literary immortality while trying to ensure a place for their own ink-stained soul in the bardic firmament.  Here is as good a spot as any cathedral or mosque.  This last homely house, this Prancing Pony, is a wardrobe, a wood between the worlds, a portal to magical lands – to Middle Earth, Perelandra, Narnia, Logres.  Once it was the rabbit hole to Wonderland and now it’s a knife-cut gateway to Jordan College, to quantum worlds beyond reckoning.  The new chap has been in, of course, raised a glass to his antecedents, two fingers to Jack.  Perhaps one day they’ll be visiting his old haunts?  The God-botherers and the pagans, the atheist scholars and fanatic movie devotees in costume.  All those who come to pay homage here.  To breathe in the same air – well, almost – it no longer swirls with pipesmoke and cigarettes, but the fire still crackles in the grate, the pumps provide the same local ales, the kitchen offers its homity pie, the barflies their homilies, and when its quiet, when the customers don’t drown out the silence with their chatter, the voices come back, the ghosts in the wall stir, those lost lunchtimes are replayed – a decade of Tuesdays – recorded like voices from long ago on wax cylinder and reel-to-reel, by the wooden Akashic record of my walls.  Listen…

A Radio Drama by Kevan Manwaring
(Used with permission)


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

“What awaited them on this island was going to concern Eustace more than anyone else, but it cannot be told in his words because after September 11 he forgot about keeping his diary for a long time.” 

C.S. Lewis

Voyage of the Dawn Treader - Chapter 5 

Perhaps an opportune time to hear a passage from a talk which CS Lewis gave in Oxford during WW2.  Still applicable to the changed world in which we live: 

“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. 

C.S. Lewis

Learning in War-Time

Food Parcels and Stationery

Following the Second World War, the peoples of Europe had been left hungry and miserable, with the economies of most European countries in ruin. Lewis' many American fans took it upon themselves to send him numerous care packages to supplement the meager food rations available.

I just don't know what to say in answer to your letter of 23rd January. One, two, perhaps even three parcels can be inadequately but not entirely unsuitably acknowledged, but what is one to say when bombarded with a non-stop stream of kindnesses? Nothing has in my time made such a profound impression in this country as the amazing outburst of individual American generosity which has followed on the disclosure of our economic situation. (I say nothing of government action, because naturally this strikes the 'man in the street' much less obviously). The length of time which a parcel takes to cross the Atlantic is a significant indication of the volume of food which must be pouring into England.

As regards the 'Tuxedo -- 'dinner jacket' here, 'le smoking' in Paris -- if it doesn't fit me, it will certainly fit one of my friends, and will save some grateful man a year's clothing coupons: and at least £25 cash.

As regards things to send - don't send any of that 66 million tons of snow, thanks very much! We still shudder when we think of last winter*. A packet or two of envelopes are almost always welcome**; a small thing, but the constant shortage of them becomes very irritating to a busy man after a time. With heartiest thanks for all your great kindness, and best good wishes,

Yours sincerely,

C.S. Lewis

The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis Volume II
Letter to Edward A. Allen, 29 January 1948

*The British winter of 1947 was one of the coldest since records began in 1740. Between 22 January and 17 March snow fell every day somewhere in Britain, and the temperature rarely rose more than a degree or two above freezing.

**subsequent letters indicate Mr. Allen did send Lewis a substantial stock of stationery.

Tolkien and languages

I am a West-midlander by blood (and took to early west-midland Middle English as a known tongue as soon as I set eyes on it), but perhaps a fact of my personal history may partly explain why the 'North-western air' appeals to me both as 'home' and as something discovered. I was actually born in Bloemfontein, and so those deeply implanted impressions, underlying memories that are still pictorially available for inspection, of first childhood are for me those of a hot parched country. My first Christmas memory is of blazing sun, drawn curtains and a drooping eucalyptus.

I am afraid this is becoming a dreadful bore, and going on too long, at any rate longer than 'this contemptible person before you' merits. But it is difficult to stop once roused on such an absorbing topic to oneself as oneself. As for the conditioning: I am chiefly aware of the linguistic conditioning. I went to King Edward's School and spent most of my time learning Latin and Greek; but I also learned English. Not English Literature! Except Shakespeare (which I disliked cordially), the chief contacts with poetry were when one was made to try and translate it into Latin. Not a bad mode of introduction, if a bit casual. I mean something of the English language and its history. I learned Anglo-Saxon at school (also Gothic, but that was an accident quite unconnected with the curriculum though decisive — I discovered in it not only modern historical philology, which appealed to the historical and scientific side, but for the first time the study of a language out of mere love: I mean for the acute aesthetic pleasure derived from a language for its own sake, not only free from being useful but free even from being the 'vehicle of a literature').

There are two strands, or three. A fascination that Welsh names had for me, even if only seen on coal-trucks, from childhood is another; though people only gave me books that were incomprehensible to a child when I asked for information. I did not learn any Welsh till I was an undergraduate, and found in it an abiding linguistic-aesthetic satisfaction. Spanish was another: my guardian was half Spanish, and in my early teens I used to pinch his books and try to learn it : the only Romance language that gives me the particular pleasure of which I am speaking-it is not quite the same as the mere perception of beauty: I feel the beauty of say Italian or for that matter of modern English (which is very remote from my personal taste): it is more like the appetite for a needed food. Most important, perhaps, after Gothic was the discovery in Exeter College library, when I was supposed to be reading for Honour Mods, of a Finnish Grammar. It was like discovering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavour never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me; and I gave up the attempt to invent an 'unrecorded' Germanic language, and my 'own language' – or series of invented languages – became heavily Finnicized in phonetic pattern and structure.

That is of course long past now. Linguistic taste changes like everything else, as time goes on; or oscillates between poles. Latin and the British type of Celtic have it now, with the beautifully co-ordinated and patterned (if simply patterned) Anglo-Saxon near at hand and further off the Old Norse with the neighbouring but alien Finnish. Roman-British might not one say? With a strong but more recent infusion from Scandinavia and the Baltic. Well, I daresay such linguistic tastes, with due allowance for school-overlay, are as good or better a test of ancestry as blood-groups.

All this only as background to the stories, though languages and names are for me inextricable from the stories. They are and were so to speak an attempt to give a background or a world in which my expressions of linguistic taste could have a function. The stories were comparatively late in coming.

I first tried to write a story when I was about seven. It was about a dragon. I remember nothing about it except a philological fact. My mother said nothing about the dragon, but pointed out that one could not say 'a green great dragon', but had to say 'a great green dragon'. I wondered why, and still do. The fact that I remember this is possibly significant, as I do not think I ever tried to write a story again for many years, and was taken up with language.

I mentioned Finnish, because that set the rocket off in story. I was immensely attracted by something in the air of the Kalevala, even in Kirby's poor translation. I never learned Finnish well enough to do more than plod through a bit of the original, like a schoolboy with Ovid; being mostly taken up with its effect on 'my language'. But the beginning of the legendarium, of which the Trilogy is pan (the conclusion), was in an attempt to reorganize some of the Kalevala, especially the tale of Kullervo the hapless, into a form of my own. That began, as I say, in the Honour Mods period; nearly disastrously as I came very near having my exhibition taken off me if not being sent down. Say 1912 to 1913. As the thing went on I actually wrote in verse. Though the first real story of this imaginary world almost fully formed as it now appears was written in prose during sick-leave at the end of 1916: The Fall of Gondolin, which I had the cheek to read to the Exeter College Essay Club in 1918. I wrote a lot else in hospitals before the end of the First Great War.

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
#163 [To W.H. Auden – excerpt]
7 June 1955