Beren and the Red Maw

Beren, in the form of a werewolf (Draugluin) at the gates of Angband,
meets Carcharoth, the Red Maw...

Before those gates alone they stood,
while Carcharoth in doubtful mood, 
glowered upon them, and snarling spoke, 
and echoes in the arches woke:
"Hail! Draugluin, my kindred's lord! 
'Tis very long since hitherward
thou camest. Yea, tis passing strange 
to see thee now: a grievous change 
is on thee, lord, who once so dire, 
so dauntless, and as fleet as fire, 
ran over wild and waste, but now
with weariness must bend and bow! 
'Tis hard to find the struggling breath 
when Huan's teeth as sharp as death 
have rent the throat? What fortune rare 
brings thee back living here to fare--
if Draugluin thou are? Come near! 
I would know more, and see thee clear".

J.R.R. Tolkien
(lines 3750 - 3767)
The Geste of Beren and Luthien

[Image : Clive Lauzon]

Forbidden Pleasure

Quick! The black, sulphurous, never quenched,
Old festering fire begins to play
Once more within. Look! By brute force I have wrenched
Unmercifully my hands the other way.

Quick, Lord! On the rack thus, stretched tight,
Nerves clamouring as at nature's wrong.
Scorched to the quick, whipp'd raw—Lord, in this plight
You see, you see no man can suffer long.

Quick, Lord! Before new scorpions bring
New venom—ere fiends blow the fire
A second time—quick, show me that sweet thing
Which, 'spite of all, more deeply I desire.

C.S. Lewis
Poems (Bles) 1964

Neville Cogill and Vladek (Kronsteen) Sheybal

In 1959, the Polish actor Vladek Sheybal arrived in England not knowing anyone and unable to speak English. He supported himself by working in menial jobs in a Polish delicatessen and then in an artifical jewellery shop in Brick Lane, London. When he finished his job at the jewellery shop, he took a train from Paddington station to Oxford with all his worldy goods in a small suitcase, and the only money he had in the world -- ten English pounds.

Soon after Vladek arrived in Oxford, the typical English weather turned sour and it began to rain. Taking refuge in a coffee shop, he was recognised and later befriended, by students who had seen the Polish film "Kanal" (1956) in which Vladek was featured, the night before at their local cinema -- a film as poignant and thought provoking now as it was then, I know I own a copy!

Eventually, Vladek became a recognised student of English Literature at Merton College, Oxford after being taken under the wing of Professor Neville Coghill.

In 1963, Vladek was offered a small part in the second James Bond film "From Russia with Love" but was reluctant to take the part and turned it down. Eventually he was persuaded by Sean Connery (who was by now a close friend) to take the role of the villanous chess master 'Kronsteen'. Vladek played the part as usual, to perfection; creating a character so elegantly arrogant that 'Kronsteen' is perhaps the most believable and memorable Bond villains of the entire series.

Wonder if Vladek met the rest of the Inklings whilst at Merton? After all J.R.R. Tolkien, Neville Coghill and Hugo Dyson were all fellows at Merton in the 1950s.

Very, very interesting man Coghill...

A 'Tolkien' Christmas

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!
George Allen & Unwin (London) 1976

A 'Williams' Christmas

A "spiritual thriller" about supernatural powers breaking in on everyday life when they are summoned for selfish purposes.

In the 1920s or '30s, in England, a young woman, Nancy Coningsby, the daughter of a minor civil servant, is engaged to a young man from the Roma (Gypsy) people. Nancy's father, owns a very rare, old set of Tarot cards bequeathed to him by a deceased friend, and it is his intention to turn the cards over to a museum upon his own death. Nancy's fiancée, Henry, realises that this particular Tarot pack is the only ‘true’ pack in existence. A pack that is so accurately rendered that it can truly summon and command occult powers, as opposed to other sets that lack any real power.

Henry's grandfather, Aaron, occupies a 17th century house where there is a table in a secret room, and on the table, there is a collection of miniature figures in a perpetual dance that represents the ‘Great Dance,’ which is said to be the foundation of the universe. If the pack of cards can come into the possession of the owner of the table and the miniature figures, then the owner will achieve absolute power and be able to command the four elements of earth, wind, water, and fire.

Henry contrives to lure Nancy, her father, Mr. Coningsby, and Nancy's Aunt Sybil, who lives with them, to Aaron's house for Christmas, in the hope of getting the cards away from Coningsby. Since Henry cannot use direct violence, he uses the occult power of the cards to create a blinding snowstorm when Coningsby goes out for a walk on Christmas afternoon, with the desire that he will die in the storm.

Sybil is so aware of the love of God in her life, that she lives in a continuous atmosphere of deep, loving calm, given over entirely to the will of her creator.

Here is Sybil stepping out into the teeth of the supernatural snowstorm, a storm specifically conjured to kill:

“... she surrendered herself to the only certain thing that her life had discovered: she adored in this movement also the extreme benevolence of Love... she enjoyed; literally enjoyed, for both knowledge and thankfulness grew one, and joy was their union, but that union darted out towards a new subject and centre.”

Something goes awry with the snow storm, which spirals out of control, and we are informed by Henry and Aaron that the elements will now destroy the world...

Charles Williams – The Greater Trumps

A 'Lewis' Christmas

Three things go by the name of Christmas.  One is a religious festival.  This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here.

The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn't go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality.  If it were my business too have a 'view' on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making.  But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business.  I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends.  It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs.

But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone's business.  I mean of course the commercial racket.  The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity.  Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children.  But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers.

C. S. Lewis
God in the Dock
(Essays on Theology and Ethics)

He would have much preferred to operate necromantically...

He believed therefore that as, by proper magical means, a soul could within certain limits of time, be recalled to its body, so this false body might for a time ensnare and hold that other soul which was his enemy.  He would have much preferred to operate necromantically on Lester's own proper body, and if Richard had remained under his influence he would have obtained through him some possession of hers which would have served for the first faint magical link with that body, and so set up a relation between them which might have brought her now corrupting flesh — or perhaps the scattered ashes of her cremated body — into this very hall.  But Richard had failed him, and he had no time to take more subtle ways; the danger to his domination of Betty now arising from Jonathan and from Lester was too great.  He knew that the government of this world would be driven by popular pressure to make some approach to him, and that in no very long period the fatal meeting with his Types would be forced on him-fatal because though at a distance they might be energized and driven by his will, yet when the three met they must dwindle and fade beside him.  And first he must have sent his daughter into the spiritual world.  He must be for ever before he could be now.  So that altogether time was against him; the first condition of the universe was against him.  He was hurried; he had to make haste.  Therefore the magical trap; therefore its tossing, as he now proposed, into the ordinariness of earth.

He whispered into the ear of the dwarf-woman, still pressing his hands on it. He and it were now alone in the hall.  It could not be said to hear him, but it received his breath.  He was now separated from those two other children of earth, and they from him, unless he deliberately called them.  He knew that their awareness must be now of and through the body they in some sense inhabited; not that they lived in it as in a place, but that they only knew through it.  There was no limit to the number of spiritual beings who could know in that way through one body, for there was not between any of them and it any organic relation.  The singleness of true incarnation must always be a mystery to the masters of magic; of that it may be said that the more advanced the magic, the deeper the mystery, for the very nature of magic is opposed to it.  Powerful as the lie may be, it is still a lie.  Birth and death are alike unknown to it; there is only conjunction and division.  But the lie has its own laws.  Once even Lester had assented to that manner of knowledge, she must enter the City so.  It remained to discover what she could do there.

Charles Williams
All Hallows’ Eve
Chapter 8 - The Magical Creation

Thû, or Sauron - from the Geste

Thû, or as he was known in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Sauron, was a servant of Morgoth, dwelling in his tower on the Wizard’s Isle on the borders of the North where Morgoth dwelt in Angband.

Men called him Thû, and as a god
in after days beneath his rod
bewildered bowed to him, and made
his ghastly temples in the shade.
Not yet by Men enthralled adored,
now was he Morgoth's mightiest lord,
Master of Wolves, whose shivering howl
for ever echoed in the hills, and foul
enchantments and dark sigaldry
did weave and wield.  In glamoury*
that necromancer held his hosts
of phantoms and of wandering ghosts,
of misbegotten or spell-wronged
monsters that about him thronged,
working his bidding dark and vile:
the werewolves of the Wizard's Isle.

From Thû their coming was not hid;
and though beneath the eaves they slid
of the forest's gloomy-hanging boughs,
he saw them afar, and wolves did rouse:
'Go! fetch me those sneaking Orcs,' he said,
'that fare thus strangely, as if in dread,
and do not come, as all Orcs use
and are commanded, to bring me news
of all their deeds, to me, to Thû.'
From his tower he gazed, and in him grew
suspicion and a brooding thought,
waiting, leering, till they were brought.
Now ringed about with wolves they stand,
and fear their doom. Alas! the land,
the land of Narog left behind!
Foreboding evil weights their mind,
as downcast, halting, they must go
and cross the stony bridge of woe
to Wizard's Isle, and to the throne
there fashioned of blood-darkened stone.

(lines 2,064 – 2,099)

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