The Hobbit - A 'New York Times' 1938 review

This is one of the most freshly original and delightfully imaginative books for children that have appeared in many a long day. Like "Alice in Wonderland," it comes from Oxford University, where the author is Professor of Anglo-Saxon, and like Lewis Carroll's story, it was written for children that the author knew (in this case his own four children) and then inevitably found a larger audience. 

The period of the story is between the age of Faerie and the dominion of men. To an adult who reads of Smaug the Dragon and his hoard, won by the dwarves but claimed also by the Lake men and the Elven King, there may come the thought of how legend and tradition and the beginning of history meet and mingle, but for the reader from 8 to 12 "The Hobbit" is a glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible. 

Hobbits are (or were) a small people, smaller than dwarves - and they have no beards - but very much larger than liliputians. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large, stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colors, chiefly green and yellow; wear no shoes because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick, warm brown hair; have long, clever, brown fingers, good-natured faces and laugh deep, fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day, when they can get it). 

Bilbo Baggins was a hobbit whom we find living in his comfortable, not to say luxurious, hobbit hole, for it was not a dirty, wet hole, nor yet a bare, sandy one, but inside its round, green door, like a porthole, there were bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries, kitchens and dining rooms, all in the best of hobbit taste. All Bilbo asked was to be left in peace in this residence, known as "Bag-End," for hobbits are naturally homekeeping folk, and Bilbo had no desire for adventure. That is to say, the Baggins' side of him had not, but Bilbo's mother had been a Took, and in the past the Tooks had intermarried with a fairy family. It was the Took strain that made the little hobbit, almost against his will, respond to the summons of Gandalf the Wizard to join the dwarves in their attempt to recover the treasure which Smaug the dragon had stolen from their forefathers. Bilbo has an engaging, as well as an entirely convincing, personality; frankly scornful of the heroic (except in his most Tookish moments), he nevertheless plays his part in emergencies with a dogged courage and resourcefulness that make him in the end the real leader of the expedition. 

After the dwarves and Bilbo have passed "The Last Homely House" their way led through Wilderland, over the Misty Mountains and through forests that suggest those of William Morris's prose romances. Like Morris's countries, Wilderland is Faerie, yet it has an earthly quality, the scent of trees drenching rains and the smell of woodfires. 

The tale is packed with valuable hints for the dragon killer and adventurer in Faerie. Plenty of scaly monsters have been slain in legend and folktale, but never for modern readers has so complete a guide to dragon ways been provided. Here, too, are set down clearly the distinguishing characteristics of dwarves, goblins, trolls and elves. The account of the journey is so explicit that we can readily follow the progress of the expedition. In this we are aided by the admirable maps provided by the author, which in their detail and imaginative consistency, suggest Bernard Sleigh's "Mappe of Fairyland." 

The songs of the dwarves and elves are real poetry, and since the author is fortunate enough to be able to make his own drawings, the illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the text. Boys and girls from 8 years on have already given "The Hobbit" an enthusiastic welcome, but this is a book with no age limits. All those, young or old, who love a fine adventurous tale, beautifully told, will take "The Hobbit" to their hearts. 

Anne T. Eaton 
New York Times -- March 13, 1938 

C.S. Lewis on the death of Charles Williams

I have heard (from a lady) that he himself, before he went into hospital, had some expectation that he was going there to die.  We, his male friends at Oxford, had had no notion that he was even ill until we heard that he was in the Radcliffe Infirmary; nor did we then suspect that the trouble was serious.  I heard of his death at the Infirmary itself, having walked up there with a book I wanted to lend him, expecting this news that day as little (almost) as I expected to die that day myself.

It was a Tuesday morning., one of our times of meeting.  I thought he would have given me messages to take on to the others.  When I joined them with my actual message — it was only a few minutes' walk from the Infirmary but, I remember, the very streets looked different — I had some difficulty in making them believe or even understand what had happened.  The world seemed to us at that moment primarily a strange one.

That sense of strangeness continued with a force which sorrow itself has never quite swallowed up.  This experience of loss (the greatest I have yet known) was wholly unlike what I should have expected.  We now verified for ourselves what so many bereaved people have reported; the ubiquitous presence of a dead man, as if he had ceased to meet us in particular places in order to meet us everywhere.  It is not in the least like a haunting.  It is not in the least like the bitter-sweet experiences of memory.  It is vital and bracing; it is even, however the word may be misunderstood and derided, exciting.

It is one of the many paradoxes in Williams that while no man's conversation was less gloomy in tone — it was, indeed, a continual flow of gaiety, enthusiasm, and high spirits — no man at times said darker things.  He never forgot the infinite menaces of life, the unremitted possibility of torture, maiming, madness, bereavement, and (over all) that economic insecurity which, as he said in War in Heaven, poisons our sorrows as well as modifying our joys. 

C.S. Lewis
Preface to “Essays Presented to Charles Williams”

Tolkien on the death of Charles Wiliams

To 'Michal’ Williams, widow of Charles Williams
[Written on the day that Williams died, following an operation]

15 May 1945
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Mrs Williams,
My heart goes out to you in sympathy, and I can say no more.  I share a little in your loss, for in the (far too brief) years since I first met him I had grown to admire and love your husband deeply, and I am more grieved than I can express.

Later, if you find that there is anything in which I might be of service to you and your son, please tell me.  Fr. Gervase Mathew is saying Mass at Blackfriars on Saturday at 8 a.m., and I shall serve him; but of course I shall have you all in my prayers immediately and continually: forsuch as they are worth.  Forgive this halting note.

Yours very sincerely,
J, R. R. Tolkien.
Letter #99
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

Warnie on the death of Charles Williams

Tuesday 15th May, 1945

At 12.50 this morning I had just stopped work on the details of the Boisleve family, when the telephone rang, and a woman's voice asked if I would take a message for Jack —"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.

W.H. Lewis (Warnie)
Brothers & Friends (1982)

In Wizard's Isle

[Actually the abode of the one, Thû, whom later would become Sauron]

In Wizard's Isle still lay forgot,
enmeshed and tortured in that grot
cold, evil, doorless, without light,
and blank-eyed stared at endless night
two comrades. Now alone they were
The others lived no more, but bare
their broken bones would lie and tell
how ten had served their master well.
To Felagund then Beren said:
'Twere little loss if I were dead,
and I am minded all to tell,
and thus, perchance, from this dark hell
thy life to loose. I set thee free
from thine old oath, for more for me
hast thou endured than e'er was earned.'
'Ah! Beren, Beren hast not learned
that promises of Morgoth's folk
are frail as breath. From this dark yoke
of pain shall neither ever go,
whether he learn our names or no,
with Thû's consent. Nay more, I think
yet deeper of torment we should drink,
knew he that son of Barahir
and Felagund were captive here,
and even worse if he should know
the dreadful errand we did go.'

A devil's laugh they ringing heard
within their pit. 'True, true the word
I hear you speak,' a voice then said.
' 'Twere little loss if he were dead,
the outlaw mortal. But the king,
the Elf undying, many a thing
no man could suffer may endure.
Perchance, when what these walls immure
of dreadful anguish thy folk learn,
their king to ransom they will yearn
with gold and gem and high hearts cowed;
or maybe Celegorm the proud
will deem a rival's prison cheap,
and crown and gold himself will keep.
Perchance, the errand I shall know,
ere is done, that ye did go.
The wolf is hungry, the hour is nigh;
no more need Beren wait to die.'

J.R.R. Tolkien
The Geste of Beren and Lúthien
(lines 2,566 to 2,609)

Natural Moral Law in 'Prince Caspian'

Prince Caspian is woken by his tutor, Dr. Cornelius, in the middle of the night and taken up the dark stairway of a tower. There he sees the conjunction of two planets: "Tarva, the Lord of Victory, salutes Alambil, the Lady of Peace." According to Cornelius, "Their meeting is fortunate and means some great good for the sad realm of Narnia."

As a believer in Natural Moral Law, C.S. Lewis thought that certain things were naturally good and other things were naturally bad. It wasn't just a question of human beings deciding what was good and what was bad. The very nature of the universe tells us something about how we ought to live.

One such thing it tells us to avoid - and where necessary to engage and defeat - is tyranny. In "Prince Caspian," Narnia suffers under a cruel, murderous tyrant, Miraz. His regime is not just an awkward political fact; it is a natural outrage. The health of each citizen and the Narnian universe is threatened by his dictatorship. To overthrow Miraz is a just act, in accordance with the true nature of things, which is why the Narnian planets foretell his downfall. As surely as fever in the human body is signified by a high temperature, so abuse of power in Narnia is signified by ominous portents in the heavens.

Lewis wrote "Prince Caspian" because he believed that in the real world, too, evil behavior has a natural payback. There is a moral cosmos, as well as a physical cosmos. This sort of belief is easy to caricature. Crackpot preachers are often quick to attribute the latest disaster to that human sin that happens to be their particular bugbear.

But the caricature does not replace the real thing. Although it may be difficult to see hard-and-fast links between one particular evil and one particular disaster, most people do believe that our actions are not consequence-free. You pollute the atmosphere, and you poison yourself as well as others. You pollute the moral order, and sooner or later you will kill yourself. Chickens do indeed come home to roost. If you act tyrannically, you will suffer for it ultimately as the natural moral law plays out.

This does not mean that one kind of tyranny is replaced by another. It means that strength can be justifiably put in the service of liberty and justice to restore the natural rule of law. As a seriously wounded veteran of World War I, Lewis knew all too well the horrors and stupidities of armed conflict. And, he was most certainly no warmonger. But he also felt that war could sometimes be warranted.

War should be a last resort, declared by lawful authority and conducted according to the natural moral law: It should be defensive, not imperialistic, and there should be limits to one's war aims, a fair chance of success, no torture of prisoners, no slavery, full personal accountability for the acts of those engaged, no intentional "collateral damage," and mercy and reconciliation after the conflict ends. These constraints define, for Lewis, what chivalry was all about - that tradition of gallantry that he felt had all but been forgotten in the modern era: the noble knight in selfless defense of a just cause to protect liberty and justice for the innocent.

The world of "Prince Caspian" is not a chaos, but a cosmos, a carefully structured world, both morally and materially, in which all individuals and events have spiritual significance. The story reflects Lewis's belief that the real world, too, is ordered and coherent, all the way up to the planets and stars. "The heavens are telling the glory of God," according to the words of his favorite Biblical psalm. It is the glory of God's natural law, he believed, to pull down the overly mighty from their thrones and exalt the humble and meek. The knight saves us from a world "divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable" - so Lewis wrote in "The Necessity of Chivalry." And the lessons of chivalry, mercy, liberty and justice from "Prince Caspian" are more than ever necessary in our troubled world today.

Michael Ward ~ Los Angeles Times (2008)

Christopher Tolkien speaks about "The Silmarillion"

If you've never seen it before a very revealing film (just over 9 minutes) of Christopher Tolkien speaking about his father's sub-creation.

From the documentary "J.R.R.T.: A Film Portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien" (1996)

40 Years After...

On the 40th Anniversary of the death of J.R.R. Tolkien today, Sept 3rd, here is the obituary from the 'Times' written by C.S. Lewis :

"What the Bird said early in the Year"

I heard in Addison's Walk a bird sing clear
"This summer will come true.  This year.  This year.
"Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
"This year, nor want of rain destroy the peas.
"This year time's nature will no more defeat you,
"Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.
"This time they will not lead you round and back
"To Autumn, one year older, by the well-worn track.
"This year, this year, as all the flowers foretell,
"We shall escape the circle and undo the spell
"Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
Look, look, look, look! the gates are drawn apart
I said "This might prove truer than you know,
Some year.  And yet your singing will not make it so.

C.S. Lewis (1938)

There has been some discussion related to this poem over the years as two versions exist, see the copious web sites related to  Kathryn Lindskoog and this debate.