The Geste of Beren and Lúthien (1)

[Image : Ted Nasmith]

(For our first excerpt, the first 22 lines of the Geste, that, C.S. Lewis praised in it’s first draft, as “melodious movement”, a description of Thingol and his dwelling, the Thousand Caves, in the forests of Doriath).

Book I.

A king there was in days of old:
ere Men yet walked upon the mould
his power was reared in cavern's shade,
his hand was over glen and glade.
His shields were shining as the moon,
his lances keen of steel were hewn,
of silver grey his crown was wrought,
the starlight in his banners caught;
and silver thrilled his trumpets long
beneath the stars in challenge strong;
enchantment did his realm enfold,
where might and glory, wealth untold,
he wielded from his ivory throne
in many-pillared halls of stone.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
and metal wrought like fishes' mail,
buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
and gleaming spears were laid in hoard —
all these he had and loved them less
than a maiden once in Elfinesse;
for fairer than are born to Men
a daughter had he, Lúthien.

Thû, or Sauron...

Lines 2064 to 2110 of the Geste of Beren and Luthien tell of Thû, or as he was known in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Sauron.  In the Geste, Sauron is 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.
'Where have ye been? What have ye seen?'
'In Elfinesse; and tears and distress,
the fire blowing and the blood flowing,
these have we seen, there have we been.
Thirty we slew and their bodies threw
in a dark pit. The ravens sit
and the owl cries where our swath lies.'
'Come, tell me true, O Morgoth's thralls,
what then in Elfinesse befalls?
What of Nargothrond? Who reigneth there?
Into that realm did your feet dare?’

The Shadow Man

There was a man who dwelt alone
   beneath the moon in shadow.
He sat as long as lasting stone,
   and yet he had no shadow.
The owls, they perched upon his head
   beneath the moon of summer:
They wiped their beaks and thought him dead,
   who sat there dumb all summer.

There came a lady clad in grey
   beneath the moon a-shining.
One moment did she stand and stay
   her head with flowers entwining.
He woke, as had he sprung of stone,
   beneath the moon in shadow,
And clasped her fast, both flesh and bone ;
   and they were clad in shadow.

And never more she walked in light,
   or over moonlit mountain,
But dwelt within the hill, where night
   is lit but with a fountain -
Save once a year when caverns yawn,
   and hills are clad in shadow,
They dance together then till dawn
   and cast a single shadow. 

First published in “The Annual” of Our Lady’s School, Abingdon (1936)

The Long Defeat (7) by Sorina Higgins

7) Victory
Events moved swiftly to their close from the moment the Grand High Führer of Unified Europe stepped out of his car and strode through the gates of the Sheldonian Theatre. He set up his new headquarters there, from which he could stretch out his military tentacles and grasp at all the free world.
There were no emotional goodbyes, no final gatherings of the four literary spies, no hurried hand-shakes and last lingering glances. No. The Nazis liked their enemies isolated, solitary, preferably sobbing for mercy or cursing their God.
So they were glad when Charles Williams collapsed in the street, gripping his stomach in agony. His old intestinal complaint had flared up, and he writhed on the pavement unceremoniously. By the time the Gestapo had him locked in a military hospital, he was unconscious.
The Nazis were also pleased by the flutter of papers through the air when the bashed down the door of Barfield’s office, scattering their work, battering his colleagues, clapping him in handcuffs, and burning the building. As they stuffed him in the back of a car, he saw he office explode, and the last ashes of the British Secret State’s legal position disappeared in a dark conflagration against the bright morning sky.
They were happy, too, that they got to watch Lewis’s face crumple, its jovial red fading, as he ran smack up against them in the High Street and practically tumbled into their hands. They smirked and joked—with him, not just themselves; they were human, after all—as they tossed him into solitary confinement, as he shivered with the cold, as his substantial flesh quivered at the anticipation of starvation, as his ample mind shrank from isolation, as they forbid him paper and pen and watched his spirit break. That part was fun.
It was even more fun for them when they caught the dapper don, the famous Professor Tolkien, and interrogated him for hours on end in a gray concrete cell. They made a game of it, seeing in how many languages they could ask him the same questions, over and over, about the letter he had sent a German publisher in 1938, refusing to prove his Aryan ancestry, calling the Jews a “gifted people,” insulting the Pure Race by suggesting it was of Indo-Iranian origin, mixed with Hindustani, Persian, and—horrors!—Gypsy ancestry. They called in one expert linguist after another, tormenting him with vain repetition in many tongues.
The Nazis were tickled by Owen Barfield’s staunch statements of loyalty as they shipped him off to Germany and gave him into the hands of counterintelligence agents, whose job was to break him and turn him into a double agent. They chortled as they settled in for the long process of brainwashing, erasing and reshaping his mind. They delighted in the back-and-forth, the repartee, the psychological pressure, the faked executions, the sleep deprivation, the endless hours of recorded propaganda playing in his cell day after day. They praised his intellect and his rhetorical skill. They were impressed by his logic. They admired his tenacity. And after a while, they stopped laughing. Then they stopped smiling.
On and on it went, and he would not budge. No matter what the conditions, he behaved as if he were giving closing arguments in the courtroom or debating theology with Lewis in a pub, demanding that they make logical distinctions, clarifying fuzzy categories, insisting that they define their terms. Eventually, they left him to a slow starvation in a solitary cell, and he lawyered his way into eternity, making St. Peter define everything and interrupting his most dogmatic pronouncements with subtle distinguo’s until that Apostle opened the pearly gates in sheer exhaustion.
They were not quite as cheerful as they watched Williams slide in and out of consciousness, suffering extreme agonies in his intestines and bowels, as his insides fell apart and infection spread. Gestapo officers didn’t like to see people dying of natural causes. They gave him modern medical treatment, of course, but they didn’t let his wife visit, nor did they even tell her where he was. Michal stood in Oxford in the rain in South Parks Road, outside the last house where her poet-lover had lived, and she could feel his soul slipping away. It had never really been hers, and now it was going far, far out of reach. But it was exulting, chanting, declaiming great verse, as it mounted to the heavens. In his hard, metal hospital bed, Williams suddenly flashed into consciousness, sat up and raised his right arm. Powerful rhythms rolled out of his mouth, the great iambic lines of the past, and he named the ascending virtues of the Sephirotic tree as he drew near perfection, and he called upon Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton as he stepped unashamed into their great company. The German doctor bowed his head, then moved forward to close the luminous eyes and lay the rigid figure down on the bed.
It even amused them that Tolkien almost always replied, that he knew all the languages they so abused, and that he sat upright, debonair and dignified, unmoved, as they mocked him in manifold phrases, and that he refused to cry out, even when the torture began. Instead, he retold them their own noble legends, in their own noble speech—as they deprived him of sleep, immersed him in freezing water, and administered electric shocks—about dragon-slaying warriors and heroic last stands. They laughed even harder when he began babbling nonsense, as they thought, about ‘Sauron’ and ‘Mordor’ and ‘Gollum.’ Poor old professor, they said to one another: his mind is wandering. Then he slipped into songs about the elves, and drifted away from the Grey Havens as Ilúvatar gave him the gift of death.
But it wasn’t the SS officers who were laughing as they frog-marched Lewis out into a courtyard, set his back to a wall, and blindfolded him. No, they weren’t laughing. No one bit. But he was. He was roaring, his beefy face red with delight, his jowls shaking in amusement, his still stocky figure aquiver with joy.
“Further up and further in!” he shouted. “This is the first step on the last great journey, the first chapter in the great story where all myths come true, all evil comes untrue, and all questions are answered at last. And you!”
He thrust a stubby finger in the direction of the firing squad he could not see.
“I jeer and flout at you devils to drive you out. You cannot endure to be mocked, and so I mock at you. And yet….” His voice softened, and the firing squad squinted at him, waiting for their orders, waiting to hear what he would say.
“And yet, I pity you, poor puppets of the Kingdom of Noise. Your dance on this little stage will be so very short, and then you will be jerked away by your strings, the boards cleared, the work of God begun again.”
At this, the commander shook himself, scowled at Lewis, and growled:
“Time to shut this one up. We don’t need his pity.”
Suddenly, Lewis bellowed: “I want to look you in the eyes! I want to square up to death and stare him in the face!”
He struggled, his hands bound behind him, scraping his blindfold against the wall. The officer leaped forward, but the blindfold fell from Lewis eyes and he stared the German down, steadily. The man stepped back, turned to the fire squad, and barked out:
“Soon it will begin,” Lewis said, in a lower voice, almost dreamily. “There will be a sudden clearing of my eyes. Just think what I will feel at that moment! Scabs falling from the old sores, emerging from a hideous old shell…”
“Aim!” shouted the officer.
“What, then, of this final stripping, this complete cleansing? This release, this glorious freedom! I wonder—”
“Fire!” came the command.
Jack’s eyes opened wide, and his face broke into an enormous grin.
“Of course!” he said.


The Long Defeat (6) by Sorina Higgins

6)   Bletchley Park
And so they set to work. Menzies had designed propaganda missions for all of them: talks on language and literature by Tolkien and Lewis, to prove England’s kinship with the nations to whom they appealed; pamphlets and novels and children’s books by all of them, to foster a love of England in the hearts of the many people who would read them; the composition of new occult rituals by Williams, to unify the European secret societies in magical and mystical resistance to Nazi rule; and special assignments in code-breaking for Tolkien at the new, underground Bletchley Park. Barfield was charged with writing dystopian fiction and, more importantly, working with his contacts in the legal profession to develop a lawful footing for the British resistance. Much of the work was what the four men had tried to do on their own, in the public forums and publishing houses before Hitler took over. But now they had the massive, clandestine machinery of the British Secret Service at their disposal, and no one could shut them down. For now.
What glorious success! What heady days those were, in the wild spring of 1945, as apple trees blossomed in sweet indifference, daffodils persisted in their golden gladness, and pairs of larks went mad with love, heedless of London’s fall. Though Tolkien had been feeling the aches of age in his joints, though Lewis had put on weight and Williams’s eyesight had been failing, though Barfield had given up professional folk dancing, yet now they were given new life, new energy, new purpose: service to the British Secret State. Quiet support for MI6’s underground activities grew, both at home and abroad. The British Secret State had three purposes: plan and prepare for the overthrown of the Third Reich on British soil; maintain institutions to resume power after the German defeat; and preserve a free-thinking civilization.
Lewis and the others were amazed at the extent of the British Secret State and the sheer volume of work it involved. There was an underground parliament, a court system, a police force, schools, newspapers, publishing houses, theaters, art exhibitions, and concerts. There were active social services, taking care of the poor, the millions of widows and orphans, and the tiny remaining Jewish population in hiding. There was sabotage, guerrilla warfare, intelligence operations, and escape networks. It seemed that nearly every British citizen left alive and at large must be involved. Hope was still alive, underground, waiting, growing.
One morning the sun came out blazing. Tolkien trotted along to the new Bletchley Park, sheaves of notes under his arm. He had stayed up most of the night, working on a tricky bit of code. Today is the day, he though, that we crack the stubborn thing. Williams emerged from the house he shared with so many other displaced members of the Oxford University Press, shaking with weariness, his hands trembling so he could not button his jacket. But in an inner pocket he carried a new Masonic ritual he had written, calling all Freemasons, Rosicrucians, and Golden Dawn members, disbanded and in hiding through Germany, to gather again for secret rites and call supernatural forces to their aid in the fight against tyranny and oppression. He murmured the phrases lovingly:
“The Temple is shyly offered, O Omnipotence. How is it offered? By a companion of the Fellowship, raised to Netzach, a drawn sword in his right hand and a hazel wand in his left. We shall see that all pass into the glory, exalted into spiritual equality, and all condemnation of bodies and races abolished. We shall strengthen ourselves in the light of the Holy Glory, the Sun that is beyond the Sun, to stand before the Devil and his Minions and resist them. We will be clothed in white, garmented in ceremony, shrouded in submission.”
Barfield was closeted with several other solicitors, putting the finishing touches on all the official (though clandestine) documentation that would prove to the world the legality of the British Secret State and its resistance when it was revealed to the world. He straightened up, stretched his arms, and blinked out the window into the morning light.
“Today we can bring our work before the underground parliament, gentlemen. We have done our job well.”
And C. S. Lewis was bounding along the High Street, on his way to a back-room recording studio-cum-printing-press, with his notes for a talk entitled “Back to Personality” in one hand, and the manuscript of a new children’s story—The Lion, The Witch, and the War—in the other. His heart was high, his face beaming, the birds singing.
And then Hitler drove into Oxford.

(final episode next time) 

The Long Defeat (5) by Sorina Higgins

5)  Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.
The Inklings sat in the darkened room for hours, unmoving. Williams recited poetry under his breath. Tolkien prayed the Rosary, Barfield meditated, and Lewis read verses from the Psalms. All of them scribbled thoughts on scraps of paper now and then, but mostly they sat still, stunned.
The telephone rang.
They looked at each other, startled, confused. Then Jack Lewis heaved himself up out of his chair and lumbered down the hallway. The others heard his voice, muffled but astonished.
He shuffled back into the room.
“That was MI6. They want to meet with us. All four of us. Now. They’ve relocated their headquarters to Oxford, and they’re sending a car.”
The four Oxford men rode through the dark streets of Oxford, bundled together in the back seat of a black car that slid smoothly through the night. No one spoke. They arrived at a darkened building and were ushered out, pulling their hats down over their eyes, and shown to a small door in an unlit entryway. In they went, and along a hallway, and into a large, smoky room. A man stood with his back to them, reading a document by the light from a fireplace. He turned. They gasped.
It was Major General Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, chief of MI6. There he stood, with his particular poise, trim, fit, with an aura of wealth and restrained power.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” he said, waving them into chairs, offering them whiskey, cigarettes, cigars, tea—all luxuries they hadn’t seen for weeks. His smooth accent rivaled even the public-school suavity Lewis and Tolkien had tried to spread over their Irish and South African backgrounds, and put to shame Williams’s Cockney. Only Barfield’s voice came close, but even his diction was garbled, and he quailed before Menzies posh precision.
“I am sure this meeting comes as a surprise to you. It isn’t every day that the British Secret Service calls upon its poets, its professors, its philologists for clandestine military work. But these are dark times: the darkest Britain has ever known.”
They nodded, all except Williams, who was characteristically trying out contradictions in his mind to see if he could think of a darker possible time. He could, but he thought it better not to share.
“It is probably darker than you know. The SS death squads have spread out across southern England, rounding up soldiers, diplomats, Jews, and other unwanted elements of our population. Nearly all able-bodied male citizens between the ages of seventeen and forty-five have been interned and will soon be deported the Continent, where some will be shot, some hanged, and the rest put to industrial hard labor. Estimates suggest about twenty-five percent of our remaining male citizens have been thus interned. Meanwhile, the SS is systematically liquidating our entire Jewish population, which numbers well over three hundred thousand individuals. Our population will soon be decimated, and replaced by hand-picked Nazi officials and sympathizers. A massive eugenics campaign will be put in place. All of this is designed to establish the so-called New Order of Europe, the Neuordnung Europas, and the creation of a pan-German racial state. This will exist to promulgate German National Socialist ideology and ensure the supremacy of an Aryan-Nordic master race.”
He looked at them, fixing each with his leveled gaze in turn.
“I don’t need to tell you, gentlemen, what this would mean for civilization, for the human race.”
They all nodded this time.
“You are writers and thinkers of great imagination,” he went on, “and you have shown in your works that you have trenchant insight into the human condition and into possible totalitarian futures, as well as their alternatives. So I have decided to enlist your assistance in our last great work: the last great work of free humanity, if it does not succeed.
“I need not warn you that this work I am calling you to is intensely dangerous. I am sure you are well aware what will happen to you if you fail, if you are caught, probably even if you succeed. You have most likely heard of the Nazi’s ‘Black Book’?”
He strode over to his desk and picked up a thick file.
“This is a copy of the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B., the Special Search List Great Britain. It was compiled by the SS Einsatzgruppen, a special deployment task force. It is the list of prominent British residents whom the German High Command names to be arrested upon the successful invasion of Britain by Nazi Germany. Now that they are here on our soil and have taken control of the public branches of government, the Gestapo has begun systematically working its way through this list, hunting down, arresting, and executing those individuals whose names appear here. The list was expanded just months before invasion; it now includes all four of you, in such illustrious company as Leonard and Virginia Woolf, H. G. Wells, E. M Forster, and Aldous Huxley.
“Mr. Barfield, as your name occurs quite early in the alphabet, you are advised to prepare yourself for arrest at any moment. We will, of course, do all we can to protect you, but there is only so much we can do, especially now. So I do not know how long you may have.
“Now, to your missions. These are primarily propaganda missions, as you are no longer fit for active service, nor would physical resistance be the best use of your considerable talents.
“Professors Tolkien and Lewis: although the British Broadcasting Company has fallen into the hands of the enemy, we have our own means of disseminating radio programs both inside and outside of England. We are going to ask you to assist us in reaching out to our allies and potential allies abroad, in a campaign to win their hearts and minds and move them to assist us in our dire plight.”
He turned to C. S. Lewis.
“Professor Lewis,” he said, graciously, “this will be very like the mission you completed for us in 1941.”
The other three stared, astonished.
“Jack?” asked Barfield. “What is this all about?”
Lewis looked at Menzies, eyebrows raised, and the chief nodded his permission.
“In May of 1941,” Lewis told his friends, “when we were about to occupy Iceland, I was recruited by MI6 to record a propaganda message, to help win the hearts of the Icelandic people. I gave a talk on ‘The Norse Spirit in English Literature,’ and it was disseminated across that island.”
“And of course he never disclosed this information,” Menzies told his flabbergasted colleagues, “but now you have a chance to serve your country in a similar way, and in even more dire times.”
“We are honored,” said Tolkien, “to join the mighty company of those who have fought to the last in hopeless battles.”
“Not hopeless,” said Barfield.
“There is always hope,” said Williams.
“Let’s give ’em hell,” said Lewis.

(to be continued)