Monday, January 31, 2005

Three On Writing

I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development. If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these. If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn.
~C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, The Letters of C.S. Lewis, (28 August 1930)

The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or right the readers will most certainly go into it.
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Cross-Examination" (1963)

Returning to work on an interrupted story is not like returning to work on a scholarly article. Fact, however long the scholar has left them untouched in his notebook, will still prove the same conclusions; he has only to start the engine running again. But the story is an organism: it goes on surreptitiously growing or decaying while your back is turned. If it decays, the resumption of work is like trying to coax back to life an almost extinguished fire, or to recapture the confidence of a shy animal which you had only partially tamed at your last visit.
~C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, bk III.I (1954)


On this day:

1919 Lewis joins and is elected secretary of the Martlet Society, a literary society at University College, Oxford.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Island Where Dreams Come True

"Aye, aye, your Majesty," said the sailors. Several crowded to the port bulwark with ropes and one, leaning far out over the side, held the torch. A wild, white face appeared in the blackness of the water, and then, after some scrambling and pulling, a dozen friendly hands had heaved the stranger on board.

Edmund thought he had never seen a wilder-looking man. Though he did not otherwise look very old, his hair was an untidy mop of white, his face was thin and drawn, and, for clothing, only a few wet rags hung about him. But what one mainly noticed were his eyes, which were so widely opened that he seemed to have no eyelids at all, and stared as if in an agony of pure fear. The moment his feet reached the deck he said:

"Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore."

"Compose yourself," said Reepicheep, "and tell us what the danger is. We are not used to flying."

The stranger started horribly at the voice of the Mouse, which he had not noticed before. "Nevertheless you will fly from here," he gasped. "This is the Island where Dreams come true."

"That's the island I've been looking for this long time," said one of the sailors. "I reckoned I'd find I was married to Nancy if we landed here."

"And I'd find Tom alive again," said another.

"Fools!" said the man, stamping his foot with rage. "That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I'd better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams -dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams."

There was about half a minute's silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and the boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that halfminute to remember certain dreams they had had - dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again - and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.

Only Reepicheep remained unmoved. "Your Majesty, your Majesty," he said, "are you going to tolerate this mutiny, this poltroonery? This is a panic, this is a rout."

"Row, row," bellowed Caspian. "Pull for all our lives. Is her head right, Drinian? You can say what you like, Reepicheep. There are some things no man can face."

"It is, then, my good fortune not to be a man," replied Reepicheep with a very stiff bow.
~C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, "The Dark Island" (1952)

On this day:

1899 Clive Staples ("Jack") Lewis baptized in St. Mark's, Belfast, by his grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Hamilton, Rector of St. Mark's.

1956 Lewis delivers his last sermon, "A Slip of the Tongue," in the chapel of Magdalene College (Cambridge) at Evensong.

Cool Link of the Day: 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' by John Keats

Friday, January 28, 2005

I know I shall be feeling quite different after breakfast

I mean this sort of thing. I say my prayers, I read a book of devotion, I prepare for, or receive, the Sacrament. But while I do these things, there is, so to speak, a voice inside me that urges caution. It tells me to be careful, to keep my head, not to go too far, not to burn my boats. I come into the presence of God with a great fear lest anything should happen to me within that presence which will prove too intolerably inconvenient when I have come out again into my "ordinary" life. I don't want to be carried away into any resolution which I shall afterwards regret. For I know I shall be feeling quite different after breakfast; I don't want anything to happen to me at the altar which will run up too big a bill to pay then. It would be very disagreeable, for instance, to take the duty of charity (while I am at the altar) so seriously that after breakfast I had to tear up the really stunning reply I had written to an impudent correspondent yesterday and meant to post today. It would be very tiresome to commit myself to a programme of temperance which would cut off my after-breakfast cigarette (or, at best, make it cruelly alternative to a cigarette later in the morning ). Even repentance of past acts will have to be paid for. By repenting, one acknowledges them as sins--therefore not to be repeated. Better leave that issue undecided.

The root principle of all these precautions is the same: to guard the things temporal.
~C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, "A Slip of the Tongue" (1949)

Thursday, January 27, 2005


After an intensive, 10-year effort requiring an immense amount of reading and research, Lewis finished for publication the book English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, which was his contribution to the many-volume The Oxford History of English Literature. Many times during this labor, he referred to his project as the "O HEL". But it created a stir in academic circles, and even Tolkien wrote to George Sayer "a great book, the only one of his that gives me unalloyed pleasure."

The first thing to grasp about the sonnet sequence is that it is not a way of telling a story. It is a form which exists for the sake of prolonged lyrical meditation, chiefly on love but relieved from time to to time by excursions into public affairs, literary criticism, compliment, or what you will. External events--a quarrel, a parting, an illness, a stolen kiss--are every now and then mentioned to provide themes for the meditation. Thus you get an island, or (if the event gives matter for more than one piece) an archipelago, of narrative in the lyrical sea.
~C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, bk. III.I, para. 16 (1954)

The sonneteers wrote not to tell their own love stories, not to express whatever in their own loves was local and peculiar, but to give us others, the inarticulate lovers, a voice. The reader was to seek in a sonnet not what the poet felt but what he himself felt, what all men felt. A good sonnet (mutatis mutandis and salva reverentia) was like a good public prayer: the test is whether the congregation can "join" and make it their own, not whether it provides interesting materials for the spiritual biography of the compiler....The whole body of sonnet sequences is much more like an erotic liturgy than a series of erotic confidences.
~C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, bk. II.II.II, para. 17 (1954)


On this day:

1964 Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer is published by Geoffrey Bles, London.

Cool link of the day: Sonnet Central, an archive of English sonnets, commentary, and relevant web links

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

On Mixing Reality and Fantasy

Dear Joan,

I am sure you had fun writing the stories. The main fault of the animal one is that you don't mix the reality and the fantasy quite in the right way. One way is Beatrix Potter's or Brer Rabbit's. By fantasy the animals are allowed to talk and behave in many ways like humans. But their relations to one another and to us remain the real ones. Rabbits are in danger from foxes and men. The other way is mine: you go right out of this world into a different creation, where there are a different sort of animals. Yours are all in the real world with a real eclipse. But they don't have the real relations to one another--real small animals would not be friends with an owl, nor would it know more astronomy than they! The spy story is better but you are trying to get too much into the space. One feels crowded. And wouldn't the police be rather silly if they thought a man who sang the part of Wotan (how I love it, by the way) well couldn't be a spy? I hope you don't mind me telling you all this? One can learn only by seeing one's mistakes.

We've had a terrible dark, wet summer here but it looks as if we are now beginning a nice autumn.

With love,

Yours, C.S. Lewis

~Letters to Children, letter of 31 August 1958


On this day:

1942 The Oxford University Socratic Club, Somerville College, Oxford, holds its first meeting. Lewis serves as its first president.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

He Should Have Been a Parson

Fred W. Paxford was C.S. Lewis's gardener for more than 30 years at The Kilns. Lewis called him "our indispensable factotum". With his efficient help Lewis and Mrs. Moore planted an orchard on one side of the property, raised rabbits and chickens (for which it was Lewis's longtime task to spade worms), set out flowers, particularly a rose arbor, leveled the lawn in front of the house, and planted a vegetable patch. The character of Puddleglum the Marshwiggle in The Silver Chair is said to have been modeled after Paxford. Here are a few of his reminiscences about Lewis:

"[Mr. Jack] loved trees and would not have a tree cut down or lopped. When we wanted a few poles to make a bit of rose trellis, we had to get them when he was away for a few days, and cover the cuts with mud so they would not be seen. And when the trees were cut down opposite Magdalen College he was very cross.

It was a pity Mr. Jack could not have lived a few more years until the moon landing. He was very interested in the stars and moon and liked a trip to the observatory. How thrilled Mr. Jack would have been if he could have seen the rock and dust brought back from the moon! He would have been pleased to know that the distance had been so well-estimated by the mathematicians, as he always used to argue that they were accurate, when I used to doubt it. Funny: he used to like to have little arguments; and he never got angry in an argument. One thing we often argued about was coal. He said it was decomposed residue of vegetation, mostly giant frond. Though I am not as religious or good as I ought to be I like to think that the earth and everything it produces was made by God for the good of man: a very old-fashioned outlook now, I suppose. I wonder if by having little arguments with several people he either strengthened his own opinion or made a new one? Or if it was his way of trying to get at the truth?

Mr. Jack should have been a clergyman. He would have made a great parson. When he preached at Quarry Church, it was always packed. He had a full clear voice which could be heard all over the church; and he nearly always brought a bit of humor into the sermons; and people seemed to like this. On a few occasions I had to drive him in to Oxford to preach in St. Mary's. As he always like to be early, I parked the car and went to the service, and the church was always packed.

Of course he was Irish, born in Belfast. But he liked England better than his own country. He liked to go to Ireland for a holiday. I asked him several times when he came back if he wouldn't like to go back to Ireland to live, and he always said no. He must have been one of the few people who liked English weather. He always said it was much better than having several months of hot sunshine and the rest of the year rain every day. And he said our weather was often used as a way to start conversation which would otherwise not have started."
~Fred Paxford, We Remember C.S. Lewis, "He Should Have Been a Parson" (2001)

On this day:

1917 Lewis (age eighteen) returns to Great Bookham, Surrey, and William T. Kirkpatrick ("The Great Knock") to prepare for Responsions, the entrance examination for Oxford University.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Two Quotations on Free Will

Nearly they stood who fall.
Themselves, when they look back
see always in the track
One torturing spot where all
By a possible quick swerve
Of will yet unenslaved--
By the infinitesimal twitching of a nerve--
Might have been saved.

Nearly they fell who stand.
These with cold after-fear
Look back and note how near
They grazed the Siren's land
Wondering to think that fate
By threads so spidery-fine
The choice of ways so small, the event so great
Should thus entwine.

Therefore I sometimes fear
Lest oldest fears prove true
Lest, when no bugle blew
My mort, when skies looked clear
I may have stepped one hair's
Breadth past the hair-breadth bourn
Which, being once crossed forever unawares
Forbids return.
~C.S. Lewis, Poems, "Nearly They Stood" (1933)

Most, I fancy, have discovered that to be born is to be exposed to delights and miseries greater than imagination could have anticipated; that the choice of ways at any cross-road may be more important than we think; and that short cuts may lead to very nasty places.
~C.S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays, "The Vision of John Bunyan" (1962)


Interesting link of the day:

The folks at HollywoodJesus.Com have started a Narnia Blog.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sarah Smith who lived at Golders Green

All down one long aisle of the forest the undersides of the leafy branches had begun to tremble with dancing light; and on Earth I knew nothing so likely to produce this appearance as the reflected lights cast upward by moving water. A few moments later I realized my mistake. Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.

[...]Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.

[...]'and who are all these young men and women on each side?'

'They are her sons and daughters.'

'She must have had a very large family, Sir.'

'Every young man or boy that met her became her son--even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.'

'Isn't that a bit hard on their own parents?'

'No. There are those that steal other people's children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. [...]'

'And how...but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat--two cats--dozens of cats. And all these dogs...why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses.'

'They are her beasts.'

'Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much. '

'Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.'

I looked at my Teacher in amazement.

'Yes,' he said. 'It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.'
~C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, Chapter 12 (1946)


On this day:

1926 Lewis gives his first lecture as a don in the English School at Oxford, entitled "Some Eighteenth-Century Precursors of the Romantic Movement."

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Be Careful What You Wish For

This quotation is for silver_nyssa (Joelle), who is infinitely smarter than Rishda Tarkaan!

For a moment or two Tirian did not know where he was or even who he was. Then he steadied himself, blinked, and looked around. It was not dark inside the stable, as he had expected. He was in strong light: that was why he was blinking.

He turned to look at Rishda Tarkaan, but Rishda was not looking at him. Rishda gave a great wail and pointed; then he put his hands before his face and fell flat, face downwards, on the ground. Tirian looked in the direction where the Tarkaan had pointed. And then he understood.

A terrible figure was coming towards them. It was far smaller than the shape they had seen from the Tower, though still much bigger than a man, and it was the same. It had a vulture's head and four arms. Its beak was open and its eyes blazed. A croaking voice came from its beak.

"Thou hast called me into Narnia, Rishda Tarkaan. Here I am. What hast thou to say?"

But the Tarkaan neither lifted his face from the ground nor said a word. He was shaking like a man with a bad hiccup. He was brave enough in battle: but half his courage had left him earlier that night when he first began to suspect that there might be a real Tash. The rest of it had left him now.

With a sudden jerk - like a hen stooping to pick up a worm - Tash pounced on the miserable Rishda and tucked him under the upper of his two right arms. Then Tash turned his head sidewise to fix Tirian with one of his terrible eyes: for of course, having a bird's head, he couldn't look at you straight.

But immediately, from behind Tash, strong and calm as the summer sea, a voice said:

"Begone, Monster, and take your lawful prey to your own place: in the name of Aslan and Aslan's great Father the Emperor-over-the-Sea."

The hideous creature vanished, with the Tarkaan still under its arm. And Tirian turned to see who had spoken. And what he saw then set his heart beating as it had never beaten in any fight.

Seven Kings and Queens stood before him, all with crowns on their heads and all in glittering clothes, but the Kings wore fine mail as well and had their swords drawn in their hands.
~C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, Chapter Twelve: Through The Stable Door (1956)


On this day:

1959 Lewis attends the first meeting of the Commission to Revise the Psalms, at the invitation of Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Magician and the Dryad

Out of your dim felicity of leaves, oh Nymph appear,
answer me in soft-showery voice, attempt the unrooted dance
--My art shall sponsor the enormity. Now concentrate,
Around, where in your vegetative heart it drowses deep
In seminal sleep, your feminine response. Conjuro te
Per Hecates essentiam et noctis silentia,

Breaking by Trivia's name your prison of bark. Beautiful, awake.

Risen from the deep lake of my liberty, into your prison
She has come, cruel commander.

I have given speech to the dumb.
Will you not thank me, silver lady?

Oh till now she drank
With thirst of myriad mouths the bursting cataracts of the sun,
The drizzle of gentler stars, and indivisible small rain.
Wading the dark earth, made of earth and light, cradled in air,
All that she was, she was all over. Now the mask you call
A Face has blotted out the ambient hemisphere's embrace;
Her light is screwed into twin nodules of tormenting sight;
Searing divisions tear her into five. She cannot hear
But only see, the moon; earth has no taste; she cannot breathe
at every branch vibrations of the sky. For a dome of severance,
A helmet, a dark, rigid box of bone, has overwhelmed
Her hair...that was her lungs...that was her nerves...that kissed the air.
Crushed in a brain, her thought that circled cooly in every vein
Turns into poison, thickens like a man's, ferments and burns.
She was at peace when she was in her unity. Oh now release
And let her out into the seamless world, make her forget.

Be free. Relapse. And so she vanishes. And now the tree
Grows barer every moment. The leaves fall. A killing air,
Sighing from the country of Man, has withered it. The tree will die.

~C.S. Lewis, "The Magician and the Dryad", Poems (1964)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

John's Yearning

Then I turned over in my sleep and began to dream deeper still: and I dreamed that I saw John growing tall and lank till he ceased to be a child and became a boy. The chief pleasure of his life in these days was to go down the road and look through the window in the wall in the hope of seeing the beautiful Island. Some days he saw it well enough, especially at first, and heard the music and the voice. At first he would not look through the window into the wood unless he had heard the music. But after a time both the sight of the Island, and the sounds, became very rare. He would stand looking through the window for hours, and seeing the wood, but no sea or Island beyond it, and straining his ears but hearing nothing except the wind in the leaves. And the yearning for that sight of the Island and the sweet wind blowing over the water from it, though indeed these themselves had given him only yearning, became so terrible that John though he would die if he did not have them again soon. He even said to himself, 'I would break every rule on the card for them if I could only get them. I would go down into the black hole for ever if it had a window from which I could see the island.' Then it came into his head that perhaps he ought to explore the wood and thus he might find his way down to the sea beyond it: so he determined that the next day, whatever he saw or heard at the window, he would go through and spend the whole day in the wood.
~C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim's Regress, Chapter IV "Leah for Rachel" (1933)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Orual Rides Forth to Combat

With all those eyes upon me, my only care was to make a brave show both now and in the fight. I'd have given ten talents to any prophet who would have foretold me that I'd fight well for five minutes and then be killed.

The lords who rode nearest me were very grave. I supposed (and indeed one or two confessed as much to me afterwards when I came to know them) they thought Argan would soon have me disarmed, but that my mad challenge was as good a way as any of getting him and Trunia both out of our country. But if the lords were glum, the common people in the streets were huzzaing and throwing caps into the air. It would have puffed me up if I had not looked in their faces. There I could read their mind easily enough. Neither I nor Glome was in their thoughts. Any fight was a free show for them; and a fight of a woman with a man better still because an oddity--as those who can't tell one tune from another will crowd to hear the harp if a man plays it with his toes.
~C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (1956)

A personal note: Many thanks from me to Katreyla Angus, the informative and gracious C.S. Lewis scholar who gave an excellent presentation on "J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: A Creative Fellowship" along with Mike Foster at The One Ring convention.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Something Beyond

I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at the first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one's eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people's eyes can see further than mine.
~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952)

On this day:

1951 Janie King Moore (Mrs. Moore) dies at the age of seventy-eight in Oxford and is buried at Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, Oxford. Mrs. Moore (the mother of Lewis's army buddy Paddy Moore) and her daughter Maureen come under Lewis's care after Paddy's death in World War I.

Note to readers: I will not be blogging for the next few days, as I'll be attending The One Ring Celebration in Pasadena, CA. Back next week! ~ 'Revie

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Two For Tuesday

For your reading pleasure today--a quote from The Magician's Nephew, and a contribution from Sandicomm from Nicholson's Shadowlands:

My first task was of course to study the box itself. It was very ancient. And I knew enough even then to know that it wasn't Greek, or Old Egyptian, or Babylonian, or Hittite, or Chinese. It was older than any of those nations. Ah - that was a great day when I at last found out the truth. The box was Atlantean; it came from the lost island of Atlantis. That meant it was centuries older than any of the stone-age things they dig up in Europe. And it wasn't a rough, crude thing like them either. For in the very dawn of time Atlantis was already a great city with palaces and temples and learned men."
He paused for a moment as if he expected Digory to say something. But Digory was disliking his Uncle more every minute, so he said nothing.

"Meanwhile," continued Uncle Andrew, "I was learning a good deal in other ways (it wouldn't be proper to explain them to a child) about Magic in general. That meant that I came to have a fair idea what sort of things might be in the box. By various tests I narrowed down the possibilities. I had to get to know some - well, some devilish queer people, and go through some very disagreeable experiences. That was what turned my head grey. One doesn't become a magician for nothing. My health broke down in the end. But I got better. And at last I actually knew."

Although there was not really the least chance of anyone overhearing them, he leaned forward and almost whispered as he said:

"The Atlantean box contained something that had been brought from another world when our world was only just beginning."

~C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew, Digory and His Uncle

[Douglas Gresham and Joy Gresham are having tea with the Lewis brothers.]

Douglas: Mom? Will he write in my book?

Joy: We'll have to ask him, won't we? Douglas has brought one of his Narnia books.

Lewis: One of the Narnia books, have you really?

(Douglas gives Lewis his book) The Magician's Nephew. Very good.

(He takes out a pen and writes on the flyleaf.)

Douglas: It's not true, is it?

Lewis: That depends on what you mean by true. It's a story.

Douglas: Digory put on the magic ring, and it magicked him into a palace, where there was this beautiful queen, except she was really a witch and he found a magic apple, and he brought it back for his mother, and she was very sick, and she got well again,

Lewis: That sounds like a fair synopsis.

Douglas: But it isn't true.

Lewis: It's true in the story. There you are.

~William Nicholson, Shadowlands, p. 22 (1991)


On this day:

1942 Lewis begins his second series of BBC talks entitled "What Christians Believe." These talks were later published in Broadcast Talks (or, in the U.S., The Case for Christianity) and comprise Book 2 in Mere Christianity.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The High Fairies

These High Fairies display a combination of characteristics which we do not easily digest.

On the one hand, whenever they are described we are struck by their hard, bright, and vividly material splendour. We may begin, not with a real Fairy, but with one who merely looked as though he came 'of faerie', from the fairy realm. This is the young lady-killer in Gower (v, 7073). He is curled and combed and crowned with a garland of green leaves; in a word, 'very well turned out'. But the High Fairies themselves are very much more so. Where a modern might expect the mysterious and the shadowy he meets a blaze of wealth and luxury. The Fairy King in Sir Orfeo comes with over a hundred knights and a hundred ladies, on white horses. His crown consists of a single huge gem as bright as the sun (142-52). When we follow him to his own country we find there nothing shadowy or unsubstantial; we find a castle that shines like crystal, a hundred towers, a good moat, buttresses of gold, rich carvings (355 sq.). In Thomas the Rymer the Fairy wears green silk and a velvet mantle, and her horse's mane jingles with fifty-nine silver bells. Bercilak's costly clothes and equipment are described with almost fulsome detail in Gawain (1512-220). The Fairy in Sir Launfal has dressed her waiting women in 'Inde sandel', green velvet embroidered with gold, and coronets each containing more than sixty precious stones (232-9). Her pavilion is of Saracenic work, the knobs on the tent-poles are of crystal, and the whole is surmounted by a golden eagle so enriched with enamel and carbuncles that neither Alexander nor Arthur had anything so precious (266-76).

In all this one may suspect a certain vulgarity of imagination--as if to be a High Fairy were much the same as being a millionaire. Nor does it obviously mend matters to remind ourselves that Heaven and the saints were often pictured in very similar terms. Undoubtedly it is naif, but the charge of vulgarity perhaps involves a misapprehension. Luxury and material splendour in the modern world need be connected with nothing but money and are also, more often than not, very ugly. But what a medieval man saw in royal or feudal courts and imagined as being outstripped in 'faerie' and far outstripped in Heaven, was not so. The architecture, arms, crowns, clothes, horses, and music were nearly all beautiful. They were all symbolical or significant--of sanctity, authority, valour, noble lineage or, at the very worst, of power. They were associated, as modern luxury is not, with graciousness and courtesy. They could therefore be ingenuously admired without degradation for the admirer.
~C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, Chapter VI: The Longaevi (1964)


On this day:

1950 Lewis receives his first letter from American fan Joy Davidman Gresham.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

What if Death Were Optional?

You are a bit further on the road than I am and will probably smile at a man whose fifty-first birthday is still several weeks ahead starting his meditation de senectute.* Yet why? The realisation must begin sometime. In one way, of course (no, in two) it began much earlier. (1.) With the growing realisation that there were a great many things one wd. never have time to do. Those golden days when one could still think it possible that one might some time take up a quite new study: say Persian, or Geology, were now definitely over. (2.) Harder to express, I mean, the end of that period when every good, besides being itself, was an earnest or promise of much more to come. Like a pretty girl at her first dance: valued not chiefly for itself but as the prelude to a whole new world. Do you remember a time when every pleasure (say, the smell of a hayfield on a country walk, or a swim) was big with futurity and bore on its face the notice 'Lots more where I come from'? Well there's a change from that to a period when they all begin to say 'Make the most of me: my predecessors outnumber my successors.'

Both these two feelings --the twitch of the tether and the loss of promise I have had for a long time. What has come lately is much harsher--the arctic wind of the future catching me, so to speak, at a corner. The particular corner was the sharp realisation that I shall be compulsorily 'retired' in 1959, and the infernal nuisance (to put it no higher) of patching up some new sort of life somewhere.[...]

Have you ever thought what it wd. be like if (all other things remaining as they are) old age and death had been made optional? All other things remaining: i.e. it wd. still be true that our real destiny was elsewhere, that we have no abiding city here and no true happiness, but the un-hitching from this life was left to be accomplished by our own will as an act of obedience & faith. I suppose the percentage of di-ers wd. be about the same as the percentage of Trappists is now.
~C.S.Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II, Letter to Warfield M. Firor of Oct 15, 1949

*'on old age'; an allusion to Cicero's work of that name.


Cool link of the day: An interview with Debra Winger about the movie "Shadowlands"

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Two Quotes on Myth Become Fact

"Child, if you will, it is mythology. It is but truth, not fact: an image, not the very real. But then it is My mythology. The words of Wisdom are also myth and metaphor: but since they do not know themselves for what they are, in them the hidden myth is master, here it should be servant: and it is but of man's inventing. This is My inventing, this is the veil under which I have chosen to appear even from the first until now. For this end I made your senses and for this end your imagination, that you might see My face and live. What would you have? Have you not heard among the pagans the story of Semele? Or was there any age in any land when men did not know that corn and wine were the blood and body of a dying and yet living God?
~C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim's Regress, book 9, Chapter 5 (1933)

Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens--at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Myth Became Fact" (1944)


On this day (catching up):

Jan 6 1943 The Abolition of Man is published by Oxford University Press

Jan 7 1955 Lewis takes up residence in Magdalene College, Cambridge

Cool link of the day:Semele, Greek Mythology

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Terrible Choice

"I know what errand you have come on," continued the Witch. "For it was I who was close beside you in the woods last night and heard all your counsels. You have plucked fruit in the garden yonder. You have it in your pocket now. And you are going to carry it back, untasted, to the Lion; for him to eat, for him to use. You simpleton! Do you know what that fruit is? I will tell you. It is the apple of youth, the apple of life. I know, for I have tasted it; and I feel already such changes in myself that I know I shall never grow old or die. Eat it, Boy, eat it; and you and I will both live forever and be king and queen of this whole world - or of your world, if we decide to go back there."

"No thanks," said Digory, "I don't know that I care much about living on and on after everyone I know is dead. I'd rather live an ordinary time and die and go to Heaven."

"But what about this Mother of yours whom you pretend to love so?"

"What's she got to do with it?" said Digory.

"Do you not see, Fool, that one bite of that apple would heal her? You have it in your pocket. We are here by ourselves and the Lion is far away. Use your Magic and go back to your own world. A minute later you can be at your Mother's bedside, giving her the fruit. Five minutes later you will see the colour coming back to her face. She will tell you the pain is gone. Soon she will tell you she feels stronger. Then she will fall asleep - think of that; hours of sweet natural sleep, without pain, without drugs. Next day everyone will be saying how wonderfully she has recovered. Soon she will be quite well again. All will be well again. Your home will be happy again. You will be like other boys."

"Oh!" gasped Digory as if he had been hurt, and put his hand to his head. For he now knew that the most terrible choice lay before him.
~C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew, Chapter 13 (1955)

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Company Manners

We hear a great deal about the rudeness of the rising generation. I am an oldster myself and might be expected to take the oldsters' side, but in fact I have been far more impressed by the bad manners of parents to children than by those of children to parents. Who has not been the embarrassed guest at family meals where the father or mother treated their grown-up offspring with an incivility which, offered to any other young people, would simply have terminated the acquaintance? Dogmatic assertions on matters which the children understand and their elders don't, ruthless interruptions, flat contradictions, ridicule of things the young take seriously--sometimes of their religion--insulting references to their friends, all provide an easy answer to the question "Why are they always out? Why do they like every house better than their home?" Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?

If you asked any of these insufferable people--they are not all parents of course--why they behaved that way at home, they would reply, "Oh, hang it all, one comes home to relax. A chap can't be always on his best behaviour. If a man can't be himself in his own house, where can he? Of course we don't want Company Manners at home. We're a happy family. We can say anything to one another here. No one minds. We all understand."
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, Affection (1960)

Quaint link of the day: Emily Post's 1922 Book on Etiquette

Monday, January 03, 2005

Sir Archibald

"Ye'll understand, there are innumerable forms of this choice. Sometimes forms that one hardly thought of at all on Earth. There was a creature came here not long ago and went back--Sir Archibald they called him. In his earthly life he'd been interested in nothing but Survival. He'd written a whole shelf-full of books about it. He began by being philosophical, but in the end he took up Psychical Research. It grew to be his only occupation--experimenting, lecturing, running a magazine. And travelling too: digging out queer stories among Tibetan lamas and being initiated into brotherhoods in Central Africa. Proofs--and more proofs--and then more proofs again--were what he wanted. It drove him mad if ever he saw anyone taking an interest in anything else. He got into trouble during one of your wars for running up and down the country telling them not to fight because it wasted a lot of money that ought to be spent on Research. Well, in good time, the poor creature died and came here: and there was no power in the universe would have prevented him staying and going on to the mountains. But do ye think that did him any good? This country was no use to him at all. Everyone here had "survived" already. Nobody took the least interest in the question. There was nothing more to prove. His occupation was clean gone. Of course if he would only have admitted that he'd mistaken the means for the end and had a good laugh at himself he could have begun all over again like a little child and entered into joy. But he would not do that. He cared nothing about joy. In the end he went away."
~C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, Chapter 9 (1946)


On this day:

1892 J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis's longtime friend, colleague, and fellow Inkling is born in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

There Are Not Going To Be Many More Dinosaurs

If a live dinosaur dragged its slow length into the laboratory, would we not all look back as we fled? What a chance to know at last how it really moved and looked and smelled and what noises it made! And if the Neanderthaler could talk, then, though his lecturing technique might leave much to be desired, should we not almost certainly learn from him some things about him which the best modern anthropologist could never have told us? He would tell us without knowing he was telling. One thing I know: I would give a great deal to hear any ancient Athenian, even a stupid one, talking about Greek tragedy. He would know in his bones so much that we seek in vain. At any moment some chance phrase might, unknown to him, show us where modern scholarship had been on the wrong track for years. Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you somewhat as that Athenian might stand. I read as a native [the] texts you must read as foreigners. You see why I said that the claim was not really arrogant; who can be proud of speaking fluently his mother tongue or knowing his way about his father's house?...Where I fail as a critic, I may yet be useful as a specimen. I would even dare to go further. Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.
~ C.S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays, "De Descriptione Temporum" (1955)

On this day:

1914 Lewis and childhood Belfast friend Arthur Greeves begin what would be a lifelong correspondence.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Beauty of Soul

But if I practiced true philosophy, as Socrates meant it, I should change my ugly soul into a fair one. And this, the gods helping me, I would do. I would set about it at once.

The gods helping...but would they help? Nevertheless I must begin. And it seemed to me they would not help. I would set out boldly each morning to be just and calm and wise in all my thoughts and acts; but before they had finished dressing me I would find that I was back (and knew not how long I had been back) in some old rage, resentment, gnawing fantasy, or sullen bitterness. I could not hold out half an hour. And a horrible memory crept into my mind of those days when I had tried to mend the ugliness of my body with new devices in the way I did my hair or the colours I wore. I'd a cold fear that I was at the same work again. I could mend my soul no more than my face. Unless the gods helped. And why did the gods not help?

Babai! A terrible sheer thought, huge as a cliff, towered up before me, infinitely likely to be true. No man will love you, though you gave your life for him, unless you have a pretty face. So (might it not be?), the gods will not love you (however you try to pleasure them, and whatever you suffer) unless you have that beauty of soul. In either race, for the love of men or the love of a god, the winners and losers are marked out from birth.
~C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, Book II Chapter 2 (1956)


On this day:

1911 Lewis (age twelve) enrolls at Cherbourge Preparatory School in Malvern