Monday, February 28, 2005

Drawing Near to Faerie

The Queen of Drum flees her pursuers:

Far over the piled hills, and past
the Hills she knew, she travelled fast;
She found a valley like a cup
With moonshine to the brim filled up,
So pure a sweep of hollow ground,
Treeless, with turf so short around
That not one shadow there could fall
But, smooth like liquid, over all,
Night's ghastly parody of day,
The lidless stare of moonlight lay.
Down into it, and straight ahead,
A single path before her led,
--A mossy way; and two ways more
There met it on the valley floor;
From left and right they came, and right
And left ran on out of the light.
And near that parting of three ways
She thought there was a silver haze,
She thought there was a giant's head
Pushed from the earth with whiteness spread
Of beard beneath and from its crown
Cararacts of whiteness tumbling down.
Then she drew near, tip-toed in awe,
And looked again; this time she saw
It was a thornbush, milky white
That poured sweet smell upon the night.
And nearer yet she came and then,
Bathed in its fragrance, looked again,
And lo! it was a horse and rider,
Breathing, unmoving, close beside her
More beautiful and larger
Than earthly beast, that charger,
Where rode the proudest rider;
--Rich his arms, bewitching
His air--a wilful, elfin
Emperor, proud of temper,
In mail of eldest moulding
and sword of elven silver,
Smiling to beguile her...

~C.S. Lewis, Narrative Poems, "The Queen of Drum", lines 153 - 191 (1969)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Two Quotations on The Fall

[Albertus Magnus] takes a much more genial view. He sweeps away the idea that the pleasure is evil or a result of the Fall: on the contrary, pleasure would have been greater if we had remained in Paradise. The real trouble about fallen man is not the strength of his pleasures but the weakness of his reason: unfallen man could have enjoyed any degree of pleasure without losing sight, for a moment, of the First Good.
~The Allegory of Love, Chap 1.1 (1936)

They [human beings] wanted, as we say, to "call their souls their own." But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, "This is our business, not yours." But there is no such corner.
~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chap. 5 (1940)

Friday, February 25, 2005

His Beliefs

Dear Mr. Fridama,

I was baptised in the Church of Ireland (same as Anglican). My parents were not notably pious but went regularly to church and took me. My mother died when I was a child.

My Xtian faith was first undermined by the attitude taken towards Pagan religion in the notes of modern editors of Latin and Greek poets at school. They always assumed that the ancient religion was pure error: hence, in my mind, the obvious question 'Why shouldn't ours be equally false?' A theosophical Matron at one school helped to break up my early beliefs, and after that a 'Rationalist' tutor to whom I went finished the job. I abandoned all belief in Xtianity at about the age of 14, tho' I pretended to believe for fear of my elders. I thus went thro' the ceremony of Confirmation in total hypocrisy. My beliefs continued to be agnostic, with fluctuation towards pantheism and various other sub-Xtian beliefs, till I was about 29.

I was brought back (a.) By Philosophy. I still think Berkeley is unanswerable. (b.) By increasing knowledge of medieval literature. It became harder and harder to think that all those great poets & philosophers were wrong. (c.) By the strong influence of 2 writers, the Presbyterian George Macdonald and the R.C., G. K. Chesterton. (d.) By argument with an Anthroposophist. He failed to convert me to his own views (a kind of Gnosticism) but his attack on my own presuppositions smashed the ordinary pseudo-'scientific' world-picture forever.

On Calvinism. Both the statement that our final destination is already settled and the view that it still may be either Heaven or Hell, seem to me to imply the ultimate reality of Time, which I don't believe in. The controversy is one I can't join on either side for I think that in the real (Timeless) world it is meaningless. In great haste.

Yours sincerely,
C.S. Lewis
~The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter of Feb 15th, 1946


Scholarly link of the day: George Berkeley's "Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713)

Thursday, February 24, 2005


"Don't you like a rather foggy day in a wood in autumn? You'll find we shall be perfectly warm sitting in the car."

Jane said she'd never heard of anyone liking fogs before but she didn't mind trying. All three got in.

"That's why Camilla and I got married, " said Denniston as they drove off. "We both like Weather. Not this or that kind of weather, but just Weather. It's a useful taste if one lives in England."

"How ever did you learn to do that, Mr. Denniston?" said Jane. "I don't think I should ever learn to like rain and snow."

"It's the other way around," said Denniston. "Everyone begins as a child by liking Weather. You learn the art of disliking it is you grown up. Noticed it on a snowy day? The grown-ups are all going about with long faces, but look at the children - and the dogs? They know what snow's made for."

"I'm sure I hated wet days as a child," said Jane.

"That's because the grown-ups kept you in," said Camilla. "Any child loves rain if allowed to go out and paddle about in it."
~C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Chapter 5 "Elasticity" (1946)

On this day:

1943 Lewis delivers the first of three Riddell Memorial lectures, later published as The Abolition of Man.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Sweeter Than Honey?

"More to be desired are they than gold, yea than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb"*. One can well understand this being said of God's mercies, God's visitations, His attributes. But what the poet is actually talking about is God's law, His commands; His "ruling" as Dr. Moffatt well translates in verse 9 (for "judgements" here plainly means decisions about conduct). What is being compared to gold and honey is those "statutes" (in the Latin version "decrees") which, we are told, "rejoice the heart". For the whole poem is about the Law, not about "Judgement" in the sense to which Chapter I was devoted.

This was to me at first very mysterious. "Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery"--I can understand that a man can, and must, respect these "statutes", and try to obey them, and assent to them in his heart. But it is very hard to find how they could be, so to speak, delicious, how they exhilarate. If this is difficult at any time, it is doubly so when obedience to either is opposed to some strong, and perhaps in itself innocent, desire. A man held back by his unfortunate previous marriage to some lunatic or cfiminal who never dies from some woman whom he faithfully loves, or a hungry man left alone, without money, in a shop filled with he smell and sight of new bread, roasting coffee, or fresh strawberries--can these find the prohibition of adultery or of theft at all like honey? They may obey, they may still respect the "statute", but surely it could be more aptly compared to the dentists's forceps or the front line than to anything enjoyable and sweet.
~C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, Chapter VI "Sweeter Than Honey" (1955)

*Psalm 19


Interesting Link of the Day: Proppian Fairy Tale Generator

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Another Selection from Dymer

Meanwhile the earth swung round in hollow night.

Souls without number in all nations slept
Snug on her back, safe speeding towards the light;
Hours tolled, and in damp woods the night beast crept;
And over the long seas the watch was kept
In black ships, twinkling onward, green and red:
Always the ordered stars moved overhead.

And no one knew that Dymer in his scales
Had weighed all these and found them nothing worth.
Indifferently the dawn that never fails
Troubled the east of night with gradual birth,
Whispering a change of colours on cold earth,
And a bird woke, then two. The sunlight ran
Along the hills and yellow day began.

But stagnant gloom clung in the valley yet;
Hills crowded out a third part of the sky,
Black-looking, and the boulders dripped with wet:
No bird sang. Dymer, shivering, heaved a sigh
And yawned and said: 'It's cruel work to die
Of hunger; and again, with cloudy breath
Blown between chattering teeth, 'It's a bad death."

~C.S. Lewis, Narrative Poems (1969), "Dymer" (Canto V, Stanzas 16 - 18)


On this day:

1944 Lewis delivers the first of seven talks on "Beyond Personality" over the BBC. These talks later appear as Book 4 of Mere Christianity.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Selection from "Dymer"

There followed such a time as is forgotten
With morning light, but in the passing seems
Unending. Where he grasped the branch was rotten,
Where he trod forth in haste the forest streams
Laid wait for him. Like men in fever dreams
Climbing an endless rope, he laboured much
And gained no ground. He reached and could not touch.

And often out of darkness like a swell
That grows up from no wind upon blue sea,
He heard the music, unendurable
In stealing sweetness wind from tree to tree.
Battered and bruised in body and soul was he
When first he saw a little lightness growing
Ahead: and from that light the sound was flowing.

The trees were fewer now: and gladly nearing
That light, he saw the stars. For sky was there,
And smoother grass, white-flowered--a forest clearing,
Set in seven miles of forest, secreter
Than valleys in the tops of clouds, more fair
Than greenery under snow or desert water,
Or the white peace descending after slaughter.

So Dymer in the wood-lawn blessed the light,
A still light, rosy, clear, and filled with sound.
Here was some pile of building which the night
Made larger. Spiry shadows rose all round,
But through the open door appeared profound
Recesses of pure light--fire with no flame--
And out of that deep light the music came.

~C.S. Lewis, Narrative Poems (1969), "Dymer" (Stanzas 26 - 30)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Like, But Not Exactly Like

Dear Patricia,

All your points are in a sense right. But I'm not exactly "representing" the real (Christian) story in symbols. I'm more saying "Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the 'Great Emperor oversea') went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?" Perhaps it comes to much the same thing as you thought, but not quite.

1. The creation of Narnia is the Son of God creating a world (not specially our world).
2. Jadis plucking the apple is, like Adam's sin, an act of disobedience, but it doesn't fill the same place in her life as his plucking did in his. She was already fallen (very much so) before she ate it.
3. The stone table is meant to remind one of Moses' table.
4. The Passion and Resurrection of Aslan are the Passion and Resurrection Christ might be supposed to have had in that world--like those in our world but not exactly like.
5. Edmund is like Judas a sneak and traitor. But unlike Judas he repents and is forgiven (as Judas no doubt would have been if he'd repented).
6. Yes. At the very edge of the Narnia world Aslan begins to appear more like Christ as He is known in this world. Hence the Lamb. Hence, the breakfast--like at the end of St. John's Gospel. does not He say "You have been allowed to know me in this world (Narnia) so that you may know me better when you get back to your own"?
7. And of course the Ape and Puzzle, just before the last Judgement (in the Last Battle) are like the coming of Antichrist before the end of our world.

All clear?

I'm so glad you like the books.

Yours sincerely
C. S. Lewis
~Letters to Children, Letter to Patricia (13 years old) in Surrey, 8 June 1960

Friday, February 18, 2005

Screwtape on War

Of course a war is entertaining. The immediate fear and suffering of the humans is a legitimate and pleasing refreshment for our myriads of toiling workers. But what permanent good does it do us unless we make use of it for bringing souls to Our Father Below? When I see the temporal suffering of humans who finally escape us, I feel as if I had been allowed to taste the first course of a rich banquet and then denied the rest. It is worse than not to have tasted it at all. The Enemy, true to His barbarous methods of warfare, allows us to see the short misery of His favourites only to tantalise and torment us--to mock the incessant hunger which, during this present phase of the great conflict, His blockade is admittedly imposing. Let us therefore think rather how to use, than how to enjoy, this European war. For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and unchastity. But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self.
~C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 5 (1942)


Cool link of the day: Looking ahead to 2006: C.S. Lewis Colloquium at Taylor University

Thursday, February 17, 2005

One Tiny Planet

The sceptic asks how we can believe that God so 'came down' to this one tiny planet. The question would be embarrassing if we knew (1) that there are rational creatures on any of the other bodies that float in space; (2) that they have, like us, fallen and need redemption; (3) that their redemption must be in the same mode as ours; (4) that redemption in this mode has been withheld from them. But we know none of them. The universe may be full of happy lives that never needed redemption. It may be full of lives that have been redeemed in modes suitable to their condition, of which we can form no conception. It may be full of lives that have been redeemed in the very same mode as our own. It may be full of things quite other than life in which God is interested though we are not.

There is no doubt that we all feel the incongruity of supposing, say, that the planet Earth might be more important than the Great Nebula in Andromeda. On the other hand, we are all equally certain that only a lunatic would think a man six-feet high necessarily more important than a man five-feet high, or a horse necessarily more important than a man, or a man's legs than his brain. In other words this supposed ratio of size to importance feel plausible only when one of the sizes involved is very great.
~C.S. Lewis, Miracles, "A Chapter of Red Herrings" (1947)

Cool link of the day: Messier Object 31 (also known as the Andromeda galaxy)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Object of Our Desire

In the second place, there is a peculiar mystery about the object of this Desire. Inexperienced people (and inattention leaves some inexperienced all their lives) suppose, when they feel it, that they know what they are desiring. Thus if it comes to a child while he is looking at a far off hillside he at once thinks 'if only I were there'; if it comes when he is remembering some event in the past, he thinks 'if only I could go back to those days'. If it comes (a little later) while he is reading a 'romantic' tale or poem of 'perilous seas and faerie lands forlorn', he thinks he is wishing that such places really existed and that he could reach them. If it comes (later still) in a context with erotic suggestions he believes he is desiring the perfect beloved. If he falls upon literature (like Maeterlinck or the early Yeats) which treats of spirits and the like with some show of serious belief, he may think that he is hankering for real magic and occultism. When it darts out upon him from his studies in history or science, he may confuse it with the intellectual craving for knowledge.

But every one of these impressions is wrong...for I have myself been deluded by every one of these false answers in turn, and have contemplated each of them earnestly enough to discover the cheat.
It appeared to me therefore that if a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given--nay, cannot even be imagined as given--in our present mode of subjective and spacio-temporal experience. This Desire was, in the soul, as the Siege Perilous in Arthur's castle--the chair in which only one could sit. And if nature makes nothing in vain, the One who can sit in this chair must exist.
~C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim's Regress, Afterword to Third Revision (1943)


Cool Link of the Day: Virtual Bay, New Zealand

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Apple

Then Digory took a minute to get his breath, and then went softly into his Mother's room. And there she lay, as he had seen her lie so many other times, propped up on the pillows, with a thin, pale face that would make you cry to look at. Digory took the Apple of Life out of his pocket.

And just as the Witch Jadis had looked different when you saw her in our world instead of in her own, so the fruit of that mountain garden looked different too. There were of course all sorts of coloured things in the bedroom; the coloured counterpane on the bed, the wallpaper, the sunlight from the window, and Mother's pretty, pale blue dressing jacket. But the moment Digory took the Apple out of his pocket, all those things seemed to have scarcely any colour at all. Every one of them, even the sunlight, looked faded and dingy. The brightness of the Apple threw strange lights on the ceiling. Nothing else was worth looking at: you couldn't look at anything else. And the smell of the Apple of Youth was as if there was a window in the room that opened on Heaven.

"Oh, darling, how lovely," said Digory's Mother.

"You will eat it, won't you? Please," said Digory.

"I don't know what the Doctor would say," she answered. "But really - I almost feel as if I could."

He peeled it and cut it up and gave it to her piece by piece. And no sooner had she finished it than she smiled and her head sank back on the pillow and she was asleep: a real, natural, gentle sleep, without any of those nasty drugs, which was, as Digory knew, the thing in the whole world that she wanted most. And he was sure now that her face looked a little different. He bent down and kissed her very softly and stole out of the room with a beating heart; taking the core of the apple with him. For the rest of that day, whenever he looked at the things about him, and saw how ordinary and unmagical they were, he hardly dared to hope; but when he remembered the face of Aslan he did hope.
~C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew (1955)

On this day:

1908 Lewis's mother, Flora Lewis, undergoes major cancer surgery.

Monday, February 14, 2005


But Eros, honoured without reservation and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon. And this is just how he claims to be honoured and obeyed. Divinely indifferent to our selfishness, he is also demoniacally rebellious to every claim of God or Man that would oppose him. Hence as the poet says:

People in love cannot be moved by kindness,
And opposition makes them feel like martyrs.

Martyrs is exactly right. Years ago when I wrote about medieval love-poetry and described its strange, half make-believe, "religion of love," I was blind enough to treat this as an almost purely literary phenomenon. I know better now. Eros by his nature invites it. Of all loves he is, at his height, most god-like; therefore most prone to demand our worship. Of himself he always tends to turn "being in love" into a sort of religion.
When lovers say of some act that we might blame, "Love made us do it," notice the tone. A man saying, "I did it because I was frightened," or "I did it because I was angry," speaks quite differently. He is putting forward an excuse for what he feels to require excusing. But the lovers are seldom doing quite that. Notice how tremulously, almost how devoutly, they say the word love, not so much pleading an "extenuating circumstance" as appealing to an authority. The confession can be almost a boast. There can be a shade of defiance in it. They "feel like martyrs." In extreme cases what their words really express is a demure yet unshakable allegiance to the god of love.
~C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, Eros (1960)


Cool link of the day: Send a Fine Art Postcard

Saturday, February 12, 2005


I thought there would be a grave beauty, a sunset splendour
In being the last of one's kind: a topmost moment as one watched
The huge wave curving over Atlantis, the shrouded barge
Turning away with wounded Arthur, or Ilium burning.
Now I see that, all along, I was assuming a posterity
Of gentle hearts: someone, however distant in the depths of time,
Who could pick up our signal, who could understand a story. There won't be.

Between the new Hominidae and us who are dying, already
There rises a barrier across which no voice can ever carry,
For devils are unmaking language. We must let that alone forever.
Uproot your loves, one by one, with care, from the future,
And trusting to no future, receive the massive thrust
And surge of the many-dimensional timeless rays converging
On this small, significant dew drop, the present that mirrors all.
~C.S. Lewis, Poems (1964)

Friday, February 11, 2005

Security is Mortals' Greatest Enemy

'Courage,' said Slikesteinsauga, 'you are seeing the land as it really is. It is long but very narrow. Beyond these crags and cloud on the North it sinks immediately into the Arctic Sea, beyond which again lies the Enemy's country. But the Enemy's country is joined up with ours on the North by a land bridge called the Isthmus Sadisticus and right amid that Isthmus sits the cold dragon, the cold, costive, crustacean dragon who wishes to enfold all that he can get within the curl of his body and then to draw his body tighter round it so as to have it all inside himself. And you, John, when we pass the Isthmus must go up and contend with him that you may be hardened. But on the South, as soon as it passes into these swamps and this other cloud, the land sinks into the Southern Sea: and across that sea also there comes a land bridge, the Isthmus Mazochisticus, where the hot dragon crawls, the expansive, invertebrate dragon whose fiery breath makes all that she touches melt and corrupt. And to her you, Vertue, must go down that you may steal her heat and be made malleable.'

'Upon my soul,' said John, 'I think Mother Kirk treats us very ill. Since we have followed her and eaten her food the way seems twice as narrow and twice as dangerous as it did before.'

'You all know,' said the Guide, 'that security is mortals' greatest enemy.'
~C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim's Regress, Book Ten: The Regress "The Same Yet Different" (1933)

Cool Link of the Day: Hear Tolkien's Voice -- Links to four sound files of Tolkien reading excerpts from The Lord of the Rings.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

They Don't Know That They Don't Know

Nearly all critics are prone to imagine that they know a great many facts relevant to a book which in reality they don't know. The author inevitably perceives their ignorance because he (often he alone) knows the real facts. This critical vice may take many different forms.

1) Nearly all reviewers assume that your books were written in the same order in which they were published and all shortly before publication. There was a very good instance of this lately in the reviews of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Most critics assumed (this illustrates a very different vice) that it must be a political allegory and a good many thought that the master Ring must 'be' the atomic bomb. Anyone who knew the real history of the composition knew that this was not only erroneous, but impossible; chronologically impossible. Others assumed that the mythology of his romance had grown out of his children's story The Hobbit. This, again, he and his friends knew to be mainly false. Now of course nobody blames the critics for not knowing these things: how should they? The trouble is that they don't know they don't know. A guess leaps into their minds and they write it down without even noticing that it is a guess.
Where he seems to me most often to go wrong is in the hasty assumption of an allegorical sense; and as reviewers make this mistake about contemporary works, so, in my opinion, scholars now often make it about old ones. I would recommend to both, and I would try to observe in my own critical practice, these principles. First, that no story can be devised by the wit of man which cannot be interpreted allegorically by the wit of some other man. The Stoic interpretations of primitive mythology, the Christian interpretations of the Old Testament, the medieval interpretations of the classics, all prove this. Therefore (2) the mere fact that you can allegorize the work before you is of itself no proof that it is an allegory. Of course you can allegorize it. You can allegorize anything, whether in art or real life. I think we should here take a hint from the lawyers. A man is not tried at the assizes until there has been shown to be a prima-facie case against him. We ought not to proceed to allegorize any work until we have plainly set out the reasons for regarding it as an allegory at all.
~C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds, "On Criticism" (1965)

On this day:

1945 Lewis reads "Membership" to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius, Oxford.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Things Changed for the Better

He led them rapidly through the wood, and before they had gone many paces, the wall of Experiment House appeared before them. Then Aslan roared so that the sun shook in the sky and thirty feet of the wall fell down before them. They looked through the gap, down into the school shrubbery and on to the roof of the gym, all under the same dull autumn sky which they had seen before their adventures began. Aslan turned to Jill and Eustace and breathed upon them and touched their foreheads with his tongue. Then he lay down amid the gap he had made in the wall and turned his golden back to England, and his lordly face towards his own lands. At the same moment Jill saw figures whom she knew only too well running up through the laurels towards them. Most of the gang were there Adela Pennyfather and Cholmondely Major, Edith Winterblott, `Spotty' Sorrier, big Bannister, and the two loathsome Garrett twins. But suddenly they stopped. Their faces changed, and all the meanness, conceit, cruelty, and sneakishness almost disappeared in one single expression of terror. For they saw the wall fallen down, and a lion as large as a young elephant lying in the gap, and three figures in glittering clothes with weapons in their hands rushing down upon them. For, with the strength of Aslan in them, Jill plied her crop on the girls and Caspian and Eustace plied the flats of their swords on the boys so well that in two minutes all the bullies were running like mad, crying out, `Murder! Fascists! Lions! It isn't fair.' And then the Head (who was, by the way, a woman) came running out to see what was happening. And when she saw the lion and the broken wall and Caspian and Jill and Eustace (whom she quite failed to recognize) she had hysterics and went back to the house and began ringing up the police with stories about a lion escaped from a circus, and escaped convicts who broke down walls and carried drawn swords. In the midst of all this fuss Jill and Eustace slipped quietly indoors and changed out of their bright clothes into ordinary things, and Caspian went back into his own world. And the wall, at Aslan's word, was made whole again. When the police arrived and found no lion, no broken wall, and no convicts, and the Head behaving like a lunatic, there was an inquiry into the whole thing. And in the inquiry all sorts of things about Experiment House came out, and about ten people got expelled. After that, the Head's friends saw that the Head was no use as a Head, so they got her made an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found she wasn't much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.

Eustace buried his fine clothes secretly one night in the school grounds, but Jill smuggled hers home and wore them at a fancy-dress ball next holidays. And from that day forth things changed for the better at Experiment House, and it became quite a good school. And Jill and Eustace were always friends.
~C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, Chapter Sixteen: The Healing of Harms (1953)

On this day:

1942 The Screwtape Letters is published by Geoffrey Bles, London

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Uton Herian Holbytlas

My dear Tollers--

Uton Herian holbytlas* indeed. I have drained the rich cup and satisfied a long thirst. Once it really gets under weigh the steady upward slope of grandeur and terror (not unrelieved by green dells, without which it would indeed be intolerable) is almost unequalled in the whole range of narrative art known to me. In two virtues I think it excels: sheer sub-creation--Bombadil, Barrow Wights, Elves, Ents--as if from inexhaustible resources, and construction--the construction Tasso aimed at (but did not equally achieve) which was to combine the variety of Ariosto with the unity of Virgil. Also, in gravitas. No romance can repell the charge of 'escapism' with such confidence. If it errs, it errs in precisely the opposite direction: the sickness of hope deferred and the merciless piling up of odds against the heroes are near to being too painful. And the long coda after the eucatastrophe, whether you intended it or no, has the effect of reminding us that victory is as transitory as conflict, that (as Byron says) "There's no sterner moralist than pleasure" and so leaving a final impression of profound melancholy.

No doubt this is increased for me by the circumstances in which I heard most of it for the first time: when there was great danger around us but, in me at any rate, a happier heart than now. But that only accounts for a small part of my total impression. I am sure it is in itself a great and hard and bitter book which, tho I love it, I shall never open without a certain shrinking. It will rank, along with the Aeneid as one of what I call my 'immediately sub-religious' books.

Indeed (unexpectedly) the general aroma seems to me more like the Aeneid than anything else, in spite of all your Northernness. This is partly because both (a.) Are so often sylvan (b.) Have strategy, as distinct from mere combat, and (c.) Suggest an enormous past behind the action.

All the alliterative verse I liked.
I congratulate you. All the long years you have spent on it are justified. Morris and Eddison, in so far as they are comparable, are now mere 'precursors'.

The mappemound is as you warn me, now inaccurate. But on a rather different point--do you mean the Shire to be so large?

I miss you very much.


Jack Lewis
~The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter to Tolkien (Oct. 27 1949)

*"Let us praise hobbits."

Cool link of the day: LOTR Photoshop Cliche Hell (scroll down, it's worth it!)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Steal Past Those Watchful Dragons

In the Author's mind there bubbles up every now and then the material for a story. For me it invariably begins with mental pictures. This ferment leads to nothing unless it is accompanied with the longing for a Form: verse or prose, short story, novel, play or what not. When these two things click you have the Author's impulse complete. It is now a thing inside him pawing to get out. He longs to see that bubbling stuff pouring into that Form as the housewife longs to see the new jam pouring into the clean jam jar. This nags him all day long and gets in the way of his work and his sleep and his meals. It's like being in love.
On that side (as Author) I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say.

Then of course the Man in me began to have his turn. I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?
~C.S. Lewis, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's To Be Said" (1st pub. Nov 1956), Of Other Worlds (1966)

Cool Link of the Day: Belmont University Conference on C. S. Lewis: "Past Watchful Dragons", Nov. 3 - 5, 2005

Saturday, February 05, 2005

They Saw The Palace?

"And so," he said, "when her two sisters had seen the beautiful palace and been feasted and given gifts, they--"

"They saw the palace?"

"Stranger, you are hindering the sacred story. Of course they saw the palace. They weren't blind. And then--"

It was as if the gods themselves had first laughed, and then spat, in my face. So this was the shape the story had taken. You may say, the shape the gods had given it. For it must be they who had put it into the old fool's mind or into the mind of some other dreamer from whom he'd learned it. How could any mortal have known of that palace at all? That much of the truth they had dropped into someone's mind, in a dream, or an oracle, or however they do such things. That much; and wiped clean out the very meaning, the pith, the central knot, of the whole tale. Do I not do well to write a book against them, telling what they have kept hidden? Never, sitting on my judgement seat, had I caught a false witness in a more cunning half-truth. For if the true story had been like their story, no riddle wold have been set me; there would have been no guessing and no guessing wrong. More than that, it's a story belonging to a different world, a world in which the gods show themselves clearly and don't torment men with glimpses, nor unveil to one what they hide from another, nor ask you to believe what contradicts your eyes and ears and nose and tongue and fingers. In such a world (is there such? it's not ours, for certain) I would have walked aright. The gods themselves would have been able to find no fault in me. And now to tell my story as if I had had the very sight they had denied it not as if you told a cripple's story and never said he was lame, or told how a man betrayed a secret but never said it was after twenty hours of torture? And I saw all in a moment how the false story would grow and spread and be told all over the earth; and I wondered how many of the other sacred stories are just such twisted falsities as this.
~C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, Ch. 21, (1956)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Clam Jamfrey?

Lewis enthusiastically writes in Mock Tudor English to E.R. Eddison, after reading his novel The Worm Ouroboros (1922):

In the which booke hauing now read soe fare as to the downfalle and ruinacion of Garsee, I were much to blame yf I dyde not do you to wit that in my censure this is the most noble and ioyous book I haue read these ten yeres. Insomuch that if (wh. heuen forbidde) I were its ounlie reder, yet the ioye you hadde in the inventioun and indyting of the said book and I in the reading in it sholde of themselves alone vtterlie outweigh and ouergoe all the clam jamfrey and whymperinges of the rakehellie auctours in these latter daies, as the Eliots, Poundes, Lawrences, Audens, and the like.

In good truth, Brother, there is a srewde lack in your book whereof I made bold a little to snibbe you, in that it conteineth no mappe-monnde or card, which were a thing verie necessarie to him that wolde perfectlie vnderstonde all the diverse voyage and traveles, and the whereabouts of all havens, seas, nesses, mountains, straits, rivers, frithes and cities. Item, a table genealogicall sholde have been no small light, and either of these more nedefull than the naked deliverie of times by yeres wherewith you haue garnysshed it.

But there is nothing mortal in that hath not his faults. Sir, by these lettres you shall vnderstonde my verie good will and gratitude, and also that there are oon or two faste frends of myne who still, in this duncicall age, delight in noble bookes, that is in straunge adventures, heroicall feates, good maneres, and the report of ferne londes. When yf it sorts with your occasions euere to visit in my poor houe and colledge of Sta Marie Maudlin, doubt not to haue the best chere and feste we can or mai deuyse. From
Your obliged obedient
C.S. Lewis
(The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter of 16 November 1942)

Cool link of the day: The Worm Ouroboros (complete text online)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Let Them At Least Have Heard of Brave Knights

A far more serious attack on the fairy tale as children's literature comes from those who do not wish children to be frightened. I suffered too much from night-fears myself in childhood to undervalue this objection. I would not wish to heat the fires of that private hell for any child. On the other hand, none of my fears came from fairy tales. Giant insects were my specialty, with ghosts a bad second. I suppose the ghosts came directly or indirectly from stories, though certainly not from fairy stories, but I don't think the insects did. I don't know anything my parents could have done or left undone which would have saved me from the pincers, mandibles, and eyes of those many-legged abominations.

And that, as so many people have pointed out, is the difficulty. We do not know what will or will not frighten a child in this particular way. I say 'in this particular way' for we must here make a distinction. Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can't bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book.
~C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1966)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Good Ones Last

Where the children's story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that, will read the story or re-read it, at any age. I never met The Wind in the Willows or the Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz.

This canon seems to me most obviously true of that particular type of children's story which is dearest to my own taste, the fantasy or fairy tale. Now the modern critical world uses 'adult' as a term of approval. It is hostile to what it calls 'nostalgia' and contemptuous of what it calls 'Peter Pantheism'. Hence a man who admits that dwarfs and giants and talking beasts and witches are still dear to him in his fifty-third year is now less likely to be praised for his perennial youth than scorned and pitied for arrested development. If I spend some little time defending myself against these charges, this is not so much because it matters greatly whether I am scorned and pitied as because the defence is germane to my whole view of the fairy tale and even of literature in general.
~C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1966)


Cool link of the day: J.R.R. Tolkien: On Fairy Stories

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that. The direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a workman infinitely wise, staggers belief. The spectacle of the universe as revealed by experience can never have been the ground of religion: it must always have been something in spite of which religion, acquired from a different source, was held.
~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (1940)


On this day:

1918 Lewis (age nineteen) is hospitalized with trench fever at Le Treport, France, for one month.