Thursday, June 30, 2005

On Flat-earthers, and 'kindly enclyning'

Physically considered, the Earth is a globe; all the authors of the high Middle Ages are agreed on this. In the earlier 'Dark' Ages, as indeed in the nineteenth century, we can find Flat-earthers. Lecky, whose purpose demanded some denigration of the past, has gleefully dug out of the sixth century Cosmas Indicopleustes who believed the Earth to be a flat parallelogram. But on Lecky's own showing Cosmas wrote partly to refute, in the supposed interests of religion, a prevalent, contrary view which believed in the Antipodes. Isidore gives Earth the shape of a wheel. And Snorre Sturlason thinks of it as the 'world-disc' or heimskringla --the first word, and hence the title, of his great saga. But Snorre writes from within the Norse enclave which was almost a separate culture, rich in native genius but half cut off from the Mediterranean legacy which the rest of Europe enjoyed.

The implications of a spherical Earth were fully grasped. What we call gravitation--for the medievals 'kindly enclyning'--was a matter of common knowledge. Vincent of Beauvais expounds it by asking what would happen if there were a hole bored through the globe of Earth so that there was a free passage from the one sky to the other, and someone dropped a stone down it. He answers that it would come to rest at the centre. [...]The most vivid presentation is by Dante, in a passage which shows that intense realising power which in the medieval imagination oddly co-exists with its feebleness in matters of scale. In Inferno, XXXIV, the two travellers find the shaggy and gigantic Lucifer at the absolute centre of the Earth, embedded up to his waist in ice. The only way they can continue their journey is by climbing down his sides--there is plenty of hair to hold on by--and squeezing through the hole in the ice and so coming to his feet. But they find that though it is down to his waist, it is up to his feet. As Virgil tells Dante, they have passed the point towards which all heavy objects move. It is the first 'science-fiction effect' in literature.
~C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, "Earth and her Inhabitants" (1964)


Fun links of the day:

Buy a Flat-Earth Map

Join The Flat Earth Society

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Rats in the Cellar

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.
~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (1952)


On this day:

1947 Warren Lewis was released from the Convent Hospital of Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, Ireland.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


[Senior devil Screwtape to junior devil Wormwood:] "The fact that 'devils' are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.
~C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (1942)

I do believe such beings exist, but that is my own affair. Supposing there to be such beings, the degree to which humans were conscious of their presence would presumably vary very much. I mean, the more a man was in the Devil's power, the less he would be aware of it, on the principle that a man is still fairly sober as long as he knows he's drunk. It is the people who are fully awake and trying hard to be good who would be most aware of the Devil It is when you start arming against Hitler that you first realize your country is full of Nazi agents. Of course they don't want you to believe in the Devil. If devils exist, their first aim is to give you an anaesthetic--to put you off your guard. Only if that fails, do you become aware of them.
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Answers to Questions on Christianity" (1944)


On this day:

1946 Lewis receives an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from St. Andrew's University, Scotland.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Lady of the Green Kirtle

By the time they had stepped off the end of the bridge on to the grass, the two strangers were quite close. One was a knight in complete armour with his visor down. His armour and his horse were black; there was no device on his shield and no banneret on his spear.

The other was a lady on a white horse, a horse so lovely that you wanted to kiss its nose and give it a lump of sugar at once. But the lady, who rode side-saddle and wore a long, fluttering dress of dazzling green, was lovelier still.

"Good day, t-r-r-avellers," she cried out in a voice as sweet as the sweetest bird's song, trilling her R's delightfully. "Some of you are young pilgrims to walk this rough waste."

"That's as may be, Ma'am," said Puddleglum very stiffly and on his guard.

"We're looking for the ruined city of the giants," said Jill.

"The r-r-ruined city?" said the Lady. "That is a strange place to be seeking. What will you do if you find it?"

"We've got to -" began Jill, but Puddleglum interrupted.

"Begging your pardon, Ma'am. But we don't know you or your friend - a silent chap, isn't he? - and you don't know us. And we'd as soon not talk to strangers about our business, if you don't mind. Shall we have a little rain soon, do you think?"

The Lady laughed: the richest, most musical laugh you can imagine. "Well, children," she said, "you have a wise, solemn old guide with you. I think none the worse of him for keeping his own counsel, but I'll be free with mine. I have often heard the name of the giantish City Ruinous, but never met any who would tell me the way thither. This road leads to the burgh and castle of Harfang, where dwell the gentle giants. They are as mild, civil, prudent, and courteous as those of Ettinsmoor are foolish, fierce, savage, and given to all beastliness. And in Harfang you may or may not hear tidings of the City Ruinous, but certainly you shall find good lodgings and merry hosts. You would be wise to winter there, or, at the least, to tarry certain days for your ease and refreshment. There you shall have steaming baths, soft beds, and bright hearths; and the roast and the baked and the sweet and the strong will be on the table four times in a day."

"I say!" exclaimed Scrubb. "That's something like! Think of sleeping in a bed again."

"Yes, and having a hot bath," said Jill. "Do you think they'll ask us to stay? We don't know them, you see."

"Only tell them," answered the Lady, "that She of the Green Kirtle salutes them by you, and has sent them two fair Southern children for the Autumn Feast."
~C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair (1953)


On this day:

1925 J.R.R. Tolkien made formal application for the position of Professor of Anglo Saxon at Oxford.

Bonus quotation:

"My head was very full of my old idea of a poem on my own version of the Cupid and Psyche story in which Psyche's sister would not be jealous, but unable to see anything but moors when Psyche showed her the Palace. I have tried it twice before, once in couplet and once in ballad form."
~from Lewis's diary, entry of September 9, 1923

Friday, June 24, 2005

Vitrea Circe

The name of Circe
Is wrongly branded
(Though Homer's verses
Portrayed her right)
By heavy-handed
And moral persons
Her danger bright.

She used not beauty
For man's beguiling,
She craved no suitor;
Sea-chances brought
To her forest-silent
And crimson-fruited
And snake-green island
Her guests unsought.

She watched those drunken
and tarry sailors
Eat nectar-junket
And Phoenix-nests;
Each moment paler
With pride, she shrunk at
Their leering, railing,
Salt-water jests.

They thought to pluck there
Her rosial splendour?
They thought their luck there
Was near divine?
When the meal ended
She rose and struck them
With wand extended
And made them swine.

With smiles and kisses
No man she tempted;
She scorned love's blisses
And toils, until
There came, undream't of,
The tough Ulysses,
From fate exempted
By Pallas' will.

Then flashed above her
(Poor kneeling Circe,
Her snares discovered)
The hero's blade.
She lay at mercy,
His slave, his lover,
forgot her curses,
Blushed like a maid.

She'd none to warn her.
He hacked and twisted
Her hedge so thorny;
It let him pass.
Her awful distance,
Her vestal scornings,
Were bright as crystals,
They broke like glass.

~C.S. Lewis, Poems (1st published June 23, 1948 in Punch)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Only Giants Will Do

Jack the Giant-Killer is not, in essence, simply the story of a clever hero surmounting danger. It is in essence the story of such a hero surmounting danger from giants. It is quite easy to contrive a story in which, though the enemies are of normal size, the odds against Jack are equally great. But it will be quite a different story. The whole quality of the imaginative response is determined by the fact that the enemies are giants. That heaviness, that monstrosity, that uncouthness, hangs over the whole thing. Turn it into music and you will feel the difference at once. If your villain is a giant your orchestra will proclaim his entrance in one way: if he is any other kind of villain, in another. I have seen landscapes (notably in the Mourne Mountains) which, under a particular light, made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge. Nature has that in her which compels us to invent giants: and only giants will do. (Notice that Gawain was in the north-west corner of England when 'etins aneleden him', giants came blowing after him on the high fells. Can it be an accident that Wordsworth was in the same places when he heard 'low breathings coming after him'?) The dangerousness of the giants is, though important, secondary. In some folk-tales we meet giants who are not dangerous. But they still affect us in much the same way. A good giant is legitimate: but he would be twenty tons of living, earth-shaking oxymoron. The intolerable pressure, the sense of something older, wilder, and more earthy than humanity, would still cleave to him.
~C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds, "On Stories" (1st pub. 1947)


On this day:

1948 C.S. Lewis's poem "Vitrea Circe" was published in Punch. The poem retells one of the incidents in Homer's Odyssey. (I promise to post this poem tomorrow...'Revie)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

When in Doubt

"Blessed are they that expect little for they shall not be disappointed." ...Probably the safe rule will be "when in doubt what to do or say, do or say nothing." I feel this very much with my stepsons. I so easily meddle and gas: when all the time what will really influence them, for good or ill, is not anything I do or say but what I am. And this unfortunately one can't know and can't much alter, though God can. Two rules from William Law must be always before our minds.
1. "There can be no surer proof of a confirmed pride than a belief that one is sufficiently humble."
2. "I earnestly beseech all who conceive they have suffered an affront to believe that it is very much less than they suppose."
~C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady (letter of Feb 24, 1961)


On this day:

1921 Lewis read portions of his Chancellor's Prize essay "Optimism" at the ceremony of Encaenia in the Oxford Sheldonian Theatre.

Bonus quotation:

The great event of MY term was of course "Optimism." I must thank you for your congratulations before going on.... "Prizemen," the Statutes say, "will read at the Encaenia portions of their exercises (I like that word) --their exercises chosen by the Professor of Poetry and the Public Orator." Sounds dam' fine, doesn't it? But the Statutes omit to mention the very cream of the whole situation -- namely that the prizemen will appear in full evening dress. Fancy me entering the Sheldonian at 11.30 a.m. on a fine June morning in a cap, gown, boiled shirt, pumps, white tie and tails. Of course it was a "broiling" day as the P'daytabird [nickname for Lewis's father] would say, and of course, for mere decency I had to wear an overcoat.

However, I managed to make myself audible, I am told, and beyond nearly falling as I entered the rostrum, I escaped with success.
Letter to his brother, Warren, July 1, 1921

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Three on Miracles

The miracles in fact are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Miracles" (1942)

I am in no way committed to the assertion that God has never worked miracles through and for Pagans or never permitted created supernatural beings to do so.
~C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Chapter 15 (1947)

You are probably quite right in thinking that you will never see a miracle done:...They come on great occasions: they are found at the great ganglions of history--not of political or social history, but of that spiritual history which cannot be fully known by men. If your own life does not happen to be near one of those ganglions, how should you expect to see one? If we were heroic missionaries, apostles, or martyrs, it would be a different matter. But why you or I? Unless you live near a railway, you will not see trains go past your windows. How likely is it that you or I will be present when a peace-treaty is signed, when a great scientific discovery is made, when a dictator commits suicide? That we should see a miracle is even less likely. Nor, if we understand, shall we be anxious to do so. "Nothing almost sees miracles but misery." Miracles and martyrdoms tend to bunch about the same areas of history--areas we have naturally no wish to frequent.
~C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Chapter 17 (1947)

On this day:

1930 C.S. Lewis moves to Headington.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Life Isn't All Fricasseed Frogs and Eel Pie

"Don't you lose heart, Pole," said Puddleglum. "I'm coming, sure and certain. I'm not going to lose an opportunity like this. It will do me good. They all say - I mean, the other wiggles all say-that I'm too flighty; don't take life seriously enough. If they've said it once, they've said it a thousand times. 'Puddleglum,' they've said, `you're altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You've got to learn that life isn't all fricasseed frogs and eel pie. You want something to sober you down a bit. We're only saying it for your own good, Puddleglum.' That's what they say. Now a job like this - a journey up north just as winter's beginning, looking for a Prince that probably isn't there, by way of a ruined city that no one has ever seen - will be just the thing. If that doesn't steady a chap, I don't know what will."
~C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, Chapter Five "Puddleglum" (1953)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Orual's Case Against the Gods

Now, you who read, judge between the gods and me. They gave me nothing in the world to love but Psyche and then took her from me. But that was not enough. They then brought me to her at such a place and time that it hung on my word whether she should continue in bliss or be cast out into misery. They would not tell me whether she was the bride of a god, or mad, or a brute's or villain's spoil. They would give no clear sign, though I begged for it. I had to guess. And because I guessed wrong they punished me--what's worse, punished me through her. And even that was not enough; they have now sent out a lying story in which I was given no riddle to guess, but knew and saw that she was the god's bride, and of my own will destroyed her, and that for jealousy. As if I were another Redival. I say the gods deal very unrightly with us. For they will neither (which would be best of all) go away and leave us to live our own short days to ourselves, nor will they show themselves openly and tell us what they would have us do. For that too would be endurable. But to hint and hover, to draw near us in dreams and oracles, or in a waking vision that vanishes as soon as seen, to be dead silent when we question them and then glide back and whisper (words we cannot understand) in our ears when we most wish to be free of them, and to show to one what they hide from another; what is all this but cat-and-mouse play, blindman's buff, and mere jugglery? Why must holy places be dark places?
~C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (1956)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Prep School

"Next week would be no good", said the boy. "I'm going back to school on Friday." "Bad luck", said I. "Oh, I don't know", said the boy. And stealing a look at this face I saw that this was not stoicism. He really didn't mind going back to school; possibly he even liked it.

Was it merely envy of a generation happier than my own which filled me with a vague distaste at this discovery? One must not dismiss the possiblity too lightly. The spirit that says"I went through it, why shouldn't they?" is a strong one and clever at disguises. But I believe I can, on this occasion, acquit myself. I was feeling, in a confused way, how much good the happy schoolboys of our own day miss in escaping the miseries their elders underwent. I do not want those miseries to return. That is just where the complexity of things comes in.

My first preparatory school was one of the last survivals of the kind depicted in Vice Versa, except for one detail. There were no informers. Whether the hirsute old humbug who owned it would have run the place by espionage if the boys had given him the chance, I do not know. The treacle-like sycophany of his letters to my father, which shocked me when they came into my hands years afterwards, does not make it improbable. But he was given no chance. We had no sneaks among us. The Head had, indeed, a grown-up son, a smooth-faced carpet-slipper sort of creature apt for the sport; a privileged demi-god who ate the same food as the father, although his sisters shared the food of the boys.
~C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns, "My First School" (1st published in Time and Tide 4 Sept 1943)

On this day:

1895 Warren Hamilton Lewis, C.S. Lewis's older brother, is born in Dundella Villa, on the outskirts of Belfast.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Questions, questions...

Dear Meredith,
  1. Why did I become a writer? Chiefly, I think, because my clumsiness or fingers prevented me from making things in any other way. See my Surprised by Joy, chapter I.

  2. What inspires my books? Really I don't know. Does anyone know where exactly an idea comes from? With me all fiction begins with pictures in my head. But where the pictures come from I couldn't say.

  3. Which of my books do I think most "representational"? Do you mean (a.) Most representative, most typical, most characteristic? or (b.) Most full of "representations" i.e. images. But whichever you mean, surely this is a question not for me but for my readers to decide. Or do you mean simply which do I like best? Now the answer would be Till We Have Faces and Perelandra.

  4. I have, as usual, dozens of "plans" for books, but I don't know which, if any, of these will come off. Very often a book of mine gets written when I'm tidying a drawer and come across notes for a plan rejected by me years ago and now suddenly realize I can do it after all. This, you see, makes predictions rather difficult!

  5. I enjoy writing fiction more than writing anything else. Wouldn't anyone?

Good luck with your "project."

yours sincerely,
C.S. Lewis

taken from Letters to Children (1985), letter of 6 December, 1960

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Reading as a Hobby

Here Lewis is talking about reading Chroniques by Jean Froissart, which is described in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II as "a lively, though sometimes inaccurate record of Europe in the fourteenth century with particular emphasis on the first half of the Hundred Years' War between France and England".

To enjoy a book like that thoroughly I find I have to treat it as a sort of hobby and set about it seriously. I begin by making a map on one of the end leafs: then I put in a genealogical tree or two. Then I put a running headline at the top of each page: finally I index at the end all the passages I have for any reason underlined. I often wonder--considering how people enjoy themselves developing photos or making scrap-books--why so few people make a hobby of their reading in this way. Many an otherwise dull book which I had to read have I enjoyed in this way, with a fine-nibbed pen in my hand: one is making something all the time and a book so read acquires the charm of a toy without losing that of a book.[...]

I think re-reading old favourites is one of the things we differ on, isn't it, and you do it very rarely. I probably do it too much. It is one of my greatest pleasures: indeed I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.
~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter to Arthur Greeves Feb 1932


On this day:

1923 Lewis took his English School exams, and was sweating the results.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Discipline and Routine

A selection today from C.S. Lewis At The Breakfast Table:

I think that discipline, one of the keynotes of Lewis's life, goes far to explain how he accomplished so much. His normal existence followed an extremely orderly pattern: early rising, chapel, Communion at least once a week, early breakfast, and then attendance to his huge correspondence that came from all over the world. In Cambridge he had no secretary and answered most of his letters in his own hand. If time allowed he would also write his lectures or books, or else read till lunchtime. Then the afternoon walk and tea, and then more work both before and after dinner. That was, I suppose, his ideal program but, like most great men, he never seemed to be in a hurry and always had time to see people who wanted to consult him. There were many of these, and often strangers, but they were hardly ever turned away.

He rarely referred to these visits and indeed rarely referred to his own affairs or to ours. He seemed, in a sense, to lead a curiously detached life, even when undergoing mental or physical agony. When he learned that his wife was suffering from her deadly illness, he did not mention it at first. I heard of it myself in a rather untypical way. He was looking unusually strained one evening after dinner, and I ventured to ask if he were tired. He replied very suddenly: "I am in great mental agony. Please pray for us." and then was silent. It was some time later that he told me why he asked for my prayers.
~Richard W. Ladborough, C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table, "In Cambridge", (1979)

Friday, June 10, 2005

They Stand Together

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one." We can imagine that among those early hunters and warriors single individuals—one in a century? One in a thousand years?—saw what others did not; saw that the deer was beautiful as well as edible, that hunting was fun as well as necessary, dreamed that his gods might be not only powerful but holy. But as long as each of these percipient persons dies without finding a kindred soul, nothing will come of it; art or sport or spiritual religion will not be born. It is when two such persons discover one another when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision—it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.
~C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, "Friendship" (1960)


Many chapters ago I mentioned a boy who lived near us and who had tried, quite unsuccessfully, to make friends with my brother and myself. His name was Arthur and he was my brother's exact contemporary; he and I had been at Campbell together though we never met. I think it was shortly before the beginning of my last term at Wyvern that I received a message saying that Arthur was in bed, convalescent, and would welcome a visit. I can't remember what led me to accept this invitation, but for some reason I did.

I found Arthur sitting up in bed. On the table beside him lay a copy of Myths of the Norsemen.

"Do you like that?" said I.

"Do you like that?" said he.

Next moment the book was in our hands, our heads were bent close together, we were pointing, quoting, talking--soon almost shouting--discovering in a torrent of questions that we liked not only the same thing, but the same parts of it and in the same way. That both knew the stab of Joy and that, for both, the arrow was shot from the North...Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man's life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.
~C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, "Release", (1955)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I Shall Sink With My Nose to the Sunrise

"Your Majesties and gentlemen and ladies all," said Rynelf, "there's just one thing I want to say. There's not one of us chaps as was pressed on this journey. We're volunteers. And there's some here that are looking very hard at that table and thinking about king's feasts who were talking very loud about adventures on the day we sailed from Cair Paravel, and swearing they wouldn't come home till we'd found the end of the world. And there were some standing on the quay who would have given all they had to come with us. It was thought a finer thing then to have a cabin-boy's berth on the Dawn Treader than to wear a knight's belt. I don't know if you get the hang of what I'm saying. But what I mean is that I think chaps who set out like us will look as silly as - as those Dufflepuds - if we come home and say we got to the beginning of the world's end and hadn't the heart to go further."

Some of the sailors cheered at this but some said that that was all very well.

"This isn't going to be much fun," whispered Edmund to Caspian. "What are we to do if half those fellows hang back?"

"Wait," Caspian whispered back. "I've still a card to play."

"Aren't you going to say anything, Reep?" whispered Lucy.

"No. Why should your Majesty expect it?" answered Reepicheep in a voice that most people heard. "My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia."

"Hear, hear," said a sailor, "I'll say the same, barring the bit about the coracle, which wouldn't bear me." He added in a lower voice, "I'm not going to be outdone by a mouse."
~C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)


On this day:

1908 Charles Williams' first day on the job at Oxford University Press at Amen House. He would work there for 37 years.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

No Ordinary People

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn: We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner--no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat--the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
~C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, (1949)


On this day:

1941 Lewis preaches "The Weight of Glory " in Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

1944 A meeting of the Inklings, including C.S. Lewis, Warren Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and E.R. Eddison was held in the evening in Lewis's rooms at Magdalen.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Pen is Mightier Than...the Pencil?

C.S. Lewis seldom read the newspaper, and he recommended to his assistant Walter Hooper that "if he *must* read the newspaper, he have a frequent "mouthwash" withThe Lord of the Rings or some other great book". But there were issues current to his generation that he felt important enough to write essays about them for publication. Here is the beginning of his one of his pieces against censorship:

There have been very few societies, though there have been some, in which it was considered shameful to make a drawing of the naked human body: a detailed, unexpurgated drawing which omits nothing that the eye can see. On the other hand, there have been very few societies in which it would have been permissible to give an equally detailed description of the same subject in words. What is the cause of this seemingly arbitrary discrimination? [...] fortunately there is a very easy way of finding out why the distinction exists. Sit down and draw your nude. When you have finished it, take your pen and attempt the written description. Before you have finished you will be faced with a problem which simply did not exist while you were working at the picture. When you come to those parts of the body which are not usually mentioned, you will have to make a choice of vocabulary. And you will find that you have only four alternatives: a nursery word, an archaism, a word from the gutter, or a scientific word. You will not find any ordinary, neutral word, comparable to "hand" or "nose". And this is going to be very troublesome. Whichever of the four words you choose is going to give a particular tone to your composition: willy-nilly you must produce baby-talk, or Wardour Street, or coarseness, or technical jargon. And each of these will force you to imply a particular attitude (which is not what you intended to imply) towards your material. The words will force you to write as if you thought it either childish, or quaint, or contemptible, or of purely scientific interest. In fact mere description is impossible. Language forces you to an implicit comment. In the drawing you did not need to comment: you left the lines to speak for themselves. I am talking, of course about mere draughtsmanship at its simplest level. A completed work by a real artist will certainly contain a comment about something. The point is that, when we use words instead of lines, there is really nothing that corresponds to mere draughtsmanship. The pen always does both less and more than the pencil.

~C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns, "Prudery and Philology" (1st pub. in The Spectator, January 21, 1955)

Monday, June 06, 2005

Ballade Mystique

The big, red-house is bare and lone
The stony garden waste and sere
With blight of breezes ocean blown
To pinch the wakening of the year;
My kindly friends with busy cheer
My wretchedness could plainly show.
They tell me I am lonely here-
What do they know? What do they know?

They think that while the gables moan
And easements creak in winter drear
I should be piteously alone
Without the speech of comrades dear;
And friendly for my sake they fear,
It grieves them thinking of me so
While all their happy life is near-
What do they know? What do they know?

That I have seen the Dagda's* throne
In sunny lands without a tear
And found a forest all my own
To ward with magic shield and spear,
Where, through the stately towers I rear
For my desire, around me go
Immortal shapes of beauty clear:
They do not know, they do not know.
~Clive Hamilton (C.S. Lewis), Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics, 1919

*Dagda: An Irish-Celtic god

More about "Spirits in Bondage":
Published under the pseudonym, Clive Hamilton, Spirits in Bondage
was C. S. Lewis' first book.

Most of the poems appear to have been written between 1915 and
1918, a period during which Lewis was a student under W. T.
Kirkpatrick, a military trainee at Oxford, and a soldier serving
in the trenches of World War I. Their outlook varies from Romantic
expressions of love for the beauty and simplicity of nature to
cynical statements about the presence of evil in this world. In
a September 12, 1918 letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis
said that his book was, "mainly strung around the idea that I
mentioned to you before--that nature is wholly diabolical &
malevolent and that God, if he exists, is outside of and in
opposition to the cosmic arrangements."
~Project Gutenberg

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Red Beef and Strong Beer

If ever a man came near to being a purely logical entity, that man was Kirk*. Born a little later, he would have been a Logical Positivist. The idea that human beings should exercise their vocal organs for any purpose except that of communicating or discovering truth was to him preposterous. The most casual remark was taken as a summons to disputation. I soon came to know the differing values of his three openings. The loud cry of "Stop!" was flung in to arrest a torrent of verbiage which could not be endured a moment longer; not because it fretted his patience (he never thought of that) but because it was wasting time, darkening counsel. The hastier and quieter "Excuse!" (i.e., "excuse me") ushered in a correction or distinction merely parenthetical and betokened that, thus set right, you remark might still, without absurdity, be allowed to reach completion. The most encouraging of all was, "I hear you." This meant that your remark was significant and only required refutation; it had risen to the dignity of error. Refutation (when we got so far) always followed the same lines. Had I read this? Had I studied that? Had I any statistical evidence? Had I any evidence in my own experience? And so to the almost inevitable conclusion, "Do you not see then that you had no right, etc."

Some boys would not have liked it; to me it was red beef and strong beer.
~C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, "The Great Knock" (1955)

*William Kirkpatrick, Lewis's tutor

On this day:

1954 Lewis accepts the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University.

1916 J. R. R. Tolkien received embarkation orders for London and France.

Bonus quotation of the day:

In a letter to Lewis's father, William Kirkpatrick wrote:
"Clive is altogether an exceptional boy. The maturity of his literary judgements is remarkable, he follows his own instinct and is not to be imposed upon by the mere weight of authority. In literary power he is outside the range of ordinary schoolboys altogether, and it would be unfair to herd him with 'Narrow foreheads vacant of his glorious gains'. "
~from the Memoirs of the Lewis Family (1850 - 1930)

Friday, June 03, 2005

Malacandrian Languages

'I cannot understand,' he said, 'how you and the sorns and the hrossa all come to speak the same speech. For your tongues and teeth and throats must be very different.'

'You are right,' said the creature. 'Once we all had different speeches and we still have at home. but everyone has learned the speech of the hrossa.'

'Why is that?' said Ransom, still thinking in terms of terrestrial history. 'Did the hrossa once rule the others?'

'I do not understand. They are our great speakers and singers. They have more words and better. No one learns the speech of my people, for what we have to say is said in stone and suns' blood and stars' milk and all can see them. No one learns the sorns' speech, for you can change their knowledge into any words and it is still the same. You cannot do that with the songs of the hrossa. Their tongues goes all over Malacandra. I speak it to you because you are a stranger. I would speak it to a sorn. But we have our old tongues at home. You can see it in the names. The sorns have big-sounding names like Augray and Arkal and Belmo and Falmay. The hrossa have furry names like Hnoh and Hnihi and Hyoi and Hlithnahi.'

'The best poetry, then, comes in the roughest speech?'

'Perhaps,' said the pfifltrigg. 'As the best pictures are made in the hardest stone. '
~C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, Chapter 17, (1938)


Interesting link of the day: World Soundscape Project Literature File (Sound References in Literature)

Thursday, June 02, 2005


It may well be that the future historian, asked to point to the most characteristic expression of the English temper in the period between the two wars, will reply without hesitation, "Colonel Blimp".* No popular cartoonist can work in a vacuum. A nation must be in a certain state of mind before it can accept the kind of satire which Mr. Low was then offering. And we all remember what that state of mind was. We remember also what it led to; it led to Munich, and via Munich to Dunkirk. We must not blame Mr. Low (or Mr. Chamberlain or even Lord Baldwin) much more than we blame ourselves. All of us, with a very few exceptions, shared the guilt, and all, in some measure, have paid for it.

For this state of mind many causes might be given; but I want at present to draw attention to one particular cause which might be overlooked. The infection of a whole people with Blimpophobia would have been impossible but for one fact--the fact that seven out of every ten men who served in the last war, emerged from it hating the regular army much more than they hated the Germans. How mild and intermittent was our dislike of "Jerry" compared with our settled detestation of the Brass Hat, the Adjutant, the Sergeant-Major, the regular Sister, and the hospital Matron! Now that I know more (both about hatred and about the army) I look back with horror upon my own state of mind at the moment when I was demobilized. I am afraid I regarded a Brass Hat and a Military Policeman as creatures quite outside the human family.
~C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns, "Blimpophobia" (1st pub. in Time and Tide, Sept. 9, 1944)

*David Low won great acclaim for his cartoons which appeared in the Evening Standard for whom he worked from 1926 to 1949. His most famous creation was "Colonel Blimp" who was portrayed as a bald, rotund, elderly gentleman delivering himself of self-contradictory aphorisms. He has come to mean a muddle-headed type of complacent reactionary.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Two on Jesus's Teaching

Yet it is, perhaps, idle to speak here of spirit and letter. There is almost no "letter" in the words of Jesus. Taken by a literalist, He will always prove the most elusive of teachers. Systems cannot keep up with that darting illumination. No net less wide than a man's whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish.
~C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, (1958)

The hard sayings of our Lord are wholesome to those only who find them hard.
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Dangers of National Repentance" (1940)


On this day:

1933 Warren Lewis receives the first volume of the Lewis family papers (1850 - 1930) back from the bindery. He had sorted and typed it all with the encouragement of his brother Jack.