Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Questioning God

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask--half our great theological and metaphysical problems--are like that. [...] We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand least.
~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (1961)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

That Vitamin Theory

God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form. And now, what was the purpose of it all? What did He come to do? Well, to teach, of course; but as soon as you look into the New Testament or any other Christian writing you will find they are constantly talking about something different--about His death and His coming to life again. It is obvious that Christians think the chief point of the story lies here. They think the main thing He came to earth to do was to suffer and be killed.

Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off.[...] What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I will tell you what I think it is like. All sensible people know that if you are tired and hungry a meal will do you good. But the modern theory of nourishment--about the vitamins and proteins--is a different thing. People ate their dinners and felt better long before the theory of vitamins was ever heard of: and if the theory of vitamins is some day abandoned they will go on eating their dinners just the same. Theories about Christ's death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works.
~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952

Monday, August 29, 2005

Thanks For Your Generosity

My dear Dr. Firor,

Your continued goodness to me becomes positively embarrassing and I don't know how to thank you; another huge food parcel containing all sorts of good things has just arrived in exellent condition and how very welcome it is, you can imagine yourself.
~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter of 22nd Jan 1948

My dear Dr. Firor,

What on earth am I to say to you? On Thursday I wrote to you in acknowledgement of an excellent parcel, and today I find myself faced with the task of thanking you for another one, and that a ham no less! No one ever sees a ham these days over here...I shall probably be known in Oxford for months as 'the man who got the ham from America'!
~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter of 24th Jan 1948

My dear Mr. Allen,

I am quite at a loss for words in which to acknowledge your continued kindness to me. Your excellent parcel of 22nd November 1947 has just come in, with all its contents in good condition: and very valuable to us they all will be, in view of the rainy day which is rapidly approaching. Cheerful optimists tell me that if the Marshall Plan doesn't go through, our meat ration will be three pence per week.
~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter of 27th Jan 1948

My dear Mr. Allen,

(...)Nothing has in my time made such a profound impression in this country as the amazing outburst of individual American generosity which has followed on the disclosure of our economic situation. (I say nothing of government action, because naturally this strikes the 'man in the street' much less obviously). The length of time which a parcel takes to cross the Atlantic is a significant indication of the volume of food which must be pouring into England.
~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter of 19th Jan 1948


To my American readers, we anticipate a need for donations to the American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A Very Country Dance

Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name. She thought at first it was her father's voice, but that did not seem quite right. Then she thought it was Peter's voice, but that did not seem to fit either. She did not want to get up; not because she was still tired - on the contrary she was wonderfully rested and all the aches had gone from her bones - but because she felt so extremely happy and comfortable. She was looking straight up at the Narnian moon, which is larger than ours, and at the starry sky, for the place where they had bivouacked was comparatively open.

"Lucy," came the call again, neither her father's voice nor Peter's. She sat up, trembling with excitement but not with fear. The moon was so bright that the whole forest landscape around her was almost as clear as day, though it looked wilder. Behind her was the fir wood; away to her right the jagged cliff-tops on the far side of the gorge; straight ahead, open grass to where a glade of trees began about a bow-shot away. Lucy looked very hard at the trees of that glade.

"Why, I do believe they're moving," she said to herself. "They're walking about." She got up, her heart beating wildly, and walked towards them. There was certainly a noise in the glade, a noise such as trees make in a high wind, though there was no wind tonight. Yet it was not exactly an ordinary tree noise either. Lucy felt there was a tune in it, but she could not catch the tune any more than she had been able to catch the words when the trees had so nearly talked to her the night before. But there was, at least, a lilt; she felt her own feet wanting to dance as she got nearer. And now there was no doubt that the trees were really moving moving in and out through one another as if in a complicated country dance. ("And I suppose," thought Lucy, "when trees dance, it must be a very, very country dance indeed.') She was almost among them now.

The first tree she looked at seemed at first glance to be not a tree at all but a huge man with a shaggy beard and great bushes of hair. She was not frightened: she had seen such things before. But when she looked again he was only a tree, though he was still moving. You couldn't see whether he had feet or roots, of course, because when trees move they don't walk on the surface of the earth; they wade in it as we do in water. The same thing happened with every tree she looked at. At one moment they seemed to be the friendly, lovely giant and giantess forms which the tree-people put on when some good magic has called them into full life: next moment they all looked like trees again. But when they looked like trees, it was like strangely human trees, and when they looked like people, it was like strangely branchy and leafy people - and all the time that queer lilting, rustling, cool, merry noise.

"They are almost awake, not quite," said Lucy. She knew she herself was wide awake, wider than anyone usually is.
~C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian (1951)


On this day:

1939 C.S. Lewis, Hugo Dyson, and R.E. Havard left for a trip up the Thames on Warren Lewis's cabin cruiser, the Bosphorus.
(from Around the Year With C.S. Lewis and His Friends)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Into the Valley of Dreams

Yesterday's post was about waking, this quotation is about falling asleep. Dymer is in the house of the Magician, who is trying to persuade him to drink the potion, sleep and dream, and thereby re-enter Faerie:

The Magician speaks, and as he talks, Dymer falls under his spell:


'I am very old,' he said. 'But if the time
We suffer in our dreams were counted age,
I have outlived the ocean and my prime
Is with me to this day. Years cannot gauge
The dream-life. In the turning of a page,
Dozing above my book, I have lived through
More ages than the lost Lemuria knew.


'I am not mortal. Were I doomed to die
This hour, in this half-hour I interpose
A thousand years of dream: and, those gone by,
As many more, and in the last of those,
Ten thousand--ever journeying towards a close
That I shall never reach: for time shall flow,
Wheel within wheel, interminably slow.


'And you will drink my cup and go your way
Into the valley of dreams. You have heard the call.
Come hither and escape. Why should you stay?
Earth is a sinking ship, a house whose wall
Is tottering while you sweep; the roof will fall
Before the work is done. You cannot mend it.
Patch as you will, at last the rot must end it.


Then Dymer lifted up his heavy head
Like Atlas on broad shoulders bearing up
The insufferable globe. 'I had not said,'
He mumbled, 'never said I'd taste the cup.
What, is it this you give me? Must I sup?
Oh, lies, all lies...Why did you kill the lark?
Guide me the cup to is so dark.'
C.S. Lewis, Narrative Poems, "Dymer", stanzas 33 - 36 (1969)


Link of the day:

The Lost Lemuria by W. Scott-Elliot [1904]
A short essay on the lost continent which preceeded Atlantis in Theosophic beliefs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Bubble-Trees

Over his head there hung from a hairy tube-like branch a great spherical object, almost transparent, and shining. It held an area of reflected light in it and at one place a suggestion of rainbow coloring. So this was the explanation of the glass-like appearance in the wood. And looking round he perceived innumerable shimmering globes of the same kind in every direction. He began to examine the nearest one attentively. At first he thought it was moving, then he thought it was not. Moved by a natural impulse he put out his hand to touch it. Immediately his head, face, and shoulders were drenched with what seemed (in that warm world) an ice-cold shower bath, and his nostrils filled with a sharp, shrill, exquisite scent that somehow brought to his mind the verse in Pope, "die of a rose in aromatic pain." Such was the refreshment that he seemed to himself to have been, till now, but half awake. When he opened his eyes--which had closed involuntarily at the shock of moisture--all the colours about him seemed richer and the dimness of that world seemed clarified. A re-enchantment fell upon him. The golden beast at his side seemed no longer either a danger or a nuisance. If a naked man and a wise dragon were indeed the sole inhabitants of this floating paradise, then this also was fitting, for at that moment he had a sensation not of following an adventure but of enacting a myth. To be the figure that he was in this unearthly pattern appeared sufficient.
~C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, Chapter 4 (1944)


Fun links of the day:

Download a bubble tree screensaver

Put bubbles on your webpage.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Two on Time

It is probable that Nature is not really in Time and almost certain that God is not. Time is probably (like perspective) the mode of our perception. There is therefore in reality no question of God's at one point in time (the moment of creation) adapting the material history of this universe in advance to free acts which you or I are to perform at a later point in Time. To Him all the physical events and all the human acts are present in an eternal Now. The liberation of finite wills and the creation of the whole material history of the universe (related to the act of those wills in all the necessary complexity) is to Him a single operation. In this sense God did not create the universe long ago but creates it at this minute--at every minute.
~C.S. Lewis,
Miracles, Appendix B, (1947)


'Ye can know nothing of the end of all things, or nothing expressible in those terms. It may be, as the Lord said to the Lady Julian, that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. But it's ill talking of such questions.'

'Because they are too terrible, Sir?'

'No. Because all answers deceive. If ye put the question from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain. The choice of ways is before you. Neither is closed. Any man may choose eternal death. Those who choose it will have it. But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see--small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope--something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. Neither the temporal succession nor the phantom of what ye might have chosen and didn't is itself Freedom. They are a lens. The picture is a symbol: but it's truer than any philosophical theorem (or, perhaps, than any mystic's vision) that claims to go behind it. For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom.'
~C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, (1946)


On this day:

1863 Albert James Lewis, father of C.S. Lewis, is born in Cork, County Cork, Ireland.

1908 Flora Hamilton Lewis, died of cancer. Jack Lewis was nine, Warren Lewis was thirteen.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Your Place

Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw--but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported. Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of--something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat's side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it--tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest--if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself--you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say 'Here at last is the thing I was made for.' We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all. ... Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it--made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.
~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (1938)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Night Falls on Narnia

They all stood beside Aslan, on his right side, and looked through the open doorway.

The bonfire had gone out. On the earth all was blackness: in fact you could not have told that you were looking into a wood if you had not seen where the dark shapes of the trees ended and the stars began. But when Aslan had roared yet again, out on their left they saw another black shape. That is, they saw another patch where there were no stars: and the patch rose up higher and higher and became the shape of a man, the hugest of all giants. They all knew Narnia well enough to work out where he must be standing. He must be on the high moorlands that stretch away to the North beyond the River Shribble. Then Jill and Eustace remembered how once long ago, in the deep caves beneath those moors, they had seen a great giant asleep and been told that his name was Father Time, and that he would wake on the day the world ended.

"Yes," said Aslan, though they had not spoken. "While he lay dreaming his name was Time. Now that he is awake he will have a new one."

Then the great giant raised a horn to his mouth. They could see this by the change of the black shape he made against the stars. After that - quite a bit later, because sound travels so slowly - they heard the sound of the horn: high and terrible, yet of a strange, deadly beauty.

Immediately the sky became full of shooting stars. Even one shooting star is a fine thing to see; but these were dozens, and then scores, and then hundreds, till it was like silver rain: and it went on and on. And when it had gone on for some while, one or two of them began to think that there was another dark shape against the sky as well as the giant's. It was in a different place, right overhead, up in the very roof of the sky as you might call it. "Perhaps it is a cloud," thought Edmund. At any rate, there were no stars there: just blackness. But all around, the downpour of stars went on. And then the starless patch began to grow, spreading further and further out from the centre of the sky. And presently a quarter of the whole sky was black, and then a half, and at last the rain of shooting stars was going on only low down near the horizon.

With a thrill of wonder (and there was some terror in it too) they all suddenly realized what was happening. The spreading blackness was not a cloud at all: it was simply emptiness. The black part of the sky was the part in which there were no stars left. All the stars were falling: Aslan had called them home.

The last few seconds before the rain of stars had quite ended were very exciting. Stars began falling all round them. But stars in that world are not the great flaming globes they are in ours. They are people (Edmund and Lucy had once met one). So now they found showers of glittering people, all with long hair like burning silver and spears like white-hot metal, rushing down to them out of the black air, swifter than falling stones. They made a hissing noise as they landed and burnt the grass.
~C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, "Night Falls on Narnia" (1956)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Real Joy

After years of studying, living frugally, and anxious waiting, Lewis was awarded a Fellowship in English at Magdalen College in 1925. The position paid £500 a year with 'provisions made for rooms, a pension, and dining allowance.' No longer would Lewis and the Moores have to worry about living hand-to-mouth. A three-week holiday was planned to Cloud Farm at Oare on Exmoor. Almost immediately upon arrival, Mrs. Moore had a flare up of her rheumatism, and Lewis was obliged to walk ten miles round trip several times to fetch the doctor for her. Yet, he still managed to write daily in his journal, and recorded some wonderful times walking amongst the beautiful scenery of the Doone Valley:

Monday, 17 August 1925: I went through a wicket on to the moor and proceeded down hill. In front of me I saw a deep winding valley stretching as far as I could see to left and right and deeply wooded: at right angles to it on the far side, another and narrower combe (which I rightly took for Badgworthy) piercing well into the moor. After a few more steps I could see a broad flat brown river in the bottom before me. On my way down I had a glimpse of a fat fast snake in the bracken. I reached the river and forded it: shoes and socks in my left hand, a stick and Pat's* lead in the right.

Here, at the bottom, I was as if between walls: purple walls of heather behind me and green ones ahead: both unexpectedly steep when seen from that angle. I shall remember while I live the feel of that cold yet not biting water and the deliciously cool stones. It made amends for all the troubles of packing and journey.

Thursday, 3 September: Another wet day. I had only a short walk after tea when I explored Southern Wood for the first time; the evening sunlight, bright but very cold, was breaking out by now after a day of cloud. I left the ordinary path as soon as I had reached the top of the hill above Malmsmead.

In a moment I was out of sight of everything in a wood of nothing but oak, very low and tangled like a grove of sea weed. There was not a blade of grass to be seen, but the undisturbed moss grew deep on the ground and over the highest branches. The sunlight came slantwise through the trees and the wind roared. Then there were clearings where the path seemed to run straight up into the sky, and others from which I caught glimpses of the surrounding hills, new and hard to recognise from this position. In spite of all my glorious walks round here, it was in this little saunter only (so far) that I got the real joy...
~C.S. Lewis, All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis 1922 - 1927, edited by Walter Hooper (1991)

*Pat was Lewis's dog

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

We Are Not Kings

Lewis carried on a long correspondence with Don Giovanni Calabria, who was later canonized and beatified by Pope John Paul II. They wrote to each other in Latin, so this is a translation:

March 27, 1948

Dearest Father,

I was glad to receive your letter--so full (as is your wont) of Charity.

Everywhere things are troubling and uneasy--wars and rumours of war: perhaps not the final hour but certainly times most evil.

Nevertheless, the Apostle again and again bids us 'Rejoice'.*

Nature herself bids us do so, the very face of the earth being now renewed, after its own manner, at the start of Spring.

I believe that the men of this age (and among them you Father, and myself) think too much about the state of nations and the situation of the world. Does not the author of The Imitation warn us against involving ourselves too much with such things?**

We are not kings, we are not senators. Let us beware lest, while we torture ourselves in vain about the state of Europe, we neglect either Verona or Oxford.

In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet.

I have always believed that Voltaire, infidel though he was, thought aright in that admonition of his to cultivate your own garden: likewise William Dunbar (the Scottish poet who flourished in the 15th century) when he said

Man, please thy Maker and be merry;
This whole world rate we at a penny!

Tomorrow we shall celebrate the glorious Resurrection of Christ. I shall be remembering you in the Holy Communion. Away with tears and fears and troubles! United in wedlock with the eternal Godhead Itself, our nature ascends into the Heaven of Heavens. So it would be impious to call ourselves 'miserable'. On the contrary, Man is a creature whom the Angels--were they capable of envy--would envy. Let us lift up our hearts! 'At some future time perhaps even these things it will be a joy to recall.'

For the Litany composed by Cardinal Merry many thanks. You did not know, did you, that all the temptations against which he pours forth these prayers I have long been exceedingly conscious of? 'Longing to be thought well of...fear of being rejected'...Touché, you pink me!

Let us pray for each other always. Farewell.
~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter of March 27, 1948

*Phillippians 4:4: 'Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.'

** Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ: 'Do not busy yourself with the affairs of others, nor concern yourself with the policies of your superiors.'

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Growing Fond of You

One of the most remarkable by-products of Affection has not yet been mentioned. I have said that it is not primarily an Appreciative love. It is not discriminating. It can "rub along" with the most unpromising people. Yet oddly enough this very fact means that it can in the end make appreciations possible which, but for it, might never have existed. We may say, and not quite untruly, that we have chosen our friends and the woman we love for their various excellences--for beauty, frankness, goodness of heart, with intelligence, or what not. But it had to be the particular kind of wit, the particular kind of beauty, the particular kind of goodness that we like, and we have our personal tastes in these matters. That is why friends and lovers feel that they were "made for one another." The especial glory of Affection is that it can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other. If affection grows out of this--of course it often does not--their eyes begin to open. Growing fond of "old so-and-so," at first simply because he happens to be there, I presently begin to see that there is "something in him" after all. The moment when one first says, really meaning it, that though he is not "my sort of man" he is a very good man "in his own way" is one of liberation. It does not feel like that; we may feel only tolerant and indulgent. But really we have crossed a frontier. That "in his own way" means that we are getting beyond our own idiosynchrasies, that we are learning to appreciate goodness or intelligence in themselves, not merely goodness or intelligence flavoured and served to suit our own palate.
~C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, "Affection" (1960)


On this day:

1945 That Hideous Strength was published by the Bodley Head, London.
(from A Year with C.S. Lewis)

Monday, August 15, 2005


Lewis, when grieving the death of his wife, Joy:

There's a limit to the 'one flesh.' You can't really share someone else's weakness, or fear or pain. what you feel may be bad. It might conceivably be as bad as what the other felt, though I should distrust anyone who claimed that it was. But it would still be quite different. [...] The mind can sympathize; the body, less. In one way the bodies of lovers can do it least. All their love passages have trained them to have, not identical, but complementary, correlative, even opposite, feelings about one another.

We both knew this. I had my miseries, not hers; she had hers, not mine. The end of hers would be the coming-of-age of mine. We were setting out on different roads. This cold truth, this terrible traffic-regulation ('You Madam, to the right--you, sir, to the left') is just the beginning of the separation which is death itself.

And this separation, I suppose, waits for all. I have been thinking of H. and myself as peculiarly unfortunate in being torn apart. But presumably all lovers are. She once said to me, 'Even if we both died at exactly the same moment, as we lie here side by side, it would be just as much a separation as the one you're so afraid of.' Of course she didn't know, any more than I do. But she was near death; near enough to make a good shot. She used to quote 'Alone into the Alone.' She said it felt like that. And how immensely improbable that it should be otherwise! Time and space and body were the very things that brought us together; the telephone wires by which we communicated. Cut one off, or cut both off simultaneously. Either way, mustn't the conversation stop?
~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (1961)

On this day:

1932 Lewis begins to write The Pilgrim's Regress.
(from A Year with C.S. Lewis)

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Late Passenger

The sky was low, the sounding rain was falling dense and dark,
And Noah's sons were standing at the window of the Ark.

The beasts were in, but Japhet said, 'I see one creature more
Belated and unmated there come knocking at the door.'

'Well let him knock,' said Ham, 'Or let him drown or learn to swim.
We're overcrowded as it is; we've got no room for him.'

'And yet it knocks, how terribly it knocks,' said Shem, 'Its feet
Are hard as horn--but oh the air that comes from it is sweet.'

'Now hush,' said Ham, 'You'll waken Dad, and once he comes to see
What's at the door, it's sure to mean more work for you and me.'

Noah's voice came roaring from the darkness down below,
'Some animal is knocking. Take it in before we go.'

Ham shouted back, and savagely he nudged the other two,
'That's only Japhet knocking down a brad-nail in his shoe.'

Said Noah, 'Boys, I hear a noise that's like a horse's hoof.'
Said Ham, 'Why, that's the dreadful rain that drums upon the roof.'

Noah tumbled up on deck and out he put his head;
His face went grey, his knees were loosed, he tore his beard and said,

'Look, look! It would not wait. It turns away. It takes its flight.
Fine work you've made of it, my sons, between you all to-night!

'Even if I could outrun it now, it would not turn again
--Not now. Our great discourtesy has earned its high disdain.

'Oh noble and unmated beast, my sons were all unkind;
In such a night what stable and what manger will you find?

'Oh golden hoofs, oh cataracts of mane, oh nostrils wide
With indignation! Oh the neck wave-arched, the lovely pride!

'Oh long shall be the furrows ploughed across the hearts of men
Before it comes to stable and to manger once again,

'And dark and crooked all the ways in which our race shall walk,
And shrivelled all their manhood like a flower with broken stalk,

'And all the world, oh Ham, may curse the hour when you were born;
Because of you the Ark must sail without the Unicorn.'
~C.S. Lewis, Poems, "The Late Passenger" (1948)


Fun unicorn links of the day:

Another theory about why the unicorn didn't make it onto the Ark

Sleep under a unicorn

The best unicorn book ever

A cute baby unicorn

The Unicorn Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Church Music

There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace: not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense. But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste--there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.

These highly general reflections will not, I fear, be of much practical use to any priest or organist in devising a working compromise for a particular church. The most they can hope to do is to suggest that the problem is never a merely musical one. Where both the choir and the congregation are spiritually on the right road no insurmountable difficulties will occur. Discrepancies of taste and capacity will, indeed, provide matter for mutual charity and humility.
~C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, "On Church Music" (1949)

When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn't go to the churches and Gospel Halls; [...] I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Answers to Questions on Christianity", (1944)


On this day:

1948 C.S. Lewis's poem "The Late Passenger" was published in Punch. It told the story of the unicorn being left off Noah's ark.
(from Around the Year with C.S. Lewis and His Friends, Kathryn Lindeskoog)

(note to readers: I will post this poem tomorrow. ~Arevanye)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Going Itself is the Path

"What you have made me see," answered the Lady, "is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before. Yet it has happened every day. One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one's mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before--that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished--if it were possible to wish--you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other."[...]

"I thought," she said, "that I was carried in the will of Him I love, but now I see that I walk with it. I thought that the good things He sent me drew me into them as the waves lift the islands; but now I see that it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms, as when we go swimming. I feel as if I were living in that roofless world of yours where men walk undefended beneath naked heaven. It is a delight with terror in it! One's own self to be walking from one good to another, walking beside Him as Himself may walk, not even holding hands. How has he made me so separate from Himself? How did it enter His mind to conceive such a thing? The world is so much larger than I thought. I thought we went along paths--but it seems there are no paths. The going itself is the path."

"And have you no fear," said Ransom, "that it will ever be hard to turn your heart from the thing you wanted to the thing Maleldil sends?"

"I see," said the Lady presently. "The wave you plunge into may be very swift and great. You may need all your force to swim into it. You mean, He might send me a good like that?"

"Yes--or like a wave so swift and great that all your force was too little."

"It often happens that way in swimming," said the Lady. "Is not that part of the delight?"
~C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, (1943)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


C.S. Lewis often received letters from the young readers of The Chronicles of Narnia, and he was very good about answering them. He replied to a girl who had written to him objecting to Lewis's use of the word "kids":

Dear Phyllida,

Although your letter was written a month ago I only got it to-day, for I have been away in Donegal (which is glorious). Thanks very much: it is so interesting to hear exactly what people do like and don't like, which is just what grown-up readers never really tell.

Now about kids. I also hate the word. But if you mean the place in Prince Caspian chap. 8, the point is that Edmund hated it too. He was using the rottenest word just because it was the rottenest word, running himself down as much as possible, because he was making a fool of the Dwarf--as you might say "of course I can only strum" when you really knew you could play the piano quite as well as the other person. But if I have used kids anywhere else (I hope I haven't) then I'm sorry: you are quite right in objecting to it. And you are also right about the party turned to stone in the woods. I thought people would take it for granted that Aslan would put it all right. But I see now I should have said so.

By the way, do you think the Dark Island is too frightening for small children? Did it give your brother the horrors? I was nervous about that, but I left it in because I thought one can never be sure what will or will not frighten people.

There are to be 7 Narnian stories altogether. I am sorry they are so dear [expensive]: it is the publisher, not me, who fixes the price. Here is the new one [The Silver Chair].
~C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, Letter of Sept 14, 1953

He then writes her again, five days later:

Dear Phyllida,

I feel as one does when after "showing up" one's work one realises one has made the very same mistake one got into a row for last week! I mean, after sending off the book to you, I read it myself and found "kids" again twice. I really will take care not to do it again.
~C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, Letter of Sept 19, 1953

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Necessity of Chivalry

The word chivalry has meant at different times a good many different things--from heavy cavalry to giving a woman a seat in a train. But if we want to understand chivalry as an ideal distinct from other ideals--if we want to isolate that particular conception of the man comme il faut which was the special contribution of the Middle Ages to our culture--we cannot do better than turn to the words addressed to the greatest of all the imaginary knights in Malory's Morte D'arthur. "Thou wert the meekest man", says Sir Ector to the dead Launcelot. "Thou were the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest."*

The important thing about this ideal is, of course, the double demand it makes on human nature. The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth. When Launcelot heard himself pronounced the best knight in the world, "he wept as he had been a child that had been beaten".

What, you may ask, is the relevance of this idea to the modern world? It is terribly relevant. It may or may not be practicable--the Middle Ages notoriously failed to obey it--but it is certainly practical; practical as the fact that men in a desert must find water or die.[...]

The medieval ideal brought together two things which have no natural tendency to gravitate towards one another. It brought them together for that very reason. It taught humility and forbearance to the great warrior because everyone knew by experience how much he usually needed that lesson. It demanded valour of the urbane and modest man because everyone knew that he was as likely as not to be a milksop.

In so doing, the Middle Ages fixed on the one hope of the world. It may or may not be possible to produce by the thousand men who combine the two sides of Launcelot's character. But if it is not possible, then all talk of any lasting happiness or dignity in human society is pure moonshine.

If we cannot produce Launcelots, humanity falls into two sections--those who can deal in blood and iron but cannot be "meek in hall", and those who are "meek in hall" but useless in battle--for the third class, who are both brutal in peace and cowardly in war, need not here be discussed. When this disassociation of the two halves of Launcelot occurs, history becomes a horribly simple affair. The ancient history of the Near East is like that. Hardy barbarians swarm down from their highlands and obliterate a civilization. Then they become civilized themselves and go soft. Then a new wave of barbarians comes down and obliterates them.[...]

The ideal embodied in Launcelot is "escapism" in a sense never dreamed of by those who use that word; it offers the only possible escape from a world divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable.
~C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns, "The Necessity of Chivalry" (1st published in Time and Tide, Aug. 1940)

* Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur (1485)

On this day:

1933 Warren Lewis and C.S. Lewis visited St. Mark's Church in Belfast to view the stained glass window they had commissioned in memory of their parents.
(from Around the Year with C.S. Lewis and His Friends)

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Generous Conflict Game

Screwtape writes to his nephew, Wormwood:

Later on you can venture on what may be called the Generous Conflict Illusion. This game is best played with grown-up children for example. Something quite trivial, like having tea in the garden, is proposed. One member takes care to make it quite clear (though not in so many words) that he would rather not but is, of course, prepared to do so out of 'Unselfishness'. The others instantly withdraw their proposal, ostensibly through their 'Unselfishness', but really because they don't want to be used as a sort of lay figure on which the first speaker practises petty altruisms. But he is not going to be done out of his debauch of Unselfishness either. He insists on doing 'what the others want'. They insist on doing what he wants. Passions are roused. Soon someone is saying 'Very well then, I won't have any tea at all!', and a real quarrel ensues with bitter resentment on both sides. You see how it is done? If each side had been frankly contending for its own real wish, they would all have kept within the bounds of reason and courtesy; but just because the contention is reversed and each side is fighting the other side's battle, all the bitterness which really flows from the thwarted self-righteousness and obstinancy and the accumulated grudges of the last ten years is concealed from them by the nominal or official 'Unselfishness' of what they are doing, or at least, held to be excused by it. Each side is, indeed, quite alive to the cheap quality of the adversary's Unselfishness and of the false position into which he is trying to force them; but each manages to feel blameless and ill-used itself, with no more dishonesty than comes natural to a human. [...] Some degree of mutual falseness, some surprise that the girl does not always notice just how Unselfish he is being, can be smuggled in already.
~C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942)


On this day:

1922 C.S. Lewis received his B.A.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Two on Cats

Yes, it is strange that anyone should dislike cats. But cats themselves are the worst offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another.
~C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, (Letter of July 31, 1962)

"It's a lion, I know it's a lion," thought Shasta. "I'm done. I wonder will it hurt much. I wish it was over. I wonder does anything happen to people after they're dead. O-o-oh! Here it comes!" And he shut his eyes and his teeth tight.

But instead of teeth and claws he only felt something warm lying down at his feet. And when he opened his eyes he said, "Why, it's not nearly as big as I thought! It's only half the size. No, it isn't even quarter the size. I do declare it's only the cat!! I must have dreamed all that about its being as big as a horse."

And whether he really had been dreaming or not, what was now lying at his feet, and staring him out of countenance with its big, green, unwinking eyes, was the cat; though certainly one of the largest cats he had ever seen.

"Oh, Puss," gasped Shasta. "I am so glad to see you again. I've been having such horrible dreams." And he at once lay down again, back to back with the cat as they had been at the beginning of the night. The warmth from it spread all over him.

"I'll never do anything nasty to a cat again as long as I live," said Shasta, half to the cat and half to himself. "I did once, you know. I threw stones at a half-starved mangy old stray. Hey! Stop that." For the cat had turned round and given him a scratch. "None of that," said Shasta. "It isn't as if you could understand what I'm saying." Then he dozed off.
~C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy, (1954)


On this day:

1922 Lewis takes a "First" in Literae Humaniores ("Greats") - classical philosophy
(A Year With C.S. Lewis)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Lewis and Clarke

The book From Narnia to a Space Odyssey: The War of Letters Between Arthur C. Clarke and C.S. Lewis makes much of their correspondence debating the dangers of the rise of technology. Lewis's wife, Joy Gresham, was also a friend of Arthur C. Clarke.

Dear Mr. Clarke--

I quite agree that most scientifiction [science fiction] is on the level of cowboy boys' stories. But I think the fundamental moral assumptions in popular fiction are a very important symptom. If you found that the most popular stories were those in which the cowboy always betrayed his pals to the crooks and deserted his girl for the vamp, I don't think it would be unimportant.

I don't of course think that at the moment many scientists are budding Westons: but I do think (hang it all, I live among scientists!) that a point of view not unlike Weston's is on the way. Look at Stapledon (Star Gazer ends in sheer devil worship), Haldane's Possible Worlds and Waddington's Science and Ethics. I agree Technology is per se neutral: but a race devoted to the increase of its own power by technology with complete indifference to ethics does seem to me a cancer in the universe. Certainly if he goes on his present course much further man can not be trusted with knowledge.
~C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter to Arthur C. Clarke of Dec 7, 1943


Less sympathetic to our aims was Dr. C. S. Lewis, author of two of the very few works of space fiction that can be classed as literature-Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Both of these fine books contained attacks on scientists in general, and astronauts in particular, which aroused my ire. I was especially incensed by a passage in Perelandra referring to 'little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs'...

An extensive correspondence with Dr. Lewis led to a meeting in a famous Oxford pub, the Eastgate... Needless to say, neither side converted the other. But a fine time was had by all, and when, some hours later, we emerged a little unsteadily from the Eastgate, Dr. Lewis' parting words were, 'I'm sure you're very wicked people-but how dull it would be if everyone was good.'
~Arthur C. Clarke, "Armchair Astronauts", Holiday magazine, May 1963

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Laws of Nature

'Poor woman,' said my friend. 'One hardly knows what to say when they talk like that. She thinks her son survived Arnhem because she prayed for him. It would be heartless to explain to her that he really survived because he was standing a little to the left or a little to the right of some bullet. That bullet was following a course laid down by the laws of Nature. It couldn't have hit him. He just happened to be standing off its line' [...]

The laws of physics, I understand, decree that when one billiards ball (A) sets another billiards ball (B) in motion, the momentum lost by A exactly equals the momentum gained by B. This is a
Law. That is, this is the pattern to which the movement of the two billiards balls must conform. Provided, of course that something sets ball A in motion. And here comes the snag. The law won't set it in motion. It is usually a man with a cue who does that. But a man with a cue would send us back to free-will, so let us assume that it was lying on a table in a liner and that what set it in motion was a lurch of the ship. In that case it was not the law which produced the movement; it was a wave. And that wave, though it certainly moved according to the laws of physics, was not moved by them. It was shoved by other waves, and by winds, and so forth. And however far you traced the story back you would never find the laws of Nature causing anything.

The dazzlingly obvious conclusion now arose, in my mind: in the whole history of the universe the laws of Nature have never produced a single event. They are the pattern to which every event must conform, provided only that it can be induced to happen.[...]The laws are the pattern to which events conform: the source of events must be sought elsewhere.

This may be put in the form that the laws of Nature explain everything except the source of events. But this is rather a formidable exeption. The laws, in one sense, cover the whole of reality except--well, except that continuous cataract of real events which makes up the actual universe. They explain everything except what we should ordinarily call 'everything'.
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "The Laws of Nature" (1945)


During this month:

1960 Following the death of his wife, Joy in July 1960, Lewis writes A Grief Observed.

Monday, August 01, 2005

What Did You Call Me?

One of C.S. Lewis's favorite forms of literary expression was the narrative poem. Yet only one of the narrative poems that he wrote was published in his lifetime: "Dymer". Following is an excerpt from "The Queen of Drum", a poem about a young queen who travels nightly (in her dreams?) to the world of Faerie.

To the King of Drum, at last, beyond pretence
Of sleep, the day returned, the inevitable sense
Of well-known things around him: on the ceiling
The plaster-gilt rosettes crumbling, the lilies peeling.
Gentlement, pages, lords, and flunkey things
In lace who act the nurse to lonely kings,
Tumbled his poor old bones somehow from bed.
Swallowing their yawns, whispering with louted head,
Passed him from hand to hand, tousled and grey
And blinking like an owl surprised by day,
Rubbing his bleary eyes, muttering between dry gums
'Gi' me my teeth..dead lords--'t all comes
From living in the valley. Too much wood.
Sleep the Clock round in Drum and get no good.'


Now half they had dressed the King, half made him dress.
And day's long steeplechase one jump the less
Unrolled ahead (night's pillows and the star
Of night no more immeasurably far).
Now the long passage where the walls are thick
As in the Egyptian tombs, echoes his stick
Tapping the cold, grey floor. There, at his side,
With sharp, unlooked for sound, a door flung wide
As from impatient hands, and tall, between
The swing of the flung curtains, stepped the Queen.
--'So fast, Madam? Young limbs are supple, eh?
And easily get their rest. I'll dare to say
You have been abroad by night--not known your bed
More than an hour. Is it true?'
And when she said
Nothing at all, he tapped the ground, and nearing,
Knowingly, his big grey face to hers, and peering,
Screwed home the question, snarling. And she stood
And never spoke. She too was tired, the blood
Drained from her quiet cheek. Wind-broken skies
Had havocked in her hair, and in her eyes
Printed their reckless image. Coldest grey
Those eyes, and sharp of sight from far away:
More bright a little, something steadier than
Man cares to meet with in the face of man
Or woman; alien eyes. For one unbroken
Big moment's silence, swift as rain, unspoken
Questions went to and fro, and edged replies
Flitting like motes from their embattled eyes
--(Out of the neighboring past, an unlaid fear
Signals its fellows, calls 'I am here. I am here.'
Whispers the King, "Touch not, lest it should wake
The enormous tooth that once has ceased to ache.')
'Till with a shrug, turning, he first withdrew
His gaze, yet softly breathed, 'You..Maenad, you!'
~C.S. Lewis, Narrative Poems (edited by Walter Hooper), "The Queen of Drum", 1969


On this day:

1944 J.R.R. Tolkien writes to his son Christopher: "She's [his daughter] just read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra; and with good taste preferred the latter. But she finds it hard to realize that Ransom is not meant to be a portrait of me (though as a philologist I may have some part in him, and recognize some of my opinions and ideas Lewisified in him)."