'Sybil' from The Greater Trumps (for Joan)

Sybil Coningsby stepped out into the storm and tried to see before her. It was becoming very difficult, and the force of the wind for the moment staggered and even distressed her. She yielded to it a little both in body and mind; she knew well that to the oppositions of the world she could in herself offer no certain opposition. As her body swayed and let itself move aside under the blast, she surrendered herself to the only certain thing that her life had discovered: she adored in this movement also the extreme benevolence of Love. She sank before the wind, but not in impotence; rather as the devotee sinks before the outer manifestations of the God that may be made more wholly one with that which manifests. Delaying as if both she and it might enjoy the exquisite promise of its arrival, it nevertheless promised, and, as always, came. She recovered her balance, swaying easily to each moment's need, and the serene content which it bestowed filled again and satisfied her.

It satisfied, but for no more than the briefest second did she allow herself to remain aware of that. Time to be aware, and to be grateful for that awareness, she enjoyed; literally enjoyed, for both knowledge and thankfulness grew one, and joy was their union, but that union darted out towards a new subject and centre. Darted out and turned in; its occupation was Lothair Coningsby, and Lothair was already within it. It did not choose a new resting-place, but rather ordered its own content, by no greater a movement than the shifting of the accent from one syllable back to the other. So slight a variation as gives the word to any speaker a new meaning gave to this pure satisfaction a new concern.

Charles Williams ~ The Greater Trumps
Chapter Nine ‘Sybil’

Sexual Morality (II)

If we really want to be cured, I think we shall be. I mean, if a man tries to go back to the Christian rule, if he makes up his mind either to abstain from sex altogether or to marry one woman and stick to her, he may not completely succeed, especially at first. But as long as he picks himself up each time and starts again as well as he can, he'll be on the right track. He won't damage his central self beyond repair. Those who really want help will get it. The difficulty, of course, is the really wanting it. It is quite easy to think you want something when you don't really. A famous Christian long ago said that when-he was a young man he prayed constantly for chastity: but only after several years he came to realise that, while his lips were saying, "Oh, God, make me chaste," his real wishes were secretly adding, "But please don't do it for a few years yet". This catch occurs in prayers on other subjects too.

Now for two final remarks. Don't misunderstand what psychology teaches us about repressions. It teaches us that repressed sex is dangerous. But many people who repeat this don't know that "repression" is a technical term. "Repressing" an impulse does not mean having a conscious desire and resisting it. It means being so frightened of some impulse that you don't let it become conscious at all, so that it goes down into the subconscious and causes trouble. Resisting a conscious desire is quite a different matter, and never did anyone any harm yet. The second remark is this. Although I've had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the great vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual.

C.S. Lewis
Christian Behaviour (Bles, 1943)

Sexual Morality (I)

They may mean "There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure." If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same. It is not the thing, nor the pleasure, that's the trouble. The old Christian teachers said that if man had never fallen, sexual pleasure, instead of being less than it is now, would actually have been greater. I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body — which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion: arid nearly all the-greatest love-poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But,of course, when people say, "Sex is nothing to be ashamed of," they may mean "the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of."

If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be every­thing to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. I don't say you and I are individually responsible for the present situation. Our ancestors have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favour of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance. The moral question is, given that situation, what we do about it.
C. S. Lewis
Christian Behaviour (Bles, 1943)


Precious is a word with a long history in English before Tolkien made it his own (or Gollum's). It is most widely used as an adjective: the 'OED's entry for the word traces it back to Middle English. But it is as a noun that it has become most strongly associated with Tolkien, and with the Ring: Gollum's use of the word immediately precedes the first appearance of the Ring in The Hobbit, and 'his last wail Precious' marks its destruction in the Cracks of Doom. (Gollum also uses 'precious' to refer to himself, but the Ring is distinguished as 'the Precious', with a capital letter.)

In fact its use as a noun, in the sense that Gollum uses it, also goes back a long way. As a term of endearment, similar to dear or darling, it is first recorded in the Elizabethan tragedy Antonio and Mellida by John Marston (c. 1575-1634): 'Nay, pretious, If youle be peeuish, by this light, He sweare Thou rail'dst vpon thy love.' Not that Tolkien would have known this from the OED entry as he saw it: the First Edition of the Dictionary gave as its first example a quotation from Susanna Centlivre's comedy The Basset-Table of 1706 ('With all my Heart, my Jewel, my Precious'). The example from Marston, only recently added to the OED database, extends the known history of this sense by over a century.

Tolkien also uses the adjective in its familiar sense 'valuable', and occasionally in an ironical sense, also recorded in the OED, when referring in a belittling or depreciative manner to things considered of little or no value — for example, when one of Saruman's ruffians asks Merry where 'those precious Shirriffs' have got to (LotR vi. viii).

The Ring of Words ~
Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press (2006)


‘It was Tobold Hornblower, of Longbottom in the Southfarthing, who first grew the true pipe-weed in his gardens, about the year 1070 according to our reckoning.’ (LotR in. viii)

Pipe-weed is the hobbits' name for tobacco. It is not a particularly old term, and the OED (Second Edition) illustrates it only from Tolkien, though subsequent research for OED Online has located examples as far back as an American magazine of 1792. Weed on its own has been used to mean 'tobacco' since 1606 (OED: weed n.133). In the earliest draft of the passage quoted above, Merry spoke of weed (as Gimli still does in the published text), but this was replaced by pipe-weed in a subsequent stage of rewriting (HME VI. 36-7). It is a natural-sounding compound of English words (resembling other old plant names ending in -weed), and is clearly more suited to hobbit-speech than the exotic Caribbean loanword tobacco (though this does appear in the more anachronistic text of The Hobbit). The similarly alien word potato sometimes appears in the English colloquial form taters, which helps to disguise the covert anachronism of a New World plant in a supposedly Old World setting (see also Shippers The Road to Middle-earth, pp. 78-9).

The Ring of Words ~
Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press (2006)

New light shed on a fragment of C S Lewis’ writing

A short piece of writing by C S Lewis, which is housed in the Bodleian Library, has become the focus of scholarly attention after an academic claimed it to be the opening pages of a proposed book by Lewis and J R R Tolkien.

The work in question consists of eight pages of Narnia Chronicles author C S Lewis’ handwriting featuring a pre-semiotic analysis in which he defines the meaning and function of language.

Professor Steve Beebe of Texas State University has been studying the manuscript for the last seven years and has now reached the conclusion that this essay represents the opening pages of a proposed book by Lewis and The Lord of the Rings author Tolkien.

In this fragment, Lewis refers to 'the authors' – in the plural – which may substantiate Professor Beebe’s theory that this essay is related to the project on which Lewis and Tolkien were working.

As documented in a letter written by Tolkien in 1944 to his son Christopher, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien had planned to write a book together about language, the working title of which would have been Language and Human Nature. A news release from their publisher announced that the book was scheduled for publication in 1950. It was, however, never published. Scholars have thought, until now, that it was never started.

(for full article click on the title above)