Two boys...

Dear Phyllida,

Thanks for your most interesting cards. How do you get the gold so good? Whenever I tried to use it, however golden it looked on the shell, it always looked only like rough brown on the paper. Is it that you have some trick with the brush that I never learned, or that gold paint is better now than when I was a boy! [...]

I'm not quite sure what you meant about "silly adventure stories without my point". If they are silly, then having a point won't save them. But if they are good in themselves, and if by a "point" you mean some truth about the real world which which one can take out of the story, I'm not sure that I agree. At least, I think that looking for a "point" in that sense may prevent one sometimes from getting the real effect of the story in itself - like listening too hard for the words in singing which isn't meant to be listened to that way (like an anthem in a chorus). I'm not at all sure about all this, mind you: only thinking as I go along.

We have two American boys in the house at present, aged 8 and 6 1/2. Very nice. They seem to use much longer words than English boys of that age would: not showing off, but just because they don't seem to know the short words. But they haven't as good table manners as English boys of the same sort would. [...]


C.S. Lewis

Letters to Children (letter of Dec 18 1953)


With MichaelmasTerm just starting in Oxford, a poem from Charles Williams:

Adam and Eve came running
From Eden, heavy and sad;
Michael lightened behind them
With spears a myriad.
O love that is broken, broken!
(Sweet, were we running there?)
Lift from us, wings of Michael!
O sword of Michael, spare!

Mary lay in her chamber;
John the Apostle by.
Michael lightened before her,
'Behold, thine hour is nigh!’
O love exalted, exalted!
(Sweet, did we nurse the Lord?)
Gather us, wings of Michael!
Circle us, Michael's sword!

There was that war in heaven
Whereto the worlds were caught;
Michael fought and his angels,
Also the devil fought.
O love that is warring, warring!
(Us too shall that war rend?)
Beat for us, wings of Michael!
Sword of Michael, defend!

Charles Williams

The Discarded Image

Medieval man shared many ignorances with the savage, and some of his beliefs may suggest savage parallels to an anthropologist. But he had not usually reached these beliefs by the same route as the savage.

Savage beliefs are thought to be the spontaneous response of a human group to its environment, a response made principally by the imagination. They exemplify what some writers call pre-logical thinking. They are closely bound up with the communal life of the group. What we should describe as political, military, and agricultural operations are not easily distinguished from rituals; ritual and belief beget and support one another. The most characteristically medieval thought does not arise in that way.

Sometimes, when a community is comparatively homogeneous and comparatively undisturbed over a long period, such a system of belief can continue, of course with development, long after material culture has progressed far beyond the level of savagery. It may then begin to turn into something more ethical, more philosophical, even more scientific; but there will be uninterrupted continuity between this and its savage beginnings.

C.S. Lewis, Chapter 1, The Discarded Image (CUP 1964)

The Seven and the Nine

The Seven and Nine Rings were originally made by the Elves and not evil until Sauron forged the One and later took these rings by war. Their initial purpose was to slow the passage of time and preserve beauty, but since Sauron had a part in their making they became accursed and had evil powers. He gave the rings to different races of Middle-earth to enslave and so control them.

Sauron gave the Seven to the Dwarves, who proved harder to enslave:

"They ill endure the domination of others, and the thoughts of their hearts are hard to fathom, nor can they be turned to shadows. They used their rings only for the getting of wealth; but wrath and an over mastering greed of gold were kindled in their hearts..." [The Silmarillion]

This implies their rings had other powers but were not used probably because this would draw attention to the user and all that he did.

Sauron gave the Nine to Mortal Men who proved easiest to ensnare. It was said that:

"Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth... They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men..." [The Silmarillion]

According to The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien #131, the Seven and Nine conferred invisibility to the user as well as unending life. However, eventually the user would fade and become a wraith under the control of Sauron, the Dark Lord. However, the Three Elven Rings did not confer invisibility.

The song of the elves

'Hmmm! it smells like elves!' thought Bilbo, and he looked up at the stars. They were burning bright and blue. Just then there came a burst of song like laughter in the trees:

O! What are you doing,
And where are you going?
Your ponies need shoeing!
The river is flowing!
O! tra-la-la-lally
here down in the valley!

O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The faggots are reeking,
The bannocks are baking!
O! tril-lil-lil-lolly
the valley is jolly,
ha! ha!

O! Where are you going
With beards all a-wagging?
No knowing, no knowing
What brings Mister Baggins,
And Balin and Dwalin
down into the valley
in June
ha! ha!

O! Will you be staying,
Or will you be flying
Your ponies are straying!
The daylight is dying!
To fly would be folly,
To stay would be jolly
And listen and hark
Till the end of the dark
to our tune
ha! ha!

So they laughed and sang in the trees; and pretty fair nonsense I daresay you think it. Not that they would care; they would only laugh all the more if you told them so. They were elves of course…

J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit
Chapter 3 “A Short Rest”

To a Lady

20 May 1945

I also have become much acquainted with grief now through the death of my great friend Charles Williams, my friend of friends, the comforter of all our little set, the most angelic man. The odd thing is that his death has made my faith stronger than it was a week ago. And I find that all that talk about 'feeling that he is closer to us than before1 isn't just talk. It's just what it does feel like — I can't put it into words. One seems at moments to be living in a new world. Lots, lots of pain, but not a particle of depression or resentment...

Letters of C.S. Lewis
(edited by W.H. Lewis) 1966

Jesting Pilate

[Joy, with Jack Lewis]

The Hebrews began to feel that there was something a little smelly about all tampering with the truth. And when Christ came, his fiercest wrath was for the hypocrite, the living lie whose every action is a false witness to his own virtue. Let us make note of the hypocrite; we shall meet him again, every last one of us, any time we care to look into the mirror. The road to Calvary was lined with many of us whited sepulchres — with scribes who claimed knowledge they had not, and Pharisees who claimed holiness they had not, and false witnesses to identify Christ as a subversive radical, and Judas with his lying kiss. But not until Jesus stood before Pilate was the ultimate lie spoken. What did Pilate mean by his "What is truth?" He seems to have been implying a doctrine fashionable in his time — the lie of the sceptic bound hand and foot in despair, who rather than face his own sins will even doubt his own reality; the question that hints that there is no such thing as truth. We must understand Pilate to understand ourselves, for he may have represented the very modern view that truth is after all a relative and subjective affair, an agreed-upon convention, a matter of expedience — and that therefore we are justified in doing anything that seems expedient, even as Pilate.

Throughout Christian history, denunciations of lying have been loud and frequent. Who has been so abhorred as Ananias? And yet we all know the meaning of the words "pious fraud." From the beginning, the devil has loved to tempt the devout to lie for the sake of their good cause — and thereby make it a bad one. One of the first tasks of the Early Church was to separate the true Gospels from the multitudinous invented "eyewitness" accounts in which the faithful lied their heads off for the supposed good of the Church… the list is endless. Nor did it end with antiquity. Most modern churches have kept up the good work of forging their own praises and their rivals' dispraise, until that clear-sighted and honest Christian Charles Williams found it necessary to write warningly of "the normal calumnies of piety," and to say of a historian, "In defence of his conclusion he was willing to cheat in the evidence — a habit more usual to religious writers than to historical," Let us clean our own house first.

You can usually tell when a hypocrite has been sinning; he denounces that sin in public — and in somebody else. The mere half-hearted sinner may try to wriggle out of his guilt by some verbal quibble; he hasn't really lied to his wife about how he spent the week-end, he just hasn't told her all the truth. But the real, thoroughgoing, incarnate lie of a Pharisee covers his guilt by trumpeting loudly about his virtue; he comes forward boldly and denounces her for lying to Mrs. Jones about that horrid new hat. And if you want to find a man whose whole life is devoted to hypocritical dishonesty and deception, it might be wise to look for one who habitually beats his child for lying.

As to whether there is such a thing as a white lie — well, no one has yet devised a rule of conduct that can be applied to every imaginable case, and the rule against lying is no exception. Here, as elsewhere, charity and common sense must be our guides. If a man comes to my door waving a gun and announcing that he'll shoot his wife the minute he finds her, I shall certainly tell him I have not seen her for a week, even though I've just finished hiding the poor woman in my cupboard. And it would be an uncharitable sort of truthfulness that, when asked, told a doting mother exactly what it thought of her small son's fiddle-playing. All the same, it is possible that most of our white lies are told, not for charity, but for laziness and for cowardice — to save the work of thinking up a real answer, or to avoid a trivial social discomfort.

Joy Davidman ~ Smoke on the Mountain (1955)
Chapter Nine ‘Jesting Pilate’