Williams and transformation

W. H. Auden, worked with Charles Williams on a collection of Poetry he edited for Oxford University Press. Many years after first meeting Williams, he would recall that interview in surprising terms and mark it as one of the events that led him to embrace the Christian faith:

"For the first time in my life, [I] felt myself in the presence of personal sanctity... I had met many good people before who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings but in the presence of this man... I did not feel ashamed. I felt transformed into a person who was incapable of doing or thinking anything base or unloving (I later discovered that he had had a similar effect on many other people.)"

How could a conversation about 'literary business' generate such an aura of 'personal sanctity'? Yet Williams simply made an exceptionally powerful impression on almost all who knew him.

What Christians Believe

The third talk in What Christians Believe is entitled 'The Shocking Alternative'. First broadcast on 1 February 1942, it is probably this talk above all others which established Lewis's reputation as a Christian apologist of the first rank. No radio broadcast, before or since, has laid out so clearly the heart of the Christian gospel. Lewis manages to do this with language that js fresh and compelling. It is totally free of Christian jargon. He achieves that rare feat of explaining Christian truth in plain English that does not rely on any.of the imagery or in-house language that almost imperceptibly creeps into so much of Christian apologetics.

The talk begins with the point Lewis had reached in the first two programmes, that Christians believe 'an evil power has made himself Prince of the World'. This happened because 'God created things free to be bad as well as to be good'. It is free will that makes evil possible. The alternative, a world of automata, is unthinkable. God thought that allowing us to use our freedom in the wrong way was worth the risk. Free will means that when things turn out right, they will be all the better — enabling humankind to experience the happiness of being united with God and the ecstasy of love and delight. However, the worse it will be when things go awry. We want to put our 'self’ first - in other words, we want it to be God. This was the sin of Satan, taught by him to the human race. From this attempt to create happiness apart from God have come the hallmarks of human history: money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires and slavery. In this way Lewis describes the outcome of sin without using the word, making its meaning and consequence clear enough.

Justin Phillips
C.S. Lewis at the BBC
(HarperCollins 2002)

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

But Thingol looked on Lúthien.
'Fairest of Elves! Unhappy Men,
children of little lords and kings
mortal and frail, these fading things,
shall they then look with love on thee?'
his heart within him though. 'I see
thy ring,' he said. 'O mighty man!
But to win the child of Melian
a father's deeds shall not avail,
nor thy proud words at which I quail.
A treasure dear I too desire,
but rocks and steel and Morgoth's fire
from all the powers of Elfinesse
do keep the jewel I would possess.
Yet bonds like these I hear thee say
affright they not. Now go thy way!
Bring me one shining Silmaril
from Morgoth's crown, then if she will,
may Lúthien set her hand in thine;
then shalt thou have this jewel of mine.'

Then Thingol's warriors loud and long
they laughed; for wide renown in song
had Fëanor's gems o'er land and sea,
the peerless Silmarils; and three
alone he made and kindled slow
in the land of the Valar long ago,
and there in Tûn of their own light
they shone like marvellous stars at night,
in the great Elvish hoards of Tûn,
while Glingal flowered and Belthil's bloom
yet lit the land beyond the shore
where the Shadowy Seas' last surges roar,
ere Morgoth stole them and Gnomes
seeking their glory left their homes,
ere sorrows fell on Elves and Men,
ere Beren was or Lúthien,
ere Fëanor's sons in madness swore
their dreadful oath. But now no more
their beauty was seen, save shining clear
in Morgoth's dungeons vast and drear.
His iron crown they must adorn,
and gleam above Orcs and slaves forlorn,
treasured in Hell above all wealth,
more than his eyes; and might nor stealth
could touch them, or even gaze too long
upon their magic. Throng on throng
of Orcs with reddened scimitars
encircled him, and mighty bars
and everlasting gates and walls,
who wore them now amidst his thralls.

(lines 1,112 to 1,159)
J.R.R. Tolkien

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

'That may not be!' Lo! Beren spake,
and through the king's words coldly brake.
'What are thy mazes but a chain
wherein the captive blind is slain?
Twist not thy oaths, O elvish king,
like faithless Morgoth! By this ring—
the token of a lasting bond
that Felagund of Nargothrond
once swore in love to Barahir,
who sheltered him with shield and spear
and saved him from pursuing foe
on Northern battle fields long ago—
death thou canst give unearned to me,
but names I will not take from thee
of baseborn, spy, or Morgoth's thrall!
Are these the ways of Thingol's hall?'

Proud are the words, and all there turned
to see the jewels green that burned
in Beren's ring. These Elves had set
as eyes of serpents twined that met
beneath a golden crown of flowers,
that one upholds and one devours:
the badge that Finrod made of yore
and Felagund his son now bore.
His anger was chilled, but little less,
and dark thoughts Thingol did possess,

though Melian the pale leant to his side
and whispered: 'O king, forgo thy pride!
such is my counsel. Not by thee
shall Beren be slain, for far and free
from these deep halls his fate doth lead,
yet wound with thine. O king, take heed!'

(lines 1,080 to 1,111)
J.R.R. Tolkien

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

Silence then fell upon the hall;
like graven stone there stood they all,
save one who cast her eyes aground,
and one who laughed with bitter sound.
Dairon the piper leant there pale
against a pillar. His fingers frail
there touched a flute that whispered not;
his eyes were dark; his heart was hot.
'Death is the guerdon thou hast earned,
O baseborn mortal, who hast learned
in Morgoth's realm to spy and lurk
like Orcs that do his evil work!'
'Death!' echoed Dairon fierce and low,
but Lúthien trembling gasped in woe.
'And death,' said Thingol, 'thou shouldst taste,
had I not sworn an oath in hast
that blade nor chain thy flesh should mar.
Yet captive bound by never a bar,
unchained, unfettered, shalt thou be
in lightless labyrinth endlessly
that coils about my halls profound
by magic bewildered and enwound;
there wandering in hopelessness
though shalt learn the power of Elfinesse!'

(lines 1,056 to 1,079)
J.R.R. Tolkien

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

Then Beren looked in Lúthien's eyes
and saw a light of starry skies,
and thence was slowly drawn his gaze
to Melian's face. As from a maze
of wonder dumb he woke; his heart
the bonds of awe there burst apart
and filled with the fearless pride of old;
in his glance now gleamed and anger cold.
'My feet hath fate, O king,' he said,
'here over the mountains bleeding led,
and what I sought not I have found,
and love it is hath here me bound.
Thy dearest treasure I desire;
nor rocks nor steel nor Morgoth's fire
nor all the power of Elfinesse
shall keep that gem I would possess.
For fairer than are born to Men
A daughter hast thou, Lúthien.'

(lines 1,038 to 1,055)
J.R.R. Tolkien

Suprised by Joy.

In 1952 Lewis met Mrs Joy Gresham (née Davidman), and their story is famously told in the film Shadowlands. Joy was an American who had been deserted by her husband. Lewis helped her to arrange the rental of 10 Old High Street, Headington for herself and her two boys, and she moved in during August 1953.

The house (opposite the Somerfield supermarket) has a plaque over the downstairs window reading: "The former home of the writer Joy Davidman, wife of C. S. Lewis". Joy’s son Douglas Gresham was about eight years old when he moved into Old High Street in 1953. He said of the house: "It was a nice place partly because of the visitors who came, many of Oxford’s literary luminaries. Lewis himself of course, his brother Warnie, and J.R.R. Tolkien."

Joy divorced her husband in August 1954 and married Lewis in Oxford Register Office on 23 April 1956. This was a marriage of convenience so that she could acquire British citizenship, and she continued to live in Old High Street after the marriage.

In 1957 Joy was admitted to the Wingfield Morris Orthopaedic Hospital (now the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre) with a broken leg, and was found to have cancer. The Revd Peter Bide married Lewis and Joy a second time at this hospital (this time with a real Christian ceremony) on 21 March 1957: the marriage took place in the Mayfair Suite. The next month Joy moved into "The Kilns" with Lewis.


In Oxford Crematorium, on the wall facing the walkway just outside the far chapel in the complex, there is a small plaque on the wall. It was placed there by C.S. Lewis following the death of his beloved American wife Joy Gresham (nee Davidman). It reads: "Remember Helen Joy Davidman (loved wife of C. S. Lewis). Here the whole world (stars, water, air and field, and forest, as they were reflected in a single mind) like cast off clothes was left behind in ashes, yet with hope that she, reborn from holy poverty, in Lenten lands, hereafter may Resume them on her Easter Day."

23rd December 1947

[Image: Carry Akroyd]

Nothing much has happened to me except that I saw a rabbit yawn. I suppose people who keep tame ones have seen it often but this was a wild rabbit and I thought it a v. curious sight. It was a very bored triangular yawn in the middle of a long hot afternoon...

C.S. Lewis
December 23rd, 1947