A day out...

Sunday 29 October [1922]

Immediately after breakfast I got out my bicycle and started for Forest Hill. It was one of the coldest days we have had and a strong wind in my face all the way. As a result, tho' it cannot have been much about freezing, I was dripping with heat by the time I arrived.

She [Aunt Lily] is in a cottage which I once went to see for us a long time ago. From the windows you look across fields to the ridge of Shotover — she did not know of its connection with Shelley and was glad to hear of it. There is a very pleasant kitchen sitting room.

She has been here for about three days and has snubbed a bookseller in Oxford, written to the local paper, crossed swords with the Vicar's wife, and started a quarrel with her landlord.

The adventure of the Vicar's wife was good. That lady, meeting her in the Forest Hill bus, asked who she was, and promised to call. Aunt Lily said she might call if she liked, but she wasn't going to church. Being asked why, she said she had vowed never to enter any church until the clergy as a body came out in defence of the Dogs Protection Bill. "Oh!" said the priest's wife in horrified amazement, "So you object to vivisection?" "I object to all infamies," replied Aunt L.

Nevertheless the Vicar and his wife came to her all humble at the journey's end and said "Even if you don't come to church, will you come to our whist drive?" She says all parsons look like scolded dogs when you challenge them on this subject.

I refused an invitation to lunch, but stayed till one o'clock. She talked all the time, with her usual even, interminable fluency, on a variety of subjects. Her conversation is like an old drawer, full both of rubbish and valuable things, but all thrown together in great disorder.

C.S. Lewis
‘All My Road Before Me’
Harper Collins 1991

The Lay of the Children of Húrin

Tolkien loved archaic language, in which he often used far beyond the tolerance of the modern reader, when he wrote alliterative verse. He sometimes succumbed to all the temptations the alliterative form offers to a literary scholar: the opportunity to use archaic words to meet the alliterative requirements, the temptation to distort the syntax to meet the rhythmic demands of Anglo-Saxon alliterative meter, and various other sins less besetting, such as the temptation to include filler material for the sake of the meter. However, once tuned into Tolkien's world, the difficulties fall away in a plethora of wonderful, and often terrifying images:

Then Thalion was thrust to Thangorodrim,
that mountain that meets the misty skies
on high o'er the hills that Hithlum sees
blackly brooding on the borders of the north,
To a stool of stone on its steepest peak
they bound him in bonds, an unbreakable chain,
and the Lord of Woe there laughing stood,
then cursed him for ever and his kin and seed
with a doom of dread, of death and horror.
There the mighty man unmoved sat;
but unveiled was his vision, that he viewed afar
all earthly things with his eyes enchanted
that fell on his folk- a fiend's torment.

(The Lay of the Children of Húrin, lines 92-104)

The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

Rivers of fire at dead of night
in winter lying cold and white
upon the plain burst forth, and high
the red was mirrored in the sky.
From Hithlum's walls they saw the fire,
the steam and smoke in spire on spire
leap up, till in confusion vast
the stars were choked. And so it passed,
the mighty field, and turned to dust,
to drifting sand and yellow rust,
to thirsty dunes where many bones
lay broken among barren stones.
Dor-na-Fauglith, Land of Thirst,
they after named it, waste accurst,
the raven-haunted roofless grave
of many fair and many brave.
Thereon the stony slopes look forth
from Deadly Nightshade falling north,
from sombre pines with pinions vast,
black-plumed and drear, as many a mast
of sable-shrouded ships of death
slow wafted on a ghostly breath.

J.R.R. Tolkien
(Lines 3256 to 3277)

Lewis on Ethics

Let us very clearly understand that, in a certain sense, it is no more possible to invent a new ethics than to place a new sun in the sky. Some precept from traditional morality always has to be assumed. We never start from a tabula rasa*; if we did, we should end, ethically speaking, with a tabula rasa.

~ C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, "On Ethics" (1943)

*"blank slate" or "blank page"

Aristotle said that only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics: to the corrupted man, the man who stands outside the Tao, the very starting point of this science is invisible.

~C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (1943)

About Hell

All I have ever said is that the N.T. plainly implies the possibility of some being finally left in 'the outer darkness.' Whether this means (horror of horror) being left to a purely mental existence, left with nothing at all but one's own envy, prurience, resentment, loneliness & self conceit, or whether there is still some sort of environment, something you cd. call a world or a reality, I wd. never pretend to know. But I wouldn't put the question in the form 'do I believe in an actual Hell'. One's own mind is actual enough. If it doesn't seem fully actual now that is because you can always escape from it a bit into the physical world — look out of the window, smoke a cigarette, go to sleep. But when there is nothing for you but your own mind (no body to go to sleep, no books or landscape, no sounds, no drugs) it will be as actual as — as — well, as a coffin is actual to a man buried alive.

C.S. Lewis
(Letter to Arthur Greeves – May 13th 1946)

The Jabberwock

"… the critic metamorphoses into the monster of the jabberwock, an unnatural creature that symbolises… perversion… This creature creates cacophony through a ‘conflicting babel’ of opinion: “For it is of their nature that the jabberwocks of historical and antiquarian research burble in the tulgy wood of conjecture, flitting from one tum-tum tree to another” (p. 56). They no longer constitute a physical danger to others because of the myopia, which resembles that of the ‘friends’ and ‘descendants’: “Noble animals, whose burbling is on occasion good to hear; but through their eyes of flame may sometimes prove searchlights, their range is short” (p 56). Such shortsightedness hints at a greater spiritual danger to themselves as well as to others, for the ‘conflicting babel’ of their opinions reminds us of the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, as the epitome of the sin of pride (of course… the critics destroyed the tower of the artist in their pride). Pride and selfishness, myopia, a ‘conflicting babel’ of opinion, destructiveness, chaos, all characterise the critic – truly a monster."

Tolkien’s Art 'A Mythology for England' ~ Jane Chance Nitzsche (Page 12)
Discussing and quoting from ‘The Critic as Monster: Tolkien’s Lectures [1936]

Towards the Gleam - A Review

Just occasionally a book comes along that grasps the reader from the first page, but often disappoints by the time the denouement is reached. T.M. Doran’s ‘Toward the Gleam’ with its sub-Tolkienesque dust-cover, certainly holds the attention from its first words. Indeed Doran’s expert and gradual unveiling of the plot builds the tension to the point that the book is impossible to put down. When the end comes this tension is broken, in the final pages, by one of the most satisfying, and unanticipated twists of narrative.

A fictional account of course, but we guess early on who John Hill, Doran’s hero is. A philologist with children called John, Michael, Christopher and Priscilla it is hardly a leap of logic to see that here we have the Tolkien family. His use of Mr. Hill is particularly amusing to those who remember Mr. Underhill so vividly, and Strider’s words at the Prancing Pony, “A matter of some importance — to us both… you may hear something to your advantage”. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that in this intriguing story, John Hill discovers something to his disadvantage.

Doran’s premise is quite straightforward. John Hill stumbles — in the darkness of a cave — upon a beautifully crafted box which contains a red book of several thousand pages of the finest paper. One might go so far as to say, “A riddle in the dark” Ring any bells? And quite simply he decides to try to decipher the runes and discover the origin of the long lost civilisation of which it was part.

Starting in 1917 when he makes his momentous discovery, John’s quest takes him across Europe to confer with colleagues and scholars, some of whom it seems seek his destruction. We are introduced, in passing, to Jack and Owen in the ‘Bird and Baby’ in Oxford, together with the merest echo of Sauron, in the terrifying presence of John’s adversary in his quest.

Many adjectives have been used to describe the sweep of this novel: Intriguing, moving, mysterious, startling, ingenious, horrifying, imaginative and inventive. I would go so far as to say that if you are a fan of Tolkien’s sub-creation, this book is a must read. Not only will it amuse and entertain, it will drive you back to the “Red Book of Westmarch” itself. Wonderful.