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]

The Lay of the Children of Húrin (excerpt)

With winding horns - winter hunted
in the weeping woods, - wild and ruthless;
sleet came slashing - and slanting hail
from glowering heaven - grey and sunless,
whistling whiplash - whirled by tempest.
The floods were freed, - and fallow waters
sweeping seaward, - swollen, angry,
filled with flotsam, - foaming, turbid,
passed in tumult. - The tempest died.

(JRRT)

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s connection with the Inklings!

Richard Jenkins won a scholarship to Oxford University at just 16; he adopted his teacher's surname (Phillip Burton) and made his first stage performance at Oxford as an extra scrubbing steps. Soon Burton's extraordinary stage presence - another of his famous trademarks - was said to distract the audience from the Shakespearean play! However, his studies at Oxford lasted only six months 1942-3.

Much later in his career, Burton co-directed (along with Inkling Neville Coghill) a labour of love that records a performance given by Burton at Oxford University in 1966 of Christopher Marlowe's 400-year-old verse play 'Doctor Faustus'. Burton plays Faust, a medieval doctor who sells his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for mastering all human knowledge. The Devil tempts Faust at every turn by confronting him with the seven deadly sins and Helen of Troy (Elizabeth Taylor), who appears throughout the film in various stages of undress. Doctor Faustus stands firm.

The production was filmed in Rome, with the majority of the cast Oxford University amateur actors. (The video can still be obtained).

Very interesting man Coghill...

The Canterbury Tales


With their astonishing diversity of tone and subject-matter, The Canterbury Tales have become one of the touchstones of medieval literature. The tales are told by a motley crowd of pilgrims as they journey for five days from Southwark to Canterbury. Drawn from all levels of society and all walks of life (from knight to nun, miller to monk), the pilgrims reveal a picture of English life in the fourteenth century that is as robust as it is representative.

Rendered with consummate skill and sensitivity into modern English verse by Neville Coghill, The Canterbury Tales (which Geoffrey Chaucer began in 1386 and never completed) retain all their vigour, their humour and indeed their poetry.

Inkling Neville Coghill did a great service to Chaucer in making his work live for many people who would not otherwise have been able to appreciate it. C S Lewis thought it masterly, and was very pleased that his friend's labour had brought the ancient text to modern eyes whilst retaining it's basic character.

A Postscript
Professor Coghill used to appear on request before various groups to read from his Chaucer translations, and, on one occasion which he cherished long after, a lady came up afterwards and said, "That was wonderful. Thank you so much. We are so sorry that Mrs. Chaucer was unable to come with you."

Welsh...

Now here is a Tolkien quote that most will never have encountered before... dyn treiddgar iawn Athro Tolkien...

(I do not know who created this wonderful image, but I do hope I have not upset anyone by reusing it)

Natural and Supernatural


"... where Williams differs from (other) writers... is in his portrayal of a world of supernatural moral law governing the interaction between two levels of states of being. For him the living and the dead exist within a single spiritual realm.

The basic premise is made clear in the second chapter of Descent into Hell. Here a London suburban estate is presented as multi-dimensional, time being contained within space, time occupying space, so that within this particular spot the present, the past, and the future are seen to be co-terminous. Whereas a similar concept can be presented materialistically (as in Alan Garner's novel Red Shift [1973]) Charles Williams uses this concept of relativity in a theological context: the living and the dead influence each other in an eternal dimension to which both belong and of which the physical world is the sacrament. Accordingly in this particular book the moral suicide of a distinguished military historian chimes, as it were, with the physical suicide of one of the workmen who built the house in which he lives. So too the fear endured by a young woman who is subject to the visitations of a Doppelgänger is both shared with, and supportive of, the fear suffered by a sixteenth century ancestor, a victim of religious persecution. In each case the fate of an individual is related to a timeless spiritual process. Williams's vision is essentially theological.

He describes his supernatural world with extraordinary particularity. Instead of obtruding the ghostly element upon the life of everyday, he assumes that life into the supernatural dimension: it is thus impossible to banish his phantoms from our own world, because we find ourselves inhabiting theirs, and subject to its laws."

Glen Cavaliero - 'The Novels of Charles Williams'

Beren and Lúthien


[Image: Ted Nasmith]

With so much of Tolkien's world having been made into movies of one kind or another, one wonders just how long it will be before the central tragedy of Beren and Lúthien will figure in such? Here are the first 22 lines of "The Geste", familiar to few it seems, but with an undeniable beauty and power. 

A king there was in days of old:
ere Men yet walked upon the mould
his power was reared in cavern's shade,
his hand was over glen and glade.
His shields were shining as the moon,
his lances keen of steel were hewn,
of silver grey his crown was wrought,
the starlight in his banners caught;
and silver thrilled his trumpets long
beneath the stars in challenge strong;
enchantment did his realm enfold,
where might and glory, wealth untold,
he wielded from his ivory throne
in many-pillared halls of stone.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
and metal wrought like fishes' mail,
buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
and gleaming spears were laid in hoard —
all these he had and loved them less
than a maiden once in Elfinesse;
for fairer than are born to Men
a daughter had he, Lúthien.

J.R.R. Tolkien ~ The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

Christ in us...

[A modern bus coming down Headington Hill]

The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. In a sense, I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armour, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armour or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corselet meant the incalculable. The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fears. In a sense I was not moved by anything. I chose to open, to unbuckle, to loosen the rein. I say, "I chose," yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. On the other hand, I was aware of no motives. You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I am more inclined to think that this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done. Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom, and perhaps a man is most free when, instead of producing motives, he could only say, "I am what I do."

C.S. Lewis - Surprised by Joy (1955)

"... you can't paint fizzing light, can you?"


I am more shaky than usual this year. The North Polar Bear’s fault! It was the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there ever has been. It turned the North Pole BLACK and shook all the stars out of place broke the moon into four — and the Man in it fell into my back garden. He quite a lot of my Christmas chocolates before he said he felt better, and climbed back to mend it and get the stars tidy. Then I found out that the reindeer had broken loose. They were running all over the country, breaking reins and ropes and tossing presents up in the air. They were all packed up to start, you see — yes it only happened this morning; it was a sleigh-load of chocolate things — which always send to England early. I hope yours are nor badly damaged. But isn’t the North Polar Bear silly? And he isn’t a bit sorry! Of course he did it — you remember I had to move last year because of him? 

The tap turning on the Aurora Borealis fireworks is still in the cellar of my old house. The North Polar Bear knew he must never, never touch I only let it off on special days like Christmas. He says he thought it was cut off since we moved — anyway he was nosing round the ruins this morning soon after breakfast (he hides things to eat there) and turned on all the Northern Lights for two years in one go. You have never heard or seen anything like it. I have tried to draw a picture of it; but I am too shaky to do it properly and you can’t paint fizzing light, can you?

Love from Father Christmas
1926

The Father Christmas Letters’
J.R.R. Tolkien

The Father Christmas Letters


Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R.Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in strange spidery handwriting and a beautiful coloured drawing or some sketches. The letters were from Father Christmas. 

They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole: how all the reindeer got loose and scattered presents all over the place; how the accident-prone Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house into the dining-room; how he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden; how there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house! 

Sometimes the Polar Bear would scrawl a note, and sometimes Ilbereth the Elf would write in his elegant flowing script, adding yet more life and humour to the stories. No reader, young or old, can fail to be charmed by the inventiveness and ‘authenticity’ of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. Seek out a copy! 

Nature's depravity


So much for Nature's imperfection; her positive depravity calls for a very different explanation. According to the Christians this is all due to sin: the sin both of men and of powerful, non-human beings, supernatural but created... To be sure, the morbid inquisitiveness about such beings which led our ancestors to a pseudo-science of Demonology, is to be sternly discouraged: our attitude should be that of the sensible citizen in wartime who believes that there are enemy spies in our midst but disbelieves nearly every particular spy story. We must limit ourselves to the general statement that beings in a different, and higher 'Nature' which is partially interlocked with ours have, like men, fallen and have tampered with things inside our frontier. The doctrine, besides proving itself fruitful of good in each man's spiritual life, helps to protect us from shallowly optimistic or pessimistic views of Nature. To call her either 'good' or 'evil' is boys' philosophy. We find ourselves in a world of transporting pleaures, ravishing beauties, and tantalising possibilities, but all constantly being destroyed, all coming to nothing. Nature has all the air of a good thing spoiled.

The sin, both of men and of angels, was rendered possible by the fact that God gave them free will: thus surrendering a portion of His omnipotence (it is again a deathlike or descending movement) because He saw that from a world of free creatures, even though they fell, He could work out (and this is the reascent) a deeper happiness and a fuller splendour than any world of automata would admit.

C.S. Lewis, Miracles (1947)

Jack, in a hat

Now there are many stories about this famous hat, and Major (Warnie) Lewis recalls one of them in his Memoir prefacing the Letters. He writes:

Jack's clothes were a matter of complete indifference to him: he had an extraordinary knack of making a new suit look shabby the second time he wore it. One of his garments has passed into legend. It is said that Jack once took a guest for an early morning walk on the Magdalen College grounds, in Oxford, after a very wet night. Presently the guest brought his attention to a curious lump of cloth hanging on a bush. "That looks like my hat," said Jack; then joyfully, "It is my hat." And clapping the sodden mass on his head, he continued his walk.

That same hat was lost on one of our picnics, coming back from Cambridge at the end of a term. On the way to Cambridge, at the beginning of the next term, we looked inside the field gate where we had picnicked, and there was the hat, under the hedge, being used as a home for field mice. Jack retrieved it, of course, and later on continued to wear it.

Sometime after that, that same hat spent a week under the front seat of my car; and the very last time I drove the professor, the same hat sat squarely on his head.


Clifford Morris, "A Christian Gentleman", C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Remininscences (1979)

John Wain's description of the Inklings

"This was a circle of instigators, almost of incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life.” 

---oOo---

This is what John Wain an undergrad during the war but later Oxford Professor of Poetry, wrote on hearing of Williams' death: 

“I was walking from Longwall Street, where I lodged, towards St. John's, and had just reached the Clarendon Building when a girl I knew by sight came peddling round the corner from New College Lane.  "John", she called out, "Charles Williams is dead."  She had never spoken to me before, and normally would have avoided using my Christian name.  But this was a general disaster, like an air-raid, and the touch of comradliness was right.  I asked her for details, but she knew nothing except that he was dead.  In any case, she could not talk, she was only just not crying. 

I walked on towards St. John's.  The war with Germany was over.  Charles Williams was dead.  And suddenly Oxford was a different place.  There was still so much to enjoy, much to love and hate, much to get used to; but the war-time Oxford of my undergraduate days had disappeared.  Its pulse had stopped with the pulse of Williams." 

John Wain was also an occasional member of the Inklings.

The Scientist Takes Over


A review of C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength (1945) 
by George Orwell 

On the whole, novels are better when there are no miracles in them. Still, it is possible to think of a fairly large number of worth-while books in which ghosts, magic, second-sight, angels, mermaids, and what-not play a part. 

Mr. C. S. Lewis's "That Hideous Strength" can be included in their number - though, curiously enough, it would probably have been a better book if the magical element had been left out. For in essence it is a crime story, and the miraculous happenings, though they grow more frequent towards the end, are not integral to it. 

In general outline, and to some extent in atmosphere, it rather resembles G. K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday." Mr. Lewis probably owes something to Chesterton as a writer, and certainly shares his horror of modern machine civilisation (the title of the book, by the way, is taken from a poem about the Tower of Babel) and his reliance on the 'eternal verities' of the Christian Church, as against scientific materialism or nihilism. 


His book describes the struggle of a little group of sane people against a nightmare that nearly conquers the world. A company of mad scientists - or, perhaps, they are not mad, but have merely destroyed in themselves all human feeling, all notion of good and evil - are plotting to conquer Britain, then the whole planet, and then other planets, until they have brought the universe under their control. 

All superfluous life is to be wiped out, all natural forces tamed, the common people are to be used as slaves and vivisection subjects by the ruling caste of scientists, who even see their way to conferring immortal life upon themselves. Man, in short, is to storm the heavens and overthrow the gods, or even to become a god himself. 

There is nothing outrageously improbable in such a conspiracy. Indeed, at a moment when a single atomic bomb - of a type already pronounced 'obsolete' - has just blown probably three hundred thousand paople to fragments, it sounds all too topical. Plenty of people in our age do entertain the monstrous dreams of power that Mr. Lewis attributes to his characters, and we are within sight of the time when such dreams will be realisable. 

His description of the N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments), with its world-wide ramifications, its private army, its secret torture chambers, and its inner ring of adepts ruled over by a mysterious personage known as The Head, is as exciting as any detective story. It would be a very hardened reader who would not experience a thrill on learning that The Head is actually - however, that would be giving the game away.

One could recommend this book ureservedly if Mr. Lewis had succeeded in keeping it all on a single level. Unfortunately, the supernatural keeps breaking in, and it does so in rather confusing, undisciplined ways. The scientists are endeavouring, among other things, to get hold of the body of the ancient Celtic magician Merlin, who has been buried - not dead, but in a trance - for the last 1,500 years, in hopes of learning from him the secrets of pre-Christian magic. 

They are frustrated by a character who is only doubtfully a human being, having spent part of his time on another planet where he has been gifted with eternal youth. Then there is a woman with second sight, one or two ghosts, and various superhuman visitors from outer space, some of them with rather tiresome names which derive from earlier books of Mr. Lewis's. The book ends in a way that is so preposterous that it does not even succeed in being horrible in spite of much bloodshed. 

Much is made of the fact that the scientists are actually in touch with evil spirits, although this fact is known only to the inmost circle. Mr. Lewis appears to believe in the existence of such spirits, and of benevolent ones as well. He is entitled to his beliefs, but they weaken his story, not only because they offend the average reader's sense of probability but because in effect they decide the issue in advance. When one is told that God and the Devil are in conflict one always knows which side is going to win. The whole drama of the struggle against evil lies in the fact that one does not have supernatural aid. However, by the standard of the novels appearing nowadays this is a book worth reading. 

Manchester Evening News, 16 August 1945
Reprinted as No. 2720 (first half) in The Complete Works of George Orwell,
edited by Peter Davison, Vol. XVII (1998), pp. 250-251