Beren and the Red Maw

Beren, in the form of a werewolf (Draugluin) at the gates of Angband,
meets Carcharoth, the Red Maw...

Before those gates alone they stood,
while Carcharoth in doubtful mood, 
glowered upon them, and snarling spoke, 
and echoes in the arches woke:
"Hail! Draugluin, my kindred's lord! 
'Tis very long since hitherward
thou camest. Yea, tis passing strange 
to see thee now: a grievous change 
is on thee, lord, who once so dire, 
so dauntless, and as fleet as fire, 
ran over wild and waste, but now
with weariness must bend and bow! 
'Tis hard to find the struggling breath 
when Huan's teeth as sharp as death 
have rent the throat? What fortune rare 
brings thee back living here to fare--
if Draugluin thou are? Come near! 
I would know more, and see thee clear".

J.R.R. Tolkien
(lines 3750 - 3767)
The Geste of Beren and Luthien

[Image : Clive Lauzon]

Forbidden Pleasure

Quick! The black, sulphurous, never quenched,
Old festering fire begins to play
Once more within. Look! By brute force I have wrenched
Unmercifully my hands the other way.

Quick, Lord! On the rack thus, stretched tight,
Nerves clamouring as at nature's wrong.
Scorched to the quick, whipp'd raw—Lord, in this plight
You see, you see no man can suffer long.

Quick, Lord! Before new scorpions bring
New venom—ere fiends blow the fire
A second time—quick, show me that sweet thing
Which, 'spite of all, more deeply I desire.

C.S. Lewis
Poems (Bles) 1964

Neville Cogill and Vladek (Kronsteen) Sheybal

In 1959, the Polish actor Vladek Sheybal arrived in England not knowing anyone and unable to speak English. He supported himself by working in menial jobs in a Polish delicatessen and then in an artifical jewellery shop in Brick Lane, London. When he finished his job at the jewellery shop, he took a train from Paddington station to Oxford with all his worldy goods in a small suitcase, and the only money he had in the world -- ten English pounds.

Soon after Vladek arrived in Oxford, the typical English weather turned sour and it began to rain. Taking refuge in a coffee shop, he was recognised and later befriended, by students who had seen the Polish film "Kanal" (1956) in which Vladek was featured, the night before at their local cinema -- a film as poignant and thought provoking now as it was then, I know I own a copy!

Eventually, Vladek became a recognised student of English Literature at Merton College, Oxford after being taken under the wing of Professor Neville Coghill.

In 1963, Vladek was offered a small part in the second James Bond film "From Russia with Love" but was reluctant to take the part and turned it down. Eventually he was persuaded by Sean Connery (who was by now a close friend) to take the role of the villanous chess master 'Kronsteen'. Vladek played the part as usual, to perfection; creating a character so elegantly arrogant that 'Kronsteen' is perhaps the most believable and memorable Bond villains of the entire series.

Wonder if Vladek met the rest of the Inklings whilst at Merton? After all J.R.R. Tolkien, Neville Coghill and Hugo Dyson were all fellows at Merton in the 1950s.

Very, very interesting man Coghill...

A 'Tolkien' Christmas

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!
George Allen & Unwin (London) 1976

A 'Williams' Christmas

A "spiritual thriller" about supernatural powers breaking in on everyday life when they are summoned for selfish purposes.

In the 1920s or '30s, in England, a young woman, Nancy Coningsby, the daughter of a minor civil servant, is engaged to a young man from the Roma (Gypsy) people. Nancy's father, owns a very rare, old set of Tarot cards bequeathed to him by a deceased friend, and it is his intention to turn the cards over to a museum upon his own death. Nancy's fiancée, Henry, realises that this particular Tarot pack is the only ‘true’ pack in existence. A pack that is so accurately rendered that it can truly summon and command occult powers, as opposed to other sets that lack any real power.

Henry's grandfather, Aaron, occupies a 17th century house where there is a table in a secret room, and on the table, there is a collection of miniature figures in a perpetual dance that represents the ‘Great Dance,’ which is said to be the foundation of the universe. If the pack of cards can come into the possession of the owner of the table and the miniature figures, then the owner will achieve absolute power and be able to command the four elements of earth, wind, water, and fire.

Henry contrives to lure Nancy, her father, Mr. Coningsby, and Nancy's Aunt Sybil, who lives with them, to Aaron's house for Christmas, in the hope of getting the cards away from Coningsby. Since Henry cannot use direct violence, he uses the occult power of the cards to create a blinding snowstorm when Coningsby goes out for a walk on Christmas afternoon, with the desire that he will die in the storm.

Sybil is so aware of the love of God in her life, that she lives in a continuous atmosphere of deep, loving calm, given over entirely to the will of her creator.

Here is Sybil stepping out into the teeth of the supernatural snowstorm, a storm specifically conjured to kill:

“... 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 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.”

Something goes awry with the snow storm, which spirals out of control, and we are informed by Henry and Aaron that the elements will now destroy the world...

Charles Williams – The Greater Trumps

A 'Lewis' Christmas

Three things go by the name of Christmas.  One is a religious festival.  This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here.

The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn't go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality.  If it were my business too have a 'view' on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making.  But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business.  I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends.  It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs.

But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone's business.  I mean of course the commercial racket.  The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity.  Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children.  But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers.

C. S. Lewis
God in the Dock
(Essays on Theology and Ethics)

He would have much preferred to operate necromantically...

He believed therefore that as, by proper magical means, a soul could within certain limits of time, be recalled to its body, so this false body might for a time ensnare and hold that other soul which was his enemy.  He would have much preferred to operate necromantically on Lester's own proper body, and if Richard had remained under his influence he would have obtained through him some possession of hers which would have served for the first faint magical link with that body, and so set up a relation between them which might have brought her now corrupting flesh — or perhaps the scattered ashes of her cremated body — into this very hall.  But Richard had failed him, and he had no time to take more subtle ways; the danger to his domination of Betty now arising from Jonathan and from Lester was too great.  He knew that the government of this world would be driven by popular pressure to make some approach to him, and that in no very long period the fatal meeting with his Types would be forced on him-fatal because though at a distance they might be energized and driven by his will, yet when the three met they must dwindle and fade beside him.  And first he must have sent his daughter into the spiritual world.  He must be for ever before he could be now.  So that altogether time was against him; the first condition of the universe was against him.  He was hurried; he had to make haste.  Therefore the magical trap; therefore its tossing, as he now proposed, into the ordinariness of earth.

He whispered into the ear of the dwarf-woman, still pressing his hands on it. He and it were now alone in the hall.  It could not be said to hear him, but it received his breath.  He was now separated from those two other children of earth, and they from him, unless he deliberately called them.  He knew that their awareness must be now of and through the body they in some sense inhabited; not that they lived in it as in a place, but that they only knew through it.  There was no limit to the number of spiritual beings who could know in that way through one body, for there was not between any of them and it any organic relation.  The singleness of true incarnation must always be a mystery to the masters of magic; of that it may be said that the more advanced the magic, the deeper the mystery, for the very nature of magic is opposed to it.  Powerful as the lie may be, it is still a lie.  Birth and death are alike unknown to it; there is only conjunction and division.  But the lie has its own laws.  Once even Lester had assented to that manner of knowledge, she must enter the City so.  It remained to discover what she could do there.

Charles Williams
All Hallows’ Eve
Chapter 8 - The Magical Creation

Thû, or Sauron - from the Geste

Thû, or as he was known in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Sauron, was a servant of Morgoth, dwelling in his tower on the Wizard’s Isle on the borders of the North where Morgoth dwelt in Angband.

Men called him Thû, and as a god
in after days beneath his rod
bewildered bowed to him, and made
his ghastly temples in the shade.
Not yet by Men enthralled adored,
now was he Morgoth's mightiest lord,
Master of Wolves, whose shivering howl
for ever echoed in the hills, and foul
enchantments and dark sigaldry
did weave and wield.  In glamoury*
that necromancer held his hosts
of phantoms and of wandering ghosts,
of misbegotten or spell-wronged
monsters that about him thronged,
working his bidding dark and vile:
the werewolves of the Wizard's Isle.

From Thû their coming was not hid;
and though beneath the eaves they slid
of the forest's gloomy-hanging boughs,
he saw them afar, and wolves did rouse:
'Go! fetch me those sneaking Orcs,' he said,
'that fare thus strangely, as if in dread,
and do not come, as all Orcs use
and are commanded, to bring me news
of all their deeds, to me, to Thû.'
From his tower he gazed, and in him grew
suspicion and a brooding thought,
waiting, leering, till they were brought.
Now ringed about with wolves they stand,
and fear their doom. Alas! the land,
the land of Narog left behind!
Foreboding evil weights their mind,
as downcast, halting, they must go
and cross the stony bridge of woe
to Wizard's Isle, and to the throne
there fashioned of blood-darkened stone.

(lines 2,064 – 2,099)

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

Gomorrah closed itself against her...

Adela ran. She had soon no breath for screaming. She ran. She did not know where she was going. She ran. She heard a voice calling behind her: "The earth's loose and the wind's blowing", and she ran more wildly. Her flesh felt the touch of a gritty hand; a voice kept calling after her and round her: "The earth's loose; the wind's blowing." She ran wildly and absurdly, her full mouth open, her plump arms spasmodically working, tears of terror in her eyes. She desired above all things immediate safety-in some place and with someone she knew. Hugh had disappeared. She ran over the Hill, and through a twisted blur of tears and fear recognized by a mere instinct Lawrence Wentworth's house. She rushed through the gate; here lived someone who could restore her to her own valuation of herself. Hugh's shouted orders had been based on no assent of hers to authority; however much she had played at sensual and sentimental imitations of obedience, she hated the thing itself in any and every mode. She wanted something to condone and console her fear. There was a light in the study; she made for it; reached the window, and hammered on the glass, hammered again and again, till Wentworth at last heard and reluctantly drew himself from the stupor of his preoccupation, came slowly across the room and drew back the curtain.

They confronted each other through the glass. Wentworth took a minute or two to recognize whose was the working and mottled face that confronted him, and when he recognized it, he made a motion to pull the curtain again and to go away. But as she saw the movement she struck so violently at the glass that even in his obsession he was terrified of others hearing, and slowly and almost painfully he pushed the window up and stood staring at her. She put her hands on the sill and leant inwards. She said - "Lawrence, Lawrence, something's about!"

 He still stood there, looking at her now with a heavy distaste, but he said nothing, and when she tried to catch his hand he moved it away. She looked up at him, and a deeper fear struck at her - that here was no refuge for her. Gomorrah closed itself against her; she stood in the outer wind of the plain. It was cold and frightful; she beat, literally, on the wall. She sobbed; "Lawrence, help me."

Charles Williams
Descent into Hell
Ch. 11 - The Opening of Graves

Free acts and the cosmic shape

When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation the thought will often cross our minds that (if only we knew it) the event is already decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided - in a sense it was decided 'before all worlds'. But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering. Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude that we can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten a.m. (Some scientists would find this easier than popular thought does.)

The imagination will, no doubt, try to play all sort of tricks on us at this point. It will ask, 'Then if I stop praying can God go back and alter what has already happened?' No. The event has already happened and one of its causes has been the fact that you are asking such questions instead of praying. It will ask, 'Then if I begin to pray can God go back and alter what has already happened?' No. The event has already happened and one of its causes is your present prayer. Thus something does really depend on my choice. My free act contributes to the cosmic shape. That contribution is made in eternity 'before all worlds'; but my consciousness of contributing reaches me at a particular point in the time series.
C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Appendix B (1947)

Of Beren and Lúthien

[Image: Beren and Lúthien - Peter Xavier Price]

Lúthien, called 'Lúthien Tinuviel' by Beren (Nightingale, daughter of twilight in Sindarin), was the fairest of the elven maids of Beleriand, and lived in the First Age of the Sun before the War of Wrath.  Her story and fate is tied inevitably to Beren son of Barahir, with whom she fell in love when he wandered into Doriath.  Lúthien Tinuviel was daughter of the great King Thingol of Doriath, greatest of the Teleri elves, who would not give his daughter freely, especially to a mortal man.  So, Upon Thingol's discovery of Beren's presence in his land, he sent for him and, having sworn not to harm the man, set before him a quest to recover a Silmaril from Morgoth's iron crown.  Upon the successful completion of this quest, Beren would be allowed to marry Lúthien, as they desired.

So, Beren set out upon his quest while Lúthien, imprisoned by Melian the Queen of Doriath to stop her from following Beren into hell, devised a means of escape from her prison in order to follow her love.  Beren travelled to Nargothrond and there gained the help of King Felagund while gaining strong enemies in the Sons of Feanor.  Beren and the party left Nargothrond and travelled north disguised as orcs until they came to Wizard's Isle and were imprisoned by Thu (Sauron), Lord of Wolves.  Lúthien flees Doriath to help Beren and, with the help of Haun, great hound of the Valar, they destroy Wizard's Isle and free Beren (Felagund and his companions had died in captivity at the hands of Thu's wolves).

Beren and Lúthien wander until they approach Doriath and Beren steals away from Lúthien while she sleeps and goes to Angband to fulfill his quest.  Before approaching Thangorodrim Lúthien and Huan once again find him and, with the help of Lúthien's elvish magic, they approach Angband in the guise of a werewolf and bat.  They enter Angband and steal a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown while he is enchanted by Lúthien. Beren loses the stone, however, when the great wolf Carcharas bites off the hand of Beren that holds the Silmaril.  It is regained, however, in Doriath, when Carcharas is killed by Huan and Beren in the end fulfills his quest to Thingol.

Williams on 'Exchange'

Charles talked and wrote a great deal about the practice of "exchange". It was one of the root rules of the Company. One made a pact and picked up the other person's fear or grief or pain and carried it oneself. This was the theory at any rate. The trouble was that, while the theory was irrefutable, the practice was apt to be dubious.... but how, I asked myself, was I to "present myself shyly to Almighty God in exchange for..."?

Lois Lang-Sims

Letters to Lelange (Kent State UP), Page 54

Wheaton College memories...

I was a student at Wheaton College from 1961 to 1965 and 'Mere Christianity' was required reading. I remember not liking the book at first, thinking CSL argued too much to defend the obvious. Later when great intellectual doubt overwhelmed me, Lewis and his books became my best friends. But when I got to the chapter on The Great Sin (pride) I was suddenly smitten by this writer. He cut right to the heart of the matter. How straight an arrow he can shoot. Since that day I have been reading everything of Lewis I can find. 

Lewis was so popular on campus that one professor (not too kindly) called him "the patron saint of Wheaton College"! The bookstore was filled with everything of Lewis. I bought my first copy of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' there. It was a Puffin paperback that said plainly on the cover, "not for sale in the U.S.A."!  I still have the book with its beautiful cover picture of Susan and Lucy and Aslan dancing round the Stone Table. That scene with the green mountains of Narnia in the background created such a longing in me to go there. And one of the most magical moments of my life was when I read the part where Lucy could not find the back of the wardrobe: 

"Then she saw that there was a light ahead of her..... Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air." 

(Nancy Young) 

Letter to Phyllida

[Image: The Kilns]

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)

Born of Hope

Born of Hope: The Ring of Barahir… is a 72-minute fantasy-adventure fan film directed by Kate Madison and written by Paula DiSante (as Alex K. Aldridge) that is based on the appendices of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The film centres on the communities affected by Sauron's war; the story of Arathorn II and his relationship with Gilraen, and the importance of the Dúnedain bloodline.

The bulk of the film was shot at the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village in Suffolk. Forest scenes were shot in Epping Forest, and flyover shots include views of Snowdonia National Park in Wales and Derwentwater in the Lake District of England.

The Story…
In the late Third Age, Sauron's power is increasing, and he has sent his Orcs to seek out the remnants of the bloodline of Elendil, kept alive in the Dúnedain. Dirhael, his wife Ivorwen and their daughter Gilraen are fleeing from an attack on their village when they are ambushed by Orcs on a forest road, and saved by a group of rangers led by Arathorn. Not having any place safer to go, the refugees go with Arathorn to Taurdal, the village led by his father and Chieftain of the Dúnedain, Arador. While there, Arathorn and Arador ponder the Orcs' motives after finding various pieces of jewelry on their bodies. During her stay in Taurdal, Gilraen falls in love with Arathorn.

In light of the attacks on surrounding settlements, Arador leads his forces on a campaign against the Orcs in the area in an attempt to restore peace to the region. Meanwhile, he sends Arathorn separately in an attempt to determine the meaning behind the attacks. Both are successful, and Arathorn discovers the orcs are serving Sauron, who seeks the Ring of Barahir. Arathorn and Gilraen receive Arador's blessing to be wed, but Arathorn cannot summon the courage to ask Dirhael for his daughter's hand. Arador is summoned to Rivendell to seek Elrond's council, and the wedding is postponed until his return. Arathorn eventually confronts Dirhael, and receives permission to marry his daughter.

A year later, Arador is killed by a hill troll in the Coldfells, making Arathorn the chieftain of the Dúnedain. Gilraen becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, Aragorn. Taurdal knows peace for a while, until Elladan and Elrohir come with news from Rivendell. Elrond has sensed that danger is once again threatening the region, and they request that Gilraen and Aragorn be brought back to Rivendell for safekeeping, as is the tradition with all Dúnedain heirs to the chiefdom. Before Arathorn and Gilraen can come to a decision, orcs attack the village. They are beaten off, however, many Rangers fall, and Arathorn's closest friend, Elgarain, is mortally wounded while defending Gilraen. Arathorn then leads the remaining Rangers in pursuit of the stragglers. They are successful, but Arathorn is mortally wounded in the process. Without a chieftain capable of leading them, the Dúnedain abandon Taurdal and go into hiding in small secret settlements in the forests of Rhudaur, while the Elven twins, Elladan and Elrohir, bring Aragorn with his mother Gilraen to Rivendell, and safety.

The Movie…
The idea for the film was born in 2003 when director/producer/actor Kate Madison wanted to submit a film for the Tolkien Fan Film Exhibition. Originally a modest plan, it grew until April 2006 when the first test shoot occurred. Principal photography started in June 2008, and continued through 2009. The goal was to debut at Ring*Con 2009, which it did. It was later streamed for free on various video websites including DailyMotion and YouTube.

Madison spent her life savings of £8,000 on the film. An extra £17,000 was generated by posting a trailer online, raising the budget to £25,000. Born of Hope was made over a period of six years, using a cast of 400, who would camp in tents so as to be able to shoot in the early mornings.

Christopher Dane (Arathorn) ended up getting very involved in the process of making the film, contributing to the script as well as handling the editing of the final product. Kate Madison, who directed and produced the film, was additionally cast as Elgarain.

Chris Bouchard of The Hunt for Gollum (see previous post) contributed to the production of the film as a camera operator and effects artist.

If you've not seen it, here is your opportunity to see the movie… you can find it, and much additional material, here:

The Hunt for Gollum

The Hunt for Gollum is a 38-minute 2009 British fantasy fan film directed by Chris Bouchard and based on the appendices of The Lord of the Rings.  The plot of the film is set in Middle-earth, when Gandalf the Grey fears that Gollum may reveal information about the One Ring to Sauron.  Gandalf sends ranger Aragorn on a quest to find Gollum.

Filming took place in North Wales, Epping Forest, and Hampstead Heath. The film was shot in high definition video, with a budget - amazing as it might seem - of GBP£3,000 (USD$5,000). The production is completely unofficial and unauthorized, though Bouchard said he had "reached an understanding" with Tolkien Enterprises in 2009. 

The Hunt for Gollum debuted at the Sci-Fi-London film festival and on the Internet, free to view, on 3 May 2009.  By October 20 in the same year, it had been viewed by 5 million people, and has since been viewed over 10 million times.

If you have not yet seen it, the writer of this blog would say in amazement, "Why not?  It's a  short movie that all lovers of Tolkien's sub-creation should see"  Click here ---> 

Magdalen College on a sunshiny Monday Morning

Below is an interesting introduction, explaining how a literary manuscript, marginalia based on a lost letter, a series of lectures, and oral history culminated in the publication of a book:

[by C. S. Lewis]
When Charles Williams died in 1945 he left two works unfinished. One was a long lyric cycle on the Arthurian legend of which two installments had already appeared under the titles of Taliessin through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944). The other was a prose work on the history of the legend which was to have been entitled The Figure of ArthurThe lyrical cycle is a difficult work which, if left without a commentary, might soon become another such battlefield for competing interpretations as Blake's Prophetic Book. Since I had heard nearly all of it read aloud and expounded by the author and had questioned him closely on his meaning I felt that I might be able to comment on it, though imperfectly, yet usefully. His most systematic exposition had been given to me in a long letter which (with that usual folly which forbids us to remember that our friends can die) I did not preserve;but fortunately I had copied large extracts from it into the margin of my copy of Taliessin at the relevant passages. On these, and on memory and comparison with Williams's other works, I based a course of lectures on the cycle which I gave at Oxford in the autumn of 1945. Since a reasonable number of people appeared to be interested I then decided to make these lectures into a book.
It soon became clear that I could hardly explain the narrative assumptions of the cycle without giving some account of the earlier forms of the story — a heavy task which I shrank from undertaking. On the other hand, those to whom Williams had committed the manuscript of the unfinished Figure of Arthur were at the same time considering how that fragment could be most suitably published. The plan on which the present book has been arranged seemed to be the best solution of both problems.In it Williams the critic and literary historian provides an introduction to my study of Williams the Arthurian poet; or, if you prefer, I add to Williams’s history of the legend an account of the last poet who has contributed to it — namely, Williams himself. Chapters IV and V of his work I saw for the first time when Mrs. A. M. Hadfield sent me a typed copy of them. The two first chapters had been read aloud by the author to Professor Tolkien and myself. It may help the reader to imagine the scene; or at least it is to me both great pleasure and great pain to recall. Picture to yourself, then, an upstairs sitting-room with windows looking north into the ‘grove’ of Magdalen College on a sunshiny Monday Morning in vacation at about ten o’clock. The Professor and I, both on the chesterfield, lit our pipes and stretched out our legs. Williams in the arm-chair opposite to us threw his cigarette into the grate, took up a pile of the extremely small, loose sheets on which he habitually wrote — they came, I think, from a twopenny pad for memoranda, and began as follows:—

From Charles William and C. S. Lewis, Arthurian Torso: Containing the Posthumous Fragment of the Figure of Arthur and a Commentary on the Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 1-2.

Betjeman, MacNeice and Lewis in 1927

Monday 24th January 1927

Bussed back into town and to Betjeman's rooms in St Aldates — a v. beautiful panelled room looking across to the side of the House.   found myself pitchforked into a galaxy of super-undergraduates, including Sparrow of the Nonesuch Press.  The only others I remember are Harwood of the House (no relation) and an absolutely silent and astonishingly ugly person called McNeice, of whom Betjeman said afterwards "He doesn't say much but he is a great poet".  It reminded me of the man in Boswell "who was always thinking of Locke and Newton".  his silent bard comes from Belfast or rather Carrickfergus.  The conversation was chiefly about lace curtains, arts-and-crafts (wh. they all dislike}, china ornaments, silver versus earthen teapots, architecture, and the strange habits of "Hearties".  The best thing was Betjeman's v. curious collection of books.

Came away with him and back to College to pull him along thro' Wulfstan till dinner time.  In spite of all his rattle he is really just as ignorant and stupid as Valentin.

C.S. Lewis
All My Road Before Me (1991)

[Image : Louis Macneice at Oxford]

On the Wild

"When pools are black and trees are bare, ‘tis evil in the wild to fare"


Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. Tolkien

Et in Sempiternum Pereant

[Holywell Cemetery, Oxford, just behind St. Cross Church - the large white stone in the centre marks the grave of Charles Williams]

But as Arglay bent, he was aware once more of that effluvia of heat risen round him, and breaking out with the more violence when suddenly the man, if it were man, cast his arm away, and with a jerk of movement rose once more to his feet.  His eyes, as the head went back, burned close into Arglay's, who, what with the heat, the eyes, and his sickness at the horror, shut his own against them, and was at the same moment thrown from his balance by the rising form, and sent staggering a step or two away, with upon his face the sensation of a light hot breath, so light that only in the utter stillness of time could it be felt, so hot that it might have been the inner fire from which the pillar of smoke poured outward to the world.

He recovered his balance; he opened his eyes; both motions brought him into a new corner of that world.   The odd black coat the thing had worn had disappeared, as if it had been a covering imagined by a habit of mind.  The thing itself, a wasted flicker of pallid movement, danced and gyrated in white flame before him.  Arglay saw it still, but only now as a dreamer may hear, half-asleep and half-awake, the sound of dogs barking or the crackling of fire in his very room.  For he opened his eyes not to such things, but to the thing that on the threshold of this place, some seconds earlier or some years, he had felt and been pleased to feel, to the reality of his hate.  It came in a rush within him, a fountain of fire, and without and about him images of the man he hated swept in a thick cloud of burning smoke.

The smoke burned his eyes and choked his mouth; he clutched it, at images within it - at his greedy loves and greedy hates - at the cloud of the sin of his life, yearning to catch but one image and renew again the concentration for which he yearned.  He could not. The smoke blinded and stifled him, yet more than stifling or blinding was the hunger for one true thing to lust or hate.  He was starving in the smoke, and all the hut was full of smoke, for the hut and the world were smoke, pouring up round him, from him and all like him - a thing once wholly, and still a little, made visible to his corporeal eyes in forms which they recognized, but in itself of another nature.  He swung and twisted and crouched.  His limbs ached from long wrestling with the smoke, for as the journey to this place had prolonged itself infinitely, so now, though he had no thought of measurement, the clutch of his hands and the growing sickness that invaded him struck through him the sensation of the passage of years and the knowledge of the passage of moments.  The fire sank within him, and the sickness grew, but the change could not bring him nearer to any end.  The end here was not at the end, but in the beginning.  There was no end to this smoke, to this fever and this chill, to crouching and rising and searching, unless the end was now. 

Charles Williams
Et in Sempiternum Pereant
From: "The London Mercury", 1935

Celegorm and Huan

[Image: "Celegorm - portrait" by Helena Štìpánová]

Up rode Celegorm with his spear,
and bitter death was Beren near.
With elvish steel he nigh was slain
whom Lúthien won from hopeless chain,
but baying Huan sudden sprang
before his master’s face with fang
white-gleaming, and with bristling hair,
as if he on boar or wolf did stare.

The horse in terror leaped aside,
and Celegorm in anger cried:
’Curse thee, thou baseborn dog, to dare
against thy master teeth to bare!’
But dog nor horse nor rider bold
would venture near the anger cold
of mighty Huan fierce at bay.
Red were his jaws. They shrank away,
and fearful eyed him from afar:
nor sword nor knife, nor scimitar,
no dart of bow, nor cast of spear,
master nor man did Huan fear.

There Curufin had left his life,
had Lúthien not stayed that strife.
Waking she rose and softly cried
standing distressed at Beren’s side:
’Forbear thy anger now, my lord!
nor do the work of Orcs abhorred;
for foes there be of Elfinesse
unnumbered, and they grow not less,
while here we war by ancient curse
distraught, and all the world to worse
decays and crumbles. Make thy peace!'

Then Beren did Curufin release;
but took his horse and coat of mail,
and took his knife there gleaming pale,
hanging sheathless, wrought of steel.
No flesh could leeches ever heal
that point had pierced; for long ago
the dwarves had made it, singing slow
enchantments, where their hammers fell
in Nogrod ringing like a bell.
Iron as tender wood it cleft,
and sundered mail like woollen weft.
But other hands its haft now held;
its master lay by mortal felled.

J.R.R. Tolkien
The Geste of Beren and Lúthien
(lines 3,020 - 3,063)

Childhood's End

Dear Joy,

As far as I can remember you were non-committal about Childhood's End*: I suppose you were afraid that you might raise my expectations too high and lead to disappointment. If that was your aim, it has succeeded, for I came to it expecting nothing in particular and have been thoroughly bowled over.  It is quite out of range of the common space-and-time writers; away up near Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus and Well's First Men in the Moon.

[...]There has been nothing like it for years: partly for the actual writing - 'She has left her toys behind but ours go hence with us', or 'The island rose to meet the dawn', but partly (still more, in fact) because here we meet a modern author who understands that there may be things that have a higher claim than the survival or happiness of humanity[...]

It is a strange comment on our age that such a book lies hid in a hideous paper-backed edition, wholly unnoticed by the cognoscenti, while any 'realistic' drivel about some neurotic in a London flat - something that needs no real invention at all, something that any educated man could write if he chose, may get seriously reviewed and mentioned in serious books - as if it really mattered.  I wonder how long this tyranny will last?  Twenty years ago I felt no doubt that I should live to see it all break up and great literature return: but here I am, losing teeth and hair, and still no break in the clouds.

And now, what do you think?  Do you agree that it is AN ABSOLUTE CORKER?

C.S. Lewis
Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III, Letter to Joy Gresham
Dec 22, 1953

*Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End (New York: Ballantine, 1953)