I never told you a curious thing - I have meant to include it in several letters - wh[ich] provides a new instance of the malignity of the Little People. I was going into town one day and had got as far as the gate when I realised that I had odd shoes on, and one of them clean and the other dirty. There was no time to go back. As it was impossible to clean the dirty one, I decided that the only way of making myself look less ridiculous was to dirty the clean one. Now w[oul]d you have believed that this is an impossible operation? You can of course get some mud on it - but it remains obviously a clean shoe that has had an accident and won’t look in the least like a shoe that you have been for a walk in. One discovers new catches and snags in life every day.
03 December 2017
02 December 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
'If we insist that the Bible is "more" than a work of literature, we ought at least to stick to the word "more," and try to see what if means.
'What I think it means is that we have to turn again to the traditional but still neglected theory of "polysemous" meaning. One of the commonest experiences of reading is the sense of further discoveries to be made within the same structure of words. The feeling is approximately "there is more to be got out of this," or we may say, of something we particularly admire, that every time we read it we get something new out of it. This "something new" is not necessarily something we have overlooked before, but may come rather from a new context in our experience. The implication is that when we start to read, some kind of dialectical process begins to unfold, so that any given understanding of what we read is one of a series of phases or stages of comprehension.'
View all my reviews
25 November 2017
Unity Valkyrie Mitford (1914-1948) was the fourth of the remarkable daughters of Lord Redesdale.
Fans of Tolkien will immediately notice the similarity of phrasing to the first chapter of The Hobbit:
The mother of this hobbit -- of Bilbo Baggins, that is -- was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took.
There's no denying that the Mitford sisters were indeed noteworthy, some of them even notorious; and the world brims with remarkable daughters. So Hooper's phrasing may be a matter of chance. But it would also be no surprise if Hooper consciously echoed a work Lewis esteemed so highly.
21 November 2017
How often Christ's cry upon the cross re-echoes through one's aching soul; that most desolate and piercing cry the saddest ever uttered in this sad world.... We do not know how God answered it; but we believe that, in spite of cruelty and sin and death, the answer is peace. I think the answer to you comes through the testimony, the living proof, of those most glorious boys, who never looked back, and went to death like Bridegrooms, like Phoebus Apollo running his course; Phoebus, who sent his shafts to Julian in his last moments on earth, and was answered by the flicker of his eyes; that gleam from Julian which will speak to you, in the long hours of waiting and darkness, of the immortality of the soul and the deathlessness of love.
In a cultural situation in which the elder generation chose to phrase its condolence letters and its exhortations in such terms, it is small wonder that poets who were themselves soldiers employed a similar amalgamation of Christian and pagan imagery and concepts, in which the idea of the soldiers as new Christ, who lays down his life for his friends and his country, is inextricably intertwined with classical exempla. Some poets invoked not just classical allusions but the Olympians by name, and in a tone that would imply utter sincerity did we not know that the soldiers of 1914 were nominally, and often much more than nominally, Christians, and their poetry is permeated with invocations of Jehovah and Christ. Yet, although of course no British poet (soldier or civilian) writing in 1914-18 would have claimed to 'believe in' the Olympian gods in the sense of assuming those gods' objective reality, pagan imagery of the Olympians and the heroes is inextricably interwoven with Christian imagery. The Christian soldier must fight for justice and the protection of the weak; it is his Christian duty -- and Zeus and the heroes of Troy will spur him on to do so.(Vandiver 206)
In that book, moreover, I came across a poem I am not sure I'd seen before. However that may be, the poem now struck me in a new way:
Deaf to the music, once a boy
His Homer, crib in hand, had read;
Now near the windy plains of Troy,
He lives an Iliad instead.
Far from saying that the actual experience of real war shows the boy how insufficient literature in general and Homer in particular are, Shillito's poem implies instead that the actual experience of war shows the boy precisely how real Homer is. The contrast is not between reading the Iliad and experiencing actual war but between reading the Iliad and experiencing the Iliad. Thus the Iliad is assumed to occupy both realms -- active and contemplative -- simultaneously.
(246, italics original)
Poetry I discovered much later in Latin and Greek, and especially through being made to try and translate English verse into classical verse. A real taste for fairy-stories was wakened by philology on the threshold of manhood, and quickened to full life by war.
(OFS ¶ 56)
In May 1944 in a letter to his son, Christopher, then in the RAF, Tolkien recommended writing as a means of expressing what he was feeling in the service:
I think also that you are suffering from suppressed 'writing'. That may be my fault. You have had rather too much of me and my peculiar mode of thought and reaction. And as we are so akin it has proved rather powerful. Possibly inhibited you. I think if you could begin to write, and find your own mode, or even (for a start) imitate mine, you would find it a great relief. I sense amongst all your pains (some merely physical) the desire to express your feeling about good, evil, fair, foul in some way: to rationalize it, and prevent it just festering. In my case it generated Morgoth and the History of the Gnomes.
(Letters, no. 66)
12 November 2017
Except at the making of Eve Adam slept
Not at all (as men now sleep) before the Fall;
Sin yet unborn, he was free from that dominion
04 Of the blind brother of death who occults the mind.
Instead, when stars and twilight had him to bed
And the dutiful owl, whirring over Eden, had hooted
A warning to the other beasts to be hushed till morning
08 And curbed their plays that the Man should be undisturbed,
He would lie, relaxed, enormous, under a sky
Starry as never since; he would set ajar
The door of his mind. Into him thoughts would pour
12 Other than day's. He rejoined Earth, his mother.
He melted into her nature. Gradually he felt
As though through his own flesh the elusive growth,
The hardening and spreading of roots in the deep garden;
16 In his veins, the wells filling with silver rains,
And, thrusting down far under his rock-crust,
Finger-like, rays from the heavens that probed, bringing
To bloom the gold and diamond in his dark womb.
20 The seething, central fires moved with his breathing.
He guided his globe smoothly in the heaven, riding
At one with his planetary peers around the Sun;
Courteously he saluted the hard virtue of Mars
24 And Venus' liquid glory as he spun between them.
Over Man and his mate the Hours like waters ran
Till darkness thinned in the east. The treble lark,
Carolling, awoke the common people of Paradise
28 To yawn and scratch, to bleat and whinny, in the dawn.
Collected now in themselves, human and erect,
Lord and Lady walked on the dabbled sward,
As if two trees should arise dreadfully gifted
32 With speech and motion. The Earth's strength was in each.
The first three quatrains (lines 1-12) called at once to my mind Tolkien's characterization of the dreams of Elves:
With that [Aragorn] fell asleep. Legolas already lay motionless, his fair hands folded upon his breast, his eyes unclosed, blending living night and deep dream, as is the way with Elves.(TT 3.ii.442)
and he could sleep, if sleep it could be called by Men, resting his mind in the strange paths of elvish dreams, even as he walked open-eyed in the light of this world.
Finally in this lovely web of influences we should not forget that Tolkien modeled the way Treebeard spoke 'on the booming voice of C. S. Lewis' (Carpenter, 1977, 194), just as Lewis drew on Tolkien to shape his hero, Ransom, the philologist and hero of his Space Trilogy.