The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Writing: My Oct 23rd Talk at the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society

I’m pleased to announce that I will be giving a talk at the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society next week (Tues, Oct 23rd, 8pm for 8.15pm start at Pusey House). The Society was very kind to fit me in on my short UK trip and allow me to talk about my research. I am talking about the word images in C.S. Lewis’ work and how they relate to spiritual life. To get a sense of what I’m talking about you can read my guest blog at Theological Miscellany or my post on the Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis’ Work. I am quite excited and a bit nervous to test my ideas in the crucible of readers of Lewis so close to his home.

If you are coming to the talk and want to prep by reading something of Lewis’, pick up The Problem of PainMere Christianity, The Pilgrim’s RegressThe Great Divorce, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or Till We Have Faces–whatever one you feel like reading. But as you read ask yourself the question: In what ways is Lewis trying to shape the way I live my spiritual life?

Whether Oxford-bound or stuck at home, I will leave you where I will begin on Tuesday. This is the fifth canto of Dymer, a poem of some beauty but more than just a little difficult to discern in meaning. I am going to start my talk with this scene, with Dymer (hero? villain? dupe of fate?) as he sits in the bracing cold of the mountaintop. I hope, at the very least, it will encourage you to look at the poem again.

Dymer, Canto V


Meanwhile the furrowed fog rolled down ahead,
Long tatters of its vanguard smearing round
The bases of the crags. Like cobweb shed
Down the deep combes it dulled the tinkling sound
Of water on the hills. The spongy ground
Faded three yards ahead: then nearer yet
Fell the cold wreaths, the white depth gleaming wet.


Then after a long time the path he trod
Led downward. Then all suddenly it dipped
Far steeper, and yet steeper, with smooth sod.
He was half running now. A stone that slipped
Beneath him, rattled headlong down: he tripped,
Stumbled and clutched—then panic, and no hope
To stop himself, once lost upon that slope.


And faster, ever faster, and his eye
Caught tree-tops far below. The nightmare feeling
Had gripped him. He was screaming: and the sky
Seemed hanging upside down. Then struggling, reeling,
With effort beyond thought he hung half kneeling,
Halted one saving moment. With wild will
He clawed into the hillside and lay still,


Half hanging on both arms. His idle feet
Dangled and found no hold. The moor lay wet
Against him and he sweated with the heat
Of terror, all alive. His teeth were set.
“By God, I will not die,” said he. “Not yet.”
Then slowly, slowly, with enormous strain,
He heaved himself an inch: then heaved again,


Till saved and spent he lay. He felt indeed
It was the big, round world beneath his breast,
The mother planet proven at his need.
The shame of glad surrender stood confessed,
He cared not for his boasts. This, this was best,
This giving up of all. He need not strive;
He panted, he lay still, he was alive.

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Is Saint Denys in the Headless Hunt? Martyr Legends and Nearly Headless Nick’s Fate

In the great Cathedrals, art is hidden everywhere in plain sight. At the Chester Cathedral yesterday morning, I was able find tiny busts and secret gargoyles and subtle shades of art in every alcove. Even below my feet in the paving stones, I saw that someone had scratched into the stone a compass that suggests (controversially) that the cruciform shape of the cathedral does not sit on a perfect North-South axis (Google Maps also makes this suggestion). The cathedral quire is filled in intricate wood carvings, and one can find etchings, carvings, paintings, sculptures, and living arts of music and ecology everywhere.

And there are, of course, the stained glass windows. A feature of most old churches, this ancient art creates a story for the community in brilliant colours, often drawing on biblical themes and Christian history for the edification, education, and entertainment of churchgoers. This past Sunday one of Chester’s cloister unwindows stopped me up short.

There was St. Denis of Paris in Bishop’s robes attended to by angels and … carrying his own head.

Like I’m sure everyone working on postgraduate studies in religion, I immediately thought of the Headless Hunt in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Just that day I happened to be reading of Nearly Headless Nick’s continued woes. Readers will remember how Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington faced continued persecution by the truly beheaded undead. Despite being “hit forty-five times in the neck with a blunt axe,” Sir Nicholas’ head failed to fully vacate his torso, leaving a small bit of skin that held his head in place.

As a result, in his afterdeath Sir Nicholas was forever known as “Nearly Headless Nick.” And because he was only partially decapitated, Nick’s application to join the Headless Hunt was continually denied. The eighth chapter of Chamber Secrets includes the letter of Nick’s most recent rejection:

We can only accept huntsmen whose heads have parted company with their bodies. You will appreciate that it would be impossible otherwise for members to participate in hunt activities such as Horseback Head-Juggling and Head Polo. It is with the greatest regret, therefore, that I must inform you that you do not fulfill our requirements.
With very best wishes,
Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore

This was the scene that was running through my head as I looked at the window of “Saint Denys” (Brits love substituting y-s when a perfectly good i will do). Next to the window was a large pencil sketch, what the original artist of the window called a “cartoon” (perhaps an unintentionally clever choice of words, given the etymological links of “cartoon” with the root of “cartography”). The sketch was used as the guide for glaziers to proportion the window, no doubt a delicate procedure. In its ongoing outreach in arts and history, Chester Cathedral has made a little exhibit to show the process of creating such a longlasting work of art (all of the pictures are at the bottom of this post).

This artistic gem led me to discover an entire category of martyr that I had no idea existed, cephalophores, literally “head-bearers.” St. Denis’ story of martyrdom is pretty peculiar. Pressed by the Romans to cease his preaching, the bishop of Paris was finally made an example of in Rome’s typically delicate way of dealing with problems. After refusing to be silent, Denis was decapitated on Montmartre (that is Mars Hill, not Mount of Martyrs). Then–and usually after being decapitated there is not a “then”–then Denis picked up his head and walked six miles to his burial place, preaching a sermon of repentance as he went along.

Beyond the convenience of having the corpse deal with his own transport–Jesus’ admonition to let the dead bury their own dead comes to mind–Denis’ homiletic headless journey had a dramatic effect. A whole class of cephalophoric martyrs have appeared, head in hands, in Christian history.

It stricks me, then, that J.K. Rowling’s Headless Hunt and Sir Nicholas’ sad exclusion has an interesting history behind it. Within the great cloud of witnesses are the martyrs who have gone before us, men and women whose lives were so patterned on the cross that they protected not even their own lives. Yet within the company of martyrs is a special class of saints, the cephalophores, who found that their inauspicious beheading turned out to be a minor interruption in the prayer, psalm, sermon, or prophetic warning that was on their lips as they died.

So there seems to be good historical reason to exclude Nearly Headless Nick from the Headless Hunt. The Hunt is made up of cephalophores and (if I can coin a term) cephalagons, people who use their heads (quite literally) in the field of action. Clearly Nick doesn’t fit. But I do feel a little badly for Sir Nicholas, who isn’t a bad house ghost after all.

The Headless Hunt Appears at Nearly Headless Nick’s 500th Deathday

Nearly Headless Nick now drifted toward them through the crowd.
“Enjoying yourselves?”
“Oh, yes,” they lied.
“Not a bad turnout,” said Nearly Headless Nick proudly. “The Wailing Widow came all the way up from Kent. … It’s nearly time for my speech, I’d better go and warn the orchestra. …”
The orchestra, however, stopped playing at that very moment. They, and everyone else in the dungeon, fell silent, looking around in excitement, as a hunting horn sounded.
“Oh, here we go,” said Nearly Headless Nick bitterly.
Through the dungeon wall burst a dozen ghost horses, each ridden by a headless horseman. The assembly clapped wildly; Harry started to clap, too, but stopped quickly at the sight of Nick’s face.
The horses galloped into the middle of the dance floor and halted, rearing and plunging. At the front of the pack was a large ghost who held his bearded head under his arm, from which position he was blowing the horn. The ghost leapt down, lifted his head high in the air so he could see over the crowd (everyone laughed), and strode over to Nearly Headless Nick, squashing his head back onto his neck.
“Nick!” he roared. “How are you? Head still hanging in there?”
He gave a hearty guffaw and clapped Nearly Headless Nick on the shoulder.
“Welcome, Patrick,” said Nick stiffly.
“Live ’uns!” said Sir Patrick, spotting Harry, Ron, and Hermione and giving a huge, fake jump of astonishment, so that his head fell off again (the crowd howled with laughter).
“Very amusing,” said Nearly Headless Nick darkly.
“Don’t mind Nick!” shouted Sir Patrick’s head from the floor. “Still upset we won’t let him join the Hunt! But I mean to say — look at the fellow —”
“I think,” said Harry hurriedly, at a meaningful look from Nick, “Nick’s very — frightening and — er —”
“Ha!” yelled Sir Patrick’s head. “Bet he asked you to say that!”
“If I could have everyone’s attention, it’s time for my speech!” said Nearly Headless Nick loudly, striding toward the podium and climbing into an icy blue spotlight.
“My late lamented lords, ladies, and gentlemen, it is my great sorrow …”
But nobody heard much more. Sir Patrick and the rest of the Headless Hunt had just started a game of Head Hockey and the crowd were turning to watch. Nearly Headless Nick tried vainly to recapture his audience, but gave up as Sir Patrick’s head went sailing past him to loud cheers

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A Place for “Till We Have Faces,” by David C. Downing, Wade Center Co-Director

For today’s Friday Feature I’d like to share the Wade Center blog for this month, highlighting a book that I really, really should write more about. Each time I reread Till We Have Faces it is richer than the last.

Off the Shelf

Recently the Wade Center unveiled a new display in its museum space, recounting the story of C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces (1956) and how it came to be written. The exhibit features the portable Royal typewriter upon which Joy Davidman typed the novel, as well as a colorful afghan she crocheted for Lewis.

Museum display featuring Joy’s typewriter, and first editions of TILL WE HAVE FACES by C. S. Lewis (Left: British, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1956; Right: American, New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1957).

In 1960 Lewis sadly noted about Till We Have Faces in a letter, “that book, which I consider far and away the best I have written, has been my one big failure both with critics and with the public.” But time can heal wounds and bring fresh perspectives, and Lewis’s late novel is now generally regarded as one of his best, if…

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The Sea a Sham Born of Uniformity: On Subverting the Normal with Gene Wolfe (Throwback Thursday)

This year I introduced an occasional feature I call “Throwback Thursday.” This is where I find a blog post from the past–raiding either my own vault or someone else’s–and throw it back out into the digital world. This might be an idea or book that is now relevant again, or a concept I’d like to think about more, or even “an oldie but a goodie” that I think needs a bit of spin time.

I thought about this post for a frankly ridiculous reason. I was flying across the ocean on a journey to the UK, marvelling at this scientific miracle of commercial flight and imagining fantasy realms and how flight would develop there. The Harry Potter world fills us with options, and there are books like the Dragonriders series by Anne McCaffrey. But this dream sequence from Gene Wolfe’s challenging world kept coming back to me. I have since finished the Book of the New Sun and find myself wishing for more.

Classic SciFi authors will cringe when I admit this, but I am reading Gene Wolfe for the first time. It just hasn’t come across my path until I found a dozen Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe books at a thrift store (for a quarter each!). I have now begun The Shadow of The Torturer (1980), volume one of the Book of the New Sun.

If anyone else is on the verge of picking up Gene Wolfe for the first time, I would encourage you not to hesitate. In a very short book, Wolfe has created a sophisticated fictonal world. The speculative air of this future world is shot through with the tang of invention. It is evocative, mood-laden, a story with the skyscape of an unknown futuristic world combined with the familiar cobblestones of a medieval court on the border between European Christendom and the lands of the Saracens.

As evocative as this little book is, it is also disorienting. Gene Wolfe is a committed “show” writer, avoiding the “tell” of info dump. So we discover his speculative universe little by little, and much remains obscure for pages on end. Wolfe demands the suspension of disbelief from his readers and requires our patience as he carefully places the layers of his world into place.

From a writer’s perspective–and Wolfe’s story really is a kind of narrative writer’s workshop–we can learn from his ability to disorient the reader. One can do that easily enough through strangers, dreams, foreign lands, or other dimensional realities; there are some brilliant examples of these in all of the best fantasy books. But Wolfe takes it a step further. He not only enhances the texture of his world by having readers discover its idiosyncrasies, but he also disorients the reader by having her discover mundane realities in her world in new and surprising ways.

The following excerpt is a great example of this subversion of the normal. The protagonist falls asleep beside a giant. In his sleep he mounts a leather-winged beast and explores the dying globe that he has been forced to wander. Watch the way that Wolfe inverts our expectations, speaking of the vision ahead as a “sham of uniformity” and a “purple waste.” The Shadow of the Torturer is a narrative reprimand to the writer prone to info dump, as well as a template for the double inversion of the reader’s expectation in entering the speculative universe.

The Shadow of the Torturer
Chapter 15: Baldanders

And then I dreamed….

I bestrode a great, leather-winged being under a lowering sky. Just equipoised between the rack of cloud and a twilit land we slid down a hill of air. Hardly once, it seemed to me, the finger-winged soarer flapped her long pinions. The dying sun was before us, and it seemed we matched the speed of Urth, for it stood unmoving at the horizon, though we flew on and on.

At last I saw a change in the land, and at first I thought it a desert. Far off, no cities or farms or woods or fields appeared, but only a level waste, a blackened purple in color, featureless and nearly static. The leathern-winged one observed it as well, or perhaps snatched some odor from the air. I felt iron muscles beneath me grow tense, and there were three wing strokes together.

The purple waste showed flecks of white. After a time I became aware that its seeming stillness was a sham born of uniformity – it was the same everywhere, but everywhere in motion – the sea – the World-River Uroboros – cradling Urth. Then for the first time I looked behind me, seeing all the country of humankind swallowed in the night.

When it was gone, and there was everywhere beneath us the waste of rolling water and nothing more, the beast turned her head to regard me. Her beak was the beak of an ibis, her face the face of a hag; on her head was a miter of bone. For an instant we regarded each other, and I seemed to know her thought: You dream; but were you to wake from your waking, I would be there.

Her motion changed as a lugger’s does when the sailors make it to come about on the opposite tack. One pinion dipped, the other rose until it pointed toward the sky, and I scrabbled at the scaled hide and plummeted into the sea.

The shock of the impact woke me. I twitched in every joint, and heard the giant mutter in his sleep. In much the same way I murmured too, and groped to find if my sword still lay at my side, and slept again.

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Peruse Some More Old Books with C. S. Lewis: Guest Post by Dale Nelson

I want to welcome back Prof. Dale Nelson. Dale has written for us before (see here and here and here), and he is following up his great Peruse Some Old Books With C.S. Lewis post with some more! Drawing on his years of experience as a columnist writing for CSL on the books from C.S. Lewis’ bookshelf, he here takes us for a walk through a used bookstore, pulling down volumes that Lewis read or owned and sharing their stories–often from books we have never even heard of. I hope you enjoy this second edition.

Reading my article published here in mid-July, visitors to A Pilgrim in Narnia, as it were, picked up and turned over eight books that might have shown up in a musty London bookshop. The books had in common a connection with C. S. Lewis.  Here are some more books mentioned in Lewis’s letters, in people’s reminiscences of Lewis, and/or in Margaret Anne Rogers’s 1969 paper C. S. Lewis: A Living Library.

Beeton, Isabella. Book of Household Management (1861 and various editions, abridgements, etc.).

I don’t know which edition of Mrs. Beeton’s famous book it was that Lewis referred to on 26 August 1960, when he wrote to Anne Scott: “Cookery books are not such bad reading. Have you Mrs Beeton with the original preface? It is delicious.”

Mrs. Beeton provides recipes involving rabbit, calf’s feet, calf’s head, stewed ox-tails, roast goose, roast larks, eels, turtles, etc., as well as more recognizable edibles. Her book covers etiquette guiding the paying of morning calls and the arrangement of guests for dinner parties. She sets forth the duties of lady’s maids and includes directions for hair pomatum (quarter-pound of lard, 2-pennyworth of castor oil, and scent). Mrs. Beeton warns of nurses who may drug babies to keep them quiet. In case of an emergency, when a physician is not immediately available, she tells how to bleed a patient. Cholera may be avoided by means of strict cleanliness and “judicious ventilation.” She has legal advice, too, and provides a model for an IOU (for ten pounds to pay for coal). Household Management is a valuable window into respectable Victorian England.

Haggard, H. Rider. Montezuma’s Daughter. 1893.

John Wain remembered his tutor, C. S. Lewis, and meetings of the Inklings, in Sprightly Running: Part of an Autobiography (U. S. edition 1963, p. 184):

“Lewis considered ‘fine fabling’ an essential part of literature, and never lost a chance to push any author, from Spenser to Rider Haggard, who could be called a romancer.”

Montezuma’s Daughter was one of the Haggard volumes in Lewis’s library.  The tale’s Elizabethan hero, Thomas Wingfield, follows the wicked Spaniard Juan de Garcia to the New World. Wingfield helps the Aztecs resist the conquistadors. He pursues de Garcia to the lip of a volcano. But suddenly, Wingfield becomes the awe-stricken spectator as his enemy seems to fight desperately against invisible attackers. Suddenly de Garcia throws wide his arms as if he has been struck in the heart, cries out, and falls into the pit.

Lord of the Rings readers will recall Gollum’s struggle with the invisible Frodo, and Gollum’s wail as he falls into Mt. Doom’s fiery cracks. I’ve argued, in “Tolkien’s Further Indebtedness to Haggard” (Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society #47 [Spring 2009]: 38-40), that the passage is one of the most striking examples of numerous parallels between incidents in Haggard’s romances and passages in Tolkien’s fantasy. I discuss some of them in my long article on 19th– and 20th-Century influences on Tolkien in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (ed. Michael Drout, 2006). Tolkien acknowledged the influence of Haggard’s She in a 1966 interview conducted by Henry Resnick.

Moore, Frank Frankfort. The Ulsterman. 1914.

This novel appears in the 1969 catalog of Lewis’s library, but while we have his brother Warren’s comments on it, we don’t know for sure that “Jack” Lewis himself read it. In 1967, Warren read this novel again. He wrote in his diary that he found it “a burning, bitter, but lifelike picture.” Warren concluded that the rudeness, exasperating inquisitiveness, and bullying of his and Jack’s father were not peculiar to Albert, but all too typical of Ulster heads of families. Warnie copied passages from pages 171-172 and 253, such as the place where James Alexander’s son Ned asks if it’s “any wonder that when we’re treated like this, we sons turn out liars and hypocrites?”

James Alexander is a 55-year-old Belfast mill-owner, and, like others of his generation, speaks a prickly “dialect.” His resentful brother Dick supports Ned’s secret love affair with a Roman Catholic girl, knowing how James would hate for his son to marry a “Papish.”

Helen, Ned’s sister, complains,

“People about here are like spies, but they have nothing to talk about …. nothing beyond Home Rule; they read no books, they have no taste in music or in pictures or in anything else that occupies the attention of people elsewhere – in Dublin or London.”

One remembers Lewis’s remarks about the endless political talk so characteristic of the adults in his boyhood home.

Scott, Sir Walter. Guy Mannering. 1815.

In former years, dusty volumes of Scott were inevitable lumber in used bookstores. By now, I suppose, many of those books have been recycled as waste paper. Scott’s popularity in the 19th century was such that enormous quantities were printed, but he has long since fallen out of favor with the reading public.

But Lewis relished Scott’s best novels. “Lovers of Scott will always dispute which is his best novel, but all will put Guy Mannering among the first three,” opined John Buchan in his 1932 study, adding that in this book Scott “wrote of a land which he knew intimately [the Dumfries-Galloway region in Scotland’s southwest] and of a people whom he understood and loved”; Buchan believed the book displayed “great narrative skill.”

In a scene set in a ruined castle on the land that is rightfully his, the degenerate laird Bertram encounters the clerk Glossin, and begins to recite an old prophetic verse:

The dark shall be light,
And the wrong made right,
When Bertram’s right and Bertram’s might
Shall meet on —

(He doesn’t remember what else, but he’s sure “height” completes the rhyme). Reading this bit in Chapter 41, the Lewis fan will wonder if the prophecy recited by Mr. Beaver, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,” etc. (Chapter 8), echoes Scott – perhaps deliberately.

Lewis censured Scott’s carelessness as a writer with a sentence from this novel — “Nothing could be worse than the sentence in which Mannering looks up and the planets ‘rolled’ above him, ‘each in its orbit of liquid light’” (slightly misquoting Scott!) — but he also referred to the book for one of his examples of Scott’s lively talkers (Julia Mannering), in his paper read to the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club in 1956 (printed in Selected Literary Essays).

There’s plenty of dialect and allusion in the novel, so readers will benefit by an extensively annotated edition such as the Penguin Classics one (2003).

Thomson, James. The Seasons. 1726-1730.

Scotsman James Thomson (1700-1748) has, I suppose, fallen from visibility in college literature survey courses.  This long poem might still appeal to some readers for its descriptions of nature and its example of a mind well-stocked with its age’s learning and sentiments (e.g. esteem for moderation), and for Thomson’s foreshadowings of the coming Romantic era.  One encounters a bygone conception of the great dramatist when Thomson refers to “wild Shakespeare… nature’s boast.”  The moon is “a smaller earth,” with mountains and “umbrageous dales” visible through the telescope. Stars are “life-infusing suns of other worlds.” Science fiction is becoming possible!

“I am so glad you liked the Seasons” (Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 1 Oct. 1931).  Thomson appears in a 1947 list of thirty “long authors” whom Lewis recommends as reading for a young man preparing to come to Oxford to study English.

Dale Nelson’s collection of ghostly tales, Lady Stanhope’s Manuscript and Other Stories, was published in Fall 2017 under Douglas Anderson’s Nodens Books imprint, which will also publish his J.R.R. Tolkien: Studies in Reception. Nelson is working on a second collection, The Ivy and the Wind: Strange Stories.


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L.M. Montgomery’s Portrait of the Artist as a Ridiculous Young Man

While there is humour and light and poetry in Mongomery’s prose style, I suspect that most of L.M. Montgomery’s readers are first captured by her characters. Absolutely there is Anne Shirley of Green Gables: impetuous, magical, an invitation to wild imagination. Emily Byrd Starr of New Moon is more muted but no less abandoned and imaginative. Emily doesn’t find the fairy tale adoption when she is orphaned but develops rugged individuality and mystical integrity in the face of alienation and persecution. And there are others: the slow discovery of new life in Matthew and Marilla, the stolid Mrs. Lynde, the painful encouragement of Mr. Carpenter, the Irish fairy priest Fr. Cassidy, bittersweet Walter Blythe, honest miscreant Davy, storyteller Captain Jim, and Phil Gordon who tries hard to be a thoughtless, shallow ditz but is really a person of great intelligence and substance. The characters make us laugh and cry and wonder and invite us into new imaginative spaces.

Montgomery is also peculiarly good at creating hilarious caricatures. Often these are indulgent little portraits, typically satirical and probably a little cruel. They are most likely not people from her world that she decides to pillory in print, for, she was like Emily:

Emily didn’t put any of the neighbours in–she didn’t need to. Characters galore trooped into her consciousness, demanding a local habitation and a name (Emily’s Quest, 18.III).

Still, there are these fabulous characters, often strangers that make only a single appearance but who has a whole pepper and salt her work from beginning to end. Montgomery was, after all, an episodic novelist, a consummate short-story writer, so the characters form the crisis and sometimes the resolution of the vignettes in her work.

One of my favourites, beloved for its sheer pomposity, is the picture of Mark Greaves, aka Mark D. Greaves, aka Mark Delage Greaves, author. Emily meets Greaves quite accidentally. A newspaper editor friend was in quite a fix. They were running a serial story that they grabbed from a novel in order to fill space in the paper. Unfortunately, they lost the story and had no idea how it ended. As a favour, Emily finished the story based on the editor’s brief description:

In the half-hour allotted to her Emily produced a quite respectable concluding chapter with a solution of the mystery which was really ingenious. Mr. Wilson [the editor] snatched it with an air of relief handed it to a compositor, and bowed Emily out with thanks.

Quite by coincidence, the author of the original piece was visiting Prince Edward Island and discovered that his piece was not only pilfered by the local paper by completed by an amateur who clearly knows nothing about art. This plot twist is one that comes purely from Montgomery’s imagination, but the premise isn’t. During the winter of 1901-1902, Montgomery worked as a proof-reader for The Daily Echo in Halifax. This post gave her an opportunity to do some reporting and a bit of column writing. It also gave her the chance to finish up a serial from a “sensational novel” that was wandering on without much direction. Though Montgomery wondered in her journal what the author might have thought of this impertinence, she never had the chance to meet him. According to her journal, however, Daily Echo readers noticed that the story “wandered on, chapter after chapter for weeks and never seemed to get anywhere; and then it just finished up in eight chapters, liketty split” (Selected Journals I 281). A judicious editorial hand.

We cannot know what the author would have thought of Montgomery’s editorial work, but she gives us at least one of the alternate stories of her imagination int he character of Mark Greaves, author. The picture of the pretentious poet that follows quietly seals in Emily’s decision not to be part of the New York literary scene. But it so beautifully captures the figure of the romantic poet as it is hived between Goethe‘s Werther and the kind of poet satirized by the Annette Bening character in Running With Scissors (see below). I hope you enjoy as well as I did.

“I wonder if any of the readers will notice where the seam comes in,” reflected Emily amusedly. “And I wonder if Mark Greaves will ever see it and if so what he will think.”

It did not seem in the least likely she would ever know and she dismissed the matter from her mind. Consequently when, one afternoon two weeks later, Cousin Jimmy ushered a stranger into the sitting-room where Emily was arranging roses in Aunt Elizabeth’s rock-crystal goblet with its ruby base–a treasured heirloom of New Moon–Emily did not connect him with A Royal Betrothal, though she had a distinct impression that the caller was an exceedingly irate man.

Cousin Jimmy discreetly withdrew and Aunt Laura, who had come in to place a glass dish full of strawberry preserves on the table to cool, withdrew also, wondering a little who Emily’s odd-looking caller could be. Emily herself wondered. She remained standing by the table, a slim, gracious thing in her pale-green gown, shining like a star in the shadowy, old-fashioned room.

“Won’t you sit down?” she questioned with all the aloof courtesy of New Moon. But the newcomer did not move. He simply stood before her staring at her. And again Emily felt that, while he had been quite furious when he came in, he was not in the least angry now.

He must have been born, of course, because he was there–but it was incredible, she thought, he could ever have been a baby. He wore audacious clothes and a monocle, screwed into one of his eyes–eyes that seemed absurdly like little black currants with black eyebrows that made right-angled triangles above them. He had a mane of black hair reaching to his shoulders, an immensely long chin and a marble-white face. In a picture Emily thought he would have looked rather handsome and romantic. But here in the New Moon sitting-room he looked merely weird.

“Lyrical creature,” he said, gazing at her.

Emily wondered if he were by any chance an escaped lunatic.

“You do not commit the crime of ugliness,” he continued fervently. “This is a wonderful moment–very wonderful. ‘Tis a pity we must spoil it by talking. Eyes of purple-grey, sprinkled with gold. Eyes that I have looked for all my life. Sweet eyes, in which I drowned myself eons ago.”

“Who are you?” said Emily crisply, now entirely convinced that he was quite mad. He laid his hand on his heart and bowed.

“Mark Greaves–Mark D. Greaves–Mark Delage Greaves.”

Mark Greaves! Emily had a confused idea that she ought to know the name. It sounded curiously familiar.

“Is it possible you do not recognize my name! Verily this is fame. Even in this remote corner of the world I should have supposed–”

“Oh,” cried Emily, light suddenly breaking on her. “I–I remember now. You wrote A Royal Betrothal.”

“The story you so unfeelingly murdered–yes.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Emily interrupted. “Of course you would think it unpardonable. It was this way–you see–”

He stopped her by a wave of a very long, very white hand.

“No matter. No matter. It does not interest me at all now. I admit I was very angry when I came here. I am stopping at the Derry Pond Hotel of The Dunes–ah, what a name–poetry–mystery–romance–and I saw the special edition of The Argus this morning. I was angry–had I not a right to be?–and yet more sad than angry. My story was barbarously mutilated. A happy ending. Horrible. My ending was sorrowful and artistic. A happy ending can never be artistic. I hastened to the den of The Argus. I dissembled my anger–I discovered who was responsible. I came here–to denounce–to upbraid. I remain to worship.”

Emily simply did not know what to say. New Moon traditions held no precedent for this.

“You do not understand me. You are puzzled–your bewilderment becomes you. Again I say a wonderful moment. To come enraged–and behold divinity. To realize as soon as I saw you that you were meant for me and me alone.”

Emily wished somebody would come in. This was getting nightmarish.

“It is absurd to talk so,” she said shortly. “We are strangers–”

“We are not strangers,” he interrupted. “We have loved in some other life, of course. And our love was a violent, gorgeous thing–a love of eternity. I recognized you as soon as I entered. As soon as you have recovered from your sweet surprise you will realize this, too. When can you marry me?”

To be asked by a man to marry him five minutes after the first moment you have laid eyes on him is an experience more stimulating than pleasant. Emily was annoyed.

“Don’t talk nonsense, please,” she said curtly. “I am not going to marry you at any time.”

“Not marry me? But you must! I have never before asked a woman to marry me. I am the famous Mark Greaves. I am rich. I have the charm and romance of my French mother and the common-sense of my Scotch father. With the French side of me I feel and acknowledge your beauty and mystery. With the Scotch side of me I bow in homage to your reserve and dignity. You are ideal–adorable. Many women have loved me but I loved them not. I enter this room a free man. I go out a captive. Enchanting captivity! Adorable captor! I kneel before you in spirit.”

Emily was horribly afraid he would kneel before her in the flesh. He looked quite capable of it. And suppose Aunt Elizabeth should come in.

“Please go away,” she said desperately. “I’m–I’m very busy and I can’t stop talking to you any longer. I’m sorry about the story–if you would let me explain–”

“I have said it does not matter about the story. Though you must learn never to write happy endings–never. I will teach you. I will teach you the beauty and artistry of sorrow and incompleteness. Ah, what a pupil you will be! What bliss to teach such a pupil! I kiss your hand.”

He made a step nearer as if to seize upon it. Emily stepped backward in alarm.

“You must be crazy,” she exclaimed.

“Do I look crazy?” demanded Mr. Greaves.

“You do,” retorted Emily flatly and cruelly.

“Perhaps I do–probably I do. Crazy–intoxicated with wine of the rose. All lovers are mad. Divine madness! Oh, beautiful, unkissed lips!”

Emily drew herself up. This absurd interview must end. She was by now thoroughly angry.

“Mr. Greaves,” she said–and such was the power of the Murray look that Mr. Greaves realized she meant exactly what she said. “I shan’t listen to any more of this nonsense. Since you won’t let me explain about the matter of the story I bid you good-afternoon.”

Mr. Greaves looked gravely at her for a moment. Then he said solemnly:

“A kiss? Or a kick? Which?”

Was he speaking metaphorically? But whether or no–

“A kick,” said Emily disdainfully.

Mr. Greaves suddenly seized the crystal goblet and dashed it violently against the stove.

Emily uttered a faint shriek–partly of real terror–partly of dismay. Aunt Elizabeth’s treasured goblet.

“That was merely a defence reaction,” said Mr. Greaves, glaring at her. “I had to do that–or kill you. Ice-maiden! Chill vestal! Cold as your northern snows! Farewell.”

He did not slam the door as he went out. He merely shut it gently and irrevocably, so that Emily might realize what she had lost. When she saw that he was really out of the garden and marching indignantly down the lane as if he were crushing something beneath his feet, she permitted herself the relief of a long breath–the first she had dared to draw since his entrance.

“I suppose,” she said, half hysterically, “that I ought to be thankful he did not throw the dish of strawberry preserves at me.”

Aunt Elizabeth came in.

“Emily, the rock-crystal goblet! Your Grandmother Murray’s goblet! And you have broken it!”

“No, really. Aunty dear, I didn’t. Mr. Greaves–Mr. Mark Delage Greaves did it. He threw it at the stove.”

“Threw it at the stove!” Aunt Elizabeth was staggered. “Why did he throw it at the stove?”

“Because I wouldn’t marry him,” said Emily.

“Marry him! Did you ever see him before?”


Aunt Elizabeth gathered up the fragments of the crystal goblet and went out quite speechless. There was–there must be–something wrong with a girl when a man proposed marriage to her at first meeting. And hurled heirloom goblets at inoffensive stoves (Emily’s Quest, 17.II).

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Stephen Colbert to become Honorary Citizen of Hobbiton

In a recent Late Night interview, Stephen Colbert called New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern “basically a hobbit.” This little quip, connecting New Zealand (once again) to the Peter Jackson films, caused Ardern to admit that she did, in fact, audition for the Hobbit films, but was unsuccessful. Perhaps that was best, given the films, but it gave Colbert a chance to talk about his Tolkienophila. He is, as he says, pretty much obsessed with The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s work.

Well, that exchange with the Prime Minister led to a beautiful moment for a Tolkien fan. As a result of Colbert’s admission of neverending fandom, PM Ardern revealed that he has been invited to become a citizen of Hobbiton. This honour does not include a magical sword, or even a golden key. It does, however, include a mug.

Stephen Colbert’s response? “Did you bring the paperwork?”

I wonder if Tom Shippey is next.

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