On Thursday, when I heard about Queen Elizabeth’s passing, I shared some brief thoughts with a longer essay about what C.S. Lewis called the “tragic splendour” of royal ceremony. Lewis was referring to a coronation–and, as Stephen Winter says while partly quoting Lewis, King Charles III “will be ‘crowned and anointed by the Archbishop’ in Westminster Abbey in the coming year as every monarch has been in this land for a thousand years.” There will be another liturgy too, a funeral, another sacramental moment. Lewis struggled to find the word for what he was describing as he spoke about the coronation. He tried words like awe, pity, pathos, mystery, and “the situation of humanity itself” to capture an image where monarchy symbolizes humanity’s role as vice-regents on earth, where we are set apart as high priests of creation.
I woke up this morning, made some coffee, and read Stephen Winter’s latest essay on “Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings.” I admire Stephen’s weekly reflections and I try not to miss them–even in busy periods (like now). Stephen and I met digitally as writers both interested in faith, culture, and the Inklings. Stephen is an Anglican priest with a title like “Rector of the Severn Parishes”–though I always miss his title a little bit, partly because in my mind there are seven churches in the Severn Parish, though I might be wrong on that point too. As we hiked the Malvern hills together–where Lewis went to school for a period–Stephen pointed out the River Severn and its valleys. If I remember rightly, he also pointed to the snaking River Monnow dividing England and Wales, and something both Arthurian and Shakespearean stirred within me.
Hiking with Stephen was a bit of an experiment in trying to feel the landscapes and towns that are behind and within C.S. Lewis’ WWII-era science fiction (you can read about it in “What is the Significance of Worc(h)ester in C.S. Lewis’ Ransom Cycle?” and “An Old Pictorial Map of Central Oxford (Are There Links to C.S. Lewis’ Fiction?)“). And it was also about visiting, friendship, talk, and food. I got to visit one of Stephen’s churches at a propitious moment and meet his family. It was a great weekend.
So I thought of Stephen and his church–the Church of England, C.S. Lewis’ church–when the Queen passed on. My grandmother, a closet Anglican, was worried in the 1980s about Charles becoming king because she did not think he would be a good “Defender of The Faith.” For the king is the Head of the Church of England, and is styled Charles the Third, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. King Charles III is Defender of the Faith and Défenseur de la Foi now in Canada, and he will be named as such at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa in the days to come. As a Canadian who grew up without much religious connection, I find these things a bit puzzling. As a fantasy reader, a lover of English history, and a theologian, I must admit to a little fascination.
Thus, I am pleased that Stephen took this week to step out of his Tolkien-specific space to reflect on being “the king’s man having sworn an oath to serve him as a clerk in holy orders in the Church Established,” Stephen thoughtfully links his conversation to Lewis’ prophetic dystopia that concludes the Ransom Cycle, That Hideous Strength. This essay is worth reading because of Stephen’s peculiar perspective on the throne. It is a good note about the relevance of the novel–and there is an Alan Lee painting I had never seen before, which is brilliant. Mostly, though, it is a perceptive comment about power. There is power, Stephen notes–and power to overcome–but that power does not lie where we might expect.
I hope you click through and read Stephen’s thoughtful piece.
Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings
That Hideous Strength by C.S Lewis (Pan Books 1983) pp.286-294
The death of Queen Elizabeth II in this last week leaves a huge gap in my life and in the lives of many of her subjects. Her long reign means that you have to be a few years older than 70 to remember any other monarch and I have not reached that age yet. She was Queen for the whole of my life. That is until Thursday 8th September 2022. During her reign she graced our lives with her presence being a constant amidst all the grime of power politics. She was just there, and now she is with us no longer. May she rest in peace. May light perpetual shine upon her.
Her passing led me to think about a reference to monarchy and its significance in That Hideous Strength by C.S Lewis, a book first published in 1945…
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Many thanks, Brenton, for so generously sharing this piece that I wrote and for reminding me of the walk that we shared together. It is a good memory for me also and one that I would love to share again some day.
I am currently writing a reflection upon the Queen for my parish magazines. They are published monthly and go out to quite a readership among these villages. A lot more people read my words than hear my sermons but that’s OK. I think that the Queen’s humility came from a recognition that she had been called to her role and was not thereby “entitled” to it. She had deep roots in an age in which so much of our culture has been shallow and I think that people knew that. The fall of our last Prime Minister came shortly after the celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee and the whole country was drawing a distinction between her integrity and his lack of it. I hope that her influence may last a very long time. But, of course, even the best of monarchs cannot unite Britain and Logres. That must be achieved by a far higher power and I pray for it.
Hi Stephen, thank you! For the piece and the walk and the bed (and the chicken). It was a good thing to read this morning and I hope others read it too.
I don’t know when we’ll see the “best” of the Lords of Britain–Elizabeth II is in my mind one of her greater Princes. however, I long for leaders with integrity, and would value that over swordsmanship (literal or metaphorical).
I should note that I’ve rewritten my little intro a couple of times … it’s hard to “reblog” in that little box they provide and I sent it out without reflection or formatting.
It was your generosity of heart that I appreciated. I look forward now to reading what you have written. In The Lord of the Rings it is Faramir’s speech to Frodo that best encapsulates the best understanding of a good patriotism and the place of swordsmanship in a culture although I have long liked soldiers and especially the ones who have seen action. Few of them continue with the bravado of those who have not. I look forward now to reading the piece that you have written yourself.
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I blush to say I have not been following Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings equally attentively, much as I have enjoyed everything I have read there… so, this may be old news to faithful readers, but I have just enjoyed Professor José María Miranda Boto’s new book, Law, Government, and Society in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works, and note that it has lots of interesting thigs to say about monarchy in them.
One of the commentators we heard attended to the fact that St. George’s Chapel in Windsor is the mother church of the Order of the Garter, and noted that Her late Majesty was the longest serving Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter – and, I think, also longest as Member of the Order. Given that the motto of the Order is inscribed, as ‘hony soyt qui mal pence’, at the end of the text in the sole surviving manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it struck me that there are some intriguing connections with Tolkien as editor and translator of the poem, who also has written interestingly about it, and Lewis as annotator and illustrator of his copy of Tolkien’s edition.
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It is my considered opinion that the last true king of England was Harold Godwinson, who was elected by the Witenagemot.
I think we should return to an elected monarchy, thus getting the best of both worlds: the mystical and the democratic.
I think it’s ironic that the title Defender of the Faith was bestowed upon Henry VIII by the Pope, and not long afterwards, Henry took England out of the Catholic Church and yet decided to retain that title.