When Books Went To War: Guest Post by Trevor Brierly

I am always on the lookout for great resources that helps me get into the critical moments behind the Inklings–the close of the Victorian era, the birth of fantasy and SF, the death of Tennysonian poetry in WWI, the emergence of literary modernism, and the heartbreaking indignity of those two great wars that broke the world. When one of Signum University’s students, Trevor Brierly, stumbled upon such a resource, I asked him to write a review for A Pilgrim in Narnia. This is certainly now a book in my “to read” column.

I gulped down an interesting book today called When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II (by Molly Guptill Manning).  She documents the history of the “Armed Services Editions”.  These were reduced-size versions of books published by a consortium of publishers during WW2 and were distributed to Army and Navy troops throughout the world, to the tune of some 123 million given away by the end of the War.  They were designed to fit into uniform pockets and they were massively popular, providing much needed entertainment to those who got them–soldiers who were often enduring terrible and unimaginable conditions.  They were read and re-read, swapped and swapped again until they were barely readable and still treasured.  Hundreds of individual titles were published, and they varied all over the map in content and genre.  They included things like Dickens, Shakespeare, Plato and Melville, but also included westerns (Zane Grey), sports stories, humor, adventure (Tarzan, Haggard, Sabatini), nonfiction (I happen to have a beat-up a copy of “Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944” myself), a few racy things like Forever Amber, controversial things like Strange Fruit and few strange things like Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror and Other Weird Tales and Stoker’s Dracula.

Manning’s book was probably exactly what I needed to read today.  I’m taking the “Introduction to Theory, Research and Writing” course from Signum University (go Eagles!) and we have been reading the “Defense of Poetry” essays by Sidney and Shelley. They were addressing concerns at the time about whether “poetry” – all of Art really – is worthwhile.  What is the point of Art and Literature?  Do Art, Literature matter?  To the men and women who received the ASE books, they absolutely mattered.  They made the terrible conditions they were in a bit more bearable.   Sidney talks about the role of Art to “delight and teach”, which is exactly what the ASE books did for many people during a very difficult time.

I am reminded of a long complicated quote by Tolkien at the end of an essay he wrote to go with “Smith of Wootton Major”, which was written in the last decade of his life.  The essay is hard to find because it is only found in the version of “Smith” edited by Verlyn Flieger, but it has one of the most cogent statements on the importance of Faery, by which I think Tolkien more broadly means “enchantment”.  I think there is also a connection here between “enchantment” and “Art”.  The quote is complex, but I think it is beautiful as it seems to me at least to sum up what he was trying to accomplish in his life:

“More strongly [Faery] represents love: that is, a love and respect for all things, ‘inanimate’; and ‘animate’, an unpossessive love of them as ‘other’.  This ‘love’ will produce both ruth and delight.  Things seen in its light will be respected, and they will also appear delightful, beautiful, wonderful even glorious. Faery might be said indeed to represent Imagination (without definition because taking in all the definitions of this word): esthetic: exploratory and receptive; and artistic; inventive, dynamic, (sub)creative.  This compound–of awareness of a limitless world outside our domestic parish; a love (in ruth  and admiration) for the things in it; and a desire for wonder, marvel, both perceived and conceived–this ‘Faery’ is as necessary for the health and complete functioning of the Human as is the sunlight for physical life: sunlight as distinguished from the soil, say, though it in fact permeates and modifies even that.”    (J.R.R. Tolkien – Smith of Wootton Major (essay) 1967)

So this is Tolkien vastly expanding the meaning of “Faery”, perhaps beyond what we usually think of Faery or even enchantment.  Enchantment is a way of looking at life, a way of seeing (recovering) reality which emphasizes love and respect and wonder.  When you look at life and reality this way, then a long list of benefits accrues: ruth (compassion), beauty, delight, admiration, glory.

It is a vastly healthy way of seeing.  Enchantment changes us, just as Faery changes those who enter its borders.  As Tolkien puts it, Enchantment is “necessary for the health and complete functioning of the Human”.  The Poet, the Artist is not optional, irrelevant or a parasite on society, but rather one of those who have been given the gift and sacred task of “channeling” enchantment to Humanity in every corner of the Earth, perhaps especially to those places where chaos, terror and destruction (temporarily) reign.


N. Trevor Brierly Image CroppedN. Trevor Brierly is a software engineer, but has wide-ranging interests in literature (especially Tolkien and the Inklings), religion, history, science, technology, and art. He has a BA in English from George Mason University and an MLIS from University of Texas-Austin and is working on a degree from Signum University. He is currently working on a book of meditations for people who are recovering from spiritual abuse and a monograph on Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright. He lives in Northern Virginia with 3 miniature cheetahs, 3,000 books and an extremely patient spouse.

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On the Passing of Eugene Peterson, with Gerard Manley Hopkins

For those that know of Eugene Peterson‘s work and have felt the impact of his life spent as a pastor-theologian, you probably already know that he passed away earlier this week. Christianity Today has a nice write-up (see here), and so does The New York Times. I won’t attempt to retell his story but will maybe say a note about my story with him. My first encounter with Eugene was a book in his pastoral series, Under the Unpredictable Plant–a book that transformed my image of what biblical reading could look like. It also, to be fair, was the beginning of my exit from traditional church ministry. As I read his pastoral series, I knew I could not be a pastor in the way the North American church imagined it, and until I had matured and deepened in faith.

I still haven’t, unfortunately, seen the church’s transformation or my own. But when I was living in rural Japan, I took one of his distance ed courses from Regent College. It was called Soulcraft, and with his gravelly voice and slow imaginative style, Eugene led us through Ephesians, looking for the roots of spiritual direction.

It was in that course that I read his Long Obedience in the Same Direction, a bit of an evangelical classic now as it treats the Psalms of Ascent. But the real encounter for me was Frederick Buechner, whose memoirs helped me recover and reimagine a vocation of writing and scholarship and pastoral work after I had left the paid pulpit behind.  I am forever grateful for that Soulcraft course, an essential intervention at a critical moment.

And now, some years later, I am pleased to be the one who gets to teach a couple of Eugene’s distance education courses at Regent College, including Soulcraft. Year after year I get to walk students through his materials, guiding them in discussion and hearing them tell their heart-stories. It is a tremendous privilege.

And a timely one. During our second-last week of Soulcraft discussion, we heard that Eugene was not well. As the forums are coming to their end, we have heard of his passing–energetically embraced by his hopeful self but no less a loss to our world. My current Soulcraft students are sharing their wishes and thoughts in their online forum, and it is a pleasure to see. Eugene certainly had a powerful influence for the good, and I am grateful for his rooted, holistic, creational, incarnational, hope-filled spiritual theology.

I thought of posting some great quotation of his, and have some from my current reading of Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places that might be worthwhile. The book is about creation, rest, community, and resurrection, so I think it would be fitting.

Even better, though, is something like this. C.S. Lewis once quipped that he wasn’t sure there was a book he wrote that didn’t reference George MacDonald. I wonder if the same could be said of Eugene and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins’ rhythmic, enigmatic, evocative poetry–poetry that makes me want to write and contemplate at the same time, as if one could–fills out Eugene’s work, rhyming with his “spiritual theology” in bountiful ways. So, I think, it is Hopkins who might best express a lift of the chin to Eugene Peterson. For Christ does play in ten thousand places, after all.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

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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

21

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.

22

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.

23

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,

24

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,

25

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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