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Charles Williams’ Englishness is, among other things, something I would like to discuss before I tackle the daunting task of exegeting his Arthurian poetry.  Like many Americans, I have something of a fantasy England tucked away somewhere in my heart.  It is composed of bits and pieces of English high and popJohn_Constable_The_Hay_Wainular culture that I have ingested over the years; a bit of Tolkien’s Shire, a bit of Lewis’ Oxford, landscapes from Gainsborough and Constable, screaming teenaged girls from A Hard Day’s Night, plenty of Downton AbbeyChariots Of Fire, and Brideshead Revisted, both the Waugh novel and the Granada TV adaptation.

I was surprised at how well my American fantasy England weathered my exposure to the real article in the early 80s when I spent four months in the UK, visiting all four “nations” [Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England] in succession.  What I experienced during my visit was more of a confirmation of my fantasy England, and an amplification and broadening of it, than it was a repudiation of it.

An English friend suggested to me that what I was experiencing was what the English themselves called “Deep England”.  “Deep England” is part nostalgia for a simpler life more attuned to the natural rhythms of the English countryside, part fable about a vanishing face-to-face village life, part family oral history, and a large dollop of national self-deception.  Nevertheless, it has a powerful pull on the national sentiment.  “Deep England” could be classist, different things for different people.  A retired slate miner would wax sentimental about the days  when the mines were humming and one’s mates had plenty of energy for sport and plenty of money to spend in the pubs.  An Anglican parish priest would sigh and remember a “time when the Church had more influence in people’s lives.”  “Deep England” seemed to be something which you were always perpetually losing, something that was always just slipping away.  For me, an outsider, the musical expressions of this “Deep England” will always be the austerely beautiful “Pastoral” Symphony #3 of Ralph Vaughan Williams, or a church choir performing that unsurpassably mad hymn by William Blake, “Jerusalem”.

As an American, it is hard to know what to make of this Englishness.  Whatever it is, we don’t have it, although we speak a common language.  Eight generations of republican life now separate us from the  fountains of “Deep England”, and all that remains is the notion of an Anglo-Saxon Protestant as a kind of gold standard for white people.  In a way, it is kind of a collective unconscious mythopoeia, a mythopoeia built up scrap by scrap from the raw material of language, climate, and a long tenancy on the land.  From this mythopoeia, all of the particular myths forged by Englishmen down through the long years have their provenience.

Already I am thinking about what Williams’ Arthur poetry is most like.  If it is idiosyncratic and difficult, it is idiosyncratic and difficult in a particularly English way.  Like William Langland’s Piers Plowman,  the prophetic work of William Blake, or the contemporary Gnosticism of David Lindsey’s A Voyage To Arcturus.


A little less than two years ago, Father Malcolm Guite hosted a series of lectures on the Inklings.  In his first, lecture, he dealt with the Inklings as a group, and with their common characteristics as thinkers and as writers.  Father Malcolm argued that the Oxford Inklings, among whom he included CS Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, were more cohesive and presented a more common front against modernism, nihilism, and reductionism that than they are generally credited for doing.   Most critics view the group as a subset of the personal friends of CS Lewis who shared a reactionary frame of mind and who were uncommonly fond of fables and stories.  Indeed, if Tolkien had not singlehandedly created a market for epic and heroic fantasy, it is possible that the whole group would have been written off as a literary curiosity and quickly forgotten.

After introducing the Inklings as a group, Father Malcolm discusses each of them in turn; first CS Lewis, whose spiritual biography Father Malcolm presents as a healing of that great divide which was just beginning to open in lewis’ day between what was true, that which could be verified by Science [always capitalized], and that which Mattered, which was all of these myths and stories that moved the soul so deeply but which were of no value for discerning the truth.  From Lewis, Father Malcolm proceeds to a discussion of one of Lewis’ earliest and closest friends, Owen Barfield.  Barfield is hard to discuss in Christian terms; he comes with a lot of Anthroposophic baggage, but Father Malcolm does a first-rate job in addressing Barfield’s idiosyncrasies in a way that can help the average Christian to begin to process them.   The Barfield lecture comes with an extra surprise; Barfield’s grandson, namesake, and literary executor Owen A. Barfield joins Father Malcolm to discuss the reprinting of his grandfather’s imaginative works, of which there were a lot more than saw publication in his lifetime.

Father Malcolm then moves on to a discussion of Charles Williams, and his exegesis of Williams’ biography and the class-related handicaps with which Williams struggled all his life were particularly illuminating to this American.  Father Malcolm treats Williams’ poetry as central to any understanding of Williams’ thinking, which is something that Williams himself would have wanted.  Charles Williams’ poetry gets overlooked because it is difficult.  I don’t think Father Malcolm addresses this issue clearly, but those who find his criticism, his theological writing, and his hermetic novels difficult because of his private vocabulary are bound to find his poetry almost inaccessible.  I know I do.  However, Father Malcolm points out that Williams, out of all the Inklings, is a better place to start than any of the others for a criticism of our common economic life, and this last five minutes of the Williams lecture are highly recommended because of this.

Ending with Tolkien, Father Malcolm saves the most famous of the Inklings for the last.  Surprisingly, he doesn’t spend a lot of time on the great  trilogy, but discusses a lot of Tolkien’s attitudes towards his own work.  He reads Tolkien’s poem Mythopoeia for a glimpse into what Tolkien understood himself as doing; subcreating in the image and after the fashion of the great Creator.  Then Father Malcolm investigates a lot of Tolkien’s source material; the Norse myths, the Anglo-Saxon literature with which Tolkien as a professor of Anglo-Saxon was intimately familiar.   The best line in Father Malcolm’s discourse comes towards the middle; ‘you have this one remarkable individual replacing an entire race  as a creator of mythological material’, which of course, is precisely what Tolkien was and did.

It would be jejune for  me to think I could fault Father Malcolm for what he failed to cover in this wonderful lectures.  If the good father is amenable to adding a second series [he has already moved on to Blake, a poet with whom I badly need to acquaint myself], he may wish to discuss Tolkien fandom, Charles Williams’ concept of co-inherence and the perichoreisis of the Holy Trinity, Owen Barfield’s links to Goethe and others of the the German Romantic Naturphilosophie, and Lewis’ literary criticism, especially The Allegory Of Love and The Discarded Image.

Links to the podcasts are hosted on this blog.  More people need to hear them.  The first lecture is here. Press on the Magic card below to download the corresponding lecture on that Inkling. There were some issues with the volume which I addressed in reposting them.

Full size Magic The Gathering cards:

C.S. Lewis
Charles Williams
Owen Barfield
J.R.R. Tolkien

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Not too many years ago a young monastic aspirant went to Mount Athos.  In talking with the venerable abbot of the monastery where he wished to stay, he told him, “Holy Father! My heart burns for the spiritual life, for asceticism, for unceasing communion with God, for obedience to an Elder. Instruct me, please, holy Father, that I may attain to spiritual advancement.”

Going to the bookshelf, the Abbot pulled down a copy of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. “Read this, son,” he said.

“But Father!” objected the disturbed aspirant. “This is heterodox Victorian sentimentality, a product of the Western captivity! This isn’t spiritual; it’s not even Orthodox! I need writings which will teach me spirituality!” 

The Abbot smiled, saying, “Unless you first develop normal, human, Christian feelings and learn to view life as little Davey did – with simplicity, kindness, warmth, and forgiveness – then all the Orthodox ‘spirituality’ and Patristic writings will not only be of no help to you-they will turn you into a ‘spiritual’ monster and destroy your soul.”

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A while back, blogger with similar interests to mine posted that Christians ought not, and Orthodox Christians most definitely should not, read fantasy literature:

Fantasy… is a pure expression of the passions. Basically it’s whatever the mind imagines ends up on paper. So then we end up with werewolves and vampires and a celebration of evil that in the modern genre completely lacks what the original characters were intended to portray. In this way, a genre that was meant to lead someone toward Christ now pulls them in the opposite direction by tantalizing every wicked fantasy and passion imaginable, and infusing it with a lustful voyeurism so that people constantly want more and more perverse and graphic fantasies.

On the surface, I have to say that I agree with her.   “Man’s imaginations are wicked from his youth”, Genesis says.  I made an offhand comment about fifteen years ago to a friend on the ‘darkening’ of the fantasy genre; most of the material that was coming out at that time seemed to be concerned with the demonic, and with the infernal side of occultic powers.   There didn’t seem to be any celestial counterweight and a lot of fantasy material seemed to be moving from the Tolkienesque to the “gritty”, “realistic” outlook. The best of it was pagan/stoic and the worst of it was flatly demonic.  Once the pornification of Western society got underway in earnest, wrought in great part by the Internet, fantasy literature followed suit, and now you can’t turn a page without some sexual practice that would have shocked a jury forty years ago described in painstaking detail between orcs and elves.

73660.pIt is not fantasy material exclusively that as fallen prey to this; romances are saucier and kinkier; simple murder no longer suffices to carry a detective novel, you need cannibalism or torture.   The problem is that there is no longer any intermediary between the head, the eyes, and the loins.  Lewis’ Men Without Chests have arrived, and they are worse than any glittering vampire or werewolf out of the latest potboiler.  There is in Tibetan Buddhism the concept of the Hungry Ghost (ཡི་དྭགས), an entity with overdeveloped mouth and stomach, but with a neck and chest too thin to allow for the passage of food.  This parcel of decayed human energy lives in constant torment as its enormous stomach demands input from its hypertrophied mouth, but there is nothing in between that can mediate the transfer.   We have starved the sentiments for so long that we may be said to exist in a state of spiritual diabetes.  We devour and devour all manner of stories; fantasies, romances, novels, but we seem incapable to extract even the minutest nutrition from any on them, We are like those who lack a vital digestive enzyme.

Forty years ago, Father Seraphim Rose also noticed this strange deficiency in young pilgrims coming to his California monastery for spiritual guidance:

 [There is a]  problem [which] lies in the poverty of our modern soul, which has not been prepared or trained to receive the depths of true Christian experience. There is a cultural as well as a psychological aspect to this poverty of ours: The education of youth today, especially in America, is notoriously deficient in developing responsiveness to the best expressions of human art, literature, and music, as a result of which young people are formed haphazardly under the influence of television, rock music, and other manifestations of today’s culture (or rather, anti-culture); and, both as a cause and as a result of this–but most of all because of the absence on the part of parents and teachers of any conscious idea of what Christian Life is and how a young person should be brought up in it–the soul of a person who has survived the years of youth is often an emotional wasteland, and at best reveals deficiencies in the basic attitudes towards life that were once considered normal and indispensable

Father Seraphim went on to say that what was needed in this situation was a “Dushevni diet”, one that would nourish the middle soul, the Chest, in Lewis’ vocabulary.  The idea of the “Dushevni diet” is to allow the soul to learn those responses to an object which those objects ought naturally to invoke, or which a well-trained soul should naturally feel.  Lewis himself, in The Abolition Of Man, uses the example of Samuel Johnson’s observation that

That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force
upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the
ruins of Iona.

with the caveat that the man whose patriotism does not swell at Marathon or whose piety is not warmed at Iona will inevitably complain that because his [lack of] patriotism and his [lack of] piety are neither strengthened nor  fortified at either Marathon or Iona, it must follow the idea of these places doing either is a subjective fantasy, and that his feelings of tedium and his desire to find an inn where he can grab a beer and watch the soccer matches are just as valid as all that sentimental nonsense about brave ancient Athenian citizen-warriors or Celtic monks standing waist deep in freezing water chanting the Psalms.  I’m sorry, but  those thoughts are the grandfathers to the complaints of overweight women that they are equally as desirable to as wide an array of men as their slender sisters.   That just is not so.   Value is as objective as anything measured by the positive sciences.  It is just that the instrument used to measure it is not a scale, or a measuring stick, or a pipette, but rather the human soul itself.  If that soul is faulty or unbalanced, it will perforce register a different value for the object than will the purer soul.

Until this point, I have said nothing that Fr. Seraphim and Dr. Lewis have not said before me, and much more eloquently. However, as far as an Orthodox Christian who enjoys and appreciates the fantasy genre as I do, I would like to make the following observations:

First of all, salvation is offered to us through What Is, not through what we would like it to be.  The very first time I saw an Orthodox icon of Christ, I was struck by the Greek legend Ὁ ὮΝ, “That Which IS”, in thethe city and the city nimbus of his halo.  In itself, this would appear to be reason enough to exclude anything of a fantastic nature from Fr. Seraphim’s “dushevni diet”, and with the vast majority of modern fantasy, I would be in complete agreement with myself.   There is a lot of brutality, a lot of anxiety, a lot of lasciviousness, and a complete lack of transcendence in most fantasy material these days, both Western and Eastern.  I include Eastern fantastic literature because Japanese and Korean manga (comics) and anime (cartoons) are occupy the same literary niche for young people of my son’s generation that The Lord Of The Rings and the Narnia books occupied for me when I was younger.

But there is an important point I would like to make:  For all the popularity of the ‘gritty’, ‘realistic’ fantasies of Joe Abercrombie, George R. R. Martin, and China Mieville, we would do well to remember that they are considered ‘realistic’ because of one important point; their narratives unwind in created worlds that resemble our own in one essential way; they are closed worlds where even magic is technological in nature.  It obeys ‘rules’ that cannot be broken, which can be observed and mastered, and using techniques which can be perfected through experimentation and practice.  There is no help coming from beyond the circle of the invented world.  Self-interest rules all things, and the struggle of omnes contra omnes continues apace.  In the hands of the aforementioned authors, this “realistic” approach to fantasy has produced some engaging yarns.  They are gifted writers, and, interestingly, Mr. Mieville has produced a story which points beyond itself in a way I’m not certain the author didn’t intend.

In The City And The City, Mr. Mieville has created two separate cities, Beszel and Ul Quoma.  The two cities occupy the same physical space, and may even share buildings and streets.  Each ‘city’ has its own airport and port district.  Citizens of each city can dimly glimpse, at times, residents of the other city or the outlines of buildings.  However, to admit to this is to commit Breach, risking arrest and incarceration. Citizens of both cities have been strictly trained since earliest childhood to disregard all evidence of the other city.   The narrative of Mr. Mieville’s book unwinds as a policeman in the less wealthy city, Beszel, is investigating a murder of a young woman which implicates  a well-connected functionary in the corresponding, wealthier city of Ul Quoma.  His distress increases as he realizes that the world in which he grew up believing does not correspond to the world as it actually is.

In the same way, there is something fantastic about the life we live in our sanitized, corporatized, modern world.  We fly across the landscape like Djinn in metal boxes.  We know the thoughts of others at multiplied hundreds of leagues. We hear no animals bawl out their agonies when their time comes to keep us nourished.  In addition, a constant barrage of intellectual static that attempts to convince us that This Truncated World Is The Real World, that  nothing exists outside of what can be measured, monetarized, and manipulated.  If you want to maintain little fantasy religious worlds or little counter-cultural worlds within strict boundaries of a “religious” or “intentional” community, you are by all means free to do so  (We are not tyrants, after all, is another song that is sung constantly).  If you try to smuggle anything out from behind those well-guarded frontiers, though, you will find yourself committing Breach and arousing the ire of the Gatekeepers.  In this way, something like The Lord Of The Rings, or even Spirited Away,  can serve to cast doubt on the Official Narrative.  Spiritual forces and proper human sentiment can be experienced as liberating and empowering, and in this way, the Real World, The Only One That Truly Is, that which is signalled by the Greek letters in the halo, can be made more real than this dreary official fantasy in which we find ourselves.



When I wasn’t even in school yet, my parents hung a poster on the wall  of my bedroom.  The name of the poster of was “The Land Of Make Believe”, and it was like a road atlas to the Country of Dreams.  Literally, because the whole poster was illustrated with scenes from familiar fairy-stories and nursery rhymes, connected by a road that wound through that unreal but ever so familiar geography.

It wound past the wood where Little Red Riding Hood encountered the Wolf, leaped over  a rushing stream on a bridge where the Three Billy Goats Gruff deceived the hungry Troll, and passed by the hill where Jack and Jill went to fetch their fateful pail of water.   There were, in the background, fabulous castles wherein dwelt such notables as Jack the Giant Killer, and Grandfather-Know-It-All, as well as the Emerald City of Oz.

That map did not survive my parents’ divorce.  I never saw it again until the Internet had matured enough to become the garage sale of Western Civilization, where if you are patient enough, and have good enough search engine skills, you can find almost anything. For some reason, it had never dawned on me that if I had one of these posters hanging in my childhood bedroom, others of my generation may have had the same poster and had been just as mesmerized by it as I was.  On the Internet, I learned that it was drawn by the Czech artist Jaro Hess in 1930, and the figure of the Wandering Jew in the lower right hand corner had been changed to conform to post-Holocaust sensibilities to “The Wanderer”.  It is still available, although it is not cheap.

The poster had been published in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which explains why it ended up in my bedroom.  My family has deep roots in Western Michigan and it probably had belonged to someone in my father’s family, which explains why it disappeared after my parents’ divorce.

This dimly-remembered early childhood wall decoration may have begotten in me a love of maps of imaginary places.  All I know is that, some eight years after the nursery rhyme map disappeared from the wall of my bedroom, I encountered a fold-out map of Wilderland in the front pieces of  JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  Immediately hooked by the depiction of rivers, mountains, and forests to which I would never be able to travel, I finished the book in a single reading.  It would not be true to say that the maps added nothing to my enjoyment of the tale.   In fact, they gave the whole story a concreteness it would otherwise have lacked.

Since the appearance of The Lord Of The Rings in the 1950s, the Fantasy Map has become something of a cliché.  I wasn’t surprised to find a map of Earthsea in Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard Of Earthsea, and truth be told, I’m glad the map was included.  I would have been profoundly lost if I hadn’t been able to follow Ged around the numerous islands where the narrative took place.  I don’t know if The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant would have been improved had they included a map.  I doubt it.  Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy also lacked maps, although they are available on the Internet, but I had little trouble keeping track of the action as it unfolded.   Robert E Howard’s Hyborean Age was nothing more than a set of political boundaries, but that didn’t keep my youthful imagination from filling in the dark forests and choking deserts from his muscular prose.

One of the newer fantasy worlds to be painstakingly mapped is George R R Martin’s brutal Westeros.  Of course, Westeros is only one large continent in a much larger world, and a lot of the action takes place in geographies that are only hinted at in the maps in the earlier books.  Martin has an eye for detail, and the maps come in very handy.  Also, the maps appear to have evolved from the narrative, which I appreciate, since  writers who create a map beforehand have a tendency to want to take you to every place mentioned on the map whether or not they have an adventure worthy of it.  Even George R R Martin, in my opinion, spent too much time in Slaver’s Bay in A Dance With Dragons and maybe this wouldn’t have occurred had a detailed map of the area not accompanied A Feast For Crows.

A very beautiful, and very whimsical, fan map of Westeros has been produced.

Indeed, now that role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons have become so popular, it is customary for intricate campaigns in these games to come accompanied by maps.  In order to allow the dungeonmaster to guide his flock through increasingly complex scenarios, ProFantasy, a UK software developer, has produced an array of software tools that allow the cartographers of Paradise to quickly render their visions into actual maps.  

Finally, the whole idea of the map of an imaginary realm takes a metaphysical bent when you consider what CS Lewis said about fantasy stories, that they take place in the only alternative world known to us, that of the human soul.   There have been innumerable geographers of the soul, including depth-psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Joseph Campbell,  and my personal favorite, Carl Gustav Jung, who proposed that the intricate mandalas produced by Tibetan artists revealed the  unconscious geological strata of the human soul.  Yet I believe that the Bible, with its wealth of stories and poetry, serves admirably in that regard, especially in that difficult-to-trace frontier between the human soul and the Divine.

The greatest danger with maps, especially with a map as accurate as is the Bible,  is to mistake the map for the terrain itself.  The best maps help you achieve your destination with the least amount of surprise and the greatest comfort.   But only the most slothful and intransigent of armchair travelogues will mistake their knowledge of maps obtained in the comfort of the library for the actual arduous journey undertaken by the intrepid explorers of the psyche.


A small group of friends, Reformed Christians, in the unlikely location of Central Florida, have initiated a small course for high schools and college students.  They teach cultural criticism, classical languages, philosophy, and logic to young people. I would love to participate in their Film Nights, since as a rule they show better films than those playing at the local cineplex.

The Reformed are well-suited to this sort of cultural analysis, since the argument could be made that they created North Atlantic/Anglo-American culture and have  only just had the controls wrested from their grasp in the last few decades by their successors and supplanters the social democrats.

Reviewing their list of offerings I was surprised to see that, although JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis figure prominently in their iconography, and in the lists of favorite books of the faculty, they don’t appear to have a literature course dedicated specifically to the Inklings and their works.   Ruminating on this, I decided to see if I could construct a course outline for their students:

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE INKLINGS

Premodernism and Romanticism in Literature and Theology

I. The Inklings As Romantics and Counter-Revolutionaries It is important to  place Tolkien, Lewis, Williams and Barfield in their milieu.  In these days of blockbuster films based upon their imaginary works, it is hard to imagine how out-of-step the Inklings were in the literary world of wartime and post-war Britain.  Realism and Modernism dominated both the best-seller charts and the academic  departments.  When JRR Tolkien submitted The Lord Of The Rings to Allen & Unwin for publications, they feared they wouldn’t be able to sell 1500 copies.

This portion of the course would focus on predecessors to the Inklings; the great Romantic poets Wordsworth and Byron, George Macdonald, Lord Dunsany, and E.R. Eddison.  readings would include, but not be limited to, CS Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress and The Discarded Image, Owen Barfield’s Romanticism Come Of Age, and Dorothy L. Sayers’s  essay “Dante and Charles Williams”.

II. The Inklings As World-Builders This module would serve as an introduction to mythopoeia and mythopoetic literature.  Now that Narnia and Middle-Earth are household words, it can be productive to study the metaphysics of the invented worlds of Lewis and Tolkien and contrast them with non-Christian or anti-Christian underpinnings of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea, Stephen King’s Mid-World, or China Mieville’s New Crobuzon.

Although these secondary worlds are as richly woven and as thoroughly imagined as Lewis’  or Tolkien’s , they don’t rings as true as either Narnia or Middle Earth, which were constructed as worlds congruent with the worship of the Holy Trinity, explicitly in Narnia’s case and implicitly in the case of Middle-Earth.   Why would some metaphysics, the metaphysics of creation by a Tri-personal God, be superior for the construction of secondary worlds than metaphysics based on Taoism (which explains the obsession with “balance” in modern imaginative works as varied as Star Wars or Avatar: The Last Airbender), or on chance and necessity, or on dialectic?

III. The Inklings as Romantic Theologians It should be obvious that Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams were not systematic theologians.  Their relation of the body of their works to elaborated Christian dogma were informal and even tenuous.  The jury is still out as to whether Owen Barfield is even an orthodox Christian despite his public baptism in his sixties, and Charles Williams’ Christian thought  is impenetrable to most interpreters.

Nevertheless, the Inklings were instrumental in rehabilitating that most human of faculties, the much-maligned imagination, and especially Barfield and Williams made the observation that the failure of the Church in their day was not a failure of faith but a failure of imagination.


In the last week, I have been following an interesting exchange between David Theroux and my loyal friend Steven Hayes about the economic thought of CS Lewis. It appears Paul, whom I suspect of being a right-leaning American Catholic suspicious of governmental interference, found a kindred spirit in Lewis, who was certainly no fan of political ideologies.

Steve, a left-leaning South African with whom I share a concern that the benefits of “freedom” in the market sense have been inappropriately distributed, and with whom I share at least the apprehension that governmental coercion may be the only weapon available to whinge the behemoths currently dominating the geopolitical environment, responded saying that he felt that Lewis would not have allowed himself to be aligned with American Libertarianism, which is an ideology that wishes to extend to all Americans the benefits of that freedom from governmental restraint currently enjoyed by those who can afford seats at $10,000 a plate fundraising dinners.

Mr. Theroux offered a rebuttal to Steve, which Steve graciously forwarded to me in a mailing list, is unavailable for linking, although I hope to remedy that shortly.

I think that the whole problem of trying to pigeonhole Lewis’ politics and/or economic theorems [and, let us confess, all politics appears to have reduced to economics in our darkening era] is that Lewis’ thinking along operated primarily on a pre-Enlightenment, pre-“Victorious Analysis” basis.

I don’t know anything about Natural Law theory, except that it seems to be often on the lips of a certain type of Catholic.  I am assuming that Natural Law is something akin to what Lewis dealt with when he introduced the concept of the “Tao” in ‘The Abolition Of Man’, so if I make mistakes in understanding the ideas begind Natural law, please bear with me.  I have to admit that the whole idea of ‘law’ leaves me a bit cold, whichever phrase it is embedded in; “Natural Law”, “the Law of Historical Necessity”, “the Law of the Marketplace”.

I would like to bring the thought of another of the circle of Lewis’ friends, Owen Barfield, to play upon the issue of economic thought:

“[Francis] Bacon… was at least among the first to draw the analogy in English. so that in the history of thought, we have a here a pretty definite point – round about the beginning of the 17th century – at which the concept ‘laws of nature’ first begins to reveal itself as working in human minds.”

Barfield goes to to explain that the idea of Law, from the time of Bacon on, displaced the older idea of Form as a metaphor of “thinking Nature”.  The older idea of Form, which was useful in explaining ‘natura naturans’, Barfield maintains, were the “memory of those elements which the best Greek thinking could still apprehend in its time as living Beings” was usurped by the menta habit of thinking of Laws, which dealt with ‘natura naturata’, as a static thing “which dealt with the rules that govern the changes which occur in the sense-perceptible part of nature.”

This helps me to distinguish the economic thinking of Lewis, and his companion Tolkien from the algorithmic thinking about The Market© that is so ubiquitious in our day.  The Algorithm arose in the Seventeenth Century as a way of thinking and swept all before it.  The United States, it is sometimes helpful for me to remember, is not a Nation based on ties of race, religion, or culture, but literally an Algorithmic state, based not on centuries of precedent and custom, but on ABORSGSIARTATBWTAADR (A Bunch Of Really Smart Guys Sitting In A Room Thinking About The Best Way To Achieve A Desired Result).  And the temptation is, when confronted by undesireable results proceeding from the execution of the Algorithm, is to reach for the levers and tweak it until it produces the desired results.

The result of the triumph of the Algorithm has been an undeniable increase in the levels of comfort for those who benefit from its application, especially for those close to the levers and those who directly support them.  Indeed, the limited liablity corporation and the ersatz personhood rendered to it by legal fiat represents kind of an Incarnation for this Algorithm. The pronouncements of those in charge of these entities indicate there is a kind of reverse-theosis underway in them that strips them of any concern that cannot be quantified by this Algorithm.

In contrast, Lewis champions a kind of a pre-Algorithmic ordering of society, where The Market© digests other concerns besides the merely economic.  Novelist Gene Wolfe in a masterful essay on Tolkien  says this in a way I can only marvel at:

“Philology led him to the study of the largely illiterate societies of Northern Europe between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the true Middle Ages (roughly AD 400 to 1000). There he found a quality — let us call it Folk Law — that has almost disappeared from his world and ours. It is the neighbour-love and settled customary goodness of the Shire. Frodo is “rich” in comparison to Sam, though no dragon would call Frodo rich; Sam is poor in comparison to Frodo, though Sam is far richer than Gollum, who has been devoured by the tyranny and corruption of the One Ring. Frodo does not despise Sam for his poverty, he employs him; and Sam does not detest Frodo for his wealth, but is grateful for the job. Most central of all, the difference in their positions does not prevent their friendship. And in the end, poor Sam rises in the estimation of the Shire because of his association with Frodo, and rich Frodo sacrifices himself for the good of all the Sams.”

“Sam Rayburn, a politician of vast experience, once said that all legislation is special-interest legislation. Of our nation, and of the 20th century, that is unquestionably true; but it need not be. We have — but do not need — a pestilent swarm of exceedingly clever persons who call themselves public servants when everything about them and us proclaims that they are in fact our masters. They make laws (and regulations and judicial decisions that have the force of laws) faster and more assiduously than any factory in the world makes chains; and they lay them on us.”

It need not be so. We might have a society in which the laws were few and just, simple, permanent, and familiar to everyone — a society in which everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder because everyone lived by the same changeless rules, and everyone knew what those rules were. When we had it, we would also have a society in which the lack of wealth was not reason for resentment but a spur to ambition, and in which wealth was not a cause for self-indulgence but a call to service. We had it once, and some time in this third millennium we shall have it again; and if we forget to thank John Ronald Reuel Tolkien for it when we get it, we will already have begun the slow and not always unpleasant return to Mordor.”

Please note that the essay by Mr. Wolfe is copyrighted, and the owner of the website from which I obtained the above fragment paid Mr. Wolfe for the  privilege of publishing the essay in its entirety.  Thank you, Mr. Robertson, for making this available publicly.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that the way back is the way forward.  Nostalgia for Holy Rus or the Anglo-Saxon Thengs or even the Scotland of David Ricardo will not assist us in our current extreme.  We live in a time where children now consider it a judicious investment to bring a firearm to school, but I do not want to return to a time when such schooling was available to very few, if at all.

What Barfield indicates is that we need to have a different way of thinking;

“The economic life is today the real bond of the civilised world/  The world is not held together by political or religious harmony, but by economic interdependence; and here again is the same antithesis.  Economic theory is bound hand and foot by the static, abstract (algorithmic) characte of modern thought.  On the one hand, everything to with industry and the possibility of substituting human labor by machinery, or at very least standardizing it into a series of repetitive motions, has reached an unexampled pitch of perfection.”

“But when it is the question of distributing this potential wealth, when it is demanded of us that we think in terms of flow and rate-of-flow, in otherwords that we think in terms of the system as a whole, we cannot even rise to it.  The result is that all our ‘labour-saving’ machinery produces not leisure but its ghastly caricature unemployment while the world sits helplessly watching the steady growth within itself of a malignant tumor of social discontent.  this incereaasingly rancourous discontent is fed above all things by a cramping penury, a shortage of the means of livelihood which arises not out the realities of nature, but out of abstract, inelastic thoughts about money.”

Now, I will be the first to admit that I am clueless about the kind of thinking Barfield says we require at this juncture.  Whether it is holistic rather than reductionistic I cannot penetrate at this time.  If it holistic, it runs the risk of requiring somebody to know a system extensively before saying anything about it, and every time I head down that path, I find myself thinking algorithmically about non-algorithmic thought, and thus get myself all balled up in knots.

The closest I have gotten is, maybe, when meditating in a grove of trees about photosynthesis, I entertained a kind of a pre-sentiment that the trees “wanted” to trap the sunlight and turn it into useable energy, not only for themselves, but for all the biosphere, and if I could just ‘learn their language’, as it were, I could find a way to cooperate with the trees and help them do this.

I think another of the neglected Inklings, Charles Williams, with his concepts of Co-Inherence and Webs of Exchange, lends himself to an economic interpretation.  Certainly Williams, as a lifelong City dweller, would have a different outlook than the bucolic Lewis or Tolkien.  Certainly, a good case could be made for there being different Webs of Exchange; the Chemical, the Biological, the Semantic, the Anthro-Economic which exists over and above the others and which currently is returning evil for good.


Somewhere on my hard drive there are about 8,000 words of a story I wanted to write  whereby my favorite writers actually became protagonists.  The story pits JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams against Arthur Machen, the aging Cambion of Prydain,  and his disciples, the occultist Alistair Crowley and the parapsychologist Alexander Cannon.

Machen, Crowley and Cannon are plotting against the Throne, attempting to manipulate Edward, the dissolute Prince of Wales, into marrying a q’arinah and opening Britain to occult influence in the way that their counterparts in Germany have succeeded with the Nazis.

Each of the writers held a particular responsibility; Tolkien was the Chief Druid, responsible for the embattled natural environment of Britain.  Lewis was the Warder, the doorkeeper of the Thin Places where  commerce between the natural and the supernatural took place.  Williams was the Archmage Protector, who defends the realm against the dark powers, and Barfield was the Lord Emergent, the custodian of the still-nascent Council of Albion, responsible for guiding the English soul towards Final Participation.

For many reasons, not the least of which is that I am American,  the story never got written.

But other stories have.  The first one I heard about was Heaven’s War, a graphic novel written by Micah Harris and illustrated by Michael Gaydos.  According to what I have read about it, it has Williams in the starring role against the diabolical Crowley, with Tolkien and Lewis as supporting characters.   I need to overcome my prejudice against graphic novels and pick this one up.  It is not supposed to be very good from the dramatic point of view, but it abounds in Inklings trivia, and is supposed to include a long dialogue between Williams and Crowley about co-inherence which would delight  Williams fans.

A couple of years ago, maybe as far back as 2004, a series of fantastic books for young adults was begun by an American writer James A. Owen called Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica .  Three young British soldiers have their summons to World War I interrupted by the Caretaker of an imaginary realm which is under siege by the Winter King.  I know even less about this series, but the author uses the nickname “Chaz” for Charles Williams and “Ron” for Tolkien, which grate on anyone who knows these authors as anything other than action figures.  Williams was called “Serge” by his closest friends, and Tolkien, affectionately, was known as “Tollers”.

But, at least he got Jack Lewis right.


In one sense, its a little misleading to speak about “successors” to the Inklings. The Inklings were not a self-conscious literary movement,  and as far as I know, l there are no little coteries of academics gathering in a tavern on Saturday nights to drink and read excerpts from their works-in-progress. Would that it were so. Also, I think it is hard for us to appreciate how counter-cultural Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams were, writing and publishing tales of the fantastic when the literary world was dominated by modern realists, by the likes of Lawrence, Hemingway, and Joyce.

These days, though, writing fantastic literature appears to be a lucrative pursuit., and the bastard children of the Inklings  appear to have swept the field.  “Fantasy and Science Fiction” occupies a healthy percentage of my local Barnes and Nobel bookshop, even more if you add the two or three shelves of “graphic novels”/manga with which it is customarily bundled.

What hath Tolkien wrought? There is so much fantasy on the shelves that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Trilogies abound, of course, and a lot of them take place in a pre-Modern setting where the red iron of brutish trolls and tragic High Elves clash on darkening plains. There is so much of this that I haven’t read because I don’t know where to start. In the ‘seventies I read the Earthsea books by Ursula Le Guin and found them engaging. I yawned my way through the first Shanarra book by Terry Brooks and the first Thomas Covenant trilogy and found both of them tedious and uninteresting.

Nor do I think that the self-consciously Christian fantasy works that have belatedly crawled out of the Evangelical presses in Wheaton or Grand Rapids to sulk on the shelves next to Janette Oke’s prairie romances or the horrid Left Behind series will beget much in the way of mythopoeia.   Sure, there are plenty of brutish Shadowghouls clashing with High Lightbearers on the Iron Plains of Bethania, but there is always a Lost Book of Hidden Wisdom that restores the Balance, or even worse, smites the agents of Darkness with the light that pours off its pages.

I think the problem with “Christian” fantasy is that Williams, Lewis, and Tolkien operated in the jagged edges of Christendom, whereas the modern Evangelical lacks that framework.  “Christendom” as a political and geographical substance is great mythopoeia in its own right, and the fantastic works of  Williams, Lewis, and Tolkien don’t make much sense apart from it.

There are three series I feel bad about not reading. The first is the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I have heard much good about this series, but also I have heard that it rambles badly. If I read something that requires that much patience and effort,  I’d prefer to start with the Gormenghast series by Melvyn Peake.

The Harry Potter books I haven’t  gotten around to yet either, although I did read the first volume in His Dark Materials. From a philosophical point of view, Christians should be far more concerned about Pullman, who definitely has a bitter axe to grind, than they are about Rowland, who just wants to tell a good story.

Finally, I think Steven King as a mythopetic writer has been woefully underappreciated.  I haven’t yet read his Dark Tower series but I believe I shall have to.  I believe King,  along with such writers as William Vollman, Walker Percy, Philip K. Dick, Cormac McCarthy,  and even William Burroughs are participating in a project of which the Inklings would be proud; the mythopoesis of America.

Neil Gaiman, in American Gods, stumbled upon the main theme of this project; America is poor breeding ground for the supernatural.   We have no myths.  Our country is an abstraction, based not on blood or belief, but on a sort of least-common-denominator secular frame of exchange, and we don’t know our hills and our rivers from the inside yet like the Germans know the Rhine, the British the Thames, or the Central Europeans the Danube.  The strength of the hills is not yet in us.


 

One of the real charms of the imaginative literature of the Inklings is that their works come in such well-numbered series: There are three volumes in The Lord Of The Rings, but if you add The Silmarillion, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, The Hobbit, Smith Of Wooten Major, Farmer Giles Of Ham, and Leaf By Niggle, and if you reduce the trilogy to a single work, you get a seven-fold opera. There are three books in the Ransom series; Out Of The Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, and seven Narnia books. Charles Williams’ metaphysical thrillers number, conveniently, seven, although I wish he hadn’t written Shadows Of Ecstasy. Until We Have Faces and the Taliessin poetry of Charles Williams don’t fit this tidy Trinitarian/Zacarian scheme, but they shouldn’t be overlooked because of that oversight.I have my favorite moments from these works, and in Letterman fashion, I’d like to count them backwards.

With commentary…

10) The Progress of the Suicide, from Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell.

There is a lot to complain about in Williams’ literary style, but when it comes to depicting supernatural, sub-natural, or post-natural modes of existence, he has no peer. In Descent Into Hell, an unloved workman commits suicide to escape from the torment of life. He awakens in a silent universe illuminated by a furious moon that will not allow him to escape into himself. He conceives the idea that he needs to go to London. The purgatorial landscape he crosses, and the unexpected help he encounters on the way remain the most vivid depiction of the spiritual geography of the Afterlife I have ever encountered in literature.

9) Bilbo Surrenders The Arkenstone from JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit.

This plot device took me entirely by surprise, and prepare me for the centrality and necessity of hobbits in The Lord Of The Rings. Now, The Lord Of The Rings is a very mannish book, by hobbit standards, but any race that could prize peace between those who should by rights be friends and allies over wealth and comfort would be the only race that could ever be entrusted to carry the One Ring to its destruction. Men could be ensnared by power, Elves by beauty, and Dwarves by Craft (that wonderful old Germanic word!), but how do you corrupt a race that values above all things, “peace and quiet, and good tilled earth”?

8 ) The Descent Of The Gods Upon St. Anne’s from CS Lewis, That Hideous Strength.

Actually, That Hideous Strength is my least favorite among Lewis’ imaginative works. Lewis is a good preacher, and a great storyteller, but he doesn’t mix the two voices as well as Bunyan or Langland. In That Hideous Strength, he is covering the same ground as he does in Abolition Of Man, and there are places in the narrative where Lewis is trying so hard to be Williams, and places where is trying so hard to be Tolkien, and there are even traces of Barfield in the mix. I prefer Lewis when he is being truer to his own Muse, as in The Horse And His Boy, or Till We Have Faces. Nevertheless, I had the extreme felicity of having put a copy of Gustav Holst’s The Planets on the stereo before settling into my easy chair to the chapter where Ransom is inviting the Oyéresu, the planetary geniuses of Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn, into the body of Merlin. The music blended so powerfully with Lewis’ language that I slowed practically to a crawl for the full effect. It was, as may well be expected, a peak experience.

7) Anthony’s Vision Of The Griffin/Eagle in Charles Williams, The Place of The Lion.

I had a hard time deciding between this and the vision of the butterflies earlier in this same novel. The butterfly scene is more charming, and more accessible. But Anthony’s vision of the Eagle, the platonic Form of Perception and Discernment, is central to understanding Anthony’s character and the whole dynamic of the novel. Only by means of the Eagle is Anthony able to assimilate the other Archtypes and sew up the rupture between the world of the Ideals and their playground of the quotidian world, where all the other characters wander about in their deadly delusions.It is a scene that I needed to read several times before the grandeur of what Williams was trying to say began to emerge from his difficult language. Williams is not a visual writer as is Lewis or Tolkien. When it did, it was as breathtaking as Plato’s original parable of the Cave; I saw gods arising out of the Earth, and, like the sibyl of Endor, I cried aloud.

Mention should be made of the Eucharistic unicorn of the twelfth chapter. Nowhere else in all his writings does Williams show any sectarianism I have been able to discern, save here alone, yet the effect is graciously ecumenical and heartwarming.

6) Random’s Landing Upon The Floating Islands and His Encounter With The Lady Of Venus from CS Lewis, Perelandra.

For such a sensuous book, Perelandra has inspired surprisingly little visual art. Most of what has been produced concentrates on the image of the Green Lady, although nobody in sad Thulcandra will ever depict her unfallen eros. There is a privately commissioned icon of St. Brigid of Kildare in my church that comes close. It partakes of the same spirit of Lewis’ description of the Lady of Venus. Perelandra was a crucial book for me because it convinced me of the basic materiality of Christianity and of the basic goodness of matter. Lewis’ descriptions of the sights, sounds, and tastes of that unfallen world worked on me like a tonic. I may not have realized it in high school, when I first picked up this book, but the material world can be nothing other than sacrament if we can but cleanse our perceptions aright.Som,e years ago, when I still attended a church in the Reformed tradition, there occured a discussion about how to reach the “unchurched”. I don’t remember now what action the board of elders decided to take, but a wise friend of mine offered this advice to me privately:

They should throw a party, a harvest party. Let the maidens weave vines in their hair and serve steaming cider on the first real cold moonlit night of the year. Let the young men compete in contests of strength and fleetness. Let the good dames of the church load the tables until they groan. At the end, invite all and sundry to a Divine service giving proper thanks to God who so liberally supplies all things for our enjoyment.

God, I miss Christendom.

5) Beren Happens Upon Luthien Tinuviel Dancing In The Starlight from JRR Tolkien, The Silmarillion

I don’t think there can be any doubt that we are closest here to the heart of Tolkien’s Legendarium. If any man ever poured out love onto paper and page, Tolkien does so at just this point in his narrative. Tolkien prized three earthly things above all else; starlight, trees, and his wife Edith. All three are masterfully commingled in the Lay of Luthien, and all three – starlight, trees, and married love, are under siege today.

Light pollution keeps most of us from seeing the heavens that declare the glory of God. Having spent most of my adult life in Florida, I can say that I have never seen the stars the way Ptolemy, Johannes Kepler, or even Fred Hoyle must have seen them. As a boy, I was led out into a field on a midnight hike with the Boy Scouts. There, we were shown the principal stars with their fascinating names; Betelgeuse, Antares, Spica, Vega, and how to find them using the Pole Star, Polaris, as our center of reference. I can still find Polaris, with difficulty, but my night sky is illumined now by billboards and neon, and I am much the poorer for it.

I never learned any of the names of trees growing up. Our family was four generations off the farm, and we now paid people to know about trees for us. I do remember that in my early boyhood (even before the Boy Scout hike), the majestic elms that were the trademark of the local college were dying of a fungus infestation. By the next summer, they were dead and needed to be uprooted. Tolkien’s love of trees and his unsuccessful defense of them against various development projects is well documented.

I never knew that Edith Tolkien was three years and change older than “Ronald”, nor that she converted to Catholicism at his insistence and against the wishes of her family. That helps to explain some of the “unapproachableness” of Thingol Greycloak’s daughter in the narrative. Tolkien was intimidated by the older and more accomplished Edith, and was instructed by his clerical guardian not to pay court to her until his 21st birthday. On the midnight of that day, he proposed to her and was rebuffed. He persisted though and was finally victorious. The union was a happy one, and a fertile, producing four children.

The four words “sex”, “marriage”, “babies” and “without” create a perfectly infernal matrix in which web we are as trapped as any hapless fly. Try it: Sex without Marriage, Marriage without Sex, Sex without Babies, Babies without Sex, Marriage Without Babies, Babies without Marriage.

Anyone care to call me out on this?

4) Digory And Polly In Charn from CS Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew – The passage of Digory and Polly through the royal chamber of Charn displays for me what is Lewis’ principal charm; his ability to put into simple, everyday language the effects of sin and virtue on the human person:

Both the men and women looked kind and wise, and they seemed to come of a handsome race. But after the children had gone a few steps down the room they came to face that looked a little different. These were very solemn faces. You felt as if you would have to mind your Ps and Qs, if you ever met living people like that. When they had gone a little further, they found themselves among faces they didn’t like: this was about the middle of the room. The faces here looked very strong and proud and happy, but they looked cruel. A little further on they looked crueller. Further on again, they were still cruel, but they no longer looked happy. They were even despairing faces: as if the people they belonged to had done dreadful things and had suffered dreadful things.

And there you have all the story of our glorious and tragic Humankind –

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion

And the response
Falls the Shadow -


Nothing we ever do turns out right. There is always the Law of Unintended Consequences, whose iron rigor penetrates all our endeavors, be they the democratization of the Middle East, the redefinition of marriage (homosexual marriage is the caboose on this train, not the engine), or the establishment by legislation of “family values”. The primordial image of this is the Tower of Babel. It reaches for Heaven, but ends in rubble and division. Logres devolves into Britain, the Dawn of the Proletariat into the Gulag Archipelago, Woodstock Nation into the horrors of Altamont and the Tate-Manson murders.

Still – You have to wonder whether or not Lewis didn’t have a problematic attraction to the “bad girl”. Joy Davidson definitely appealed to this part of him. This happens to a lot of good men, especially spiritual men. Lewis himself commented on the Celestial and the Infernal Venus, and Queen Jadis of Charn is easily the sexiest in the whole Inklings canon, including the lusty Redival from Till We Have Faces.


3)The Repentance Of Lester Furnival from Charles Williams, All Hallow’s Eve. All of Williams’ best characters are either mad or dead. Lester Furnival (what a splendid amalgam of “carnival” and “funeral”) is dead and only gradually does she awaken to that fact. But Williams’ Afterlife is not, thank God, Tim Burton’s snarky Afterlife. It seems not much changes, but events no longer are connected by temporality, but by another principle altogether, a principle that can be called, loosely, sympathy.

The path of Lester’s salvation looms before her in the person of a schoolchum that she had previously treated shabbily, and in the person of her husband, Richard, whose love she had taken for granted. In the realm in which she find herself now, these sins of omission loom enormous, and worse, are being used by an evil sorcerer as a breach by which he can enter the atemporal realm, affect the future, and precipitate the Apocalypse. Lester needs to ask forgiveness of her schoolmate, and just as importantly, receive it. Then she needs to assure her grieving husband that she did appreciate his love. In doing just these simple things, she thwarts cosmic evil and knits the Earthly City to the Heavenly
The first few times reading Williams’ fiction, I was surprised at the great weight he placed upon what would to anyone else appear to be very small courtesies and the exchange of social conventions. Three decades of contemplation, I believe, had led me to believe that the answer lies in Williams’ peculiar doctrine of coinherence. I want to discuss coinherence more rigorously in later posts, but right it will suffice to say that coinherence is an extension to human life of the con-substantiality of the Holy Trinity, how the Blessed Three can simultaneously exist, and be adored, as One and as Many.

2) The Dawn Treader‘s Approach, and Reepicheep’s Departure, To Aslan’s Country from CS Lewis, Voyage Of The Dawn Treader

I think there are a lot of people for whom Reepicheep, the courtly Lord of the Talking Mice of Narnia, is a favorite character in the series. Certainly, he is a throughback to an earlier time, when Honor and Chevalrie mattered. Despite his obvious authority, Reepicheep is no tyrant. He understands that there is greater glory of to a king by being the free Lord of a free people than by being the master of slaves.

The approach of the Dawn Treader to Aslan’s Country, in increasing power and light, reminds me of two things; the first is the passage of Bunyan’s Pilgrims through Beulah Land on the very outskirts of the Celestial City:

Now I saw in my dream, that by this time the pilgrims were got over the Enchanted Ground, and entering into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and pleasant, the way lying directly through it, they solaced themselves there for a season.
Yea, here they heard continually the singing of birds, and saw every day the flowers appear in the earth, and heard the voice of the turtle in the land. In this country the sun shineth night and day: wherefore this was beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and also out of the reach of Giant Despair; neither could they from this place so much as see Doubting Castle. Here they were within sight of the city they were going to; also here met them some of the inhabitants thereof; for in
this land the shining ones commonly walked, because it was upon the borders of heaven.

The second is the Seraphic hymn sung in every Orthodox Divine Liturgy at the termination of the Liturgy of the Word and the commencement of the Liturgy of the Mysteries.

Οἱ τὰ Χερουβεὶμ μυστικῶς εἰκονίζοντες, καὶ τῇ ζωοποιῷ Τριάδι τὸν τρισάγιον ὕμνον προσᾴδοντες, πᾶσαν τὴν βιοτικὴν ἀποθώμεθα μέριμναν, ὡς τὸν Βασιλέα τῶν ὅλων ὑποδεξόμενοι, ταῖς ἀγγελικαῖς ἀοράτως δορυφορούμενον τάξεσιν. Ἀλληλούϊα.

“We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, sing the thrice holy hymn to the life giving Trinity. Let us set aside all the cares of life that we may receive the King of all, Who comes invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts.”

There are those among us who seem always to dwell in Beulah Land, in the suburbs of heaven. I seldom meet these people these days. The last was an old-school Pentecostal preacher-woman in her 90s. But the language of the Liturgy reminds us that there is passage into Aslan’s country every week. Most of us, like the other sailors on the Dawn Treader have to return to the difficulties and cares of the “biotikan merimnan”.

But, like Reepicheep, we don’t have to.

1) Frodo And Sam At The Cracks Of Doom from JRR Tolkien, The Return Of The King

 

Her is the recapitulation of all things Inkling; the triumph of the lowly and merciful over the arrogant pitilessness of power, the fatal inability of egotism to discern the motivations of sacrificial love, and the intervention of Providence when all the best intentioned plans of Men, Wizards, Elves, and Hobbits fail.

True good wins a substantial victory over true evil, and although the Shadow, though submerged, always takes new form and reemerges, the Days of the King may soon be upon us.

May they last while the thrones of the Powers endure.


I have to apologize for subjecting the readers of this blog to two rambling and practically incoherent essays on “epistemology” and Owen Barfield without taking the time to read much of what Barfield actually had to say.

Barfield is not easy reading. It takes effort to follow his arguments and even more effort to decipher where he wants you to go with what he is giving you. Fortunately, I started with a book of his that covers very familiar territory: Owen Barfield on CS Lewis is a collection of essays and addresses, written or delivered at various times after Lewis’ death, in which Barfield remembers and comments on the thought and writings of his intimate friend, CS Lewis.

What struck me deeply about the book was the profound affection Barfield felt for his absent friend. Although the period of their deepest communion was a brief two years while they were both still undergraduates, the two of them were fortunate in being able to continue their friendship for the remainder of their lives. In addition, their friendship appears to have been one of those which Lewis himself described in The Four Loves; one in which the friendship is enriched rather than diminished by the inclusion of other friends. Charles Williams, J.R.R . Tolkien, Walter Hooper, Barfield’s fellow Steinerite A.C. Harwood, Joy Davidson, and the phelgmatic Mrs. Moore, with whom Lewis conducted a maybe-not-so-platonic affair for the majority of his adult life, all make their way into the narrative and are all remembered by Barfield with great fondness.

The book is as much about Barfield’s thought as it is about Lewis. The best essay in the collection, “Either:Or: Coleridge, Lewis, and Romantic Theology” is also the densest and most impenetrable. Only twice have I had the unsettling experience of reading something that I was certain would tie up all the loose ends I have flapping around in my mind and present me with a Unified Field Theory of God, Life, Logic, Language, Imagination, Knowledge and Everything. Both times I have been following the thread of the writer’s argument with increasing excitement, saying “amen” under my breath to everything he has to say, when suddenly the writer sprouts wings and the argument flies into the Empyrean leaving me quite behind. I plod along through pages of material I cannot begin to assimilate until I come through to the other side, where the writer descends once again to my level of understanding. However, I find the world and everything in it completely changed as a result of something that occurred in that upper storey to which I, alas, still have no access.

The first time was while reading Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. The second was while reading the essay I mentioned above. Interestingly, both works dealt with something akin to what Barfield says that Coleridge called “polarity”. When two concepts are logically opposed, they cannot both be right any more than two physical objects can occupy the same space. However, when two concepts are in polar opposition, each one necessarily generates the other and is transformed into it. Barfield states that the proper faculty for the apprehension of this is not so much the logical, critical faculties of the intellect but rather the imagination. Here we run into problems. The imagination is suspect in our day and age since it is routinely relegated to the realm of the non-existent or the false.

You can see this the most clearly in the modern (not post-Modern) attitude towards the traditional Lives of the Saints among most Protestants and their fellow travelers for whom whatever could have been recorded by a time-traveler with a video camcorder is considered true and everything else is imaginary; that is to say – false, illusionary, leading to deception. Of course, these same Protestants take it very hard when you approach the Bible itself with the same attitude. You are either told that if you refuse to hear the voice of God speaking in the Bible, you are not likely to consider the truth if it comes to you from another source (presuppostional apologetics), or you are buried in a avalanche of minutae about Darius the Mede or ingenious arguments about alternative dates for the regencies of Hebrew kings (evidential apologetics).

Remember my earlier discussion of Francis Schaeffer and Malcolm Muggeridge? Schaeffer is a firm believer in Christianity as the great historical religion. I take this to mean that Schaeffer believed with all of his heart that if he had been a time-traveler with a camcorder he would have captured a woman, a snake, and an apple. To be very fair to Schaeffer, I believe this myself and unapologetically, but I am getting very close to the opinion that it is the wrong question to be asking. For example, if someone had been present with a tape recorder at the time recorded by John 12:28,29 , would he have recorded the voice of God the Father, the voice of an angel, or a simple thunderclap?

I think that what Barfield is saying is that imagination is as active a component in establishing the truth of a thing, especially the truth of a person, as is what Carlyle referred to as “imperial analysis”. To illustrate what I mean, go and see Father Stephen’s embedded video of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, where the saint, at the end of the video, is portrayed in a series of photographs as an aging man, then finally, as an icon. Now an icon is a product of the Church’s contemplation of that saint. Barfield, I believe, would call it an exercise of the Church’s imagination, as if, when the man who can be caught on video and photograph perishes, he is meant to be translated into legend.

CURRENTLY READING

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams