Feast of the Holy Great Martyr Margaret
BLESS ME, friends, for I have sinned—a sin of omission. It has been decades since I’ve read the works of the Inklings with any kind of concentration. So much of my reading is ad hoc, and oriented to my next deadline, that I’ve had to deny myself certain pleasures I enjoyed when I was younger.
Yet the Inklings have remained in my life... Continue Reading
Feast of the Holy Great Martyr Margaret
Part 3 of a 3-part introduction to the 1st Annual Inkling Festival
BOTH TOLKIEN and Lewis refused to cut the umbilical cord to archaic mythology. Their minds remained essentially medieval and thus perpetually oriented toward myth and mystery. The world for them remained a holy and sacramental place that disclosed the glory of God. And they believed the modern world, more than anything... Continue Reading
Feast of St Athenogenes the Holy Martyr of Heracleopolis
Part 2 of a 3-part introduction to the 1st Annual Inkling Festival
THE NAME “Inkling,” according to J. R. R. Tolkien, is a pun that refers to those who “dabble in ink.” As the word indicates, then, writing was central to the group of twentieth-century British writers known as the Inklings. They met every Thursday evening in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen... Continue Reading
Feast of St Vladimir of Kiev, Equal-to-the-Apostles
Part 1 of a 3-part introduction to the 1st Annual Inkling Festival
IN SEPTEMBER of 1988, Warren Farha opened Eighth Day Books with what he describes as “a few lovingly chosen books.” One year later, he sent out the first of many mail-order catalogs. It is in these catalogs, which are deeply treasured by bibliophiles, that Warren articulates his vision for the catalog, and... Continue Reading
Feast of St Nicodemus the Righteous of Mt Athos
NATURE, and its beauty, figure prominently in the works of Tolkien. Middle-Earth is a land of striking beauty, a land of vast woods, rolling meads, mighty rivers, and soaring mountains. Yet in Middle-Earth, at its best (and worst), Nature is never simply Nature. It is Nature changed by its inhabitants, and it exists in relation to some ‘personal’ being.
This is... Continue Reading
Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel
BEYOND THE level of fantasy and myth, Tolkien also offers a subtle way of looking at nature.
For Tolkien, the world has a magical aspect which imbues nature with a dualistic quality. On the one hand, nature is made cruel and malignant by dark forces; on the other hand, it is beautiful and unspoiled by the forces of light and goodness. Tolkien thus overlays the... Continue Reading
Feast of St Veronica, the Woman with the Issue of Blood who was Healed by Jesus
ASLAN THREW up his shaggy head, opened his mouth, and uttered a long, single note; not very loud, but full of power. Polly’s heart jumped in her body when she heard it. She felt sure that it was a call, and that anyone who heard that call would want to obey it... Continue Reading
Feast of the 45 Holy Martyrs of Nikopolis
AT THE MOMENT of writing, there are less than 100 pages of Narnia left—of the book, and of the series. This week we’ll finish. It’s been an amazing journey. Oh, and my kids like it, too!
I never read the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. In fact, I was already out of college when I saw the Hollywood production... Continue Reading
Feast of the 45 Holy Martyrs of Nikopolis
THE THEISTIC brutes on our television screens are nothing new. And, dare I say "certainly", nothing we can't handle.
The Inklings, of course, enjoyed no access to the boob tube and, had they, the boys would have rejected the medium—at least in its present state—out of hand. But for perhaps an occasional look at a news program, where their refined sensibilities... Continue Reading
Feast of St Dionysios the Orator
J. R. R. TOLKIEN’S The Lord of the Rings is filled with examples of courage, one of the four Cardinal Virtues. Throughout their quest to destroy the one Ring, the Fellowship faces grave dangers from Orcs and other enemies. To fulfill their quest, Frodo and his companions need courage. While Tolkien mostly depicts these courageous acts without commentary, there are hints in the text... Continue Reading
Feast of the Holy Great Martyr Procopius
IN MY BOOK Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken the Child’s Moral Imagination, I comment that fairy tales are neither scientific hypotheses nor practical guides to living. They do something even better. They resonate with the deepest qualities of our humanity. Fairy tales hold the capacity to draw us into the mystery of morality and virtue. Ultimately, they enable us... Continue Reading
Feast of St Kyriake the Great Martyr
ROY CAMPBELL was a South African poet educated at Oxford. There he met C. S. Lewis, but apparently made no impression on him at the time. Campbell traveled through his long dark night of agnosticism and found the wholeness of reality in backward Spain. There he shed not only his agnosticism, but also his childhood Calvinism, by swimming the Tiber: a double heresy... Continue Reading
Feast of St Juliana the Virgin-Martyr
WE ARE HAPPY when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us. —William Butler Yeats
I was twenty when I learned what is essential about metaphors. The poet Albert Goldbarth asked his introductory class to open the bundle of photocopied poems he’d made. Within it were twenty words by Gregory Orr:
Washing My Face
Feast of St Athanasius of Mount Athos
MY FAMILY'S copy of The Chronicles of Narnia is looking weathered on our shelf.
At first, my wife and I read the books aloud to one another for entertainment as newlyweds living on a budget in an expensive city. Next, our oldest son heard them before bed at 5 and 6 years old. He has since read them all himself. And sometimes, family... Continue Reading
Feast of St Andrew of Crete
IT'S THANKSGIVING, 1981, and I am eleven years old. My sister, Susie, is nine, and my cousins, Ann and Esther, are ten and eight respectively. Freshly stuffed with my Aunt Sonja’s famous roasted turkey, we girls—having talked nonstop since we arrived, having made an audiotape mimicking the best of the Muppets (“Swiss chocolate…from the Indies!”), and having told each other our deepest and darkest... Continue Reading
Feast of St Anatolius, Patriarch of Constantinople
THE MODERN habit of boxing up literary works in genres has the deadening practice of making books about the extraordinary seem rather ordinary. One need only think of how we seat them on their shelves. How appalled would Tolkien, who referred to cars as Mordor machines, be to find himself seated among "Science Fiction"? And what fool ignorant of etymology banished all fantasy... Continue Reading
Feast of St John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco
EVEN THOUGH C. S. Lewis was probably the most popular Christian writer of the 20th century, no one (least of all he himself) would consider him a biblical scholar. His academic specialty was literature, not Bible. Nonetheless, because the scriptures were important in his life, he wrote about them often, most explicitly in Reflections on the Psalms, but in... Continue Reading
Feast of Sts Cosmas & Damian the Holy Unmercenaries
GREAT LITERATURE is great precisely because it does something great to us. After we have read a great book, we set it down changed, somehow, for the better. The works of Tolkien, in particular The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion, but even his shorter and lesser-known works such as The Smith of Wootton Major, fall squarely into the class... Continue Reading
Synaxis of the Twelve Holy Apostles
EVERY ONCE in a while you come across an idea or principle that does a lot of work, one that is endlessly malleable and applicable to all sorts of different situations. It has a lot of explanatory power. The best of these bore all the way down to the very stuff of life; they explain the very way the world works. And at first... Continue Reading
Feast of Sts Peter and Paul, the Holy Apostles
TO CLARIFY, a smoke ring is not blown, it is ejected. I think the “blowing” nomenclature is counterproductive for the novice. If you blow a steady stream of air from your mouth, you will not get a smoke ring. If you blow continuously, the swirl necessary for a smoke ring will curl and curl until it bursts in a chaotic mess.... Continue Reading
Feast of St Pappias the Martyr
THE SUMMER of 1984 held three momentous events for me.
First, I attended Vacation Bible School with relatives, and for an entire week listened to vivid descriptions of hell from a very authoritative sounding, very loud, and very sweaty preacher. I learned that I was going to hell for a whole host of things, including listening to Michael Jackson. By the end of that... Continue Reading
Feast of St Joanna the Myrrhbearer
THE SADDEST words in the Chronicles of Narnia appear toward the end of the last volume as we digest one last reference to Susan Pevensie, former High Queen of Narnia, and observe the state of a group of dwarves one can only describe as “once-bitten, twice shy.” Susan, we understand, “is interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations,” and the dwarves... Continue Reading
Feast of St David the Righteous of Thessalonika
I APPROACH the Inklings as “The Hogwarts Professor” and the “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars.” Though I am older than the average member of Rowling’s Raiders, the global fandom empires, I am guessing that I am not unusual in coming to an appreciation of the Inklings, specifically, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams, through my search for answers... Continue Reading
Feast of the Righteous Martyr Febronia
THERE ARE many heroes in The Lord of the Rings. Along with Frodo we have Aragorn the great king, Gimli the brave dwarf, Legolas the dauntless elf, Théoden the noble king of the Rohirrim, and others. But the greatest hero, I believe, is Frodo’s gardener and loyal companion, Samwise Gamgee, the “foot soldier” who looks after Frodo, who literally carries him through to Mount... Continue Reading
Feast of the Nativity of the Forerunner John the Baptist and of St Elizabeth, Mother of the Forerunner
“GANDALF! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?" “A great Shadow has departed," said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and... Continue Reading
Feast of St Agrippina the Martyr of Rome
ONE OF THE great things about parenting and/or teaching is experiencing old things again, as if they were new. A few months ago, I was able to go back to Narnia with a group of nine fourth-grade students. They had never experienced Narnia and it was a true delight, a wonderful diversion from the district curriculum guide and the relentless pressure of mandated assessments.... Continue Reading
T-Minus 26 Days - Tolkien the Realist: Against the Ethics of Romanticism and the Tyranny of Relativism
Feast of St Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata
IN A RECENT interview in The Bookmonger by John J. Miller of the National Review, Carol Zeleski describes the Inklings as “the last of the Romantics.” In the case of J. R. R. Tolkien, I could not disagree more.
Whereas Lewis acknowledges in Surprised by Joy that he was deeply influenced by neo-Platonism, Tolkien absorbed, as by osmosis, the Thomistic realism that hung in the very air of... Continue Reading
Feast of St Julian the Martyr of Tarsus
COMMENTING ON the contemporary resurgence of scientific atheists, physicist Stephen Barr noted that “the conflict is not between religion and science, it is between religion and materialism” (Modern Physics and Ancient Faith). The word scientia refers simply to knowledge, which is not the exclusive territory of empiricism. Spirituality, for example, is not prohibited by science, but it is prohibited by materialism. The... Continue Reading
Feast of St Nicholas Cabasilas
THIS INKLING FESTIVAL is using Chesterton’s famous title of chapter 4 of Orthodoxy to enter into both the Narnian world of Lewis and the Middle Earth of Tolkien. What is the connection? How can these be mixed together, a mulligan’s stew of Chesterton and Inklings?
First of all, there is the pen. And the pipe. And the pint.
But I hope to suggest a fourth... Continue Reading
Feast of the Apostle Jude, Brother of the Lord
WALTER HOOPER, close friend and biographer of C. S. Lewis, offers a personal and moving introduction to a collection of essays by Lewis titled The Weight of Glory. Referring to the opening piece of the same title (a sermon preached in the twelfth-century Oxford University Church of St Mary the Virgin in 1941), Hooper says it is “so magnificent” that he... Continue Reading