Wednesday 21 August 2013

Charles Williams love affair with Phyllis Jones was not 'Platonic' (non-physical)


It is generally supposed and often stated that Charles Williams long infatuation with Phyllis Jones was a wholly non-physical affair - yet this is contradicted by a passage I failed to notice until very recently (despite several re-reads) in Alice Mary Hadfield's Charles Williams: an exploration of his life and work.

From Page 72.

Probably in 1929, [Charles Williams] wrote to Phyllis, (...) What a year! (...) Do you remember offering to take me to The Ghost Train? But instead I took your arm - which to me was much like a weekend at Brighton - and we talked about almighty God... it was only the second time in my life I had taken - even so remotely as that - a woman's arm. And certainly certainly only the second time that the idea of kissing her had crossed my mind - as it did at Victoria. And took four months to eventuate, blessed be he.

So, kissing eventuated four months after the taking of the arm.

The Ghost Train was a popular play of the time, written by Arnold Ridley who much later became very famous as Private Godfrey in the BBC classic sitcom Dad's Army.

The reference to 'a weekend at Brighton' is an old smutty joke for a 'dirty weekend' or adulterous holiday - Brighton being the classic location for such liasons - convenient for those living in London, but sufficiently remote. The participants in a weekend in Brighton were stereotypically (ahem) a boss and his younger secretary.

I'm not sure what is meant by the 'it' in 'as it did at Victoria' - but Victoria is the London railway station for the line which goes to... Brighton.


So Williams is saying that for him (who had only ever taken his wife's arm before, and who had a bit of a 'thing' about girls' arms) the holding of Phyllis's arm was equivalent to an adulterous weekend together - he may even be referring to an actual weekend in Brighton - but either way, the tone of this passage is anything but Platonic!


Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Epilogue to Lord of the Rings - what difference does it make?


The Epilogue to Lord of the Rings, and a polished preliminary draft, were published alongside The Notion Club Papers in the ninth volume of The History of Middle Earth (1992) edited by Christopher Tolkien.

Considering that this was intended to be the final words of the LotR - and the end preferred by the author until an advanced stage of publication (perhaps early 1954) - the Epilogue has attracted surprisingly little interest and attention.

I think it makes a wonderful end to the story, and puts the book in a different and richer frame; but on the other hand the as-published LotR is perfection, so this is a minor quibble, really.


There are two kinds of reader of LotR: the one for whom 'Well, I'm back', he said are the final words - and those who, like myself, pause and take a deep breath (and wipe away a tear), then turn to the Appendices.

For the latter type of reader, the Epilogue is likely to be an even more satisfying end.


What are the advantages? In a nutshell the Epilogue emphasizes how the world has changed since the end of the Third Age and the departure of Elrond and Galadriel.

1. It brings the wheel full circle - the book began among the mundane affairs of the hobbits, and so it ends.

Very mundane in the sense of commencing with a rather stolid and unimaginative list of Questions and Answers about 'what happened next' to various major characters; as an example of the writing style of Samwise in The Red Book of Westmarch.


2. A scene between Sam and his eldest (and elven-fair) daughter Elanor follows - which includes one of the most beautiful, poignant and personal passages Tolkien ever (nearly) published:

“Don't write any more tonight. Talk to me Sam-dad!” said Elanor, and drew him to a seat by the fire.

“Tell me,” she said, as they sat close together with the soft golden light on their faces, “tell me about L√≥rien. Does my flower grow there still, Sam-dad?”

“Well dear, Celeborn still lives there among his trees and his Elves, and there I don't doubt your flower grows still. Though now I have got you to look at, I don't hanker after it so much.”

“But I don't want to look at myself, Sam-dad. I want to look at other things. I want to see the hill of Amroth where the King met Arwen, and the silver trees, and the little white niphredil, and the golden Elanor in the grass that is always green. And I want to hear Elves singing.”

“Then, maybe, you will one day, Elanor I said the same when I was your age and long after it, and there didn't seem to be no hope. And yet I saw them, and I heard them.”

“I was afraid they were all sailing away, Sam-dad. Then soon there would be none here; and then everywhere would be just places and…”

“And what, Elanor?”

“And the light would have faded.”

“I know,” said Sam. “The light is fading, Elanor. But it won't go out yet. It won't ever go quite out, I think now, since I have had you to talk to. For it seems to me now that people can remember it who have never seen it. And yet,” he sighed, “even that is not the same as really seeing it, like I did.”

“Like really being in a story?” said Elanor. “A story is quite different, even when it is about what happened. I wish I could go back to old days!”

“Folk of our sort often wish that,” said Sam. “You came at the end of a great age, Elanor; but though it's over, as we say, things don't really end sharp like that. It's more like a winter sunset. The High Elves have nearly all gone now with Elrond. But not quite all; and those that didn't go will wait now for a while. And the others, the ones that belong here, will last even longer. There are still things for you to see, and maybe you'll see them sooner than you hope.”

Elanor was silent for some time before she spoke again. “I did not understand at first what Celeborn meant when he said goodbye to the King,” she said. “But I think I do now. He knew that Lady Arwen would stay, but that Galadriel would leave him. I think it was very sad for him. And for you dear Sam-dad.” Her hand felt for his, and his brown hand clasped her slender fingers. “For your treasure went too. I am glad Frodo of the Ring saw me, but I wish I could remember seeing him.” 

“It was sad, Elanor,” said Sam, kissing her hair. “It was, but it isn't now. For why? Well, for one thing, Mr. Frodo has gone where the elven light isn't fading; and he deserved his reward. But I have had mine too. I have had lots of treasures. I am a very rich hobbit. And there is one other reason, which I shall whisper to you, a secret I have never told before to no one, nor put in the Book yet. Before he went Mr. Frodo said that my time maybe would come. I can wait. I think maybe we haven't said farewell for good. But I can wait. I have learned that much from the Elves at any rate. They are not so troubled about time. And so I think Celeborn is still happy among his trees, in an Elvish way. His time hasn't come, and he isn't tired of his land yet. When he is tired he can go.” 

“And when you're tired, you will go Sam-dad. You will go to the Havens with the Elves. Then I shall go with you. I shall not part with you, like Arwen did with Elrond.”

“Maybe, maybe,” said Sam kissing her gently. “And maybe not. The choice of Luthien and Arwen comes to many Elanor, or something like it; and it isn't wise to choose before the time.” 


3. And it ends with Tolkien's major symbol of the distance and difference between myth and history - the Western shore of (Middle) Earth/ The British Isles - as it were, looking out across to the abode of the elves and the gods; now inaccessible...

...Sam shut the door. But even as he did so, he heard suddenly, deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmer of the Sea upon the shores of Middle Earth.  


Monday 12 August 2013

Tolkien's elves - the opposite of dreamy...


It is interesting that the subject of elves is associated with dreaminess, with misty imprecision - but in actuality Tolkien's elves are the opposite of dreamy.

Tolkien's elves are all clarity and precision.


For high elves, the sacred is (or was, or will be) a matter of everyday reality: they lived with the gods (the Valar), and spoke with them face to face. This, for elves there is no gulf between the everyday and the divine.


Elven eyesight is sharp, detailed, telescopic.

Elven voices are clear and pure.

Elven dreams are lucid - like a replay of the waking state.

Elven arts are crafts are exact, detailed, crisp.


Mortals may be dazzled by the elves; high elves may even be perceived as surrounded by a shimmer or glow.

So the dreaminess of elves is a matter of mortal imperfection - not intrinsic to the elves.


Friday 9 August 2013

My favourite CS Lewis re-reads


Of the books published in Lewis's lifetime these would be:

The Screwtape Letters/ Screwtape Proposes a Toast
The Great Divorce
Mere Christianity
The Abolition of Man 
Surprised by Joy
The Discarded Image

But I equally return often to re-read the numerous collections of essays on broadly Christian topics that were posthumously edited by Walter Hooper, and the three volume Collected Letters.

I don't re-read any of Lewis's fiction to anything like the extent I return to the above books - and when I do it is to focus on selected 'essay-like' passages of That Hideous Strength; however, I often re-listen to Brian Sibley's marvelous BBC radio dramatization of the Narnia Chronicles.